At Comic-Con last week, Netflix finally, after months of teasing, gave us our first look at The Witcher in action. Not only did it reveal some pretty major, if unsurprising connections to the world of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels, it also gave us some intriguing hints to what fans familiar to the CD Projekt Red games can get out of this new show.
When Netflix revealed it was making a television adaptation of The Witcher, Henry Cavill immediately wanted in. However, producers still auditioned over 200 actors for Geralt before choosing him for the job. Why did it take four months and hundreds of actors before going with the leading man who wanted to be there in the first place? Showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich explains.
The trailer opens, unsurprisingly, with a shot of Henry Cavill as the titular Witcher: Geralt of Rivia, a mercenary monster hunter who travels across the world killing monsters for gold. Geralt can do this — and has all that white hair to boot, a marker that sets him apart from even his fellow Witchers — because he is part of the self-named ancient order that exposes its warrior recruits to dangerous, toxic mutagens to transform them into Witchers, giving them enhanced strength, agility, senses, and the ability to cast magic, which is otherwise a very rare ability in The Witcher’s world — a place called The Continent.
“I remember hearing stories about Witchers... is it true what they say?” the narrator tells us, as we cut to a brief shot of of Geralt doing what he does best: fighting monsters. We see a little more of this encounter later on, but it appears to be an adaptation of the very first short story Sapkowski wrote about Geralt, “The Witcher,” eventually collected in the first short story anthology in the series, The Last Wish. In that tale, Geralt is tasked with slaying a beast called a Striga — who is actually the raised body of a Princess named Adda, cursed to transform into a monstrous beast for having an incestuous relationship with her brother, the prince of Temeria. “The Witcher” sees Geralt fight the beast and lift the curse from Adda.
Before we see too much more, we cut back to another brief shot of a bloodied Geralt in the town from the opening. Geralt is from a splinter faction of the old Witcher order called the School of the Wolf, hence the wolf medallion he’s wearing in these town scenes and elsewhere in the trailer.
Next, we get a brief shot of a forested realm and its warrior women inhabitants: these appear to be Dryads, and this is the realm of Brokilon — home to the all-female race and the toxic waters that can be used to transform members of other species into Dryads themselves. We see them encountering a young girl who is actually one of the most important characters on the show: Ciri, played by Freya Allan. A young princess from the kingdom of Cintra, Ciri is being hunted by a whole host of nefarious parties because of both her royal connection and her untrained, but vast, magical powers.
As we cut across shots of some interesting figures — a caravan of black-armoured soldiers, a young, disfigured woman, who will become very important momentarily, and a woman using magic to casually lift a rock — we hear another figure provide more narration. This time essentially setting up the backstory for The Continent at large, explaining the history of magic and how, in an event known as the “Conjunction of the Spheres” in the books and games, supernatural beings and monsters began appearing across the world: “Elves are the original sorcerers of the Continent — when humans and monsters arrived, elves taught humans how to turn chaos into magic...”
“...and then, the humans slaughtered them,” the narrator — a mage named Istredd (Royce Pierreson) concludes, revealing himself as having been speaking to the disfigured young woman from earlier. This woman is another major Witcher character, known to fans of the books and games alike, but perhaps not in this particular form: this is Yennefer of Vengerberg, played by Anya Chalotra. A powerful sorceress herself, Yennefer was born with a severe curvature of the spine, and an abusive upbringing with her father leads to further traumas being inflicting on the young woman.
Yenn is what is known as a “source,” someone with natural-born capacity to wield magic, a rarity among humans. Eventually, she can harness this ability to completely alter her appearance to other people, casting an ever-present glamour that presents herself as a physically able, attractive young woman... which is why it’s slightly less peculiar that she eventually becomes one of Geralt’s love interests in the books and the games.
We next cut to a shot of the show’s version of the Isle of Thanedd, home to Aretuza. That’s a magic school for young women that Yen and several other sorcerers we’ll meet in the series, as well as Ciri herself eventually, honed their magical abilities.
“Chaos is the most dangerous thing in this world,” the green-robed sorceress we saw floating a rock earlier says to one of her students. This is Tissaia de Vries (played by MyAnna Buring), who plays a huge part in Yennefer’s backstory, being the woman who took the young Yenn in and helped hone her magical abilities to treat her conditions.
