The Netflix Witcher Series Thinks Way Too Big, Way Too Fast

Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series, whether in books (including comics) or games, succeeded precisely because they are grounded in the small. The franchise digs its hands into the soil of the world, tugging at the roots of large themes—then lets those themes grow and blossom. There are longer and grander narrative arcs in the Witcher series, as enormous and gnarly as an old tree, but the real fruit on its branches is those smaller stories and vignettes that capture where the lives of small communities and individual people collide with the force and flow of history.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/z3bxgy/netflix-witcher-series-review
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This show didn’t have this thing I was kind of expecting from, instead they (describes thing they were expecting from it).

I don’t know, I felt like the multiple timelines were made known early enough that I didn’t have a problem following it. I was surprised it threw so many people for a loop because I’m usually really bad at picking up on hints of stuff like that. But in general I really liked the show for how Geralt spends much of his time trying to avoid the epic main plot so he can just keep on with his monster of the week antics.

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I mean, it really doesn’t matter when things happen that don’t involve the other characters in a timeline. Once they start to show how the character’s ripples touch one another you should have grasped the timeline structure.

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Yeah, I really don’t get why people have made such a big deal about the whole timeline thing. By the second or third episode they have given you enough subtle (and not so subtle) queues to get what’s going on, and roughly place when things are happening. You may not know the exact date and time events are happening relative to eachother, but that’s extremely unnecessary to understand what is going on and how events affect eachother.

Anyway, I do kinda wish the show had stuck a little more closely to the format of the first book, with a bunch of self-contained stories that only roughly tie in with eachother. But I also understand why they didn’t, because they obviously intend for the show to last awhile, and completly changing the structure and format of the show after the first season would cause its own issues. What worked in books doesn’t necessarily fly in television. What they accomplished may have been rough in spots, but I think they did an adequate job setting things up for future seasons.

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I’m glad someone told me about the multiple timelines in advance because it was a lot easier to follow. I agree that it’s in a little bit too much of a hurry to get to the Ciri stuff, but if you read the books, the show is a pretty darn faithful adaptation.

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The timelines become blatant in the third episode.

Geralt’s whole story there is fixing a problem for King Foltest, a grown-ass man. During the course of it you see a painting of Foltest and his sister as children. Then in Yennefer’s story two of the characters in attendance to an event are child Foltest and his sister, looking exactly as they did in the painting and mentioned by name as Foltest.

Until then there weren’t any indications I noticed, but at that point I realized oh this part is taking place a while ago.

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The timeline is fairly evident if you’re actually paying attention even in episode one (given that the battle that Ciri mentions was her grandmother’s first, when she was Ciri’s age… is the same battle that Geralt is told just happened in his plot line, just after). People just aren’t very good at paying attention.

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The time stuff threw me for a loop partly because I was watching late enough in the days that I was falling asleep for some episodes. But also in general I feel like the show danced around so much I didn’t get a good grasp on a lot of things. Time was just one of them, geography, politics and rules of the world were another. I don’t really know what Geralt’s powers are. I have no clue how large the space they travel in is.

The show throws a lot of unknowns at me, especially in the first episode where I don’t know what Cintra or Nilfgaard are or why either matters but they take up the majority of the episode only to die off at the end. I’m not against being thrown in the deep end, but none of it really has a pay off. I learn a bit more by the end but the only effect of having these questions is that I spend a long time confused and distracted from the parts of the show I enjoyed, where it was a character driven monster of the week romp.

Once you notice that there is time waffling happening, that doesn’t immediately solve the problem of being unmoored that I had right up til the end.

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Definitely fair criticisms.

Only watched the first two episodes and I’m loving it so far but I’ve read a few of the books recently. The scenes of the show do follow scenes from the books quite closely. Already knowing the characters and when and where all these events occur makes it much more coherent.

My partner on the other hand has only played the Witcher 3. She’s enjoying seeing the characters doing their thing but not quite piecing it all together.

It is very well acted so far. Cavil is great as Geralt and they’ve nailed Dandelion. I found him irritating in the games but he is probably my fav character in the books.

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I’ve watched about halfway through the first season, and the point that the show starts at feels like a convoluted excuse to start right at the most Thrones-y part of the story.

