The latest season of Netflix’s The Witcher adaptation has arrived, or rather, it has begun, as we have to wait until the end of July to see how season 3 ends. But now that the show is back on the streamer, we at Gamereactor UK have had a number of different opinions on the series as a whole, and have therefore decided to hit heads and clash, as part of the first installment in our new debate-style article series, Head-to-Head.
To kick off, Ben Lyons and Alex Hopley will give their opinions on the show and reasons for and against this live-action version of Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy world.
Ben – For:
Now let me make it fundamentally clear: I’m not some kind of Netflix or TV producer sympathizer. That said, some of the backlash this show has received has been far too extreme. The Witcher series is not a great show, but neither are many of Netflix’s live-action productions. In fact, there are many live-action fantasy series that aren’t great either, whether it’s Wheel of Time or The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. The Witcher is no exception, and yet the backlash this show receives and the hatred cast against showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich would make it seem like this is some sort of anomaly.
Devoted fans choose absolutely every part of this show. Unless it’s Henry Cavill’s rendition of Geralt of Rivia, it’s out of the question for a Witcher fan, and frankly, that’s incredibly childish if you ask me. The writing for the show is not excellent, and some of the Netflix-like liberties they take create more problems than benefits, but the cast is generally pretty good at bringing their characters to life, and the costumes, set design, fight scenes and visual effects are all very good. A lot of people are working very hard to give us this project. It’s not peak Game of Thrones quality mind you – but again, nothing is, even Game of Thrones wouldn’t be able to keep up with that level of quality.
But unlike George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series, I think the showrunners on The Witcher have been tasked with completing a feat considerably more difficult than what it seems. The books are shorter, packed with fewer details and not written in a way that translates easily to a TV format. In fact, The Witcher would be better off as a movie series, but people prefer TV to movies, so it had no option but to become the former. Therefore, to make each book a decent TV season, the showrunners and writers have to add extra things, all without the help of author Sapkowski, storylines that Witcher fans don’t like. But the alternative is a three-episode season that wouldn’t be financially viable for Netflix to fund. It’s a no-win situation.
It didn’t help that it started adapting The Last Wish, the first of two storybooks. In my opinion, this is a terrible place to start a TV show because it’s confusing and doesn’t encourage great plot or character development. But yes, Time of Contempt (the first book in the main series) relies on information from these short stories, so they have to be addressed at some point. Still, I don’t believe The Witcher books themselves are easily adaptable, and what we have so far from Netflix proves that.
The Witcher could be better, no doubt. But it could also be much, much worse. Witcher fans will make it seem like this is one of the worst adaptations of all time, but I could point them in the direction of a whole list of adaptations that are just fundamentally bad (hell, take Eragon as an example), something that this show is not. I really think people need to take some time to think about what they have with Netflix taking a chance on this show with a big budget, because if the hate keeps flowing, it will be canceled and we won’t see The Witcher in TV or movie format for a significant amount of time. To me, that sounds like a miserable world to live in.
Alex – Against:
While I agree with the point that the Netflix Witcher series is not the worst thing I have seen on screen, and to judge it as a true adaptation at this point is rather unhelpful, as I get older and crankier, I am beginning to find that I can hold a serious grudge. One of these major grudges is against the Netflix version of The Witcher, because it wasted an almighty opportunity to succeed. If anything, even if it’s not laughably bad, that makes what it is worse, because at this point it has become boring, meaningless drivel, something that fits into Netflix’s agenda when it should be and very good THE SHOW could have been to watch.
I’m not criticizing a show because of the casting choices, the sexuality of the characters or anything like that. If you’re looking for someone to rant about that, get a life. Instead, The Witcher on Netflix has plenty of other, real-world problems, and most of them exist within the writing. It’s clear from the costume design (aside from that blazer Geralt wears in S3 Episode 5), monsters and great elaborate sets that the millions of dollars were at least partially well spent. Where The Witcher lets itself down 99% of the time, however, is in the writing. The dialogue given to characters is full of modernisms that pull you out of the idea that this world is real, lived-in and matters. Moreover, the way the topics of magic, the powers of the world and more are crammed into a conversation just comes across as clumsy and lazy. It feels like these scripts aren’t being proofread, and it makes the characters and the show in general look dumber for it. It becomes hard to ignore because dialogue is one of the main, albeit often unnoticed, ways we immerse ourselves in the media we consume. When it comes across awkwardly, your ears begin to burn and you realize something is not quite right.
The plot suffers in the same way, as we sometimes go from treading water to a breakneck pace because it seems like the writers care more about hitting certain moments than anything else. The Witcher is not about the destination, but about the journey to get there. Therefore, for the first two books, we only learn more about our cast as they roam the world. This may make them a more difficult series to adapt, but to say they are not suitable for TV doesn’t quite hit the mark in my opinion. Rather, I would argue that it is not suitable for Netflix’s television schedule, which refuses to do anything bold, even with its greatest concepts. We have to fit in an hour of time, which often leads to silly subplots that infect an otherwise tight and consistent story. No one ever asked for the adaptation to be perfect. I often cringed when reading certain parts of the books, especially the ones where Geralt is just sleeping with whoever is stupid enough to be watching him, but instead of cutting the fat to give us a lean, smooth experience, Netflix has given us foie gras in TV form, with content in its most sickeningly modern form, rather than a story worth remembering. Characters are left unmotivated and uninteresting, plotlines are picked up and forced upon us before they are even ripe, and unnecessary threads are picked at each new season in hopes of distracting us from the hollow whole.
For me, The Witcher will always be weak, and it could have been better. There are other, worse adaptations out there, but what has to do with isme solves nothing, only deflecting a problem instead of facing it. The Witcher could have been better, and there’s no denying that. To sit there and say we are where we are is fine, and I myself can be found in that defeatist camp, but this is not the fault of the books, nor is it the fault of the cast, or most of the crew. Even the writers have suffered because the current series has been split into two parts. Netflix should carry the greatest weight here, because even without the changes from the book, this show probably could not be more than halfway through. Remember, Henry Cavill left for a reason, and the fact that a man who was once so eager to play his dream role left the project is a shame enough for The Witcher to remain inexcusable.