Toss a Coin to Your Witcher: Some Thoughts on The Witcher

I have to admit that initially, I wasn’t even going to watch The Witcher. For while I am cursorily familiar with the books, I have never played the videogames nor watched the Polish TV series from the early 2000s. And the trailers made the Netflix series look like a cheap Game of Thrones wannabe, even though the source material is something quite different.

I’m not the only one to make the Game of Thrones comparison. Indeed, most reviews in mainstream outlets compare The Witcher to Game of Thrones and declare that it falls flat. The overwhelmingly negative reviews only served to confirm my decision to skip The Witcher, considering that I hadn’t been particularly interested in the show in the first place.

However, then something strange happened. For while mainstreams reviews of The Witcher were overwhelmingly negative, I started seeing more and more positive comments about the show on Twitter and various blogs. Again, I wasn’t the only one who noticed this. In The Guardian, Edward Helmore comments on the discrepancy between professional and fan reviews to The Witcher with a condescending, “Well, I guess these fantasy fans will watch any old tosh to fill the Game of Thrones gap in their lives.”

The last time I came across a film/TV show that critics hated but fans loved, I came down hard on the side of the fans. And so, when I found myself looking for a new SFF show to watch after I’d finished The Mandalorian, I decided to give The Witcher a try. I’m glad I did, because I came to enjoy The Witcher quite a bit.

It’s no surprise that mainstream critics are comparing The Witcher to Game of Thrones, because people, particular if they’re not familiar with a genre, tend to draw comparisons to something they already know. And considering what a cultural phenomenon Game of Thrones was, it’s inevitable that any new epic fantasy series is going to be compared to Game of Thrones, just as Game of Thrones was compared to Lord of the Rings, when it first started, because at the time Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptation was the most recognisable example of filmic epic fantasy out there. And just as Game of Thrones likely would never have existed, if Lord of the Rings hadn’t first demonstrated that yes, there is a huge audience for epic fantasy out there, The Witcher TV-show would probably never have existed without the success of Game of Thrones.

And there certainly are some similarities between The Witcher and Game of Thrones. Both are set in a vaguely medieval European secondary world with kings and queens, monsters, magic and dragons. Both shows share the same muted colour palette with lots of greys, browns and blacks that is apparently de rigeur for filmic fantasy these days and actually predates Game of Thrones, going back to the Lord of the Rings movies and the non-fantasy epic Gladiator at the turn of the millennium. The Witcher also occasionally indulges in gratuitous nudity and violence, though not nearly as much as Game of Thrones did. However, these similarities are superficial and largely due to basic genre tropes and general aesthetics of what the audience expects from filmic fantasy these days. But if you look underneath the surface, The Witcher and Game of Thrones tell two very different stories.

Game of Thrones was an epic in the most literal sense of the word, a giant tapestry with dozens of individual plot strands, umpteen POV characters and a cast of thousands. But while The Witcher is set in a world that is as big as that of Game of Thrones, the series tells a much smaller story. For while there are the requisite epic battles and clashes of kingdoms going on in the background, the TV series tells the story of three people: Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher, a freelance monster hunter, Yennefer of Vengerberg, an abused hunchbacked girl turned powerful sorceress, and Cirilla “Ciri”, the teenaged crown princess of the kingdom of Cintra who is on the run, after the evil empire of Nilfgaard conquered Cintra and killed her grandmother, the queen. Initially, the stories of these three people seem to be independent of each other, but eventually they intersect and intertwine. All three storylines also happen at different times, though this does not fully become apparent until episode 3 of the series. Geralt’s storyline intertwines with Yennefer’s in episode 5. Geralt’s storyline also touches upon Ciri’s in episode 4, though the two will not meet in person until the very last scene of the final episode of the first season. The structure with the three different timelines is not an artefact of the books, BTW, but a decision made by the showrunners. For while the books do jump around in time quite a bit – partly, because the first two books are fix-ups and partly because Andrzej Sapkowski is fond of having characters narrate events in flashbacks – they don’t do it like the series. The books are also far more focussed on Geralt and later Ciri, whereas the series gives equal weight to Geralt’s, Yennefer’s and Ciri’s storylines.

