by Paul Deeter
On this Friday, December 17th specifically we can finally sink our teeth back into 2019's surprise hit Netflix series The Witcher. After two years of waiting, eight episodes of the sophomore season of this mythical fantasy series are coming just in time for a Christmas binge, and I couldn't be more excited. While I felt closely attached to the series from its first season, the consensus of 68% critical response on Rotten Tomatoes may have kept some from visiting this franchise. Certainly to those unfamiliar with the games, or further back the Polish series of novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, might see this show as a Game of Thrones knock-off with nothing to offer outside of violence and nudity. Henry Cavill filling the shoes of the lead role Geralt of Rivia is certainly a boost in star power the show benefitted from early on; and despite a so-so critical response, the audience reacted very positively to this swashbuckling series. With the allure of sexuality and violence with a steamy lead, a lot of audience members were drawn without knowing that The Witcher series is decades old. But the roots of the series are not lost in translation from the game or the Polish language books. The Witcher series is a loving throwback to what's magical and truly different in this franchise from its predecessors, and after the buzz from audience approval, and a 554% boost in videogame sales for The Witcher: Wild Hunt, its clear that a second season was destined. And if you're a hardcore fan of the stories, or a virginal viewer to the new season, I offer seven reasons to start (or return to) a fantastic season one of this monster mash of a show.
Destiny! Destiny! Destiny!
The initial season is based not directly on any full game of the trilogy of videogames, but instead closer to the books The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny. The episodic nature of the books, each being compiled of short stories over one over-arching narrative, gave the show wiggle room to tell various stories while keeping an underlying theme consistent. The idea of DESTINY and the purpose of the character of Cirilla, our young Ciri in the novels, is persistent and almost humorous as a punchline to any reason any character does anything (no I'm not kidding). The theme of destiny is maybe leaned on a little too heavily; each plot-point and turn of events seems to occur ambiguously due to the concept rather than real world choices made by each character. That being said, if you love the idea of destiny and purpose you'll enjoy the ongoing joke that is destiny in this show and the many memes it spawned. And on the note of memes, you'll also appreciate the thousands of reaction gifs available of Henry Cavil hmm-ing (it's like his catchphrase),
2. Geralt is a complex protagonist.
Henry Cavill hmms his way through many conversations but also delivers a well grounded and mysterious sort of anti-hero. In the very first episode we get probably his most controversial quest (or mission, in videogame terms) where he tries to foil a somewhat convoluted scheme by a bandit named Renfri who is being hunted by a wizard named Stregobor. In this difficult situation he attempts to play neutral and falls into the show's other theme: how can one be neutral in a time of war? And is true neutrality heroic or evil? In short he falls for Renfri to the point of being fooled by her and then being forced to kill her to save a small village. And unfortunately, its during this massacre that he leaves the impression of "the Butcher of Blaviken" by this same village for his bloody murders of this small group of bandits. Boy, sometimes a Witcher just can't get a win. That's just the pilot of the series, and future episodes beyond it will test his allegiance and ability to do wrong from right. But hey, as long as he follows the path of destiny he can't falter right? And Geralt is just a man, or is he?
3. Geralt is man and also monster.
Geralt, as hardcore fans would know but some new viewers may have to pick up on, is a monster. And also a man. And also a monster hunter? It's not quite black-and-white as to how much man v monster exists in his blood, but his loyalty to the cause and the coin makes his day job as a 'Witcher' to hunt big scary monsters. In the first five minutes of the show he is hunting a multi-legged swamp creature. While his antics may seem heroic, a cut to his face show's his eyes are black and appear as evil as the beast. See for a Witcher to hunt and be capable as a swordsman, he/she must also consume tonics that can curse and poison them to the ability of having the supernatural strength to defeat monsters. Witchers are subhuman at the very least and need to poison themselves not just to fight but also to survive. It's because of this fealty to the drug that Geralt struggles to find peace within himself or with the commoners. It builds on the shows concept of neutrality and what it is to be human. It forces him to reflect between battles, and it gives room for a killer performance from Henry Cavill to boot. And on the note of killer performances and characters...
4. The Witcher is full of representative female performances.
What is one thing that Game of Thrones, or even any action/fantasy lacks when it comes to representation? Well outside of a lack of POC characters (which this show does somewhat struggle with) the major issue with Game of Thrones was its sexual politics and representation. Sure most of the female characters in the series shared top brass and could handle a sword with the best of the men, but a lot of their arcs came rooted from abuse and torture. In this show Geralt is outnumbered by female characters of different statures and power; the show sometimes follows their arcs more closely than his own. We have young Ciri played by Freya Allen and her venture to her own destiny. She meets an entire race of female dryads in episode 4 that help her bad-assness. Then there's Yennefer (Any Chalotra) a peasant woman who transforms into a sorceress in a school of like-willed sorceresses, at the cost of having to abandon her ability to birth children. Her character is as well-written as Geralt's and she even has more of a moral center that's well explored in the latter half of the season.
And we get some gender reversed eye candy moments as well.
5. The creature design should make Guillermo Del Toro proud.
Case in point.
6. There's tons of great fan service.
If you've read one book by Sapkowski then you're already in for a treat with any episode of this show. Like I mentioned, the books are made up of multiple short stories that are woven together with a broader narrative. But if you've read any of the short stories you're in for a treat with characters that show up, storylines adapted and even if you've played any of the videogames you've got pretext for some of these episodes. Specifically The Witcher: The Wild Hunt has multiple missions and trophies that tie into the series. You'd do yourself an honor playing it as it's one of the best games of our generation, but you'll also get some lore and understanding for the characters. The books are a tad drier but still have an undeniable charm and they're where to start for super fans.
And what's left?
7. That song, that damn... song,