One-time Game of Thrones guest-star Ian McShane upset its fans a few years ago when he said the show is "only t*ts and dragons." But McShane was just pointing out the innate ridiculousness of the HBO fantasy series, says Helen Lewis. By contrast, she adds, Netflix's The Witcher has embraced what Game of Thrones was supposedly about. The Witcher, says Lewis, isn’t “only t*ts and dragons.' It’s all about the t*ts and dragons. Until I saw it, I hadn’t realized how debilitating it can be for a program to be ashamed of itself. An episode of Game of Thrones often looked like everyone involved was thinking: I went to drama school so I could make profound meditations on the human condition, yet here I am in the snow, with my leg cut off, while some naked priestess spouts gibberish. The Witcher shares the Game of Thrones attitude toward gore (plentiful) and nudity (gratuitous), but its tone could not be more different. It knows it is ridiculous, and it simply doesn’t care." What makes the series based on Polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski's novels enjoyable is that it "comes free of the cultural baggage that afflicts so many fantasy stories, which strive so hard to be serious that they overshoot wildly, ending up in pure camp," says Lewis. "The Witcher knows full well that it’s camp, and that’s okay. A series where the main characters dress like chucking-out time at a Berlin fetish club is never going to convince you it’s a gritty epic by Martin Scorsese. But who cares? That said, the cheerful self-awareness of The Witcher should not be confused with artlessness. It might be silly, but it’s not dumb. Notably, there isn’t much tacky Ye Olde English dialogue. Horses are horses, not 'trusty steeds.' No one goes 'yonder.' The television series demands that the viewer quickly learn about a blizzard of characters, place-names, and odd quirks (such as the Law of Surprise, which drives two major plot points)."
The Witcher is purposefully hard to follow: "Many spectators have declared on social media that they simply didn’t get why any of the events in The Witcher were happening," says Manuela Lazic. "Unlike conventional TV shows (or any narrative art), the more of the show you watch, the less you understand. The individual stories do progress and make sense on their own, but it is their links to each other that perplex because they seem to loosen, not tighten, with each episode. It soon becomes clear that Geralt’s life is passing at an unnatural speed: From one episode to the next, we learn that a king has died. Or Geralt bumps into Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), a mage he has fallen for and who, like him, doesn’t age; they talk about their last meeting a few decades prior. Meanwhile (or should we say later-while?), Ciri is making her way through war-torn villages, guided only by her survival instinct and strange visions, progressing at a normal pace. One begins to grasp that these two characters cannot be connected by conventional generational, or even time-based ties; what links them is much more ethereal, timeless, and just a bit beyond human understanding: It is a myth. By scrambling both its own mythology and its sense of time, in addition to having incredibly surreal yet vivid and violent images of monsters and mages in action, The Witcher makes visible the workings of myths themselves."
Why does The Witcher have so many dead women?: "The Witcher is stuffed with dead things," says Joan Summers. "Monsters hunted by Geralt, men slain by Geralt, elves butchered by Queen Calanthe of Cintra, innocent civilians slaughtered underfoot of the encroaching Nilfaargdian empire, knights and suitors under Yennefer’s spell—both literally, and metaphorically. And then, of course, there’s the dead women. Long have these corpses been used in writing, on the internet, and in the real world, as sacrificial pyres for those seeking enlightenment, wisdom, or even redemption. In The Witcher, they sometimes take the shape of Renfri, whose murder at the hands of Geralt catalyzes a decade (and more) of plot development. As he pulls his sword from her, he learns that sometimes there are no good choices. Renfri still dies, of course, but Geralt gets to learn something meaningful about himself."
Like so many of its post-Game of Thrones competitors, The Witcher doesn’t rise to the challenge: "The Witcher isn’t quite the worst fantasy series of the year," says Judy Berman. "That honor still belongs to Apple TV+’s boring, underwritten, intermittently creepy post-post-apocalyptic Jason Momoa vehicle See (though it’s worth mentioning that The Witcher’s bloody fixation with the female reproductive system and fondness for images of naked women screaming in agony does give that show’s ickiness a run for its ducats). But it does make a fitting capstone to a year that has brought us one disappointing would-be Game of Thrones successor after another. While the worst of these shows either strained themselves trying to make a statement (Amazon’s Victorian-ish Carnival Row) or had nothing of value to say (See), the best ones—HBO’s His Dark Materials, The Dark Crystal on Netflix—were lavishly designed children’s stories based on time-tested source material."
Netflix's binge-release strategy hurts more than it helps The Witcher: "By dropping every episode at once, Netflix is sacrificing weekly discussions around The Witcher for a short burst of popularity, after which it trickles off into the void as people’s attentions are quickly grabbed by the next big thing," says Chaim Gartenberg. "That extra time between episodes would let viewership build over time, as more people hear about the show or proselytize it to their friends. Compare that to a weekly release, like The Mandalorian, which captured a burst of attention with each new Baby Yoda GIF, or the weeklong discussions and theorizing that would fill the time between episodes of Watchmen. Not everyone may have been on board with The Mandalorian at first, but when everyone else on the internet started talking about it and sharing GIFs, they may have been willing to give it a shot."