THE WASHINGTON POST – What if we told you there’s a Netflix show starring Henry Cavill as an icy blond monster slayer named Geralt (pronounced “gare-alt”) of Rivia? What if we told you that instead of referring to him as Geralt, everyone simply calls him Witcher, referring to his rare breed of mutants for hire?
What if we told you there’s a scene where a goat-faced monster grabs a lock of Geralt’s white hair and asks if the hue is a result of Geralt’s mother conceiving a child with a snowman? (No, she didn’t.)
Perhaps you would remain stone-faced, a reaction typical of the Witcher himself, given that Cavill plays him as a brooding hunk wandering the Continent – which, yes, is what this magical, medieval society calls its continent. Or maybe you would be inclined to give The Witcher a chance. It’s been advertised as Netflix’s very own Game of Thrones but has also proven to be an entertaining fantasy series in its own right. That’s not to say it’s good, per se, but that it’s so bizarre, it’s hard to look away.
So will you toss a coin to your Witcher, as the bard Jaskier sings? Here’s what to know before deciding.
WHERE DID THIS ALL COME FROM?
The Witcher is based on the work of Andrzej Sapkowski, a Polish author who wrote short stories about the fictional society before publishing a book series in the 1990s. His work is popular in Eastern Europe and has since been adapted into comic books, a movie, another television series and even a tabletop game. But folks on this side of the world are more likely to recognise our friend Geralt from the video games released by the Polish developer CD Projekt Red beginning in the late aughts.
HENRY CAVILL, YOU SAID?
Why yes, Clark Kent has traded in his specs for a pair of amber contacts and a backstory that fans have more often compared to Captain America than Superman. Witchers are people who were taken in as children and mutated into superhumans using complicated medieval science and spells. Their catlike eyes and ripped physiques are the most obvious Witcher traits, but they also have enhanced strength, speed and immunity to disease, as well as an ability to exercise combat magic.
Cavill really committed to the process of becoming Geralt, going so far as to cut out water before his shirtless scenes and to nearly blind himself instead of taking the coloured contacts out when his eye technician told him to. The actor is no stranger to making sacrifices for the sake of a project – he did, after all, let Warner Bros. digitally remove his mustache from Justice League so he could protect the glory of his mustachioed, arms-reloading character in Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
THIS SHOW SOUNDS PRETTY FUN
It is! Netflix seems to have adopted a business plan of throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks, and this just happens to be a successful attempt. At least, that’s what they say: The company, which doesn’t publicly share viewership statistics, claimed that The Witcher was the sixth most-watched thing on the streaming platform last year, ranking right under The Irishman. The show premiered on December 20 last year.
What we can tell you for sure is that the show fully embraces bizarre humour of the social media era, in a way that makes you want to take a screenshot every few scenes. (This writer’s favourite line at the moment is when Geralt disdainfully tells the wizard Stregobor: “You’re not a man. You’re a magician.” Are those things mutually exclusive? If he is a man, does that make him a magician of a man?)
SO WHAT’S IT ACTUALLY ABOUT?
While the show is surprisingly episodic – in a new-monster-per-episode way – three story lines stretch throughout. They concern Geralt; the soon-to-be sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra); and the young Princess Cirilla of Cintra (Freya Allan), who flees her kingdom after the Nilfgaardian Empire invades. The characters’ timelines are a little off from one another, though that isn’t explicitly stated in the show. Their story lines do eventually intersect, though, so keeping up with them pays off.
Because Geralt, Yennefer and Cirilla spend so much time apart, many of the episodic plots concern their mini-adventures, like Geralt getting paid to take down the goat-faced monster.
IS THE WITCHER BETTER THAN GAME OF THRONES?
The answer probably depends on how you feel about the HBO series’ last season. That said, the experience of watching The Witcher is like turning on a self-aware B-movie. It’s of much lower quality than Game of Thrones, but it seems to acknowledge that and can therefore run with the absurdity.
The two series have been compared since news of the Netflix adaptation first spread. Sapkowski even referenced Game of Thrones at the 2018 Warsaw Comic-Con, when he reportedly joked about the show’s affinity for celebrity cameos by saying that he would be working as a creative consultant on The Witcher in order “to make sure that at NO point in the show (will) Ed Sheeran sing”.
CAN YOU TELL ME MORE ABOUT JASKIER?
Oh, can we? It would be harder for us to not tell you about him, given that, as a YouTube commenter phrased it, his voice is “like asking for bread, only to find its (sic) bread with jam inside”.
Basically, Jaskier (Joey Batey) is a lute-playing bard who approaches Geralt after performing at a local tavern and, after discovering Geralt’s profession, follows the Witcher around and sings about his various endeavours. The most prominent of his tunes is Toss a Coin to Your Witcher, a genuinely good song.