the witcher comic-con

Henry Cavill and his glorious wig entered the spotlight during The Witcher Comic-Con panel. The Netflix adaptation of the fantasy series and its massively popular video game adaptations stars Cavill as monster hunter Geralt of Rivia, with Witcher creator Andrzej Sapkowski serving as creative consultant on the show. We were in the audience during The Witcher Comic-Con panel, and got a front row seat to what the Netflix fantasy series has in store.

Henry Cavill stars as Geralt, with a cast that includes Freya Allan as Ciri, Anya Chalotra as Yennefer, Jodhi May as Calanthe, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson as Eist, Adam Levy as Mousesack, MyAnna Buring as Tissaia, Mimi Ndiweni as Fringilla, Therica Wilson-Read as Sabrina, and Millie Brady as Renfri.

What is a Witcher?

The Witcher is set in a fantasy world where young boys without families are taken in by an organization that trains them to have superhuman agility and endurance before subjecting them to chemical trials to make them more powerful. Only about one in 10 survive the training process. Those who do become “Witchers,” traveling the world and hunting monsters in exchange for cash. Commonly seen as emotion-less monsters themselves, Witchers are shunned by a society that constantly demands their services.

The lead character here is Geralt of Rivia, whose hard exterior masks a soft side. “The myth is that [Witchers] have no emotions,” Henry Cavill said. “That serves them when it comes to negotiating for coin.” However, Geralt’s harsh exterior is just him reflecting the harsh world around him. “Deep down, there’s a belief in what the world can be,” he said.

A Fantasy About Family

“I read The Last Witch and I absolutely fell in love with the short stories,” showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich said of her past experience with The Witcher. But while she was a fan of the source material, she initially turned down Netflix’s offer to run the series, saying that she didn’t think she was the right fit for a fantasy series.

But after she thought on it, she decided it that was “so much more than a fantasy.” The blend of magic and sex and violence was ultimately secondary to the core themes – this was a story about a family, a surrogate one, and Hissrich felt that was right up her alley. “[It’s] everything you want,” she said.

Henry Cavill’s Casting Quest

While Hissrich was reluctant to join The Witcher at first, star Henry Cavill knew from moment one that he had to be on board to play Geralt. “I’m a big gamer, I played the games a lot, many many hours put into that,” Cavill said. “There was something about Geralt that struck a chord with me. He’s not your average hero.”

Cavill immediately began pestering Hissrich for a meeting. “I met Henry for the first time before there was a script – he was really annoying,” she joked…although Cavill himself admitted that he never let up in his quest to secure the part. After their initial meeting, Hissrich went to write the show and despite seeing 207 actors for the part, she “continued to have Henry’s voice in [her] head.” They met again and Cavill actually read for the part. “It was a done deal that day,” Hissrich said.

Geralt the Witcher Gets in a Fight

Cavill told the audience that he tried to do as many of his own stunts as possible and practiced nonstop with his swords. “I spent all of my free time with a sword in my hand,” he said, learning how to handle the weight and get fully comfortable with his weapon.

This led to the first of several clips that played for the Hall H crowd. For reasons unknown, Geralt is involved in a big sword fight in a lush throne room, fending off a small group of guards and making it look easy. Brawls break out across the room, as other men and women join the fray. The queen looks on from the head of her table, furious at what has become of the situation, ultimately arming herself and leaping into the fight to put an end to things.

And…it looked fine? The show is clearly expensive and there’s an pricey gloss on everything. But it’s also clearly television, never achieving the cinematic scope of Lord of the Rings or even the later seasons of Game of Thrones. The editing is too choppy, the shots too fast, the choreography so clearly hidden. The Witcher could be a blast, but it probably won’t be the pure action showcase some viewers may be hoping for.

Yennefer and a Baby

The second clip was about as different as you can get. Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), a powerful mage on a quest of self-discovery, sits on the beach at sunset, a dead infant on the ground next to her. She quietly monologues to the corpse, apologizing for the situation but also suggesting she may be better off dying young than growing up in a world this harsh. She then buries the body in the sand. It’s dark, moody stuff, indicative that The Witcher is going to have more on its mind than typical fantasy thrills.

On the panel, Chalotra described Yennefer as a the “ultimate survivor” and that the show will explore not only her power, but her vulnerabilities. All she wants is find a true connection and unconditional love. Could she find that with Geralt and the other surrogate family members she meets on the show?

Ciri in the Woods

The third clip was the most confounding when viewed free of context, but it also showcased another distinct tone. Young Ciri (Freya Allan) wanders through the woods, looking for someone. She hears whispers, which draw her through the foggy, gray trees and toward a mysterious cave filled with orange light. Suddenly, she’s surrounded on all sides by spear-wielding elves, who speak a different language and don’t seem very happy to see her. The clip ends with the tense stand-off starting to cool down as both sides size each other up.

Like the other scenes, this sequence is clearly expensive while also clearly being television – it feels a little stagebound, a little too polished and staged for its own good. However, it also feels like something that could play much better in context.

Expanding Upon the Books

In the books and video games, the supporting characters are always viewed from Geralt’s point-of-view, with their extensive backstories often left to to the imagination. “In the books, there are all these hints of their amazing backstories,” Hissrich said. With the scope of a television show, they were able to dig deeper. “We got to bring those [backstories] to life,” she said, describing the series adaptation as an “addition” to the books that gives the characters more breathing room outside of their interactions with Geralt.

Final Reactions

The panel ended with the first official trailer for the series, which is now online and capable of being watched right over here. Honestly, this final trailer was the best piece of footage from the entire panel, mainly because it looks more ready for primetime than the other three clips. Heck, it’s the only place where we see an actual monster and this is a show about a guy who hunts monsters for a living!

What screened in Hall H somehow managed to look lush and lavish and expensive while also, somehow, looking bit smaller and a bit cheaper than what audiences used to Game of Thrones might expect. Perhaps the key to embracing The Witcher will be accepting that this is going to look like an especially well-produced Syfy production, not an HBO epic. And there’s nothing wrong with that! In any case, the blend of high fantasy and gritty drama looks promising and worthy of a binge when the series arrives on Netflix.

***

In The Witcher, “Geralt of Rivia, a solitary monster hunter, struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more wicked than beasts. But when destiny hurtles him toward a powerful sorceress, and a young princess with a dangerous secret, the three must learn to navigate the increasingly volatile Continent together.”

“I’m thrilled that Netflix will be doing an adaptation of my stories, staying true to the source material and the themes that I have spent over thirty years writing,”  creator Sapkowski said when the show was first announced. “I’m excited about our efforts together, as well as the team assembled to shepherd these characters to life.”

The Witcher debuts on Netflix this year.

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