Did you see Henry Cavill in a white wig on the side of the bus and have some questions? So did we! In lieu of a straightforward review of The Witcher, a show too bizarre and earnest to subject to the strictures of a standard analysis, let’s process this thing in interrogation form, the better to mirror the thought process of anyone watching this show. Join us—we’ll get through this together.
1. What, exactly, is a witcher?
2. Not The Witcher—The Witcher is a series of TV episodes based on a series of video games based on a series of novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, which premiered on Netflix on Friday. But what is a witcher, the race/occupation after which the property is named?
3. Eventually, as the eight-part season progresses, we start to piece it together: A witcher is a professional monster hunter, equipped with genetic mutations—super-slow heart rate, heightened sense of smell, extreme swole-ness—that assist them in monster hunting. But mutations by whom? For what purpose? And why do people seem to hate witchers, which they demonstrate by heckling them in various medieval-ish taverns? I guess I’m already stacking questions at this point—which is a pretty good summary of Witcher.
4. Witches exist in the world of The Witcher. (So do dragons, elves, djinns, druids, dryads, and something called a “kikimora.”) Are witches related to witchers?
5. Don’t these seem like a lot of open questions to have about a show’s core concept/title character?
6. There are many witchers in the world of The Witcher, but the one of primary interest is Geralt of Rivia, played by Henry “Photoshopped Upper Lip” Cavill. The man is a veteran of franchises both good (Mission: Impossible) and very bad (the DC Cinematic Universe), and satisfies the base requirement of an action hero in that he is undeniably jacked. But also … are we sure about Henry Cavill?
7. Like, the bathroom fight scene from Fallout was dope. But while Cavill sure is pleasing to look at, does he have the acting chops needed to sell underexplained plot McGuffins like “the Law of Child Surprise”?
8. Then again, is Cavill giving a subpar performance, or is he just playing a video game character whose defining characteristic is that he doesn’t experience human emotion?
9. This is what Henry Cavill looks like in The Witcher:
What in God’s name did they do to his eyes?
10. Is Henry Cavill’s eyeball Photoshop in The Witcher better or worse than Robert De Niro’s eyeball Photoshop in The Irishman?
11. Is Henry Cavill specifically seeking out roles that require him to be Photoshopped?
12. Within the world of The Witcher, Geralt has a theme song. (It’s called “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher.”) The Witcher itself does not have a theme song. Is this because the show is aware the song is bad?
13. The Witcher is the latest expensive high-fantasy series to be branded as a would-be follow-up to Game of Thrones. (See also: Amazon’s Carnival Row and upcoming Lord of the Rings series.) But do all these content platforms searching for “the next Game of Thrones” know what made Game of Thrones so popular in the first place?
14. To pick just one minor nit: Game of Thrones opened every episode by showing the viewer exactly where the characters are on a giant map. The Witcher rattles off random kingdom names like “Nilfgaard” and “Skellige” as if they’re supposed to mean something. Is a little cartography too much to ask for?
15. Game of Thrones also managed to imbue Westeros with a detailed sense of history without overwhelming the audience via exposition. The Witcher casually throws in references to past cataclysms like “The Great Cleansing” and “The Conjunction of the Spheres” without fully explaining them. Are we supposed to just intuit what these are?
16. Obviously, there is an incest subplot in The Witcher. Was executives’ main takeaway from Game of Thrones that TV needs more incest?
17. Related: Can we ban the word “seed” from fantasy dialogue?
18. Like many genre stories, The Witcher tends to confuse thoughtful, consistent world-building with sheer quantity of proper nouns. Eist Tuirseach, Blaviken, Filavandrel, Kaer Morhen, Mousesack—can you tell which one of these I just made up?
19. Trick question! The answer is none—Mousesack is real. I’m not brave enough to try to beat The Witcher at its own game. Could any of us mere amateurs come up with a wizard name better than “Stregobor”?
