Witcher Episode 1 Review
Story - 8
Acting - 7
Cinematography - 8
Music - 7
Impact - 7
The first episode for Netflix's adaptation of the popular book and game series is a solid beginning for what could become the next big thing in the t.v. fantasy genre.
Netflix’s adaptation of the Witcher series was without question my most anticipated show of the year. Since I first played the Witcher 2 in 2011 or so I have been hooked on the entire franchise. I’ve immersed myself into all the books, comics, and games. Now the Netflix series is finally here! I am sure that by now many fans of the franchise, that have been waiting for this release, have already binged on at least a few episodes if not the whole season. At the time of writing this, I however have only watched the first episode. Before I go any further into the show I wanted to offer an initial reaction to the first impression Netflix’s Witcher made on me. If you haven’t yet made up your mind on the show and are looking for some information to push you in one direction or the other, enjoy this essentially spoiler free response to the first episode.
Geralt of Rivia
I honestly had some concerns when Henry Cavil was first announced as Geralt. I had enjoyed his work from the handful of his roles I’d seen (Superman in the DC films and Spy Guy in Man from Uncle), however, I just didn’t know if he could portray the dry personality traits of Geralt’s character. Once I saw his interviews saying how he had already been a big fan of the series, I decided I would hold judgment until I saw the finished product. Giving that benefit of the doubt paid off, because Cavil’s portrayal is very satisfying! His decision to follow the gravelly monotone cadence that Doug Cockle brought to the video game series was perfect. It puts my ears in a comfortable place of familiarity, while still allowing me to take in the rest of Cavil’s performance and facial expressions that the games couldn’t bring out. I am all in to accept Henry Cavil as the Butcher of Blaviken, Geralt of Rivia.
The “Lioness of Cintra” was not one of the castings I paid close attention to in the lead up to the Witcher’s release so I wasn’t prepared for her appearance in this episode. To put it simply, I didn’t really like the direction they went in. In the books I felt Queen Calanthe was distinguished, strong, fierce, conniving and above all revered. She didn’t need someone to tell you that either, it was evident when she spoke. As a reader I generally would envision actresses such as Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall), Judy Dench (James Bond’s M), or Diana Rigg (Olenna Tyrell) delivering the lines and glares that accompanied them. Johdi May’s representation was different from my mental image in almost every way. I will admit that following the Witcher timeline would put Calanthe in her mid forties so my mental castings really don’t work but still in this episode Calanthe just did not have the presence of the books. In the end, for reasons I won’t go into here, it doesn’t matter that I feel Calanthe’s casting was a miss.
Freya Allen’s performance as Ciri is fine enough. She has the whole young adventurous princess that also wants to be more involved in royal dealings angle going on. One moment she is in disguise playing some form of jacks with the local boys the next she is in a gown at a ball trying to get in on the adult’s conversations about the kingdom’s defenses. I can only hope that as the show progresses her hair will somehow change from the soft blonde it currently is into the ashen grayish white that most fans know. Also, even though I know I am likely in an extreme minority for this, I wish she had that kind of Scottish accent narrator Peter Kenny gave her for the audio book renditions. The verdict is still out on this casting.
I had been curious as to how showrunner Lauren Hissrich would tackle the story of the Witcher in this season. Would she jump right into the Nilfgardian invasion of the mainline saga books and have to use flashback sequences to fill in the holes that the short stories of the Last Wish and Sword of Destiny explained? Or would she use those stories as guidelines for the season setting the stage for the larger conflict to come? The indication after the first episode seems to be that it will lean toward the latter and I think it was the right call.
The episode showcased one of the stories featured in the Last Wish novel, in which Geralt finds himself in the town of Blaviken having to make a choice about how to deal with two parties’ differing opinions on “the lesser of two evils.” It does a pretty good job of showing how Geralt is viewed by most of the common folk of the world on account of him being a Witcher. By the end of the episode the good people of the town have denied him the simple courtesies of directions or services at the inn and outright stoned him all because he is a “genetically mutated monster.” Geralt takes it all in stride through the episode, displaying his life code and even trying to prevent a fellow outcast from becoming the monster they claim her to be. In the end for all his trying things end in bloodshed (caused by a spectacular sword fight in the streets) and Geralt forced out of the town.
The other story of the episode revolves around Princess Ciri in the Cintran Kingdom with Queen Calanthe and King Eist. This serves the purpose of displaying Ciri’s character which as I mentioned already is, at least for the time being, the adventurous princess. Aside from running the streets (with her hoodrat friends) and trying to get political at the royal ball, Ciri also shows off some “immune to royal lectures” attitude. After a battle does not go well for Cintra Ciri is told to find Geralt and forced to flee the kingdom against her will which reveals some of the true power she doesn’t realize she has.
Netflix is very clearly looking to have The Witcher fill the Game of Thrones shaped void in many viewers’ hearts and this was a solid beginning. It introduced the two lead characters and set them on an eventual crash course for each other while giving you a glimpse of the large scale conflict that is also building. The moments of action were invigorating and well choreographed. Don’t think the episode was free from errors or mistakes. The characters that filled out the Cintran storyline were all pretty one dimensional and followed the mold of just about every royal court that surrounds any young prince or princess from a disney movie. Also a problem that I fear could become an issue for the entire show is Geralt’s James Bond-esque habit of bedding nearly every woman he encounters. While it is accurate to both the book and game series Geralt’s common tendancy to end up having sex with the various women he encounters is one of his least likeable traits and is an outdated way of handling the male/female dynamic in entertainment. Even with those shortcomings I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode, “The Ends Beginning” and recommend it for the long standing fans of the franchise as well as those of you just looking for a new place to get your medieval fantasy fix.