If the title reeled you in, there’s a 50% chance that we’re kin – in the same tribe of mindset, reverence for the world of the Continent, Northern Kingdoms, and Nilfgaardian Empire, and someone with the time to read a seven-book series (eight, if you also went through Season of Storms, but that’s more for funsies anyway) not affiliated with a magical boy named after a fuzzy plant-keeper.
That said, that means there’s also a 50% chance that you’re going to stop reading after the next two sentences, because you’ve had enough “the books were better blah blah bibbity blah” talk in your life. And that’s okay.
But I’m finally finding myself on the other side of that line.
For all the ignorance this statement may thickly paint me with: I made it through Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings all on the movies or episodes alone. I, like many of you (probably) endured the same, “Ah, but the books were better!” talk, and like many of you (probably; I include you so I don’t die on this hill totally alone), gave it the same, “Ah, let it go! They did what they had to for an adaptation!”
But…this time, I can’t.
I played The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (twice, actually; 100% completion both times, and rp-walked the whole time like some sicko) when it exploded into a worldwide phenomenon, heard it was a series of books, and voraciously tore through them twice. Two collections of short stories, a standalone novel, and a saga of five more. Their spines are lovingly bent, pages affectionately coffee-stained. And in the case of a house fire, they’re on my short list of “will suffer major burns to retrieve” possessions.
So when Netflix announced a Witcher television series, I was
cautiously optimistic suuuuper guarded. And when it came out and everybody started raving about how it was the greatest thing since soy sauce on mashed potatoes (not a widely popular thing, but a friend of mine turned me onto it eight years ago, and I’ve NEVER looked back; gravy can suck it on a 8-hour shift – soy sauce is where it’s at), I was worried.
What if it’s nothing like the books, and so everyone’s falling in love with a false prophet?
What if, worse, it takes direct inspiration and then turns it, further lying to the people??
What??? Andrezej Sapkowski saw the first two episodes and LOVED it? But he a CD Projekt Red had such issues. What could that mean???
So I watched the first episode, and I’ve never been more distracted in my life. Remember way back when we went over the Art of Being an Audience? Well, I sure-as-shit did not practice what I preached. But, it’s not a live performance, so I give myself some leeway.
The entire time, I wasn’t in the story, but floating above it. Watching an adaptation of a story I know so intimately (as much as is humanly possible, given how complex and long it is), every scene I was just distracted by being able to see the scissor marks and tape-job that they’d done with the original story.
For the uninitiated, the world of the Witcher is shared through two collections of short stories that serve both to offer little one-off, character-building adventures as well as do some world-building and establish canonical history for the groundwork/foundation of the five novels, which tell the story.
And so, knowing that, I couldn’t help but fixate on every stitch I saw on what was essentially The Blood of Elves (the first book) interlaced with stories out of The Last Wish (the first the short story collections), plus the new characters the show fabricated all on its own.
That, and – without even getting to the disservice done to the dryads of Brokilon – the stories they did take from The Last Wish were super diluted compared to their literary counterparts. Stregobor’s reveal had more impact than just turning the townspeople on a mutant. The adventure in Dol Blathanna hinted at the elves’ history with humans in a much shallower way than original tale. And Pavetta and Duny’s wedding ceremony was super turned into a comedy of coincidences with a forced fight scene rather than a cunning orchestration devised by Calanthe. Don’t like Dara, don’t like what they did with Foltest, and don’t know what-the-fuck was up with that psycho-doppler “we like children best” ass-hat. Aaaaaaaaaugh-
Now…that’s enough of The Bad. We’ll say that the Dryads of Brokilon stuff was The Ugly all unto themselves. But, The Good…?
Dude, even in this super distracted first viewing of the season, even I couldn’t help but love the music. That, they nailed without question. Plus, I loved coming in on the joke that was all the buzz surrounding “Toss a coin to yer Witcher!”
For all the shit I could scrounge up for the Blavikin story, that fight scene made my nipples hard.
And for the wedding stuff with Pavetta, for the crap I could give that part of the adaptation, that fight also hardened these- okay, enough with nipples. It was good. Very good.
Some of the references were taken straight off the page. Like when Geralt’s fist-fighting with Torque in the field, that whole “I’m a sylvan! | You’re a dick!” conversation is basically verbatim, and I love it!
Also, the show captures the sense of humor found in the books and games with unreal accuracy. It’s that dark humor, sort of dry-and-sardonic flavor of giggles that serve to remind you that, while it’s telling a bit of a gritty/gory tale, we’re here to have fun. The humor is the wink to let you know that we’re enjoying this together and to not be too serious with it.
I wanted a more faithful recreation of Villentretenmerth, but every second he was on screen being a telepathic golden dragon was a goddamn treasure.
While they could have done better with the Foltest storyline, that striga was so phenomenally well-made and deliiiiciously creepy! Oh. My. God.
And, not least of all by any means, Henry Cavill is…he’s just…he’s such a darling. I heard from friends and saw in interviews that he played the games, devoured the books, and was a super-fan in his own right, and Jesus Christ does that ever show in his performance. He captures Geralt’s angsty curmudgeon attitude so well, especially since he himself is such a charismatic and seemingly-cheerful man. He plays the annoyance true to character, and has perfect comedic timing whenever he delivers his classic:
One of the best services my experience was done with regards to the show was actually a comment by my buddy Chris. He said that it has the feel of a passion-project. Sort of like one of those old Sci-Fi channel productions that didn’t have the biggest budget, but made up for it with heart and authenticity.
That…was absolutely true. And it’s what carried me through seeing it the first time. Because whenever I got distracted by a “What the-?”, “Who the fu-?”, or “Why the fu-?” question when the show deviated from or adapted the lore, that un-quantifiable feeling kept bringing me back to it. I kept feeling like I was watching a production made by and starring people who were as big of fans of the original works as I was – and THAT made me feel like we were all in it together.
So, I played my part as an appreciative viewer.
‘Kay. That’s not entirely true. It took about six total hours of raving conversations with friends and now an overly-long, ranty, raving blog post to get it out of my system.
Changes have to be made to suit the medium. Liberties have to be taken. Taken straight as it is from the page, the show either wouldn’t work, or would be 1,000,000,000 hours long and cost the GDP of Canada (1.653 trillion USD as of 2017, for those wondering). Eventually, I re-watched the first episode.
The verdict? How had the opinion changed with a less distracted and more forgiving, compromising Evan…?
Well, I cried twice in tender joy, so I guess we could call that a good thing.
All in all, if the show brings a wider audience to appreciate the world so many of us have already come to love, the better.
Also, word on the street is that Sapkowski and CD Projekt Red have kissed and made up, so we’ll call that our story book happy ending. And if the show was in any way a part of that, all the more reason to love it.
Live. Love. Accept change. All rather than being an obstinate butthole about it like I was.