In fact, I would say that the books are often closer to sword and sorcery than to epic fantasy. And Geralt, the wandering loner and freelance monster hunter, is a classic sword and sorcery protagonist. He’s no chosen one on a quest, he’s just a guy doing a job he didn’t exactly choose, while trying and usually failing to keep out of trouble. Geralt has a lot more in common with Conan or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (and while we’re adapting classic fantasy, can someone please make a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series?) than with Aragorn or Frodo, including a taste for beautiful and dangerous women. And since The Witcher started out as a series of short stories published in Polish fantasy magazines in the 1980s and 1990s, the sword and sorcery vibes make sense, because sword and sorcery is a subgenre that works well as short fiction. Epic fantasy requires longer lengths. I have no idea whether Andrzej Sapkowski was influenced by classic sword and sorcery fiction – with authors from non-anglophone countries, availability is always an issue, even more so for authors from beyond the former Iron Curtain – but Geralt is basically a sword and sorcery protagonist in an epic fantasy world.

Talking of influences, The Witcher, both books and series, have a hodgepodge of influences. However, contrary to what the critics claim, Game of Thrones is not one of them, if only because The Witcher actually predates A Song of Ice and Fire by a decade. The first Witcher story, entitled simply “Witcher”, was published in 1986 (and all Witcher stories and novels except for one were published before 2000), while A Game of Thrones came out in 1996 and the TV series did not start airing until 2011. And while some critics point out that one episode of The Witcher features brother-sister incest as a plot point, that episode is based on the very first Witcher story, which came out ten years before the first Game of Thrones book. Never mind that Game of Thrones certainly did not invent sibling incest.

Instead, The Witcher is influenced by a mix of Western and East European fantasy and folklore. Tolkien clearly was an influence and indeed I found the very Tolkienesque elves jarring, because such elves come from celtic rather than continental European folklore. But then Tolkien’s work were available beyond the Iron Curtain – my own copy of The Hobbit is an old East German edition with woodcut illustrations. Andrzej Sapkowski himself has named Roger Zelazny as an influence (which means that Zelazny’s work must have been available in Poland in the 1980s/90s) and quite a few people have noted the similarities between the first Witcher story (adapted for the third episode of the series) and Nicolai Gogol’s novella Viy, which I read many years ago in – yes, a volume of ghost stories I had been given by an aunt from East Germany. Finally, The Witcher is influenced a lot by fairytales and folklore from both Eastern and Western Europe and beyond. For example, the story on which the first episode of the series is based was intended to be a subversion of the Snow White fairytale with Renfry, the princess turned brigand, basically Snow White gone bad.

Eastern Europe had a strong tradition of fairytales and children’s fantasy throughout the Communist era. At first glance, you would think that Communist countries had little use for fairytales with their old-fashioned plots and their kings and queens, princes and princesses, wizards and witches. However, Eastern Europe also published a lot of fairy- and folktale collections as well as new fairytale inspired stories, mostly aimed at children. Pretty much all of the fairytale books I had as a kid were East German editions that had arrived in parcels from my two East German aunts for Christmas and my birthday (meanwhile, my Mom sent a parcel containing such Western goodies as chocolate, coffee, nylons, canned fruit, etc… to my aunt every month). It wasn’t just East European fairytales either, but Grimm’s Fairytales, Hans Christian Andersen’s, Nicolai Gogol’s ghost stories, Tolkien, an absolutely beautifully illustrated picture book featuring what appears to be a Russian take on Little Red Riding Hood, etc… Furthermore, Eastern Europe produced a steady stream of lavishly produced fairytale films and TV series (mainly Czechoslovakia, but East Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union all produced fairytale and fantasy films as well), which were widely watched and enjoyed throughout Eastern Europe and also spilled out across the Iron Curtain, winding up as cheap and wholesome afternoon programming for children in West Germany and elsewhere. Those movies were extremely well made, often played fast and loose with the source material. Some like the 1979 Czech TV series Arabela were even remarakbly subversive. I and many other children lapped this stuff, because they were often the only fantasy we could find among dreary realism of the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, I had quite a lot of exposure to East European fantasy as a kid, both via fairytale movies and TV shows and via the books I got from my aunts in East Germany (thank you, Aunt Metel and Aunt Erika). And I recognise the influence of East European fantasy in The Witcher, mixed with the grime and dirt of Anglo-American grimdark fantasy.

