When Netflix first pitched Lauren Schmidt Hissrich the idea of doing a series based on The Witcher, she turned it down. She was a fan of the books and video games, so much so she even included a bathtub Easter egg in the first season, but was afraid of taking on a fantasy saga. What finally convinced her? Getting to tell the story she wanted in a way that not just appealed to fans of the books, but the games which are even more famous than the source material.
During a press roundtable at San Diego Comic-Con, Hissrich talked about why she ultimately decided to do The Witcher. Joking how “Netflix loves that story,” Hissrich shared that she agreed once the streaming network showed how much they cared for and valued the story she was most interested in telling:
I read the books and I basically said, “I loved The Last Wish. It was an incredible read. But I’m not a fantasy writer, guys, like I’m not who you’re looking for.” And they said, “Well, what would be your entrance into the story? If we said you have to write this, What would be your entrance in?”
I said it would be about what happens when Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer meet, and how we can craft a really disjointed family that’s meant to be together. That’s something that I knew that I could bring. That’s the base of all fantasy right? It’s just human experience. It’s maybe human experience in a world that we don’t live in, with monsters and with magic, but it really comes down to just what it’s like to walk through the world.
Hissrich emphasised that the core of the first season is about bringing Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer together and creating that core which defines many of the books and games. However, it is going to take some time to get there. Freya Allan, who plays Ciri, told Gizmodo that Ciri and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) don’t spend a lot of time together this season — at least, not without Geralt — but that she’s looking forward to having more of that relationship develop between the two of them in the future.
“That’s something we haven’t explored yet. But I’m really looking forward to looking at that more, and I think it’s going to be a great relationship, because I think it’ll be very maternal one, [with] two strong female characters together and so I’m very excited,” Allan said.
For now, it’s about setting the stage. In fact, there are a few other things we won’t be seeing in the first season, but Hissrich hinted they could arrive in the second season should the series get one. She wouldn’t go into detail, as she doesn’t want to spoil things, but she did note how Istredd, one of Yennefer’s many lovers, is being introduced in the first season.
He’s only in one of the original stories, but his early, more teasing presence in the first season hints at something bigger later on. Hissrich said it’s all about laying the groundwork for a larger story, instead of overloading the first season with too many characters or references.
“There is so much that I intended to put in this season, but I’m actually a really big believer in not cramming in story just for the sake of cramming in story,” Hissrich said. “It’s about letting these characters breathe and grow, so there’s definitely things that we didn’t get to.”
Letting the characters do their own thing might be especially challenging for fans of the video games. Hissrich confirmed in the interview that the series is based on the original books, and will not be a video game adaptation. However, there will be Easter eggs and references that game fans will appreciate, like the aforementioned bathtub, but it’s it’s not based on the version most fans will recognise. It presents a unique problem because the games are arguably more well-known than the books. Several folks, including myself, weren’t even aware there were books until fairly recently.
I asked Hissrich about the unique challenges in developing a TV show based on a series where arguably the adaptation, meaning the video games, is more famous than the source material. She said video games are a powerful medium in that viewers, or players, feel a sense of control and autonomy over Geralt. But in this case, that control is being handed over to Henry Cavill. The themes and tones are similar but the presentation is different, and she trusts that audiences will be able to move seamlessly through both:
What I will always say to gaming fans when they say, “Is the show for me?” And I say well, what you love is based on the same books as this show is going to be based on, which means we’re all dealing with the same set of characters, the same themes, the same tones. What’s different is is the look, of course.
I think that people who really love the games are gonna love the show too. I think you just have to be open to seeing it as a journey where you’re sitting back and it’s happening, as opposed to you being in charge of it. And I think that’s gonna be a challenge for some people, certainly it’s a challenge for me to not feel like I get to control everything. I mean, I guess in this case I kind of do!
The Witcher hits Netflix later this year.