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13 Aug, 2023 13:05

The Sword of Destiny: How ‘The Witcher’ show was slowly killed by its creative team’s decisions

The story of ‘The Witcher’ Netflix series might serve as a lesson on how not to treat your source material and your audience
The Sword of Destiny: How ‘The Witcher’ show was slowly killed by its creative team’s decisions

‘The Witcher’ series was always surrounded by controversy, even before shooting began. Announcing the casting of Henry Cavill, an outspoken Witcher fan, as Geralt did not go smoothly. They released a very audition-tape-looking short clip with the actor walking into the light looking more like a 1990s silver fox biker than Geralt. Naturally, people started mocking the production, comparing the character design with Legolas, 1995 Mortal Kombat’s Raiden, or cheap Halloween costumes. Some people expected the series to be a waste of everyone’s time.

When the first season of the show hit the streaming boxes, viewers were relieved to see a nice adaptation of the stories that comprised the first books by Andrzej Sapkowski. Almost all the characters were introduced, their backstories were told and the show’s catchy main song, ‘Toss a Coin to the Witcher’, dominated 2019 Christmas parties around the world. There was some criticism, though. Audiences familiar with the books and the games of the series were confused by some of the casting choices, doubting the need to race-swap characters. But racial controversy was nothing new for this franchise, as the Witcher 3 game inversely received some backlash for its lack of non-white characters. The pacing of the show was off as well, with the story seemingly jumping backwards and forwards with no cohesion or explanation for why we need to see these events in that order.

The second season came and went, leaving more of the fans confused. The show’s creators didn’t address many concerns that people had (they did at least change the weird design of the Nilfgaardian armor), the direction of the show was still not clear. Yennefer and Ciri were clearly becoming the main characters, and the deviations from the source material were growing larger and larger. But at this point, everything seemed fine, with Henry Cavill reassuring everyone that he was with the show for the long haul, as long as there are great stories to tell that honor Sapkowski’s work.

By the time the third season rolled around, The Witcher enjoyed much more attention than before, albeit for the wrong reasons. The prequel series ‘Blood Origin’, released between Seasons 2 and 3, received mediocre ratings and damaged the reputation of the creative team behind The Witcher. Cavill was leaving the show over creative differences, being replaced with Liam Hemsworth of ‘The Hunger Games’ fame, with no concrete plans on how to change the lead actor mid-show. The WGA (Writers Guild of America) and SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) strike forced the suspension of filming of the fourth season until at least 2024. And then there were the reviews of the third season itself. Viewers and critics alike were once again not impressed with the show’s pacing, not knowing its identity and what story it’s trying to tell. The titular Witcher character of Geralt was relegated to a secondary role, not contributing much to the plot. One of the former writers recounted the general culture of disrespecting the original books, games, and other source material while working on the show.

All of this toying with the IP and the fans’ hearts could not go unpunished forever. Ratings plummeted by 67% between seasons 1 and 3. The third season was divided into two parts to try and squeeze out more time on the public radar. Frankly embarrassing ads were rolled out, inviting people to watch the show, reassuring them that ‘he is still Geralt’. And to top it all off, one of the producers blamed American audiences and social media for the bad ratings and an oversimplification of politics inside the world of The Witcher.

Blaming or alienating your audience is usually the best way to ensure the failure of your work. In 2022, the writer of the all-LGBT comedy ‘Bros’ invited “everyone who ISN’T a homophobic weirdo” to go see the film, but then blamed hypothetical straight people for not showing up to the theaters. The reason for ‘Bros’ only grossing a little under $15 million against a budget of $22 million was not straight people. The film was just that bad. Taunting your audience with a holier-than-thou attitude only makes you look pretentious – which looks strange when shortly after that, you play the victim and paint yourself as a misunderstood artist in a world of evil oppressors. You need to explain why you wasted all this money on a failed show without pointing at yourself, I guess, whether by blaming the short attention spans of young people, white supremacy, misogyny, bigotry, or anything else. As long as you are the innocent victim, no one can call out your incompetence in writing nuanced stories or miscalculations in market research. And you might even get some sympathy points on Twitter (sorry, X).

In the end, The Witcher series will probably suffer a typical Witcher’s fate – never being especially liked by anyone, its life littered with obstacles it has to overcome, and finally dying on the job after growing too slow to adapt.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.