And indeed one of the things I loved about The Witcher was how very much the series subverts Anglo-American storytelling expectations. After all, here we have a series about a monster hunter who tries to avoid killing monsters as far as possible and instead tries to either save the monsters, if they were innocent victims of circumstance (the striga, Duny, the dragon and its egg) or persuade them to go away (Renfry, the elves at the edge of the world, the djinn). Furthermore, we hardly ever actually see Geralt fight monsters. There is the spidery creature at the very beginning (a scene which put some folks off the entire series, which is a pity, because they’re missing out), two monster kills that take place off-stage and the fight of the ghouls in the very last episode. Compare that to US fantasy, whether it’s Supernatural or Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter books. In fact, I now wonder how the Witcher videogames handle the material, considering that gamers usually place a high emphasis on fighting and killing monsters. And a monster hunter who doesn’t kill monsters unless he has no other choice is not really a typical videogame character.

The very first episode puts Geralt in a situation where he has no choice but to kill someone he doesn’t want to kill, when he finds himself caught up in a conflict between the sorcerer Stregabor and a princess turned brigand named Renfry. Stregabor tries to enlist Geralt’s help in killing Renfry whom he insists is dangerous, because she is one of sixty girls born during an eclipse and the only one who survived, after Stregabor imprisoned and killed all the others. Renfry in turn tries to enlist Geralt’s help to kill Stregabor, who destroyed her life after all. Geralt tries to stay out of the conflict and persuade Renfry to leave town, but she refuses. And so Geralt is forced to fight and make a choice. Reluctantly, he kills Renfry. It is pretty obvious – both to Geralt and the viewer – that this was the wrong choice. Yes, the first episode has our hero fail utterly. Worse, the events will continue to haunt Geralt throughout the series, as he is constantly called “the Butcher of Blaviken” after killing Renfry and the men in her thrall.

One thing that surprised me was how likeable Geralt was, considering that he is a perpetually glum, emotionally challenged outcast who communicates in grunts and the occasional “fuck” and who no more gets along with people than with the monsters he tries not to kill. However, Henry Cavill manages to imbue what could have been a one-note character with a lot of charm, which surprised me even more, considering that my main exposure to Henry Cavill so far was his utterly awful take on Superman (which, to be fair, is more Zack Snyder’s fault than Cavill’s). Apart from that, the only other things I’ve ever seen him in were The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which was okay, and an early appearance in Midsomer Murders, where he first gets caught with his pants down by David Bradley (a.k.a. Walder Frey a.k.a. the First Doctor) and then bitten by a fox and eventually steps into a trap and is shot, making him one of the many future stars who started their careers by playing murder victims in Midsomer Murders. Still, considering that Henry Cavill (with Zack Snyder’s help) managed to make Superman unlikeable, I certainly didn’t expect him to make Geralt of Rivia, a characters who’s much harder to like than Superman, likeable, yet somehow he does. Of course, it helps that Henry Cavill is apparently a huge fan of the Witcher books and games. And so Cavill manages to show us the cracks in Geralt’s stoic facade. For even though Geralt is supposed to have no emotions, a side-effect of the mutation that turned him into a Witcher, he obviously has feelings and even admits at one point that the supposed lack of emotions in Witchers is just a story that gives people one more reason to despise Witchers like him, even though they need his help. Hmm, a despised outcast mutant protecting people who fear and hate him, that seems very reminiscent of the X-Men, though I have no idea if the comics were ever available in Poland either before or after the fall of the Iron Curtain. On the other hand, Sapkowski might simply be drawing on the same source material, namely 1940s and 50s pulp science fiction, that Jack Kirby and Stan Lee were drawing on.

