Nov 23 2020

From Page To Screen: The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski

I’m not deeply knowledgeable regarding The Witcher property, having only started with the third game (brilliant) and going on to enjoy The Last Wish, the first of Andrzej Sapkowski’s phenomenally successful fantasy series. While Blood Of Elves and The Time Of Contempt languish still on my TBR pile, I did manage to find time to watch the Netflix miniseries starring the mind-erasingly hunkiest man on the planet, Henry Cavill. I’d heard good things, so was wildly disappointed to discover that this show sucks. It’s so bad, it’s actually made Henry Cavill less attractive to me, a feat not even his myriad scandals could manage.

The main problem here is that the scripts are terrible and the directing choices atrocious. I don’t fault any of the actors, all of whose talent manages to shine through despite some truly execrable material. What I don’t understand is how you take the thoughtful, morally nuanced writing of both books and video game and turn them into this absolute dreck. I can’t get over how even the video game, a medium that often lags behind its more established cousins in terms of depth, is better written than this dreadful show.

It starts from the very first episode, where Geralt of Rivia must choose “the lesser of two evils” all while spouting philosophical purity nonsense that should shame anyone past the age of 21. Unlike in the books and game, the concept of damned if you do, damned if you don’t is presented as an ideological quandary instead of the compromise that loners like Geralt must constantly make in order to survive. The bizarre estrangement of lived-in feeling from genuine moral struggle is also apparent when Geralt tells the elf king to let the past go and focus on the future survival of his people instead: in the books it’s given as hard-won advice, but on the show it comes across as an arrogant command for the elf king to just get over it and move on already. The show strips Geralt of his hard-won insight and instead turns him into a bro-it-all who could fix all the world’s problems if the world would just listen to him. It’s… tacky and sophomoric and a bizarre translation of Eastern European attitudes to the most supercilious of transatlantic sensibilities.

And then we get to what the show does to Ciri and Yenn! Ciri goes from spunky, frightened runaway to spoiled privileged white girl in the course of a single episode — it’s really off-putting, tho I can see how it hints at why some of her old friends were so quick to turn on her later (and don’t get me started with the borderline psychotic behavior of the nice lady in the last two episodes. If that had been my horse Ciri had stolen, I’d have kicked her ass.) Yenn gets the worst of it in this adaptation, tho. From being the icy, composed sorceress with a burning maternal heart of the book and game, she’s turned here into a snotty brat whose actions are less calculating than reactive. I understood why Book/Game Yenn wanted a kid — she was tired of being alone, she wanted normalcy and a home life — but Show Yenn just wants a sidekick while she runs around looking for new adventures. Show Geralt is right to chastise her for her selfishness, even as a part of me felt sad for how the show was choosing to make Yenn look selfish instead of ready to settle down.

The show also makes the egregious choice to skip simple, single lines of exposition in favor of… oh, who fucking knows. In the last episode alone, which still managed to be the best of this ridiculous series, I kept wondering why the sorcerers were on a rowboat, and why they didn’t explain why dimeritium was so debilitating to Tissaia. My friends who came to this show without a background in the game or books were constantly baffled by all the shifting timelines and unexplained details, tho in fairness they mostly seemed to enjoy the show more than I did. I just couldn’t overlook the bad, bad writing and directorial choices all around, and I genuinely feel sorry for all the actors who had to work with this rubbish. Oh, there was one bright spot, besides the obvious talent of the actors: that last swordfight between Vilgefortz and Cahir was badass. Not badass enough to convince me to watch the second season tho. I do however recommend visiting some of the property’s far superior other incarnations, beginning with this book:

Want it now? For the Kindle version, click here.

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