The Witcher Season 1, Episode 1 Review – The End’s Beginning
When Netflix’s adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novel series, The Witcher, was announced, fans lost their minds. Not just fans of the novels mind you but fans of CDProjekt Red’s video game adaptation too. Three games have been released since 2007 and 2015’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is considered by many to be the game of the generation. One megafan of Wild Hunt is Henry Cavill.
After playing Superman in three films, Cavill has donned an entirely different suit to play the lead role of Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher. I’m the first to admit that I assumed Cavill would be a disaster as Geralt, possessing neither the grit nor range to bring the White Wolf to life.
Or so I thought.
It brings me no displeasure to say that Cavill is incredible. He IS Geralt of Rivia, no questions about it.
The Witcher Review
I was given access to five of the eight episodes of season one of The Witcher ahead of its release and I’ll be sharing my thoughts about each of those episodes, and the remaining three, separately.
As a fan of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Witcher but Netflix has delivered something really special. Based on Sapkowski’s The Last Wish book of short stories, season one of The Witcher introduces viewers to Geralt, the other main players and the world of The Continent; the setting for the show.
By virtue of being set in a medieval world, The Witcher is going to be compared to Game of Thrones. However, aside from a similar setting, the two couldn’t be more different. And The Witcher is keen to make this distinction early and often.
Geralt is the undisputed star of the show and whilst there is an ensemble, the show belongs to The Butcher of Blaviken. Rather than split time across multiple characters and multiple storylines, The Witcher sticks pretty closely to Geralt, at least in the first few episodes.
Of course, there are some very important characters from the books and games included and they each get their own time to shine. But The Witcher isn’t the story of The Continent, nor of the battles of Kings and Queens. It is the tale of The Witcher.
This narrowed focus is but one thing that The Witcher uses to distance itself from Game of Thrones. Another is the magical, fantastic nature of the storytelling.
In the first minute of the opening scene from episode one, we see Geralt fighting a Kikimore in a swamp. The multi-legged, hideous beast desperately trying to pin the Witcher down, while Geralt does all he can to survive. It’s thrilling and a white-knuckled introduction to the show and the main character.
This opening scene sets the tone for The Witcher. Yes, like Game of Throne and other medieval fiction, The Witcher is violent but it’s also fast-paced and far more forthcoming with lore, secrets and story. Sure, seeds are planted and threads are woven but each episode also contains its own plot that resolves before the credits roll.
For example, the first episode is based on The Lesser Evil short story. It serves not only as a perfect introduction to The Continent but to Geralt as a character, his motivations and his world view.
Having killed the Kikimore, Geralt rides into town to seek out the alderman and perhaps secure a reward. On entering a tavern Geralt is accosted by townsfolk who are wary of Witchers. Nearly coming to blows, the situation is defused by Renfri who welcomes Geralt.
Taken to meet a local mage who may purchase parts of the Kikimore, Geralt meets Stregobor who attempts to enlist the Witcher into killing Renfri whom he believes is cursed and mutated, having been born during an eclipse. Geralt refuses and leaves but meets Renfri outside of town who asks him to murder Stregobor.
Geralt refuses again, though both sides claim he would be carrying out the lesser evil. He implores Renfri to leave town, start a new life and prove Stregobor wrong, which she agrees to.
On returning to town, Geralt discovers that Renfri has instead taken a hostage in order to draw Stregobor out. Although he has stated his desire to not be involved, he can’t stand by while innocent people are murdered and he intercedes.
Here we get the first incredible action sequence of the series. It’s so intense and exciting that the first time I saw it I leapt out of my seat and yelled “Holy Fuck” before rewinding it to watch a few more times. That’s certainly a hallmark of The Witcher so far. The fight scenes, action and choreography are on a whole other level and Cavill’s physicality lends itself perfectly to Geralt.
Try not to smile when he blocks an attack by putting his sword behind his back.
While episode one largely focuses on Geralt and Renfri, we are also introduced to Ciri and the Realm of Cintra. Episode one’s B-plot focuses on the war between Nilfgaard and Cintra and Ciri’s escape from those seeking to do her harm.
Ciri is much younger than I expected, being familiar with Wild Hunt, but her portrayal by Freya Allan is mesmerising. Sheltered by her royal upbringing, Ciri yearns to break free and experience life, however, when Cintra falls, she gets her wish far too literally.
The universe building in episode one is flawless and The Continent comes to our screens fully formed and alive. Each and every character is a believable, living person rather than walking talking exposition and the world of The Witcher feels fully realised.
Each of the main characters we meet in episode one is complex and interesting in their own ways, but it’s Geralt and Cavill who steal the show. One standout moment occurs midway through when Geralt is talking to his horse Roach about the first monster he ever killed;
Want to hear about my first monster? Wasn’t 50 miles outside of Kaer Morhen. He was huge, stinking.
Bald head. Rotten teeth.
He pulled that girl from the cart, tore her dress off in front of her father and said, ‘It’s time you met a real man.’
I told him it was time he met one too. It took two strikes to kill him. They weren’t clean. But they were spectacular.
I turned to that girl afterwards. She was drenched in the man’s blood. She took one look at me, screamed, vomited and passed out.
I thought the world needed me too.
This speech tells you all you need to know about Geralt and its delivery by Cavill is absolutely perfect. He’s not a man but he’s not a monster either and having lived so long he’s having trouble telling the difference. Despite trying to remain neutral, work only for coin and not make decisions, his good nature means he does and will intervene when he sees injustice.
It also reinforced the show’s tagline; The worst monsters are the ones we create.
It’s a theme that comes up again and again during the first season. Geralt is an interesting character, especially in a medieval world as he sees morality in shades of grey; rather than black or white.
This also puts him at odds with most other characters which creates some wonderful dynamics and interesting conflicts.
The first episode of The Witcher had impossibly high expectations place upon it by fans of the novels, fans of the games and people who hoped it would fill the void left by Game of Thrones. I can only speak as a fan of the games, but The Witcher is one of the best new shows this year the first episode is a tour de force of world-building and storytelling.
The Witcher is now streaming on Netflix.
Leo Stevenson was given preview access to five episodes of The Witcher by Netflix.
The Witcher Season 1, Episode 1 Review – The End’s Beginning
Name: The Witcher
Description: The witcher Geralt, a mutated monster hunter, struggles to find his place in a world in which people often prove more wicked than beasts.
Henry Cavill IS Geralt of Rivia - 10/10
Won't be pigeonholed into a genre - 9.5/10
Brutal, violent, fun, funny and wonderfully human - 10/10