At any rate, the problem is not so much that Geralt has no feelings, but that he doesn’t really know how to deal with the ones he has. And so the cracks in his stoic facade become increasingly apparent over the course of the first season. For example, Geralt carries Renfry’s brooch around for the entire season and eventually attaches it to the pommel of his sword, a reminder of the one time where he completely and utterly fails. Geralt also thinks that finding and freeing a djinn is a perfect way to cure insomnia, only to use the final wish he gets to save Yennefer. When he is wounded (and for a tough monster hunter, Geralt gets injured a lot) and sees his mother in fever dreams, he cries out at her, if she knew what they’d do to him, when she handed him over to the Witchers. In the very last scene of the season, Geralt clumsily hugs a traumatised Ciri back, after she throws her arms around him – after having spent most of the season avoiding Ciri, to whom he’s bound by destiny and a custom known as the law of surprise. Geralt’s interactions with Yennefer alternate between glowering at her and glowering even more at every man who dares to come near her and uttering thrice his daily quote of grunts, when he is with her, something he even remarks upon at one point. And so Yennefer not only gets the statement “You are important to me” out of Geralt, but he also confesses his connection to Ciri to her. But important as Geralt’s connection to Yennefer is to the plot, it’s actually his one-sided friendship with Jaskier the bard that does the most to humanise Geralt.

Geralt first meets Jaskier in a tavern in episode 2, where the patrons are throwing breadrolls to shut Jaskier up (the practical Jaskier picks him up and stuffs them into his pockets), while everybody shuns Geralt as usual. In fact, Jaskier is pretty much the only person who does not shun Geralt, but instead views him as a golden opportunity to get more material for his ballads. And so Jaskier – the series decided to stick with the untranslated Polish name, while translations of the books usually opt for some kind of flower, usually yellow* – attaches himself to Geralt, in spite of the latter’s best efforts to make him go away. After an adventure with elves at the edge of the world, Jaskier sings “Toss a coin to your Witcher”, the ballad that broke the internet, because it is just that catchy. Also note the annoyed look on Geralt’s face, when he realises that both the song and the bard will follow him around from now on.

I found the use of music in The Witcher very interesting, because it hearkens back to older storytelling traditions. Bards and balladeers occasionally show up as characters in SFF. Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John and Tom Bombadil are probably the best known examples, though there is also Ciaran from “The Jewel of Bas”, a Leigh Brackett story that is the subject of an upcoming Retro Review, and of course Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd. But what makes the use of ballads in The Witcher so interesting is that the ballads comment on the story. And of course, ballads originally were a storytelling and also a news medium. At least in the German speaking world, ballads as a storytelling medium survived well into the twentieth century. For example, here is a photo of a balladeer at the Bremer Freimarkt sometime in the early twentieth century. The Nazis largely wiped out the tradition of wandering balladeers, because they disliked showpeople and carnival folk in general and balladeers in particular, because by the twentieth century the ballad had also become a medium of satire. “Mackie Messer” a.k.a. “Mack the Knife” by Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht is probably the most famous German ballad of the twentieth century (here is the original performed by Lotte Lenya) and definitely satirical. After WWII, the ballad was revived as a medium of satire in West Germany. Furthermore, the ballad also appeared in the West German cinema of the 1950s, used to explain and comment on the plot. This technique shows up in not just in fantasy films like Das Wirtshaus im Spessart (The Spessart Inn) and its sequel Das Spukschloss in Spessart (The Haunted Castle), but also in serious movies such as Wir Wunderkinder (Aren’t We Wonderful?) and Das Mädchen Rosemarie (Rosemary), all of which – yes, also the two fantasy movies – are not only among the best movies made in 1950s West Germany, but they are also offer a slyly satirical look at postwar society, where the old Nazis are worming their way back into positions of power, while their former victims still can’t catch a break. The use of ballads in West German films to comment on the plot stopped abruptly in the early 1960s, likely due to the untimely death of Wolfgang Müller, one half of the comedy duo Wolfgang Neuss and Wolfgang Müller who played wandering balladeers in most of these movies, in 1960.

