The Witcher

January 2, 2020

Okay, binged the whole thing (only 8 episodes makes bingeing so much easier), and I decided this show deserves its own post because it really, really sucked me in.  I didn’t think it would, then it did, and I’m now picking it apart to figure out why. I will probably binge it all again soon.

It starts rough. It feels so much a part of this low-budget fantasy mode that always wears me out, like the World of Warcraft movie and that terrible Dungeons and Dragons movie. First off, The Witcher is a much better Dungeons and Dragons version than the actual Dungeons and Dragons movie. But that still means there’s a pretty high self-important cheese factor. When discussing the early episodes with a friend, I referred to “Stupid Wizard School” and “The War of Bad Tactics.”

My friend had to tell me that these storylines are all taking place at different times and I need to hang in there until they converge. I was already willing to do that because A) only 8 episodes, B) broody fantasy Henry Cavill, and C) the raging feminist subtext.

There’s a conversation that happens a couple of times, in a couple of different versions, in the early episodes. It goes like this:

Dude: We need you to kill a monster.

Geralt: Hang on a sec, didn’t that monster used to be, like, a girl?

Dude: Well yes, but it’s a monster now, very dangerous. So you’ll kill it, right?

Geralt:  But she’s a monster now because you cursed her/neglected her/etc. It’s because of shit you did. This isn’t fair.

Dude: And yet, here we are.

And then Geralt will do his very, very best to try to save her. He doesn’t always succeed. He kind of hates people in general after a few rounds of this. This story is filled with women forced into terrible situations and then using whatever agency and power they have to get out of them, or get some kind of power for themselves. Also women and girls who are cursed, abused by destiny, in situations made worse by the selfishness and arrogance of the people around them. Geralt seems hyper aware of this, and it makes him very endearing.

So this looks like a typical fantasy centered on a badass sword-wielding dude. But the story is just about entirely driven by the choices and actions of women. I think that’s interesting.

The episode where things start coming together include a splendid live-action version of the “Hans My Hedgehog” fairy tale, which just about won me over. Then came the dragon episode. This was so neatly done, and so like an old-school D&D scenario, I just loved it.

Then suddenly, somehow, I felt like I was in the middle of The Malazan Book of the Fallen. (This is Steven Erikson’s massive epic fantasy series, the only recent epic fantasy series I’ve read all the way through.) The multiple timelines, the jumping around between misfit characters who aren’t part of the power structure. The huge, very confusing backdrop that doesn’t really matter because what’s pulling us through are these characters and their very focused, very personal stories. And then that mage battle, which felt like something Erikson would write. Magic here is common, but the implications aren’t.

The last minute of the last episode was perfect, and I almost went back to watch the whole thing right then. So. Yes. Every now and then I take a chance on a series and am rewarded with the reminder of why I love stories in the first place. Can’t wait for the next season.

Also, I’ve had that stupid song stuck in my head for three days now which basically makes it the perfect bard song. Long live the bards!


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