The first season of Netflix’s The Witcher is available now for streaming, but critics got an early look at the first five episodes for review. Still, publications weren’t allowed to put up their reviews until the day the show was released, begging the question of whether or not the whole show is as rough as those first shots of Henry Cavill’s Geralt wig.
A few reviews out their have dinged the show for confusing plotting and Netflix’s all-too-common pacing problems, but it mostly seems like folks who’re either fans of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels (upon which the show is based) or who’ve grown fond of Geralt of Rivia through CD Projekt Red’s games have a few things to like or love about the show.
If you’re really into The Witcher games and can’t imagine Superman in place of Doug Cockle, it sounds like you should at least give it the show a try—but if you’re still on the fence, we’ve rounded up some of the key takeaways from reviews that went up today:
It’s all a bit silly, but no more so than Game of Thrones ever was. Netflix has already greenlit a second season, and if it is as relentlessly entertaining as this one has been, I hope they make seven more. Think of all the tubs Geralt could soak in with that many episodes.
He loves Roach and Roach doesn’t really give a shit. Netflix Geralt presents as a nihilist vagabond just trying to get by, a brooding dude soured on the world but who can’t help his nature: he cares. He cares about Jaskier, Yennefer, and even complete strangers tangled up in the messy business of politics and monster hunting. I forgot Cavill was there by the end of the first episode. It’s our boy.
While Geralt’s emotional arc over the first half the show is relatively flat, Yennefer’s arc provides The Witcher with a satisfying character development that drives home its darker themes of what it means to be human in a world of monsters-and when she and Geralt eventually cross paths, the butting of heads between their strong and dominant personalities makes for a compelling relationship to watch blossom.
What makes The Witcher feel different, though, is in the details. These stories aren’t full of people being awful for the sake of it; they’re making choices based on love or survival, and then things go wrong. What makes The Witcher so compelling is how it delves into these gray areas, exploring why people do what they do. By the end, you’ll have some measure of sympathy for almost everyone, no matter how irredeemable they might seem at first.
I can’t bear any longer the sight of actors strolling around in aesthetically displeasing stringy wigs, which are surely the height of impracticability for any warrior, supernatural or otherwise, and make everyone look like a sub-Fabio who managed a term at Lamda before dropping out in unspecified disgrace.
It’s simply too difficult to parse what’s going on when the show is constantly jumping back and forth between scenes that take place decades apart with no title cards or other markers to indicate where or when anything takes place. Every time you start a new episode, it feels like you accidentally skipped one in between, and the show actively refuses to put any work into catching you up, because it unreasonably assumes you’ll put an inordinate amount of work into following along.
This is the first TV show I’ve ever seen that would actually be better with commercial breaks. The goofy syndicated fantasy of yesteryear had to have a brisk pace, building every 12 minutes to an act-breaking cliffhanger. The Witcher fully embraces the endless-movie layout of the worst Blank Check streaming TV.
The ‘Just So-So’ Takes
The show’s dramatic sensibility is intense and indulgent, crafting action sequences whose length bulks out episodes past hourlong running times. Its comic sensibility is puerile and a bit sarcastic. Indeed, Henry Cavill’s “Witcher,” a hunter of supernatural beings, and his frequent scene partner, Joey Batey’s jester and bard Jaskier, can feel like a TV pairing less serendipitously unlikely than discordant – a regular Jon Snow and Butt-Head.
The Mandalorian also uses its high production values for dramatic alien landscapes and battles, and so far, its weakest episodes would hold up against The Witcher‘s strongest. Fans of the IP might find some satisfaction in spending time with the characters and world while waiting for The Witcher 4 to come out, but general genre fans don’t have to settle for this show. A better version of it is already airing.
Will you like The Witcher if you’re a curious neophyte? Maybe, but you have to be patient with it, and if that’s not your job, the outsized amusements may not be worth the convoluted build-up.
With a second season already guaranteed and plenty of Sapkowski books to draw from—showrunner Lauren Hissrich confirms the show won’t adapt from the games moving forward—The Witcher has a shot at getting better from here. If you’ve got your own thoughts to add on Netflix’s take, we’d love to see them in the comments.