Andrzej Sapkowski's The Witcher novels and short stories have never been close to the popularity and fame of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, but nevertheless they have managed to build up quite an impressive cult following throughout the years. There's no doubt that the Polish author knows how to create a fascinating universe filled with action and adventure, something CD Projekt Red's beloved games clearly show. That's why many had high hopes for Netflix's adaption of the books, however, you might want to lower your own expectations a tiny bit before going into this series, although it's definitely not a bad start.
One of the main reasons for this solid opening is that Henry Cavill does a great job as Geralt of Rivia. It's obvious that Cavill, unlike the rest of the series, has taken some inspiration from the games with his lower, more gravelly voice. In terms of his physic, that body sure comes in handy during some of the show's impressive combat-sequences. Cavill's every move is proof that witchers are expert swordsmen. Whether it be how fights in bigger crowds flow like a lightning-fast ballet or more intimate encounters where Geralt is the John Wick of sword fighting with some eye-catching and crowd-pleasing moves where he cuts off heads and feet and everything in-between. Sure, it would be fun to see Cavill use more than his stoic or irritated facial expressions, but we're willing to look past it considering that he stays true to the source material.
Freya Allan and Anya Chalotra do fine as Ciri and Yennefer respectively, but both they and most of the supporting cast have a tendency to overact in a Saturday morning adventure kind of way. This isn't just their fault though, and the script has to take a large part of the blame. We haven't been able to go through any of the five hour-long episodes (out of the season's eight) without cringing or laughing for the wrong reasons due to dialogue that thinks it's Shakespeare but ends up being more like Beavis and Butt-Head, and there's a lack of narrative flow that doesn't help either. And there's the show's biggest problem...
Who the *Gwent* edited these first five episodes? We've been asked to not spoil certain parts and aspects of the show, so we'll just say that the time-jumps both in and between episodes are absolutely ridiculous. Those of you who haven't read the books will definitely wonder if you've skipped forward/backwards or if some episodes are in the wrong order. The idea was perhaps to surprise us with some new information, but instead, we ended up thinking "why the hell weren't these sequences gathered in the first episode?!" These jumps don't just make the show hard to follow, but they also make it more tonally inconsistent than it already is because the show can't seem to make up its mind whether it's self-serious fantasy or a more loose, humouristic take on it.
Problems with the manuscript and editing are only topped off by the fact that we think there's less chemistry between Cavill and Charlota than a bull and the owner of a China shop, which makes their eventual romance feel unearned and out of nowhere. It's worth repeating that we've only seen the first five episodes and things might get better later on, but we're of the opinion that this relationship should have been more carefully presented from the get-go.
If you're willing to look past the inconsistencies, the show is filled with fan-service for those who have read the books. Every episode is chock-full of references to characters, creatures and tales from different stories, and we caught ourselves smiling as we were reminded of certain moments. Just don't go in expecting to get most of the references if you've only played the games, even if some of the books' rules are broken or at least stretched a bit in hope of entertaining a more mainstream audience. Inconsistency is once again an issue here, as these attempts often end up being neither fish nor fowl, but not so much that it's especially bothering.
The inconsistent tone and pace, some less than stellar acting by actors portraying minor characters, and some weird editing doesn't stop the first five episodes of The Witcher from showing great potential, however. Henry Cavill is great as Geralt, the combat-scenes are terrific, and the story is actually quite fun when it doesn't take itself too seriously (or if you love the books and are willing to get a few new takes on certain things). We're not talking about a new Game of Thrones here, as it leans more towards a Saturday morning adventure with its monster-of-the-week formula, but the core pillars are strong enough to hold things up make us long for the final three episodes of the season. You might want to compare it to the game trilogy, where the first two games had a few quirks but laid the groundwork for something that could end up being great. Here's hoping the final three episodes are as good as the third game.
Update: It shouldn't come as a huge surprise that we decided to binge on the last three episodes as soon as they were available last month, and we didn't regret it. Those bloody time-jumps have been thrown out the window, so the story flows a lot better. The sense of progression and build-up is finally there, making these last three episodes feel more like a movie. Geralt doesn't get as much screen-time as we'd have liked in some parts, but focusing on Yennefer and Ciri also makes their reunion all the more believable and exciting. An upturn at the end wasn't enough to change our grade though, as the other previously mentioned shortcomings are still very much present. Episode eight's ending does strengthen our faith that Netflix is well aware of the first season's mistakes, so we're still definitely going to jump into Season 2 as soon as it launches, which should be sometime in 2021.