Why Netflix’s ‘The Witcher’ Lost me at Episode 5

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I hate to say it, but, I won’t be watching the last three episodes of Netflix’s ‘The Witcher’. But not for the reasons you might think.

I have played the Witcher 3 game, and have a passing familiarity with the books. As a result, I don’t feel comfortable getting into the granular nature of the world’s lore. Instead, I want to draw some comparisons to other shows like Game of Thrones and directorial decisions that hinder the show. To be clear I have only watched up to episode 5 of the show, the point being that the show lost me at this point and these are the reasons. As I haven’t finished the show this is not a review, it is just my thoughts that you are welcome to disagree with.

To be clear, I am not saying that I hate this show, nor that anyone who likes it is wrong for doing so. Rather, I was expecting something akin to ‘Game of Thrones’, in writing, acting and direction quality which I felt is lacking overall. Also, I won’t be spoiling anything major from the show. But if you want to watch the show, definitely do, I want nothing but the best for this series and it deserves all the success in the world.

 

For some reason Netflix decided, like many of its shows, to have a director or directors handle two episodes in a series and then move on to someone else. I’m sure there are plenty of practical reasons for this but it leaves each episode feeling a little disconnected from the rest, in terms of the visual style.

In the first episode, there are a couple of uses of continuous shots, which I am a big fan of. Generally speaking, these kinds of shots are hard to do, taking this directorial decision is one that would have needed time and energy to implement, so there is certainly a point to it. Scale, atmosphere, a personal view and a feeling of an organic world are generally the reasons a director would choose this harder style. For a new Witcher TV series, I think it is perfect.

The Witcher was not a mainstream intellectual property up until this point and the world of The Witcher is a very different one to that of other fantasy, therefore, a continuous shot, because of the benefits above, would be perfect. But it only appears in the first episode. Arguably it is the best place for it, but, Geralt travels to several different places in the course of the series and in my mind they all melded together because they don’t feel visually distinct from one another.

This leads on to another point. There are times in the series when names of places and people are being discussed or referenced. The problem I have with this is that I only have a vague idea of where and what these places are due to my history with the series.

Here I would like to draw the comparison to Game of Thrones. G.O.T. had a clever way of establishing locations with long exposition dumps. The opening credits panned over a map of the world showing the rough locations of the important places and the families who controlled them. As the series went on new locations were added and the visuals were changed to reflect certain events in the story. This served as a clever reminder of events that had taken place, and when someone referenced a location, the audience were not completely clueless.

Moreover, the map served to give a sense of scale to the world. The Witcher world is a big one but you don’t get that feeling when you are watching. Often the locations are indoors or in an indistinct forest. Although, notably, there is an episode that takes place in a desert location, but after that episode, it’s back to the forest.

Okay, a break from the negative. I liked the fight scenes. Particularly in episodes 1 and 3. I thought that it was well shot and choreographed. But… the sound effects of swords swishing through the air, making overly loud clangs and stabbing noises. I was taken right out of the action. The Witcher is a dark and gritty series, with real horror around every corner,  having cartoonishly loud punctuations during a fight feels inconsistent.

The C.G.I. isn’t amazing but I’ll give it a pass, not every show has HBO money behind it. What I can’t give a pass is the cutting away from the action just at the wrong moment. The first episodes fight direction is great but in the episodes after, the camera cuts away from punches just before they land. Geralt casts a spell in episode 5, it shows him pose and a little poof comes from his hand, it then shows a separate shot of the spell going off. It makes the magic feel like C.G.I. rather than something tangible, which is always the challenge with C.G.I. but the editing choice doesn’t help.

The acting in The Witcher is solid for the most part, Henry Cavil plays it straight and Geralt is likeable with a no-nonsense straight to the point f*ck you attitude. But several of the other characters, notably Yenneifer, seem as though they are overacting. Nothing that she says, because of the way she says it, sounds like real dialogue. Jaskier has the same problem. Nothing sounds natural. It is as if they are delivering the line in the most dramatic way possible.

Going back to the Game of Thrones comparison, there are times when two characters will sit down and just talk. Although they are actors, acting, everything is very natural. If you want to see a master class in making acting look natural and a critical breakdown of each element, check out the video below of Anthony Hopkins in Westworld.

 

I’ll be honest, I feel the writing is a little weak in places. Often times characters are introduced and killed off fairly quickly. Ciri’s sections in episode 2 stand out to me. There are characters that get introduced are killed off later that same episode. Although the characters are shown being nice to Ciri they are also depicted as racist and abusive to their servants. When this character dies I’m not sure what to feel. So little time is spent with them, so I have no investment, and they are shown to not be particularly nice. When the character dies, I feel ambivalent at best.

Ciri is an important character in the story, and I don’t dislike her, but she doesn’t have a huge amount of agency. She expresses the need to find Geralt but is swept along by other characters and makes no attempt to actually reach her goal outside of mentioning it every now and again. The first episode or so Ciri is made out to be a bit of a bratty kid, which doesn’t endear me to her right off the bat. From that point on, as previously mentioned, she is just swept along by other characters or forces out of her control, she doesn’t act by herself to achieve her goals or overcome any adversity, as a direct result I have no reason to root for her success or failure.

Dandelion (Jaskier), the bard, is used as comic relief, but for me, a lot of the jokes don’t land. “I have to go, I left my cat…on the stove…” not for me.

I like Yennifer’s early episodes. Her story arch from no one to someone (I’m being vague here) I found interesting and engaging. But after this, she comes across as arrogant, selfish and manipulative. I found myself actively rooting against her at points as she manipulated and forced her will onto others for her personal gain. In my opinion, Yennifer is bordering on antagonist territory, but I know that isn’t the case. So far I haven’t seen any redeeming features in her character, she might change her ways by the end of the season but the show has already lost me.

Having played the game I would have liked to have a stand-alone episode in which Geralt takes a contract from a village or individual to hunt down a monster. You can make your own assertions as to what monster it should be, but it would have given an idea of what Witchers actually do, the encyclopedic knowledge they have for monsters and the skills they learn from childhood. They could have worked in how Witchers are made and trained

There is some of this in episode 3. But I would have liked a longer and more in-depth look. To draw a comparison to, BBC’s Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, I felt some of the best episodes were the ones where they solved classic cases with a new modern-day spin. This invested viewers in the characters, proved their abilities and when things got more serious, it felt personal.

Those are my criticisms of Netflix’s ‘The Witcher’. This is all just my opinion if you enjoy the show I truly envy you.  You might think I like picking holes for the sake of it but my enjoyment of the show was genuinely hindered by these points until I couldn’t see anything else.

With that being said, what do you think? Have your say in the comments below.

If you want to check out more from me I write a blog: www.double-bear.com


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