This post was updated in May 2020
As a longtime fan of The Witcher games and books, I heard about the Netflix adaptation early on. Initially, I was excited. By the time the trailer released, my hype had turned to indifference. I decided I wasn’t going to watch it.
Then the show exploded. Surprised and unsure, I thought maybe my initial impressions were wrong. I decided to give it a chance.
Unfortunately, as suspected, I didn’t like it. At all.
When it comes to this blog, I tend to favor the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” attitude. Close to two decades of online nerdiness have taught me to stay away from drama and negativity.
However, most who find and read this blog, do so when searching for reviews of The Witcher books. Those are the posts that get consistent and daily hits. Especially now, after the success of Netflix The Witcher.
Because of that, I want to explain why I don’t like the Netflix adaptation, and why you’ll (probably) never hear me mentioning it in future witcher related posts.
As a 90s teenager, I grew up with shows like Xena, and Hercules, entertaining shows but not realistic. Comic book movies were campy and overacted. Fantasy was something we nerds liked.
Since then, titles like The Lord of the Rings movies, Game of Thrones, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have changed people’s perception of fantasy and superheroes.
With the fantastic journey that fantasy and comic book adaptations have gone thorough, it baffles me that Netflix would release a show that quality-wise, in terms of production value, takes us back to Xena and Hercules.
Netflix The Witcher looks so cheap.
The CGI is dreadful, as are the creature and monster designs. The costumes are a mishmash of styles without any thought of cohesiveness and don’t even get me started on the armor.
Most of the soldiers look like they’re wearing an over-sized version of a “knight dress-up” toy set, except for the Nilfgaardians who’s wearing… I don’t even know.
When you have a world as complicated as the Continent, a world filled with not only different nationalities, but races other than human, you need to be able to “see” who people are.
In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, even if Gimli had been seven feet tall, you could still tell he was a dwarf by his style of clothing, his beard, his speech. In Netflix The Witcher, being a dwarf means being short. That’s it. That’s all you get in terms of character creation.
In Netflix adaptation, there’s no apparent distinction between the ancient race of dwarfs and a short human.
In Netflix The Witcher, being an elf means having prosthetic ears glued on to random people. They’re just humans with pointy ears. There’s no similarity between them, no common features, or sign they are a different species altogether.
Give one a hat that covers the ears, and they’re human.
The same goes for the dryads; in the books, they’re are a fascinating species. In the Netflix adaptation, they’re… stone age warrior women?
In short: Netflix adaptation has no depth. The world and the people who inhabit it are just randomly “fantasy medieval.”
It’s a shame. Netflix The Witcher had a golden opportunity to act as a bridge between the books and the games (which take place after the books). They could have told the story in the books while also adapting CD Project Red’s visual take on the Continent.
Instead, it does its own thing. Unfortunately, their way doesn’t live up to the standard of either the books nor the game franchise.
Their approach takes us back to the fantasy and sci-fi shows of the nineties. I loved them, Xena, Babylon 5, even Young Hercules. But that was twenty-five years ago, and it was all we had.
These days’ my expectations are a lot higher, and this adaptation was a big step in the wrong direction.
REMOVING THINGS THAT MATTER
Despite appearances, I’m not picky when it comes to adaptations. In previous posts, I’ve discussed the adaptation of American Gods, and Killing Eve. I enjoy both despite them deviating a great deal from their book counterparts.
I’m not the type of fan who rages when things are cut or added. I love Tom Bombadil, but I understand why he isn’t in The Fellowship of the Ring.
When you translate a written text to a visual medium like TV or film, changes have to be made. In Netflix The Witcher, the problem isn’t that they’ve made changes. It’s how they made them.
In an attempt to include as many short stories from The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny as possible, they’ve made extensive cuts in the individual stories and dialogue, cut’s that significantly impact the storytelling.
Apart from the confusing timeline, much of the world-building, characterization, moral ambiguity, emotional depth, and philosophical complexity of these stories are lost.
The Witcher books are highly dialogue-driven, it’s not surprising that they’ve had to scale back. Unfortunately, many times these cuts and changes destroy the climax of a story or diminish the importance of a scene. What’s left often comes off as campy, forced, and at times genuinely cringe-worthy.
For me, the worst changes they made were cutting out a significant portion of Geralt and Ciri’s early relationship.
In the books, they meet before the attack on Cintra; they’ve already established a relationship. Taking out that part and replacing it with vague talk about destiny completely destroys the climax when Geralt finds her after she escapes the war.
It’s such a fantastic climax and emotional release, and it’s all lost in the adaptation.
It’s a shame they tried to adapt so many of the short stories in one season when they didn’t have the run-time to do any of them justice.
All the short stories are great; I understand why they wanted to include so many of them. But I wish they’d focused on those that actually impact the larger story.
In my opinion, those are The Witcher for an introduction to Geralt’s character. A Question of Price, Sword of Destiny, and Something More, which chronicles Geralt and Ciri’s story.
And finally, The Last Wish, The Bounds of Reason, and A Shard of Ice, which explains Geralt and Yennefer’s relationship.
ADDING THINGS THAT DON’T
Which brings me to my next point.
They didn’t only cut out important stuff; they added plenty that is entirely unnecessary.
One example is Yennefer’s backstory. In the books, the fact that she used to be disfigured and abused by her father is mentioned briefly only a few times.
I love that Yennefer’s story is revealed slowly as her relationship with Geralt, Ciri, and the reader deepens. Her character goes through such an impactful journey.
Yennefer is not a smooth character; her layers have layers. In the adaption, instead of slowly letting us discover who Yennefer is—allowing her motives to be entirely her own—her story is laid bare (literally) in the first few episodes.