20. Geralt and his various quests-for-profit take up most of The Witcher’s plot, but the show throws in a few extra protagonists for good measure: Yennefer, a quarter-elf peasant with a physical deformity who discovers she’s a powerful witch, and Ciri, a princess left to fend for herself after her family is slaughtered. Yennefer is Geralt’s love interest, Ciri his ward/surrogate daughter. But who needs emotional stakes The Witcher isn’t really up to crafting when a straightforward procedural would be way more fun? What’s wrong with dragon eggs and genie bottles?
21. Yennefer’s mentor tells her that magic is just “controlled chaos.” Can Littlefinger sue?
22. When some of Yennefer’s classmates at the witch academy—just don’t call it Hogwarts—fail to measure up, they turn into eels before Yennefer sweeps them into a pool. What do eels have to do with witchcraft?
23. Pretty much as soon as Yennefer is able, she uses her powers to become more conventionally attractive, which is both deeply relatable and kind of a bummer. Didn’t some other fantasy show do pretty well with a hero forced to navigate a harsh, unforgiving world with a physical disability?
24. When Geralt and Yennefer (the hot version, naturally) finally meet, she’s in the middle of hosting an orgy—but it doesn’t look like anyone’s enjoying it. In the world of The Witcher, are orgies a bad thing?
25. Once Yennefer has glowed up, The Witcher needs to give her some other form of gender-based inner conflict, so she develops an all-consuming and inexplicable need to have a baby. Can murderous spell-casters have it all?!
26. In all seriousness: Is it possible to let female characters just be people and not pining, incomplete mothers-to-be?
27. As the show goes on, it becomes clear that The Witcher’s three main stories take place across three different timelines, which occasionally but don’t always intersect. Is this narrative contortion necessary, or is it just a way for The Witcher to seem more complex than it really is?
28. Could this time be put to better use explaining some of the dozens of plot points The Witcher introduces with zero context, like a knight cursed to look like a hedgehog or a hereditary banshee scream?
29. Across these timelines, every character looks exactly the same, which is confusing in more ways than one. Witches and mutants with eternal youth makes sense, but there are also humans who do not look old enough to have adolescent grandchildren. How does aging work in The Witcher?
30. What about accents? Some actors sound British, others Irish, others German, others … vaguely Middle Eastern. Do these correspond with fictional countries or is everyone kind of winging it?
31. The main antagonists of The Witcher are the Kingdom of Nilfgaard, who are supposedly some kind of religious zealots. Bizarrely, their leaders barely get any screen time, leading us to wonder: What religion do they actually practice? What are its beliefs?
32. During the climactic battle, someone asks a Nilfgaard henchman what they’re after. Is this really something we should be wondering about a villain in the season finale of a show?
33. Those attempting to binge The Witcher over the holiday will get Battle of Winterfell PTSD from trying to watch some scenes in the daytime. Why does every fantasy story have to be shot in navy, sepia, and Zack Snyder Gray?
34. Who is The Witcher for?
35. Netflix surely paid handsomely for the rights because the property comes with a built-in audience—and in an added bonus for Netflix’s global aspirations, an international one. But if The Witcher wants the crossover appeal that made Game of Thrones such an outlier, shouldn’t it try harder to explain itself to newcomers?
36. Can you get Game of Thrones popularity without the meta elements and wariness of cliché that made Thrones appealing to the fantasy-skeptical?
37. Or will The Witcher’s sheer ridiculousness fuel an entire economy of ironic screenshots?
Because this is a list of things that do not happen in The Witcher, allow me to provide you with one thing that DOES happen in The Witcher:— Kathryn VanArendonk (@kvanaren) December 20, 2019
There is a character named BORCH THREE JACKDAWS pic.twitter.com/fdsInbVrCC
38. Does Netflix care where viewers are coming from, so long as they come?
39. Did I just spend thousands of words and multiple hours of my life dissecting a TV show about someone named “Geralt of Rivia”?