Trying to imitate that series structure is a poor fit, because while the disparate character stories have clear and present ties right from the start of GoT, in this adaptation you’re watching 3 different stories unfold that initially have next-to nothing to do with each other.

As the article says, I’d be much more interested in a format that started small from Geralt’s POV and built out the world from that perspective.

This is the big problem for the show, at least for me. I admire a show that is willing to show not tell. But if you’re going to do that with a world that has this much to learn, you need to introduce us to the various aspects more slowly. And throwing in non-linear story telling is just another bit of complexity thrown on top.

The bigger problem is that the show is too mediocre to be this complex. I’m willing to watch a mediocre show that I can half pay attention to. And I’m willing to devote energy to watching a good show. But this show is, as of episode 2, asking me for more mental energy that I think it’s worth.

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Found this timeline of the season. Obviously spoilers.

I think I’d like this better as well, but I can also understand why they might want to diversify the main cast from the jump instead of growing into it.

I don’t have a problem with them using non-linear storytelling in this show because (major spoiler) the series deals with time travel elements later on.

I found the first 2 episodes to be weak because they are rushing to introduce many aspects to the lore and don’t do a good job of telling the stories that those episodes are based on. I found the show to be much better from episode 3 on.

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Hmm, I actually think some of the middle episodes are patchy, and I quite like episode 2. The first episode definitely suffers a lot from the load of having to establish setting, though, and I do think it’s weaker than most of the rest as a result.

I feel like the time confusion would literally have been fixed by adding a title card saying what year each part was in when it swapped time periods.

Nothing about the structure or those sections is that complex on its own, just not informing the viewer makes it feel almost accidental. I think long term they made the right choice bouncing around like they did as otherwise the back half of the series would need to be entirely Ciri stuff and this way they get to slot in Geralt doing Witcher shit while getting to the main plot.

That said I loved the show overall.

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surely the whole point here is yennefer’s comrades dying in battle - that the reasons for the battle are unclear is maybe even part of this point! people fight and die in wars even if they don’t fully understand the reasons why they’re happening!

like, it’s not game of thrones, we’re not here to cheer on who we think should be god king of the world or whatever, we’re here to support our handful of main characters caught up in events far outside their control. right?

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Well, also: anyone who’s been paying attention over the series [and even in that final episode] can see that Nilfgaard is not a particularly nice power, even compared to some of the other nations in the world. They’re talked about with some dread in Episode 1, and it’s clear that they allow/support exploitation of their populace in ways which are considered “beyond the pale” by other “civilised” countries - see their apparent happiness to have sorcerors literally sacrifice themselves to make big fireballs, and the related tendency for Fringilla to get all “you should totally join us because we have no ethical constraints” as a recruiting tactic for magic users in general.
It’s also made clear at the start of the episode that the bridge that the fortress secures is the most significant route connecting the territory that Nilfgaard has just conquered with the unconquered Northern Kingdoms, so there’s a pretty straightforward reason for the battle to happen where and when it does.

So: yes, the point of the episode on a “personal” level is related to how Yennefer deals with seeing her comrades dying in battle, etc.

however: I don’t think that’s the problem that the author of this piece is having. From context, I don’t think they realised that the battle Geralt is present near is also the battle Yennefer is involved in. You and I both thought that was pretty clearly signalled: the carter who’s transporting Geralt pretty clearly notes that the battle involves Nilfgaard, and names the fortress as the same fortress that we know the sorcerors are at… but I don’t think that was enough for the author of this piece, despite the fact that the previous episode had established that all our timelines were finally synched.

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I’ve seen complaints like this pop up a lot across the people I follow on facebook and twitter and I feel like the thing no one is really addressing is the strain an 8-episode season puts on fantasy like this. Ciri and Yennefer don’t really factor much in those first short story collections, and yet I found myself appreciating the more fleshed out sorceress and getting more time with Ciri. It was nice to get an early peek at Tissaia (Yennefer’s mentor / tormentor) and ground the rules of magic a bit, which gave Yennefer such a fun moment at the ball and made hers and Geralt’s meeting feel more impactful. But we definitely didn’t get enough TIME in this world to really pay off the big moves this first season made.

That said, I really enjoyed this adaptation and how the showrunner Lauren Schmidt approached it.

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