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.
But First, a few Clarifications
1. This is not a rant or rage post. It’s not a text where I quote obscure lore from the books to tell you why I’m right, and everyone else is wrong. I intend to explain why I don’t like the adaptation, not why you shouldn’t. If you do, that’s great. I’m happy for you and frankly a bit envious. I sincerely wish I did.
2. Although I feel many of the characters are miscast, I will not review or discuss the actor’s performances.
3. I don’t care that they’ve changed the ethnicity of some characters; skin color is not the problem.
4. When I say things like: Yennifer would never, Ciri would, Geralt is, etc. what I mean is: “based on my interpretation of these characters, my personal opinion is that…”
My point is, I’m not presenting and objective truth. I’m expressing a subjective opinion.
5. And finally. This is not a quick read; I tried my best to be brief, but I failed. I’ve been working on this text for a long time, writing, deleting, editing, and writing again. Believe it or not, this is the abridged version.
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 two 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.
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 people.
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, Netflix The Witcher 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 and Adding Things that Don’t.
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. 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 significant 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 of the cuts and changes in dialogue 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.
The Witcher novels are smart. Yes, Geralt says fuck a lot. Yes, he’s not the most talkative of characters. But, in the books, Geralt is intelligent and well-read; he can easily hold his own in academic, ethical, moral, or philosophical conversations. He’s taciturn because he chooses to be.
I could give plenty of examples. But, in an attempt to keep what will be a very long post a little shorter, if you want a more in-depth look at what I mean, these two YouTube videos touch on a few good examples—some which I’ll cover briefly later in this post—without being overtly negative, ranting, or unfair.
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.
I wish they’d focused on the three that chronicles Geralt and Ciri’s relationship, A Question of Price, Sword of Destiny, and Something More, as well as The Last Wish, which explains Geralt and Yennefer’s relationship.
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 throughout the books 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. That ritual in episode five where she tries to take on a Djinn in the nude is not present in the book. In The Last Wish, she does try to capture the Djinn, but she’s fully dressed while doing so.
The same goes for that scene where her appearance is “changed,” which isn’t in the books at all.
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.
Exchanging Shades of Gray for Black and White Storytelling
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. In the books, their characters are much more complex with essential roles to play.
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.
Another example that bothered me is how they portrayed Yennefer’s physical change.
Just to be clear, 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 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.
There are a ton of other things about the Netflix adaptation that bothers me; how they portrayed Ciri and told her backstory, what they did to the dryads, the chapter of mages, King Foltest… There’s plenty I don’t like.
Too much for me to look past no matter how much I want to love it.
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 don’t like the way they tell it, but that’s me. I’m
probably—definitely—a demanding audience.
I’ve been playing the games continuously since 2013, read the book series (twice), the comics, and I collect the Dark Horse Comics statues.
I’m not making a list to try and prove I’m the ultimate fan. What I’m trying to say is I’ve spent a lot of time in The Witcher world, so I have a firm idea about who these characters are to me, and what I love about the story.
But, it’s unrealistic and unreasonable to think this story should be adapted to fit my interpretation, the pictures I’ve painted in my head.
I realize what I like about the books is not generally what draws people to the series. Usually, I tend to like what others don’t. 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 being 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 and a lot of people are finding their way to this fantastic story through the Netflix adaptation.
If you’re one of them, 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 peoples point-of-view, please return the favor.