If you’re reading this, then the full season one of Netflix’s newest original fantasy epic has just dropped and is available for streaming.
Billed as Netflix’s answer to the entertainment vacuum left by the wrapping up of Game of Thrones’ final season, select media were treated to a screening of the pilot episode, titled “The End’s Beginning,” written by showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich.
Off the bat I’ll say that from the first episode, the show not only looks fantastic with great lighting and visual tone, but it’s also excellently cast and very well paced.
Starring Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) as Geralt of Rivia, Freya Allan (War of the Worlds) as Princess Ciri, and Anya Chalotra (Sherwood) as the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg, this is the kind of meat and potatoes pulp-fantasy that would appeal not just to GoT fans, but also the normals who wouldn’t usually go see a sword and sorcery epic but are really curious what Henry Cavill—this age’s Superman—has been up to after taking off the spandex costume.
If you’re worried about cred, Polish author Andrej Sapkowski is also fully on board as a creative consultant. His input with CD Projekt Red’s award-winning videogames series was said to be invaluable.
Here are our initial thoughts on that first, bloody damn good episode that kicks off Netflix’s The Witcher.
Expect cool monsters
Geralt of Rivia, sullen of disposition and deadly with his combat skills, is a monster hunter who prefers the solitary life. Episode 1 establishes that right away, when it opens with Geralt doing battle sans any back-up with what looks like a mutated cross between an arachnid and a human: the Kikimora, a monster of Polish mythology.
So far, so very kick-ass. And there will be further gnarly monsters from Czech and Polish mythology to deal with later, before the episode is over.
Insanely good swordplay
The first fight scene with sword versus sword is bloody insane in its explosiveness and violence. Furdik also had nothing but praise for the muscled up Henry Cavill in a media interview: “He is excellent, without him they wouldn’t be able to do it, I can guarantee that. I don’t know any actors who are that good with a sword and fight scenes overall as Henry is. I have never met anyone who could learn fight choreography [for a scene] in two hours.”
Better caliber of action than Game of Thrones? Maybe! Furdik’s response: “When it comes to our action scenes I can vouch for their quality and from what I have seen of the actual footage they are very good.”
Gorgeous visuals and costumes
And as for the visuals, the cinematography and the camera work that changes from the battlefield to the quiet politics within the castle excellently sets up the varying moods that cues us in to the episode’s timelines. There are some plot surprises that the visuals will clue you in with, but that’s a good discovery for actual viewing.
Having produced two Marvel shows for Netflix, including Daredevil and The Defenders miniseries, she’s also showing that she can handle the demands of fantasy storytelling since she’s been a big fan of the books by Sapkowski. Those screenwriting chops honed from her early days on The West Wing must also be coming in handy.
Sorcery, dark and powerful
And who is the seductive, mysterious, and ill-born Princess Renfri (Emma Appleton) that’s trying to negotiate a contract with Geralt?
What happened at Blaviken?
Meet Princess Ciri, Lion Cub of Cintra
Young ingénue Freya Allan inhabits the vulnerability and new found powers of the ill-fated Princess Ciri, who must find the strength to survive and later try to reclaim her throne, even as her dying grandmother, Cintra’s queen, exhorted her to “Find Geralt of Rivia, he is your destiny.”
It’s not easy being a witcher
They’re a cross between necessary outsider and untouchable. Townspeople may turn to Geralt and hire him out of desperation to execute the latest monster harassing them and their lands, but they wouldn’t hesitate to shun him once said job is over, pelting him with rocks and vegetables for his troubles.
So far, not the kind of heroic thanks you’d expect form a populace grateful to be rescued.
Showrunner Lauren Hissrich was forthcoming about building up the drama around a witcher’s place in that kind of hardscrabble medieval society at the Asia Pacific launch presser, held at the Conrad Hotel in Pasay City last December 12.
“Geralt’s journey is mostly about loneliness at the beginning, a lot of being outside,” she said. “We really wanted to build up The Continent for what it is and the people that are in it, the politics, and the society. Where do witchers fit into that?”
Cavill breathes life into the gruff and ready Geralt with the kind of thespian skills that he’s put into portraying Superman in 2013’s Man of Steel and ordinary Greek fighting man Theseus in 2011’s flawed yet visually striking Immortals.
In fact, what’s surprising is how far from jaded Geralt is as a person, given how he’s treated by normal folk and nobility. Cavill’s White Wolf is charming and deadly, distant and reluctantly humane. I for one look forward to the arc that develops this character into the epic anti-hero of pulp fantasy that he is sure to become as the season progresses.
Meantime Netflix has already ordered a second season for this series and will start filming in February 2020. Early season renewals like this are rare for Netflix and it shows how much trust they put into the cast and showrunner.
Better than Game of Thrones? Looks promising, very promising.
Netflix’s “The Witcher” is now streaming in full. Watch it here.