Later this month, Netflix will enter the booming world of fantasy novel adaptations with its new show, Witcher. The series is based on short stories and novels written by Andrzej Sapkowski starting in 1992. There are a few things a new viewer might want to know before diving into this latest high fantasy epic.
The Witcher series began as an entry in a Polish-language short story contest, and slowly blossomed into a global phenomenon. Sapkowksi wrote a series of short stories before transitioning to novels to tell his ambitious saga. From there, it was adapted into some beloved video games, as well as movie and TV versions in Poland in the early 2000s.
The Witcher Saga is unmistakably influenced by other modern high fantasy that came before it. Its world has versions of elves, dwarves, gnomes and other magical creatures that will be familiar to readers of The Lord of the Rings or players of Dungeons and Dragons.
However, The Witcher has a unique spin on these elements as well. At times, it seems to reach back past Tolkien and draw straight from the source — European folklore — while at other times it is very clearly a product of the time in which it was written.
The new Wither adaptation comes at a time when many studios, networks and streaming services are hoping to capitalize on the popularity of fantasy media. With the global success of Game of Thrones, there has been a big resurgence for high fantasy adaptations — particularly on TV, which seems to suit the genre better than movies ever did. Other upcoming adaptations include a Lord of the Rings spinoff series and a series adaptation of The Wheel of Time, both of which are headed to Amazon, as well as a Game of Thrones spinoff called House of the Dragon coming to HBO, and many, many others.
For those that have not read the books, the show promises to give all the information new fans may need. However, if you're looking for a quick, spoiler-free run-down of this new fantasy world before you dive in, you've come to the right place.
Witcher premieres on Friday, Dec. 20 on Netflix. Here is what a brand new fan should know about The Witcher Saga before diving in.
The Witcher Saga takes place in a world not unlike Tolkien's Middle Earth, George R. R. Martin's Westeros or D&D's Sword Coast. In this case, the lands in the story are known simply as The Continent.
Unlike many other fantasy series, The Witcher Saga has never included a map for The Continent, though Sapkowski has said that many fan drawings have gotten it just about right. The important thing to note is that the story mostly takes place in the northern part of The Continent, which is divided up into various independent kingdoms. The southern part is almost entirely ruled by the Nilfgaard Empire, which is encroaching on the northern kingdoms.
Much of The Continent is still wild, with elves, dwarves, gnomes and monsters inhabiting vast untamed areas. There are also cities where humans dominate, and non-human races tend to live in small ghettos.
Other continents are occasionally mentioned in the series, as well as a desert to the east.
Before the events of The Witcher Saga, The Continent was overrun with monsters — ghouls, werewolves, vampires and other horrors. Sentient races took steps to rid the world of these horrors, which you will read about in the next section, but it is worth noting that almost any horror from mythology could be lurking out in the wilderness in this world.
Over the course of the series, the audience gradually learns that monsters entered the world during an event known as the Conjunction of the Spheres. It seems this was a time when multiple dimensions or plains of reality overlapped, allowing monsters to populate The Continent. This event remains one of the series' enduring mysteries.
Some of the action and sword work choreography for The Witcher is some of the best I can recall for a sword and sorcery/fantasy series of this type in years. #TheWitcherNetflix #TheWitcher #Netflix pic.twitter.com/AG2Qnx7x3r— Jeffrey Harris (@Wheeljack83) November 26, 2019
As noted above, monsters overran The Continent about 1,500 years before the events of the main story. To combat them, the people developed an elite sect of warriors called witchers. These warriors were not a separate race, but were instead magically mutated humans designed to be the perfect monster-hunting machines.
Witchers have enhanced sight, making their eyes look those of a cat. This allows them to see in either blinding light or relative darkness, and their other senses are enhanced as well. They also have increased speed, strength, reflexes and endurance, as well as a strong resistance to disease, poison or injury.
Witchers are trained from a young age, both before and after undergoing these mutations. They are skilled swordfighters and warriors, but can also use "combat magic" in the midst of battle. Their transformation also grans them an incredibly long lifespan.
However, there are costs to this transformation as well. Witchers are made sterile by the process of mutation, meaning they can never have offspring. They are generally chosen as orphans and then trained in isolation.
Finally, in this world at the time of the main story, witchers are reviled by most people, who know them only as terrifying monsters themselves.
The main character of this story is a legendary witcher named Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is a white-haired, yellow-eyed witcher widely known as a war hero and a figure of urban legend.
In the new Netflix series, Geralt is played by Henry Cavill, best-known for playing Superman in the most recent batch of DC Comics films. He has other nicknames and titles such as the White Wolf and the Butcher of Blaviken.
Geralt is a classical literary hero — rugged, talented and well-loved, yet tormented and lonely. Critics have described Geralt as a "Mary Sue" — a wish-fulfillment figure for the audience to identify with — and author Peter Apor even wrote that he embodies the "neo-liberal anti-politics" that were popular in Poland at the time of his conception.
Accordingly, Geralt insists on being neutral in the in-world politics of The Continent throughout the story. The tectonic shifts of world power and warfare serve as a backdrop to the novels at best, as Geralt himself is only concerned with his personal mission of the moment.
Other characters are not so apathetic, however. The story includes several powerful wizards who, like witchers, keep to themselves outside of the power structures of normal society. The wizards are actively political, seeking to influence the tides of war and the balance of power.
Geralt finds himself embroiled in these political games from time to time as his goal is to protect Ciri, a young girl that many disparate groups want to get their hands on.
Blown away by the action and visuals so far for Netflix's The Witcher. Seeing Geralt of Rivia's unique sword style brought to life onscreen is amazing. pic.twitter.com/5hGuiIaJ9B— Jeffrey Harris (@Wheeljack83) November 26, 2019
At the time of the main story, The Continent is only a few years into a time of peace following a massive war between the northern kingdoms and the Nilfgaard Empire to the south. Several of the main characters took part in this war, and they have different feelings on how the world shold avoid future calamities. As the story picks up, the threat of another war is always looming in the background.
December 1st has landed, this is the month for us as Diehard Witcher fans.
The Witcher Netflix show.
19 days left! pic.twitter.com/Yk8zh1nD8m— 🔥⛓DblackRaven⛓🔥 (@Dblackraven1) December 1, 2019
The Witcher Saga was adapted to a move and a TV series in Poland back in 2001 and 2002, known as The Hexer. The productions were directed by Marek Brodzki, and starred Michal Zebrowski as Geralt. They were never translated into English, and Sapkowski himself was not a big fan.
The series was also adapted into comic books, which are still being published to this day. There is also a tabletop role-playing game, a card game and other interactive media.
Most famously, however, the series inspired The Witcher video games, where players act out Geralt's adventures for themselves. The video games brought the series to a huge international audience, and now those fans are clamoring for Netflix's new take.
Witcher Season 1 premieres on Friday, Dec. 20 on Netflix.