Netflix’s high-fantasy drama The Witcher, based on the series of novels and short stories of the same name by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, has gained massive popularity since its debut in December of last year. Scoring an 8.3 on IMDb and a ninety-two percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, Geralt’s misadventures have certainly amassed quite a dedicated following. Yet even a cursory glance at the show’s reviews tells us that many of its fans are also fans of the books, and that is because, as an adaptation, The Witcher fails miserably. But what makes a good adaptation? Is it a faithful recreation of the original source material, or does it expand on certain elements to create something new? I believe that both could work, but what I think makes The Witcher a poor adaptation is that it attempts both and accomplishes neither.
The Witcher follows the witcher himself Geralt of Rivia and his struggle to find his place in a world of people more wicked than beasts. Not only that, it also follows two other characters, the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg and the princess Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon, or Ciri, as she’s known. While in Andrzej’s work each of these character’s journeys are told in separate books, devoting proper time to each of them, in the show they are all told simultaneously.
In The Last Wish, Andrzej’s first collection of short stories and the debut of Geralt of Rivia, we are given almost three hundred pages to form an emotional attachment with the monster hunter, to learn who he is, what he has endured and how he learned and grew from those hardships. In the show, only a third of the runtime is devoted to him, therefore so much plot has to be crammed into twenty minutes that there’s no time left to actually show the audience why they’re supposed to care about the main character.
This is why only fans of the books are able to invest themselves in the show, because they already know who everybody is and have already formed emotional attachments with them. In a sense, they’ve done the homework, so now they can just enjoy seeing their favorite characters brought to life. While I can commend The Witcher for attempting to tell Andrej’s stories in an unconventional way, the new perspective doesn’t give us anything different, and what it does give us of the original tale is rushed and watered-down.