“But without control, Chaos will kill you,” Tissaia warns, as we get a few more intriguing shots: Ciri on an icy plain, Yennefer smashing a mirror, and what could be an overhead shot of the Chapter of the Gift and the Art, the higher conclave of sorcerers on Thanedd that Tissaia is part of. Eventually, in the books the Chapter is destroyed by infighting in a coup over whether not to support the invading Nilfgaardian Empire, a major faction in the series that we’ll see a bit more of soon.
We cut to cool shot of Geralt swinging a silver whip back in the same ruined castle he was shown briefly fighting in earlier. This feels like once again more affirmation that this action sequence is Geralt’s fight with the Striga in “The Witcher” as this twirl is basically ripped from the introductory cinematic for the first game in CD Projekt Red’s beloved video game trilogy, which depicts the same fight.
As we get to see a few more shots of Geralt’s battle with the Striga — and picking up some coin as a reward, as Witchers are wont to do — we get yet another narrator, this time a woman. “So that’s all life is to you,” she asks, of Geralt. “Monsters and money?” Basically...yeeeeaaaaah.
We cut to a wounded, recovering Geralt to see that this narrator is none other than not just another sorcerer, but another important figure in the books, games, and his life in general: Triss Merigold, played by Anna Shaffer. Triss, like Yenn, is also a source, and, like Yenn, is a love interest of Geralt’s. This scene presumably takes place shortly after Geralt’s encounter with the Striga, as when he first meets her, Triss is an adviser to the King of Foltest, who recruits Geralt to cure his daughter of her monstrous curse. “It’s all it needs to be,” Geralt says of the monsters and money.
“Something out there waits for you,” Triss ominously warns, as the trailer really starts getting into the main premise of the show: an adaptation of what is actually the first proper novel in Sapkowski’s series, Blood of Elves. “This child will be extraordinary,” a man tells Geralt, as we cut over shots of Ciri and her homeland, the kingdom of Cintra. This man is actually another interesting character from the books and the games — Mousesack (Adam Levy), better known to gamers as the druid Ermion. Mousesack has a small but important role in the books, guiding Geralt and Ciri to their eventual meeting.
As we mentioned, uh, a while back, Ciri isn’t just the princess of Cintra, but has elven blood, giving her magical abilities. We appear to cut to either one of her main abilities — magical visions and, at this point in the series, uncontrolled teleportation — as we see the young Ciri in a desert region looking upon a distinctly magical-looking tree.
In a brief interlude from Ciri and Geralt’s story, we cut back to moments between Tissaia and Yennefer during the latter’s brutal training. “Yennefer, imagine the most powerful woman in the world,” Tissia instructs, presumably beginning to teach Yen the magical ability to alter her appearance. “Do you have what it takes?” (not really a spoiler: she does! Yen is eventually one of the most powerful sorcerers around).
But now we’re back to Ciri’s story, and an important introduction of just one of the primary threats in the series: the invasion of the Kingdom of Cintra by the Nilfgaardian Empire. Nilfgaard attacks Cintra during the First Northern War. The woman we see here standing dumbstruck as the Nilfgaardian army attacks is likely Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May), Ciri’s grandmother. “She is why they came,” Calanthe says, presumably referring to Ciri. Calanthe leads her people in the fight against the Nilfgaardian’s until the bitter end, when, as we see briefly here, Cintra’s capital (also named Cintra, helpfully), is razed to the ground by the Nilflgaardian army.
As we see a brief moment of Ciri’s vast magical powers displaying themselves in the Cintran court — blasting the gathered crowds back suddenly. Mousesack continues to urge Geralt to face his destiny: protecting Ciri from the clutches of Niflgaard’s emperor. We also get some brief shots Yennefer’s glamoured form here, too — the appearance she projects to those around her to mask her true body.
“Find Geralt of Rivia,” Calanthe tells Ciri on her deathbed.
