The very first season of The Witcher has been on Netflix since December 20th and it’s already gained a lot of fans, broke some records and attracted newcomers to other products of the saga, such as the novels and the videogames.
In this four-part spoiler review, I will be analyzing the eight episodes that form the first season, comparing changes from the books and how series holds as its own thing.
You can check out the introductory guide we made before the season premiered.
Episode 1: The End’s Beginning
This episode puts Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) and Cirilla (Freya Allan) as front and centre, although the events of each character take place in different timelines. Ciri’s timeline is set in the present, while Geralt’s is a mixture of short stories happening years before he eventually meets Ciri.
I’ll leave this detailed Witcher timeline released by Netflix here:
The fight sequences, by Vladimir Furdik (Game of Thrones), are sublime and intense, especially the sword fight between Geralt and Renfri. Henry Cavill perfectly portrays Geralt, from the way he moves to the way he talks. It was important for the series to get the right actor, just as Freya Allan prefects the role of Ciri.
We see Geralt fighting a Kikimora for a contract. He meets Renfri (Emma Appleton) at a tavern before going to see the sorcerer Stregobor (Lars Mikkelsen) in Blaviken, while in the book he meets Stregobor before meeting Renfri and her men, simplifying the conversation between the Witcher and the sorcerer. Although this chat is very well adapted, in the show, they ignore the fact that Geralt already knew Stegobor in the book. They talk about how killing Renfri is the lesser evil, but the Witcher states that every evil is evil and he would rather not choose at all.
Renfri’s story is similar to that of Snow White’s, only with a much darker tone. As told in Lesser Evil, her father Fredefalk married Queen Aridea — who claims she was told by a Nehalenia’s mirror that Renfri would kill them all. Stregobor was sent to spy on Renfri, who alleged that he saw her torture and harm others. The Queen decides to hire a thug to kill Renfri, who instead, robbed and raped her. When he’s occupied, Renfri manages to kill her attacker by stabbing her brooch through his ear and into his brain.
While running away, Renfri meets a band of gnomes in Mahakam. However, Stregobor finds her there and put her under a spell, turning her into a slab of crystal and buried her in the mines. A prince from an unknown Kingdom finds her and paid to reverse the curse. Once back on her feet she went after Stregobor, who fled from place to place until he settled down in Blaviken.
The show simplified this into one episode when it could have easily adapted The Lesser Evil into two episodes, but the way they set the story up is pretty neat and has the same essence as the story in the book.
Stregobor is shown perfectly as being harsh and evil in this episode. He explains the Curse of the Black Sun, a prophecy made by a mage claiming the end of humanity was in the hands of sixty girls during or after a certain eclipse which would announce the return of Lilit, a goddess/demon worshipped in the east of the Continent. Lilit’s path was to be prepared by these sixty women wearing gold crowns, who would fill the river valleys with blood. These women were then hunted down and killed so Stregobor could study the curse.
Geralt meets with Renfri for the second time in the woods outside Blaviken. They share an intimate moment, which in the book happens inside a room of the alderman’s house in Blaviken. The alderman was changed for his daughter Marilka (Mia McKenna-Bruce) in the episode. It was a scene that was well adapted. The fight in the town with Renfri and her men was the best part of the episode. Another interesting thing is Renfri talking to Geralt about Ciri briefly, the girl in the woods will be with you always. She is your destiny. Stregobor stays in Blaviken after kicking Geralt out, when in the book he asks the Witcher to leave with him to go to Kovir. Another notable change from the book.
We’ve seen throughout the entire episode how hated Witchers are, even though they help towns by killing monsters that would give your nightmares, nightmares. And here they throw stones and hurl abuse to make him leave. Because of this event, Geralt gets the name The Butcher of Blaviken.
We find princess Ciri before and during the fall of the Kingdom of Cintra at the hands of the Nilfgaardian Empire, a strong and strict empire trying to conquer the Continent and desperate to get Ciri. They present us Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May) and her husband Eist (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), jarl of Skellige. This Ciri feels a bit different from her book’s counterpart. The one in the show is more naïve at the beginning than the one in the books, while the one in the books while being more immature, is much more proud and mischievous.
Nilfgaard ends up invading Cintra to gain more territory and power in the north, but also to get Ciri as she holds a special power. The Battle of Marnadal against the Empire of Nilfgaard was pretty spectacular and we see how the people from Cintra prefer to die than be captured by the empire. Calanthe’s death is the same as it is in the book. She decides to jump off a window to not get caught by Nilfgaard and for losing her kingdom.