I have no idea, if Andrzej Sapkowski or Witcher showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich have ever seen any of those movies, though it’s not as unlikely as it seems, because at least the Spessart movies were shown beyond the Iron Curtain and Wir Wunderkinder won a Golden Globe. But Jaskier very much struck me as the second coming of Neuss and Müller or rather Knoll and Funzel, as their characters are known in the Spessart movies, because he also is a comic relief character who uses his songs to comment on the plot (though actor Joey Batey has a better voice than Wolfgang Neuss and Wolfgang Müller). And interestingly, Jaskier’s songs also influence the story. For after Jaskier writes “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher”, a song which apparently went as viral in the story as in reality, the various people Geralt meets begin to treat him notably better, recognising that he is in fact “a friend of humanity” there to help. Jaskier is also instrumental in Geralt meeting the two other main characters of the series, Ciri (or rather her parents and grandmother) and Yennefer. Of course, Geralt reacts to Jaskier improving his image with glumness and grunting, as usual. Though it becomes clear to the viewer, if not to Jaskier himself, that Geralt does care about the bard. When Jaskier is hurt during an encounter with a djinn, Geralt tries to get him medical help and anxiously asks if Jaskier will be all right, because Geralt said some not very nice things about Jaskier’s music (more precisely, he called it “a pie without the filling”, which is really not a nice thing to say). And when Geralt lashes out at Jaskier, after Yennefer has dumped him, and points out that all his troubles, particularly his connection with Yennefer and Ciri, are all Jaskier’s fault, the bard is hurt, but by now he knows what Geralt is like. The last two episodes were packed with plot, but it’s still a pity that we did not get to see Geralt and Jaskier reunite.

Apart from Geralt and Jaskier (and a couple of villains), all characters of note in The Witcher are female. A lot of people have remarked on the many, many awesome women of The Witcher and quite a few believe that the fact that showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich is a woman is responsible for the strong female presence in the series. However, except for one case where a male alderman is replaced by his teenaged daughter in the show, all of the female characters in The Witcher can be found in the books and are just as formidable there.

Quite a few people (here is one example) have complained about the way the series treats Yennefer who starts out as a disabled (she has a hunchback, a curved spine and a deformed jaw) and severely abused young girl, then has her physical flaws magically corrected for the price of losing her womb. She subsequently tries to regain her fertility by any means possible. Both disability cure narratives and fertility loss treated as a curse are potentially offensive tropes. And as a woman who has no children and never wanted any I normally dislike any kind of story which focusses on a woman’s desperate attempt to gain/regain her fertility. However, both Yennefer’s disability and her infertility are important plot points in the books, so the series couldn’t really leave them out without significantly altering Yennefer’s storyline. Plus, the series manages to handle these potentially offensive tropes in a way that minimises their offensiveness.

For starters, note that Yennefer is not actually happy, after her body has been corrected and not just because of the infertility issue either. It’s obvious that she misses her old self at times. At one point, she even tells an apprentice sorceress with a scarred face that beauty is overrated. The decision to let Yennefer have a boyfriend and sex, while still in her original body, also helps to mitigate the problematic aspects, because it shows that there were people able to look beyond her disability even before. I also suspect that Geralt wouldn’t have been put off by Yennefer’s original body either, because he isn’t the type to care only for outward beauty. Never mind that Geralt has also undergone traumatic physical changes, when he was turned into a Witcher against his will.

