The Witcher is a huge franchise with eight books, three videogames, a digital card game, a comic series, a movie, and now two separate television shows. And for better or for worse, I’ve read every book, played every game, and watched every little piece of content. The first of these shows, The Hexer, or Wiedźmin, was a 13-episode Polish show which followed the film and was based on some of the short stories featured in the first two Witcher books: The Last Wish and Sword Of Destiny. Both the movie and that first series are generally viewed by critics as laughable at the best of times. Fans of the series tend to have a kinder view of it, giving it an average of 6/10 0n IMDb.
Netflix’s foray into the series follows the same basic premise, pulling from many of the same short stories, but with far more success. The Netflix series is far more condensed with eight episodes instead of the 13 and finds success in deviating from its source material. The majority of these changes provide additional background and context to Yennefer and Ciri’s individual stories so that their separate timelines can flow together with more cohesion.
Some hardcore fans of the series took issue with these changes, particularly a change that occurred in Episodes 4 and 5 (“Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials” and “Bottled Appetites”) and the final episode “Much More”. The short story these episodes are based on—“The Sword of Destiny” from The Sword Of Destiny—contains Geralt and Ciri’s first meeting, which provides some much needed emotional weight to the final story and what would be the final episode of the season “Much More”.
Reddit user u/iwillattack summed up their frustrations with this change like this “Any quibbles I have are around how they changed up the plot. I really loved the way Ciri and Geralt initially met in the books, with Ciri being a bit of a scrappy brat, him leaving her behind for her own good, then to be reunited on the farm. The TV version didn’t feel as strong.” This, as well as a number of other small changes to the short stories, represents the majority of the book reader’s complaints.
From a production standpoint, the show is spot on. Henry Cavill, Freya Allan, Anya Chalotra, and Joey Batey all excel in their roles, with Cavill and Batey both standing out as clear embodiments of their characters. Anya Chalotra as Yennefer really excels in her partially show-invented backstory when she is acting against her fellow sorceresses. The set design and costuming manages to walk a fine line between historical costuming and high fashion, while the dialogue manages to maintain a serious tone throughout the show while incorporating light elements of camp. All in all, the show does a wonderful job of embodying the pulpy nature of Andrzej Sapkowski’s short stories.
Each episode deserves a small breakdown of its own because while for the most part the show works well as a whole, there are small gripes that will resonate with fans of the books in each episode.
“The End’s Beginning”
The first episode of the series, and a great start to the season, this episode is based on the short story “The Lesser Evil” from The Last Wish. This episode has some of the best moments of the season, namely the expertly choreographed fight between Geralt and Renfri’s gang, which demonstrates just how deadly our main character is. Unfortunately, it also introduces an element that would be the cause of frustration for many viewers: the multiple timelines. If you read the books, chances are you knew immediately that these stories took place somewhere between 30-60 years apart, but if this was your first venture into The Witcher universe, or you just weren’t as familiar with the lore, it probably confused the hell out of you for a few episodes. Many fans of the series were also upset that they set two very important moments—Geralt becoming The Butcher Of Blaviken and The Fall of Cintra—against each other, allowing neither the time it deserved.
This episode is a bit of a mixed bag for many book reader snobs, myself included. The Yennefer section, which is almost entirely show-invented, is amazing and is absolutely a standout point in the series. Anya Chalotra is amazing in her role as Yennefer and gives a captivating performance as the fledgling sorceress. Geralt’s plotline, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. His story, which is based on “The Edge of the World” from The Last Wish, mostly serves to set up Geralt and Jaskier’s relationship. The majority of the actual story is cut away, leaving a few plot points that don’t stand up under strong scrutiny. The episode is able to stand on Yennefer’s plotline and the banter between Geralt and Jaskier, but barely.
This episode is one of the strongest of the season. It is able to balance Yennefer and Geralt’s timelines, allowing for both to shine. This episode really defines the characters of Yennefer and Geralt and really demonstrates who these two are. Both of their plotlines are very strong and still allow for time for Ciri to find Brokilon Forest. Some viewers took issue with the casting of Triss, the sorceress who assisted Geralt in fighting the Striga.
“Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials”
This episode pulls from one of the most important short stories in the Witcher canon, “A Question of Price” from The Last Wish. The small changes made to the story, namely Jaskier’s presence and thus Geralt’s excuse for appearing at the banquet, work well, and make up for the fact that like the rest of the short stories it has been significantly trimmed down. Yennefer’s story, as with the rest of her arc up to this point, is well done, although this episode serves more as set up for things to come than anything else. The main complaint that arose from this episode was based on Ciri’s timeline. Ciri and Dara’s venture into Brokilon Forest is based on “Sword of Destiny” from Sword of Destiny, but rather than placing the story before the fall of Cintra and allowing for Geralt to meet a younger Ciri, it is placed after the city falls. This means Geralt and Ciri can’t meet yet, which further undercuts their meeting in “Much More”
In this episode, the Geralt and Yennefer timelines meet, which condenses the story considerably and makes it easier to approach. This episode is based on the story “The Last Wish” from The Last Wish. The plot that pulls from that story works really well. That being said this episode does suffer from some very gratuitous nudity, which rightfully turned off some people. That being said, Cavill and Chalotra have palpable chemistry and it’s a joy seeing them act against each other. Unfortunately, Ciri’s story sort of flounders during this episode, particularly the characterization of Cahir which is remarkably inconsistent with the novels.
This episode is based on “The Bounds of Reason” from Sword of Destiny. It’s definitely one of the weaker episodes. A lot of the smaller changes to both Geralt and Yennefer’s characters shine in this episode, and in all the wrong ways. Geralt is a bumbling oaf, Yennefer is shrill and child obsessed, and both feel like lazy reductions. Ciri and Cahir’s stories are interesting enough—particularly the final interaction between Ciri and Dara where she has to deal with her Grandmother’s sins.
“Before a Fall”
This episode is loosely based on “Something More” from Sword of Destiny. Very loosely. The majority of the episode is entirely show-invented, and it’s by far the weakest of the episodes. Most of it is setup for the finale, but it doesn’t really succeed in pulling in the viewer for the most part. I actually found this to be one of Ciri’s strongest episodes, and one of Yennefer’s weakest.
The season finale of The Witcher is based on the final short story in Sword Of Destiny, “Something More”. It contains the battle of Sodden Hill as well as Geralt and Ciri’s long-awaited meeting. While their meeting lacks the emotional context that was in the books, it still resonates. The majority of the complaints from fans stem from Vilgefortz and Cahir’s duel, with Cahir seemingly dispatching one of, if not the, greatest sorcerer of the time in a sword fight. This has prompted a number of fans to float the theory around that he purposefully lost this fight because he was already in cahoots with Nilfgard. Whether that turns out to be true or not has yet to be seen, but the episode ends on a high note and has me excited for the next season.
A few days after the season aired on December 20th the showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich created a thread on Twitter where she addressed some of the criticism from book readers. She said, in regards to cutting Ciri and Geralt’s first meeting from Sword Of Destiny “to adapt the short stories that were important to world-building, and then to sequentially adapt Geralt and Ciri’s multiple meetings in SoD meant that we wouldn’t introduce Ciri until (at the earliest) season two.” she continued this thought by elaborating and saying “if viewers are investing solely in Geralt for S1, and then get introduced to Yennefer, and several seasons later meet Ciri — it’s potentially confusing to say: forget monster-hunting. Take the last two-three years of what you’ve been watching, and tuck it away. Because that little girl you’ve only just met? SHE is the key to this whole universe, and will be the center of almost every story to come.”