The Witcher Season 1 dropped on Netflix on December 20. It’s a show based on a series of books by Andrzej Sapkowski which have been translated from the original Polish for English-speaking readers. There are also video games and comics that made the books more popular. All of this is set in a fantasy world.
There are a lot of great shows on TV right now. And many network shows will be coming back for the second half of the season, and new shows seem to be popping up on various streaming services with regularity, so you might be wondering if The Witcher is worth your time. Or maybe you watched part or all of the first episode of The Witcher and are now thoroughly confused. Keep reading and I’ll help you sort out whether to give this show a chance.
This article is meant to be a review, but also a bit of a guide to help you navigate this new and unfamiliar world. Because of that, there will be minor spoilers. I’m going to give you some information about the main characters and a bit of a hint about the plot. What I won’t do is tell you endings — either of episodes or of the season, and I don’t think anything I’m telling you will be a huge plot twist. But I can’t explain it without giving some details, so if you don’t want to know anything, stop reading now.
Scratching that Game-of-Thrones Itch
If you are a Game of Thrones fan and want more of the same, here are some similarities:
Both series are based on book series.
- The Witcher has been renewed for a second season, and word is that the creators have a seven-season plan, so it seems to be shaping up to be of a similar epic nature.
- There are dragons, and magic, and sword-fighting, and kings and queens and knights.
- There is nudity and sex.
- Neither series is set in our world, so if you like learning new names for places and trying to understand a fictional culture, you’ll like The Witcher.
Having said all of that, there are some differences:
- The Witcher also has Elves and Dwarves.
- It’s hard to say for sure, but it seems that The Witcher has more light-hearted humorous moments than Game of Thrones.
- The Witcher certainly has a shorter list of characters to keep straight.
- There is no official map of the world of The Witcher (more on that below).
- Though both series have an original soundtrack, you’re much more likely to be singing along to songs from The Witcher. Though you might recognize the tune to The Rains of Castamere, only really hard-core Game of Thrones fans are likely to know the lyrics.
There are three main characters in The Witcher, but you only meet two of them in the first episode. At the beginning, none of them knows either of the others, so the first season of The Witcher is mainly the tale of how they come together. But at first, they are each in separate places and, as I’ll explain below, their timelines are not parallel chronologically, which adds to the confusion.
The main character is Geralt of Rivia, played by Henry Cavill, and he is a witcher. What is a witcher? That is not very clearly defined in The Witcher season 1. Though the other two main characters get more of a traditional origin story, we meet Geralt when he’s already performing his role as a witcher, which seems to be to hunt and kill monsters that are threatening people and their livelihoods. Witchers are mutants, they are more powerful and live much longer than humans, and they have stunted emotions. The event that happens in the first episode serves to give Geralt a bit of a moral code that influences his decisions going forward.
The other main character we meet in episode 1 is Cirilla, princess of Cintra, mostly called Ciri. The queen of Cintra is Queen Calanthe, and she’s Ciri’s grandmother. Ciri’s parents are out of the picture (we’ll learn more about that in later episodes). Calanthe’s husband is not Ciri’s grandfather, either. Ciri’s character is central to the story, though she doesn’t not know or understand what makes her special. I suppose it might be a spoiler to tell you, so I won’t, but just trust me, she’s special.
In the second episode, we meet Yennefer of Vengerberg, the third main character. When we meet her, she is a poor deformed hunchback. Almost immediately she is attacked by a couple of lovers who think she was spying on them. It’s not entirely clear at first, but what happens is that as a reflex against the attack, she magically portals to a different location. Since we just met her, it’s not clear to us, but she didn’t know she could do magic, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t realize she caused herself to teleport. Somehow unwittingly doing magic alerts other Mages, and soon after Yennefer is portalled back home, Tissaia de Vries, a sorceress, arrives. Tissaia is also the rectoress of Aretuza, a magical academy for young ladies. She makes a show of purchasing Yennefer (it’s unclear if Yennefer and her family believe she will be a slave or a meal). But instead, she joins a group of other young ladies at the academy. Being a mage causes Yennefer to age more slowly than humans, so when we see her in some of the later episodes, it is decades later than the time when she was at Aretuza.
There is one more character I’ll tell you about, and he is Jaskier the bard. He meets up with Geralt and insists on accompanying him, though Geralt wants no part of it. Jaskier is part musician and part marketer, and he sees the need for improvement in Geralt’s reputation after an incident that occurs in the first episode. Jaskier writes a ballad that you may have heard (and if you haven’t, you probably soon will) that actually does the trick, and slowly their relationship becomes more friendly. Jaskier often serves to give bits of needed exposition, since Geralt is a man of few words, and he also brings humor as well as music.
Timeline Confusion in The Witcher Season 1
I think the timeline is the element that will cause the most confusion amongst viewers who are unfamiliar with the source material. But don’t fret: I, too, was unfamiliar with the source material, and I figured it out. But it does take paying close attention; if you’re scrolling through Facebook or Twitter and only watching the show with half an eye, you might stay confused.
The first thing to realize (and the show doesn’t make this clear until many episodes later) is that the scenes with Geralt in the first episode do not happen concurrently with the scenes involving Ciri in the first few episodes. Ciri’s timeline can be considered “the present,” but it’s unclear until the end how the timelines of the other two characters relate.
The exact time span for each character doesn’t really matter. It only matters when they meet each other. So what you have to know is that when Geralt and Yennefer meet, decades have passed since we first saw Yennefer. And the scenes in episode 1 with Ciri take place much later than the Geralt scenes in the same episode, because all of the things we see happen to Geralt during this season must have taken place over a longer time span than what we see happening to Ciri. Don’t worry too much about this; it will start to make sense before the final episode, I promise!
In a later episode there is a scene with Geralt and Queen Calanthe and you’ll realize, as you watch it, that it takes place before Ciri was born. That’s when the timeline stuff starts to finally make sense (or if you’re not paying close enough attention it could be the point where you get so confused you stop watching).