Netflix’s Witcher works best when it begs delving into source material

Henry Cavill turns in Superman’s cape for the sword of Geralt of Rivia in Netflix’s The Witcher.

I have a confession: As much as I like watching films and television, I generally prefer a nice book to anything that comes from a silver screen. 

This means that when Hollywood (or in this case, Netflix) inevitably exhausts their already minuscule supply of original ideas and decides to adapt a printed story, the product is almost always inferior to the original no matter how good it is on its own. The best thing an adaptation could do, in my opinion, is inspire the viewer to peruse the work that inspired it. I have never read The Witcher Saga by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski (or have played any of the critically acclaimed video games based on the series), but the Netflix adaptation certainly makes me want to dip my toes into the lore despite some noticeable growing pains the first season suffers. 

One problem afflicting the eight-episode long debut of The Witcher is a lack of accessibility. Despite some familiar fantasy tropes, I was often bewildered as the show threw unfamiliar terms and concepts at me with little interest in explaining them. Not only this, but the story itself is structured in a bizarre way. The Witcher focuses on three different characters: Geralt (the titular Witcher, a “mutant” monster hunter with magical abilities), Cirilla (a young princess), and Yennefer (a formerly deformed mage) as they find adventure in their three different storylines. What the show neglects to tell you until the fourth episode is that these storylines all take place at different times, and the characters themselves do not even come together until the final episode. The end result is a mismatch of different occurrences that make the experience feel fairly alienating and sometimes even baffling.

Despite this, there is still a lot of good to be found in The Witcher. The acting is top notch and the production values are simply stunning. There is swordplay and action galore, all of it thrilling and brutally realistic. This leads me to a very important point: The show is TV-MA and well deserves the rating. People are dismembered and disemboweled frequently, and nudity and vulgarity are not uncommon. Do not show this to your kids unless they are particularly accustomed to adult themes.

All in all, I enjoyed The Witcher season 1 quite a bit despite its flaws. I was entertained and look forward not only to season 2, but also to reading the books. As far as I’m concerned, that’s all an adaptation needs to do.

The Witcher season 1 is now available on Netflix.