For example, her suicide attempt at Aretuza isn’t mentioned until the last book of the series, The Lady of the Lake.
Also, why is Yennefer naked all the time?
She certainly isn’t in the books. I find it kind of funny that much of the praise for the show focuses on its “female-centric storytelling.”
In no other version of this story, the books or the games is Yennefer sexualized as much she is in Netflix The Witcher.
To summarize: I appreciate why they had to make changes. But I don’t understand their priorities. They’ve intentionally cut out essential parts of the story to include their own unnecessary additions.
REMOVING SHADES OF GRAY
A major theme in Sapkowskis books is that there are only shades of gray; there’s no right or wrong, only points of view.
In Netflix The Witcher, all that moral complexity is thrown out the window for a simple black or white storytelling.
A good example is how they portray Nilfgaard. Nilfgaard is an empire. And just like their real-life historical counterparts—the Romans, the Persians, the Chinese—they are expansionist and culturally elitist. However, they are not “evil.”
The Northern Kingdoms are not “the good guys,” nor are they victims.
Throughout the books, there are several wars between Nilfgaard and the Northern Kingdoms. Both sides break the truce and try to gain the upper hand. Both sides scheme, torture, spy, murder, rape, and commit what we would label as war-crimes.
Nilfgaard is a highly militaristic and hierarchical society, but they are not religious zealots. Unlike in Netflix adaptation, Nilfgaard’s expansion in the novels is not driven by some mysterious religious zeal.
Why does this matter?
Because it oversimplifies the world. It also does an incredible disservice to characters connected with Nilfgaard, like Cahir, and Fringilla Vigo.
Cahir is one of my favorite characters. True, he has a rocky start, but as the series progresses, his journey is one of the more profound ones. With how they’ve—so far—portrayed his character, I don’t see how they can do him justice and give him his redemption story.
It also oversimplifies Nilfgaard as a political faction and, more importantly, Emperor Emhyr. The plot surrounding him and Nilfgaard’s war against the Northern Kingdoms is so multifaceted and cleaver.
It’s set up in one of the first short stories and then spins into a major plot twist revealed at the end of the last book. I don’t see how they’ll be able to pull that off with the angle they’re now pursuing.
To be blunt: the plot has been so dumbed down. And it’s a real shame.
Another example is how they portrayed Yennefer’s physical change.
First of all, almost everything in that episode is new material. Yennefer’s appearance before her transformation and how that happened is barely mentioned. There’s only a few scattered sentences throughout the entire book series.
Secondly, in the books most—not all— sorceresses are sterile; it’s a side-effect of their magical abilities and treatments, but they don’t have their uterus and ovaries removed; not even Yennefer.
My biggest problem with Yennefer strapped down in that chair—apart from it being a blatant excuse to keep the actress naked for most of the episode—is that it diminishes how horrific it is.
The chair and the removal of a uterus (or several) are included in the novels; it’s part of the main plot and revealed late in the series.
However, it’s unveiling is one of the series major “what the actual fuck moments.”
It’s one of the few times that even the most morally fluid of the characters take a step back and go “Whoa! That’s messed up.”
It’s a line in the sand that firmly separates the scheming parties from the actual antagonists, revealing that there are boundaries most people won’t cross, things that are seen as evil even in this world.
By putting Yennefer in the chair, and having her uterus removed, they’ve spoiled that.
There’s no way to separate the characters who—although ruthless and ambitious—still have a moral code, from those who are genuinely unhinged.
The Witcher books have layers upon layers of moral grayscale, nothing is simple, and no one easily divided into good or bad. This is lost in the Netflix adaptation.
With the changes they’ve made, they’ve chosen a style of storytelling that firmly relies on good or bad.
In some episodes, like the first one with Renfri, they’ve tried to portray that moral ambiguity. Unfortunately, they’ve omitted the part of the story and dialogue that is necessary to fully understand that grayscale.
Instead, in what I assume is an attempt to make the series easily digestible, they’ve simplified it so much, the whole point of the story is lost.
IT’S NOT WHAT I WANTED
Of course, Netflix The Witcher is not the books. It’s an adaptation. The showrunners are free to make the changes they feel are necessary to tell The Witcher Saga the way they want it told.
I realize what I like about the books is not what attracts people to the Netflix series. I love the grayness of the world, the historical references, and the long, philosophical dialogue.
I love the layered plot, the political intrigue, and the fact that you never really know who is backstabbing whom. When it comes to stories, I tend to gravitate to ones where things are not cut and dry. I get bored with invincible heroes, and “special girl” heroines.
In Netflix The Witcher, everything I love about The Witcher Saga is gone.
When I’m feeling diplomatic, I can see that the show probably embraces what most love about the series. Monsters, Geralt being gruff, Yennefer being hot, and a lot of fighting in between.
When I (temporarily) let go of my Nordic neutrality, all I see is one of my favorite book series reduced to generic fantasy, replacing layered characters and a complex story with blood and boobs.
But I’m in the minority. The show is clearly a huge success.
In any case, the fact that I dislike the adaptation doesn’t mean I don’t see the value in it being such a hit. The sales of both books and games have skyrocketed. That’s great!
If you’ve found your way to this blog because of the adaptation, Welcome to The Witcher World; I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.
(Don’t mind the grumpy woman behind the keyboard, she really wanted them to cast Zach McGowan as Geralt).
Wither you agree or disagree, feel free to leave a comment or your take on Netflix The Witcher.
However, I’ve tried really hard to keep this text respectful and open to other people’s point-of-view, please return the favor.
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