So, I’ve been mulling over writing about Netflix’s The Witcher for a while now. As my initial reaction to the show was one of disappointment, I didn’t really want to rush into writing about it as I don’t think I would have done it justice without having some time to ponder on it a bit.
Look, I love The Witcher “franchise”. Ever since playing The Witcher 3 in 2016, I have been very into it all, going back and playing all the games, in addition to reading all the books multiple times. Needless to say, I came into the television series with a few expectations but great optimism too. (I mean, I didn’t think Henry Cavill was a bad casting for Geralt despite popular opinion when this news was first announced.)
I remained optimistic through every trailer, reveal and leak that was released as the series was being produced. I was genuinely excited when I launched the Netflix app on my television and started watching. (Excited on embarrassing levels actually but I digress…) However, it was a little into the second episode that a bit of disappointment started to creep in, which would linger until about the seventh and eighth episodes.
As with every game, film or TV series I conclude consuming, I went on to social forums to have a look at what others thought of The Witcher. I quickly noted the divide that most people have been speaking about in terms of opinion. On one hand, there were the critics who were mostly bashing the series for being mediocre to even stating that it was very hard to watch. On the other hand, was the general public who really seemed to love it.
Critics Vs the General Public
Over the years, a lot has been said about critic vs user reviews. Each has their own merits and faults. Generally, the public used to hold critic reviews in higher esteem. The people who wrote them were meant to be experts in their field, drawing on their extensive knowledge when providing their opinion.
However, nowadays, opinion has changed on the importance of critics. Whereas before they had the potential to make or break some products, their opinions are approached with greater scepticism for a variety of reasons (which you can read more about here.)
In short though, a lot of people don’t give critic reviews the weight they used to because they are more aware of the fact that critics are just other people with an opinion about whatever is being reviewed and that their opinion is subject to bias too. Yes, some critics may have a studied the medium, such as film/television in this case, on an academic level. But that doesn’t translate to an all-knowing position on the matter, especially on something as opinionated as art.
Heading back to Netflix’s The Witcher, there’s a few reasons I think there’s a bit of a division in opinion on the series so far. I’m not really commenting on the idea that the division may be between critics and the general public as that is not entirely the case but rather just the overarching idea that there is a division in opinion. Overall, there seem to be three big reasons the series appeared to be rather disappointing to some.
1. The Confusing and Unexplained Timelines
When you start The Witcher series, there isn’t really an indication that the three main stories the viewer is following are all happening at different times. In the first episode, you learn why Geralt is called “The Butcher of Blavikan”, in addition to meeting Ciri and seeing Nilfgaard threatening to invade Cintra, which by the end of the episode they do.
Now, if you have read the books, you will know that these stories take place at two very different time periods. “The Butcher” story takes place long before readers are introduced to Ciri. If you started watching the series with this knowledge, you may have picked up on the different timelines.
However, if you didn’t (which not even most people who played the games did), you were left to pick up on some odd clues scattered throughout the series. Probably, the most obvious was that of King Foltest being a middle-aged man in Geralt’s story and a child in Yennefer’s story.
With three different main characters, it is very difficult to keep track of what is going on with each and when the events are happening. There are probably viewers out there who thought that the invasion of Cintra happened at the same time as Yennefer is serving as a King’s aid, which it doesn’t. (She’s long jaded by that point and getting poor teenagers high on ‘shrooms for a pastime.) It all just makes it hard to enjoy the story to its fullest extent.
The confounding piece really seems to be Ciri’s story. Although The Witcher series is secretly a story that is not actually about Geralt, introducing Ciri so early is what leads to the big time gaps. It just feels as if everything would have worked better if they were a bit more sequential with events and the focus had first been on Geralt and Yennefer for the first few episodes.
With all this said, it is perhaps important to remember the constraints that come with making a television show versus writing a book. In addition to having to deal with budgetary issues, TV writers don’t really have the same time and space that book writers do, so maybe they were struggling with getting viewers to understand the importance of Ciri without introducing her so early.
2. Geralt’s Limited Screen Time
Don’t get me wrong; I think Henry Cavill is great. I just wish we saw a little more of him and that he had more to say than “Hmm” and “Fuck”. While he is a quite loner of few words (which the show did portray well), he is also well-known for his biting sardonic humour, which I don’t think we see enough of.
Perhaps, I’m just being a little but nitpicky with this but I do feel that we didn’t really get to see enough of Geralt. While I’m complaining about missed opportunities with humour, there are many others who claim that the show has failed to cement his moral code (which I personally think was established quite well with the Renfri and Djinn stories) or properly introduce the character to the audience as a whole.
Arguably, it’s due to the previously referenced fact that the story is about Ciri and not Geralt and to each their own opinion on whether he received enough screen time or not to fully establish his character. Fuck.
3. Unfiltered Expectations
The problem with adapting a story from another medium is that the old from always creates some sort of expectation in the audience. The Witcher is a bit of a strange case. It was a book series that was adapted into a best-selling game series, which was then adapted into a record-breaking net television series.
In addition to this, the series is largely being labelled as Netflix’s “Game of Thrones”. Any show that gets compared the cultural phenomenon that was Game of Thrones is going to create some degree of interest amongst the public.
Suffice to say, there were a lot of people with a lot of different expectations for it.
A lot of the time, coming into something with some degree of expectation has a strong chance of leading to disappointment. Hype has always been a bit of a double-edged sword. Excitement drives people to buy in to the product but could also drive negativity if expectations are not met.
Personally, with my own initial reaction to The Witcher series, I blame the expectations I had created by reading the books and playing the games. It is always important to remember that adaptations will never provide the same experience as the original because it is not the original and it is not trying to be it.
It’s not always fair to judge something on whether or not it meant your expectations. As something could still be good and not meet them. Perhaps, to some degree, this is the case with The Witcher series.
Despite my initial disappointment, I can still say that I enjoyed watching The Witcher. (It’s been about three weeks and I still cannot get Toss a Coin to Your Witcher out of my head.) I’m just hoping that Season 2 improves on the groundwork laid by the first season (and that I’m able to keep my unfettered expectations in check.)
So, what did you think of Netflix’s The Witcher series?