CS Soapbox: Is The Witcher Really the New Game of Thrones?
When it was announced that Netflix would be adapting Polish author, Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series, immediate parallels were drawn with HBO’s Game of Thrones. Having swords, dragons, magic, kingdoms and silver-haired protagonists, The Witcher made every GoT bereavement list the internet had to offer. Most fantasy-related shows in development — which are based on books/short stories — made that list. However, people have been, and still are, ranting and raving about Geralt of Rivia.
It’s no secret that The Witcher’s overwhelming popularity is in part thanks to the world-renowned video game franchise of the same name. A lot of fans already know and love this story, and in the same vein as George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire having a following before the HBO series, The Witcher saga saw the same before its premiere on Netflix. In the wake of what many consider to be a deplorable final season of GoT, another beloved franchise is now available to binge. Which brings us to the 12 million dollars an episode question: is The Witcher our new GoT? Well, let’s compare the two.
The Continent v Westeros
The Witcher takes place on an unnamed Earth, the majority of the story occurring on a landmass known as the Continent. The Continent was originally conquered by the elves, who themselves took it from dwarves, but then humanity showed up and did what they usually do. When the show begins, the most notable settlements are that of the four Nothern Kingdoms and the Nilfgaardian Empire. There are places everywhere from the Blue Mountains to the Skellife Isles but season one of The Witcher is condensed.
As you know, the bulk of the action in GoT occurs on the continent of Westeros and north of the wall; there’s also the continent of Essos (on the other side of the Narrow Sea). The globe-trotting action of GoT makes that series feel much bigger than The Witcher. The amount of kingdoms, places and people in play in Westeros is one of that series’ defining characteristics. The Witcher strives to be a much more focused tale that still takes place in a fully-realized world.
In Netflix’s The Witcher, Nilfgaard is dead set on conquering all of the other kingdoms; Daenerys Targaryen is the physical embodiment of Nilfgaard. At the beginning of GoT, the Seven Kingdoms are very much intact but things kick off between the Lannisters and the Starks and war ensues. This sounds similar, however, The Witcher isn’t as concerned with feuding houses or throne politics of its world as GoT—Dany’s just a side character that no one cares about.
While the politics — discrimination and permeating war — of the Continent affect the characters in The Witcher, they mostly operate on the outskirts of it all. GoT characters like Jon Snow and Tyrion actively participated in Westeros’ political landscape. The Witcher’s primary characters are more equatable to Ayra or Hound, those who know of the politics but are above them.
The main character in The Witcher is Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), a “Witcher” or mutated monster hunter with supernatural abilities. In addition to Geralt, we primarily follow the ex-princess Ciri (Freya Allen) and the mage Yennefer (Anya Chalotra). The Witcher is a much more intimate story than GoT, focusing on three core characters as their decisions influence the world around them. GoT’s plethora of subplots and side characters didn’t nearly affect the world as much as the people in power, albeit short-term, with the pacing of the two shows being completely different.
In GoT, the characters are separated by space and in The Witcher’s first season, they are separated by time. The Witcher jumps back and forth through time to different characters and stories set decades apart but it rarely lets you know when it is doing this. The easiest way to approach it is to think of Yennefer’s story as the past, Geralt’s story as the present, and Ciri’s as the future; all of these timelines converge by the end of the season.
This narrative technique is unique to the series; Andrzej Saplowski’s stories almost exclusively followed Geralt’s perspective. The Witcher‘s showrunners sought to put Ciri and Yennefer on a level playing field with Geralt, not unlike what the GoT showrunners had to do when adapting A Song of Ice and Fire’s first-person POV chapters.
Both the world of GoT and The Witcher are grimmer and grittier than your traditional fantasy. No hobbits are skipping around singing, although there is singing in The Witcher — “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher,” which is sung by the Bard Jaskier (Joey Batey), will get stuck in your head for all of eternity. That song is just one example of how the show is often unexpectedly funny and quirky even when it’s being dark. More than GoT, it’s a world painted in shades of gray.
The Witcher novels and short stories are much more philosophical than A Song of Ice and Fire. The first season has yet to explore this but a foundation has been set. At this point, there might even be more good on the Continent than in Westeros. Regardless, it’s a very mature show—Geralt says fuck a lot and it’s ripe with sex and nudity, to the delight of nerds across the globe.
An argument can be made that The Witcher tackles even heavier themes than GoT, aiming to be more morally ambiguous. If you’ve read the stories or played the game, then you know that on the Continent, there’s not always a right or wrong answer to a problem. To be fair, GoT presented its world as mostly cruel, but it was cruel and we were made aware of that—when someone did the wrong thing we knew it and when they did the right thing we knew that too, mostly because they often died soon after. Both worlds are adamant in saying that everything has a price.
The very first scene of The Witcher shows Geralt wrestling and killing a spider monster. That introduction tells us one thing: magic and monsters are very much a thing on the Continent. Folklore, myth, and destiny—it’s all real. Unlike the citizens of Kings Landing, the inhabitants of The Continent wouldn’t need to be convinced that the White Walkers exist. They’re a God-fearing bunch, aside from Geralt, who would have properly manned the castles on the Wall.
Magic, in general, is meant to scare people. This is why the world created Witchers and even that comes at a cost. Geralt’s path to becoming a Witcher is shown to have been a tortuous one, asmany don’t survive the process. He also drinks toxic potions to enhance his body, while spells can be cast by a mage in battle or a Witcher can use a sign, which are simple magic spells used by his kind. However, magic is never without a price and it often takes a toll on the user, which can be seen later in the first season. The mystical nature of the world is constantly battering the characters.
GoT’s final season abandoned prophecy, mystery, cause and effect. Destiny and consequence is still very much a thing in The Witcher. If the show can fix its pacing issues in season two then it will begin to benefit from this grounded approach to magic.
So, Is The Witcher The New GoT?
GoT was, and is, a huge and epic tale where everything is on the line. The Witcher hints at a greater evil but for the most part, it’s about its characters and destiny with any overarching threat yet to be introduced. If we’re comparing premiere seasons, GoT is infinitely better in its actors, writing, foreshadowing — that ultimately went nowhere — and the world-building. In retrospect, that may sound futile because its brilliance was diluted over eight seasons but critics hate The Witcher.
The Witcher has been deemed convoluted and weirdly paced, with the world needing to be fleshed out and plot more focused. The one thing everyone agrees on is the faithfully astute performance given by Cavill as Geralt. The titular character looks and sounds just like his video game counterpart and fans couldn’t be happier. The dude rides into the frame on Roach like everyone always envisioned, which is why fans love the series.
Maybe GoT lowered expectations by being the most anticlimactic finale in the history of fantasy or maybe The Witcher isn’t as bad as critics say. It has its issues but it’s fun and it’s here. No, it’s not the new GoT, it’s The Witcher—existing within the same genre but on another side of the spectrum. As it continues to establish its story, its fan base will look much different than GoT’s. Regardless, that fan base is already strong and will continue to toss their coin to Netflix and, in turn, our Witcher.