Saturday 28 December 2019

Watch Witcher

I have a small vested interest in the success of the Witcher series on Netflix.

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."


  1. I've been hopeful that it does well for the same reason you are: I want to see your books made into films/tv series! I think Broken Empire or Book of the Ancestor would work really well the way that Game of Thrones did because of the incredible character development.

  2. I watched the first episode. I wasn't impressed. I haven't read the original source material. My take on the negative reviews in comparison to GOT is not the story, it's the lack of depth and character development - maybe acting, maybe script, maybe the source material. It's hard to judge, but likely can be attributed to a combination of the 3. The first episode reminded me of a video game - one we weren't allowed to play. However, I will watch another, to see if it improves. In contrast, by the time GOT diverged from Martin's books, we were all totally invested in the characters and their individual stories, and the source material (his books) kept us engaged and carried the success. Also - just a side note, but its my opinion and that of the family who have have read your books, that Jalan series, would be the safest bet for commercial success of your books. Although we also agree that visualization of the grey sister books would probably be awesome.

  3. Well, Witcher is all that Mark has described and more; I have heard the term "bloated" used referring to the script/story which I think draws from the story's having its "...feet firmly set in fairy-tale."
    The Broken Empire trilogies would fit the GoT-thirsting masses' needs more ably - if Mark were able to blend Prince of Fools and Thorns stories into one mass series treatment people would go ape - if folks could learn to like Jamie Lannister then by gum Jorg is a shoe-in!

  4. I personally enjoyed watching the Witcher. Even with its little imperfections. I plan on re-watching it when I get a chance. I certainly hope more shows in this genre are made available to us as long as they don't butcher the ending like the Game of Thrones did. Thank you for making your insight available. It is appreciated.

  5. I had the same question about the bags of coin being tossed around, mostly because I spent a whole day making sure I had the monetary system for my book series pinned down (and based on historical accuracy). Very funny.

    The series was good! Hopefully we get to see some of your own make it to the big screen (or television screen).

  6. I liked the show. You need to start with the understanding that it is built upon a video game rather than judging it against RR Martin. The sword fights are awesome, the main character PERFECTLY grunts like the main character in the video game series and they took a big chance in spending most of the arc on back story -- which the video game underplays because.... it is a video game. I don't agree that the story is set in fairy land, but that's just me. In essence we saw very limited examples of magic and everyone who possesses magic is viewed as a Mutant. Think XMen, not Shannara.

    1. No - the show is based upon the books by Andrjes Sapkowski - the Video Games are set after the last book written and are a non canon continuation. This season was based upon the first two books written, a collection of short stories loosely based upon fairy tales (think Brothers Grimm). They were adapted to television first to introduce the characters and some world building before they get into the much more linear saga that begins with "Blood of Elves".

  7. Though the short story collections are more fantastic and fairy tale oriented it's amusing to see the Witcher contrasted with Game of Thrones because GoT has foundations of realism and politics. The main story line of the Witcher novels and Geralt's character are built around the tension between individual ethics and the inevitability of politics. The thrust of the series is that humans are more monstrous than any monster. The plot revolves around a futile war and the spectre of climate change. I hear you're a slow reader, but the audiobooks with Peter Kenny as the narrator are very well done. Highly recommended!