IT IS a bit foolish to expect the first season of ‘The Witcher,’ a show that has not been embraced by critics to be regarded as a replacement for ‘Game of Thrones,’ one of the most-loved, most-watched series of all time. I understand why people would think that ‘The Witcher’ could be the next ‘Game of Thrones.’ Both shows focus on a fantasy world where politics and magic are built into the fabric of society, there are multiple storylines to follow and many characters to keep track of, and ‘The Witcher’ has certainly taken hold of the public’s imagination, albeit not on the same level that ‘Game of Thrones’ once did.
In terms of pop culture, ‘Game of Thrones’ was something that captured the attention of people on various levels and bound them all together. When a new episode of ‘Thrones’ came out, it felt like the whole world was watching at the same time. When a new twist in the series was revealed, the world reacted in surprise. When bad writing and executive decisions emerged (as in season 8), the whole world spat vitriol and demanded damage-control. ‘Game of Thrones’ connected book readers (specifically those who read George R. R. Martin’s work on which the series is based) with show-watchers, audiences who loved medieval-inspired fantasy with those who thrived on political mind-games, believers in the underdog with advocates for heroes and heroines built on wit and ambition. There was something in ‘Game of Thrones’ for everyone. Furthermore, it had a full eight seasons, an entire decade to build and cement its legacy, whether through its ambitious storytelling, performances, or the reversal of typical fantasy tropes. This show, in a way, defined the previous decade of television and in years to come it will be held up as an example of the kind of work that was produced in this golden era of television and streaming networks. ‘The Witcher,’ in comparison, cannot come close to ‘Game of Thrones.’
However, I also believe that there is enough potential in ‘The Witcher’ that can enable it to ascend, in future seasons, to a place where it might eventually be regarded, both critically and from an audience’s perspective, as a worthy successor to ‘Game of Thrones.’ After all, even ‘Game of Thrones’ did not become what it eventually became based on its first season only. Whether ‘The Witcher’ can evolve and secure a position as essential television in the same way remains to be seen.
‘The Witcher,’ for starters does have a good story going for it. Even though I am not finished with the first season, I have seen enough to be able to say with conviction that I am invested in, and intrigued by, the tale of Geralt of Rivia, a witcher (a magical monster-hunter), who crosses paths with the beautiful and deadly mage, Yennefer of Vengerberg, and is connected by destiny to the lost princess, Cirilla of Cintra. These characters in their pursuit of, or escape from, their destinies are made all the more interesting with inclusion of gargantuan monsters, shape-shifters, dragons, knights, witches, and a host of mysterious supporting characters.
The cast is mostly strong, though Henry Cavill as the title character, and based on the six episodes that I have watched so far, needs to be given more material that allows him to demonstrate the full range of his acting abilities. He is great to look at, but for him to become a hero that we love and root for (a Jon Snow of the new decade), we need to be able to connect with the character on some emotional level. Perhaps this will happen before the end of the first season. If not, hopefully, it comes to fruition in the second season. Anya Chalotra impresses as Yennefer, particularly in the earlier scenes before she undergoes her transformation. Freya Allan as Cirilla is also good, conveying the princess’ need for survival and her childlike grace with ease.
‘The Witcher’ presents us with a story and characters that have limitless potential, as all tales of fantasy do, and if this first season is meant to introduce the primary characters, their motivations, and the central conflicts, all of which it does successfully, then the narrative of the already-ordered second season will undoubtedly have to amp up the action, character development, and narrative twists and turns to keep things interesting, which is something that I truly hope the showrunners, writers, directors, and producers can do. After all, despite the wonderful budget that provides us with some good CGI and exotic locales, there is very little replacement for an entertaining story. The show’s strength currently lies in its depiction of the world: in the costumes, the sets, the production values, the characters. Its main flaw lies in the writing.
There are times in the show when the lines of the characters are so vague and obtuse that I have to rewind by a few seconds to try and understand what is being said. There are times when the pace of the show becomes quite dull. Sometimes, the characters say and do things that are not entirely developed or do not make sense in their entirety. These are all elements that emerge from the central writing flaw that has probably earned ‘The Witcher’ the ire of the critics who have not entirely fallen in love with it. If these elements are resolved in the second season, then ‘The Witcher’ will undoubtedly be on its way to becoming one of the best shows of the new decade of television and streaming.