We finally cut back to the town we saw Geralt in at the start of the trailer. Note that Geralt isn’t fighting monsters here, but humans — this could be a town called Blaviken, where Geralt earns the nickname “The Butcher of Blaviken” for killing a bunch of thieves and mercenaries on the hunt for a local mage. Or it could just be any town and Geralt’s in a scrap because, at this point in history the Witchers themselves have become a rare breed, and aren’t really held in the highest regards, because they’re...well, kinda creepy monster hunters? Usually one of them being present is a portent that bad things are going down, so commonfolk tend to not particularly be too keen.
A few more random shots follow: Another shot of the Striga, Ciri begging with Calanthe that she can’t face her destiny alone before fleeing Cintra, and Yennefer encountering Geralt, at a masquerade that is likely the Belleteyn, a May Night festival Geralt and Yen meet each other at in Sword of Destiny, the second anthology collection in the book series. This isn’t actually how they first meet in the book series — that’s detailed in the short story “The Last Wish,” which collected in the anthology of the same name.
“No matter what you choose,” Mousesack continues, “You’ll come out bloody.”
We see Geralt getting involved in what appears to be a fight between Cintran soldiers and commoners — and we actually get a very brief glimpse of another character from the books.
This peculiar looking character is Duny and...is actually really important, but saying why would constitute ruining a major spoiler for the series at large. Suffice to say, at this point in the series, Duny is actually a prince who was cursed to look like a strange, hedgehog-like being.
We get another few glimpses of Ciri — first, encountering the Dryads after fleeing Cintra, and then second, what appears her escape from capital (you can juust about make out the blue cape she’s wearing throughout the trailer).
The trailer climaxes back during Geralt’s fight in the town from the opening — it’s cut to make it look like Yennefer is calling on Geralt and is in this fight as well, but it appears to be two different shots, given the inclement weather Yennefer is being drenched by is not present in Geralt’s scrap. Back on Geralt though, you see him do something very familiar to fans of the game — point out three of his fingers. This is how Witchers cast magic in combat, called Signs, making runic gestures. He’s likely using Aard, one of the most basic signs in the game, which is essentially a telekentic blast.
We sharply cut to a very brief, very peculiar shot of Tissaia catching a bolt of lightning and redirecting through a hole in the ceiling. It’s hard to say where this is from, but if we were right earlier and Tissaia’s fellow sorcerers in the Chapter of the Gift and the Art are in the series, this could be part of the coup attempt that sees them perish, but that actually comes quite a bit into the series.
The trailer actually instead concludes with a very game-fan pleasing shot: a giant, spidery creature emerging out of a swamp as an incredibly messed up looking Geralt prepares to face it down. The creature has a few more limbs that suggest it could even be an Arachnomorph, spider-creatures introduced in DLC for the third Witcher game, Wild Hunt, but given the books are the major source material for the show this looks like it could more likely be a Kikimore, a giant insectoid creature Geralt battles as a prelude the short story “The Lesser Evil,” a fight with which eventually brings Geralt to the town of Blaviken, where he earns his infamous nickname. It’d make sense if it is, given the town we saw him fighting in earlier!
Anyway, it’s this last shot that’s going to be especially pleasing to fans of the games: Geralt’s got black eyes here because he’s... poisoned himself to near death? Preparation ahead of combat is as important to the actual fight itself in The Witcher, and Witchers often temporarily boost their mutagenic abilities even further by drinking potions before going into a fight. But the potions are actually, essentially, various strengths of poison, so Geralt has to balance a fine line between giving himself a temporary boon and, well, killing himself.
In the games, this is represented by a toxicity meter that fills as players chug potions in and out of battle. As Geralt looks sicklier and sicklier the more it fills, a near-maxed-out meter is represented by, you guessed it, black eyes. It’s a cool visual callout to fans of the games to indicate that some serious business is about to go down.
Although short, our first look at The Witcher is a sweet one, whether you’re coming to it as a fan of the original books or of the gaming saga that catapulted their world into the wider cultural sphere. So far the show’s take on the novels seems to expand on the world in some interesting ways — especially on its focus beyond Geralt, particularly Yennefer’s origin story — while at the same time drawing in some familiar, fearsome foes that fans who devoured the Witcher games will get a kick out of seeing replicated on screen.
How much longer we’ll have to wait for this version of The Witcher to fully reveal itself remains to be seen — Netflix wouldn’t give a release date beyond later this year.