A recent Guardian article summed it up neatly:
"The show’s reception – with its audience if not with critics – may also give a boost to the producers and backers of a slew of fantasy shows set to hit TV screens over the next few years as eager executives hope to replicate the global smash of Game of Thrones."
And as someone with three series under option for film/TV it would be nice to have them move toward the next step!
As it turns out, Witcher has done exceptionally well despite a kicking from the critics. The same Guardian article reported:
"The Witcher is currently listed as Netflix’s highest-rated original series on IMDb, a ranking that means it beat out Stranger Things, Peaky Blinders, Black Mirror, The Crown, Ozark and Haunting of Hill House."
Though there may be some journalistic sleight of hand going on there. Highest-rated does not mean highest number of ratings, and it's number watching the show that counts most, not how highly those watching it scored the show. Still, it's an encouraging sign. As with average ratings on Goodreads though, this score is likely to decrease as the audience grows and extends beyond the natural demographic.
The real question is whether Witcher will appeal beyond the borders of fantasy fans and players of the games to the mass audience who enjoyed Game of Thrones despite their instinct that fantasy was not for them.
Here the question remains open, and viewing figures over a longer timescale will tell the tale. I don't know the answer.
Certainly, in my view, Witcher is not filling the Game of Thrones hole. It's a very different beast. A Game of Thrones thrived on foundations of realism, politics, and low levels of the fantastic (i.e little magic). The sets and costumes were often dark and dirty, the characters were complex, their motivations rooted in the human condition.
Witcher has its feet firmly set in fairy-tale. I've read one of the books (The Last Wish (a short story collection), which is the source material for much of the first season). It's clear there that many of the short stories are retellings of actual fairy-tales like Beauty and the Beast. The fairy-tale vibe permeates the over-arching story with destiny being the grand driver and archaic rules (the law of surprise) holding sway over common sense. This is all fine. Once you've bought into that set up then the book, like the show, is very entertaining.
But asking the general public to buy into the fairy-tale en masse is a step further than Game of Thrones took them. I hope they take it. If they do it will be because George RR Martin held their hand for the first step.
Some of the negative reaction I've seen has been based on this difference. I've seen the show called cheesy and seen it accused of not making sense. To my mind these concerns spring from a desire to have something closer to Game of Thrones. Fairy-tales do their own thing. The world-building is not required to be so robust. The plot will of necessity have more "because it is" & "because it does" in it. We're not intended to look too deeply into it. We're expected to lean back and enjoy the ride. And so far I have been!
As a footnote: I've been deriving some amusement from the way that everything in Witcher World seems to cost one hefty bag of coins and how every grubby peasant seems able to fish the necessary sum from the depths of his trews!
"I'd like a stale bun, please."
"Certainly, sir. That'll be one bulging bag of coin. Let's not bother counting the contents."
"I've just murdered this huge monster."
"Well done, Witcher! Well done indeed. It does seem quite large. Have this large bag of coins. There's enough in there for 3 stale buns and half of a regular session with a whore."