There’s no shortage of medieval fantasy clichés in The Witcher. Starting with Henry Cavill’s gruff monster-hunting anti-hero Geralt of Rivia, the new Netflix series swiftly produces a canny wizard who lives in a tower and introduces himself with the words, “Greetings, I am Stregobor”, some stock Celtic music to soundtrack a kiss, fantastical creatures, gratuitous female nudity, and a bloody war between the kingdoms of Nilfgaard and Cintra. When a magic school headmistress was introduced as Tissaia de Vries I wanted to yell, “Bingo… of Mazburakan”, or something equally nonsensical.
The Witcher is based on the novels by Polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski, although the real impetus for the show’s production lies in the wildly successful video-game franchise the books have already spawned. This is a gift for devotees of Dungeons & Dragons, although everyone else might be bewildered, or at least bemused. Lauren Schmidt Hissrich’s show spares little expense, but the plot is so distended and fantasy tropes so enthusiastically familiar that you may not make it past “the Tower of the Gull”.
Geralt of Rivia – no-one ever settles for “Gerry” in this stern series – is an outsider, complete with blond hair, pale skin, a taste for leather and a shrouded history that makes an inn fall silent when he walks in. If that sounds like Disney+’s headline Star Wars series The Mandalorian – where a similar set-up occurs in a galaxy far far away – you’re starting to get a sense of how interchangeable the storytelling ultimately is. When a lippy bard tags along on Geralt’s mission in the second episode it means a tick for comic relief.
Traditionally fantasy series have sat on the periphery of television, left to their mythic underpinnings and B-movie punctuation. But with the success of Game of Thrones, cracking the genre is now the holy grail of the small screen. Over eight seasons the Westeros saga grew to be a pop culture juggernaut, despite last year’s truncated finale being a letdown, as the HBO series garnered sizable audiences, awards, and revenue.