A Beginner’s Guide to ‘The Witcher’

Here’s everything you need to know about Netflix’s highly anticipated fantasy series.
The Witcher
By  · Published on July 25th, 2019

With Game of Thrones ended, fans of fantasy television are looking to fill the void left behind by the acclaimed HBO series. The network plans to replace their landmark show with a prequel series set in the same universe, as well as introducing a similar genre show in the form of His Dark Materials.

Elsewhere, Amazon aims to go bigger with their upcoming Lord of the Rings series, which is set to be the most expensive TV show ever made. While we have the works of J.R.R. Tolkien to thank for the popularity of the fantasy genre in the first place, there’s no question that Amazon’s plans to visit Middle-Earth were inspired by the success of Westeros on the small screen.

Netflix, meanwhile, has turned toward another series of popular fantasy novels to mine for their own likeminded saga. The Witcher stars Henry Cavill in the lead role and is set to air later this year. Check out the trailer below, and then we will explore its origins.

The Witcher began life as a series of fantasy short stories by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Originally published in national magazine Fantastyka during the late 1980s, the shorts became so popular that a novel series was born, starting with 1994’s Blood of Elves.

The series follows Geralt (Cavill in the show), a witcher — which is basically a warrior with supernatural abilities — who protects humanity from all manner of creatures. During his adventures, he encounters werewolves, bloodthirsty vampires, ogres, djinns, shapeshifters, ghouls, and various other creatures of the grotesque variety.

In the lore, a cataclysmic event known as the Conjunction of the Spheres opened the gates for these creatures to enter The Continent — the name of the world the stories are set in — and the witchers are relied upon to defeat the beasts. However, due to their powers and mysterious backgrounds, the witchers are also shunned by other humans.

The books are about more than monsters and action. Like Game of Thrones, there’s no shortage of drama, sex, and political chaos to enjoy as well. That said, the crux of the story centers around Geralt as he protects Ciri (Freya Allan), a princess who becomes a witcher after her country is destroyed.

If you want to read the books, the best place to start is with the two short story anthology collections, The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny. While you can easily jump straight into Blood of Elves and follow the series from there, the short stories establish the universe’s mythology and backstory.

The novels were cult oddities until 2007. However, when CD Projekt Red released The Witcher, a popular video game inspired by the series, their popularity skyrocketed. That game also spawned two sequels, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

The games are set in the universe of their literary counterparts, but they take place years after the storyline of the books. While the mythology of the books helps make more sense of the games, they aren’t essential to understanding what’s happening.

In the games, Geralt begins his journey as an amnesiac with no memory of the past, but the premise of hunting monsters remains intact. The games also see Geralt redefine his relationships with characters from the books, as well as choose his new path, which naturally leads to him engaging in many battles.

How true to the source material is the upcoming Netflix series? We’ll have that answer soon. But The Witcher is rich in mythology, compelling characters, action, and — more importantly — monsters. If it lives up to its potential, The Witcher won’t just be an adequate replacement for Game of Thrones. It will be its own great thing entirely.

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.