The advisor of Calanthe, Mousesack, helps Ciri in her escape and a soldier named Cahir (Eamon Farren) chases her, but she manages to escape using her power. This character is very interesting and it’s going to be fascinating to see him evolve.
A pretty solid first episode to kick things off and to present the world of The Witcher to the audience.
Episode 2: Four Marks
The second episode takes us way back in time to tell us Yennefer’s (Anya Chalotra) story from the beginning. Yennefer in the books talks about her past briefly, so it was a great idea to emphasize her life in-depth and every Yennefer fan agree this was a gift to the character and an opportunity to understand better why she is the cold and serious sorceress we know.
Yennefer had a rough childhood as we see her being hated on due to her hunchback and is treated poorly by her family and stepfather, who sells her to the sorceress Tissaia de Vries (MyAnna Burning), the rector of the academy of Aretuza for young women to become notorious sorceresses.
I love how they showed us a traumatized Yennefer, full of rage, that even tried to kill herself, just like we learn in the books. Tissaia teaches her apprentices how to control magic. Its clear Aretuza wasn’t going to be a place of pleasure for these girls. This was a good way to show the general audiences how magic and chaos work in this saga. Yennefer struggles to master magic and her chaos, but we’ll see her become one of the most powerful sorceresses in the world of the Continent as we know in the novels.
Yennefer gets to know Istredd (Royce Pierreson), a sorcerer from the academy of Band Ard, in the catacombs of Aretuza, and their friendship starts getting intimate. The relationship the readers know about Istredd and Yennefer is that he was her first love and used to be an occasional lover even when she knew Geralt. I didn’t like when, in the show, it seemed that they were using each other for Stregobor to learn that Yennefer has elven blood and for Tissaia to get one of those flowers that opened special portals. Stregobor only shows up in the short story of The Lesser Evil with Renfri, but they wanted to give the character more depth this season and to see how bad he can be.
The scene with the apprentices trying to catch lighting is one of the best of the episode, as it shows us perfectly how chaos works by having to control it via the lighting and how Yennefer lets it all out with her rage. Another curious thing is how Tissaia turns the weak ones into slugs to feed the power of Aretusa as I don’t remember being said in the books.
The story of Geralt is called The Edge of the World in the first book. I have mixed thoughts about how they handled it in the show, as this story felt a bit rushed and not important.
Geralt meets Jaskier (Joey Batey) for the first time in this episode, but in the books, they meet in Gulet when the brothers of a girl he knew were after him and Geralt saved him. A peasant hires Geralt to kill a devil that is stealing their food. In the book, they do not want to kill this devil, named Torque (Amit Shah) and there’s also the Queen of the Fields, Dana Meadbh, a goddess that only appears during summer and autumn being some kind of avatar of nature. The scene with the devil was hilarious and he was perfectly characterized as you can feel him wanting to punch and use the same technique as they do in the book to attack Geralt and Jaskier. This devil steals food from the peasants for a group of elves that were cast out of their home.
Filavandrel (Tom Canton) is a very proud elf, but they didn’t reflect that very well in the episode and they explained quickly the conflict between humans and elves when in the short story is explained in-depth by Sapkowski. Here they use Filavandrel and Istredd to explain it to the audience with the Conjunction of Spheres when the humans arrived and elves taught them how to control the chaos and use magic, that was until the humans slaughtered them and now the elves are left to fight for survival in the hard world of the Continent. Understandably, they wanted to simplify this season in some aspects, but this aspect is not difficult to understand as to how they decided to tell it.
We are back to Ciri’s arc. It felt a bit bland and the addition of Dara (Wilson Radjou-Pujalte) a character created for the series, doesn’t make it any good. They find a camp full of citizens from Cintra that survived the attack from Nilfgaard. This part of the episode serves to show how things are after the massacre and how dwarfs were the slaves of important people and miss treated. They also let Ciri know how they hated Calanthe. The camp is attacked by Nilfgaardians and Ciri is forced again to run with Dara.
With these three separate stories, they show us how Yennefer and Geralt’s events are in the past while Ciri’s take place in the present.
Despite some weak things and changes I didn’t love, this episode is a good continuation for the first one and also keeps you wanting more. The strong spot is that they introduce us to Yennefer of Vengerberg, who will become someone much greater in the future.