I have to admit that I did find Yennefer’s desire for a child a bit baffling, because she didn’t display any maternal tendencies in the series before and indeed agrees to have her womb removed to magically change her appearance (and no, we did not need to see the gory details). So I was baffled that she is suddenly willing to risk her life to cure her infertility. However, the Yennefer looking for an infertility cure is several decades older than the girl who wants power and beauty and thinks she cannot have one without the other. Also Yennefer is clearly troubled by the royal baby she is unable to save from a magical assassin sent to eliminate the baby and its mother. Furthermore, issues like menstruation, fertility, contraception, pregnancy, abortion and miscarriage play a bigger role in The Witcher books than in most epic fantasy novels, particularly epic fantasy novels by male authors. As detailed in this Tor.com post by Rachel Ashcroft, in one of the later books a female character finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, which leads to a debate whether she should have the baby or have an abortion, with the male characters conceding that it is primarily the woman’s decision. This is a topic that would be extremely uncommon even in Western fantasy, let alone fantasy by a male author. Considering that Poland is dominated by a particularly reactionary strain of Catholicism and has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, Sapkowski daring to mention abortion at all and pointing out that it’s the woman’s decision and no one else’s is downright revolutionary.

Finally, Yennefer is not the only character in The Witcher who was rendered infertile by magic. It is implied that her fellow sorceresses underwent the same ritual and none of them seem to be as troubled by losing their fertility as Yennefer. Of course, one could interpret Tissaia’s attachment to the magical school of Arethuza, whose rectress she is, as a displaced motherly instinct, but maybe she just likes being a teacher. Furthermore, Geralt was also rendered infertile by the process that turned him into a Witcher and is perfectly fine with this. In fact, he tells Yennefer that their lives are not good for children, so it’s probably for the best that they cannot have any. So of course, destiny, being a bitch gives Geralt (and eventually Yennefer) exactly what he doesn’t want, namely a child in the form of Ciri, when Geralt saves the life of Ciri’s father-to-be and invokes a custom called “the law of surprise” in response, which gives him something the person he saved has, but doesn’t yet know about. Almost as soon as Geralt has invoked the law of surprise, Ciri’s mother-to-be Pavetta pukes on the floor, revealing her pregnancy. “Fuck” is Geralt’s response, because he wants nothing to do with this child and indeed does his utmost to keep away from Ciri and the kingdom of Cintra for the next twelve years or so. He doesn’t even know that Pavetta’s unborn child is a girl until he returns to Cintra. It’s only after Geralt has seen the lengths to which a dragon was willing to go to protect his egg and when Cintra is at risk of being attacked by Nilfgaard that Geralt finally decides to take his responsibility seriously and returns to Cintra, offering to protect Ciri. Geralt even makes it clear that he only wants to help and doesn’t want to take Ciri away from her grandparents, but his offer is rebuked anyway and Geralt is imprisoned (he escapes pretty easily). In fact, if Ciri’s grandmother had been more reasonable and accepted Geralt’s offer, the traumatic experiences of Ciri’s flight from Cintra and subsequent search for Geralt (even though she is no idea who this person her grandmother insists is her destiny even is) could have been avoided. Of course, that would also have wiped out much of the plot of season 1.

The two most discussed TV (well, streaming video to be exact) series during the 2019/2020 holiday period were undoubtedly The Witcher and The Mandalorian. Yes, there was also His Dark Materials and Watchmen, though season 4 of The Expanse seems to have attracted less discussion than earlier seasons. And though The Witcher and The Mandalorian seem to be completely different shows on the surface – one epic fantasy and the other space opera – they also share remarkable parallels and not just because I was initially reluctant to watch either show and then wound up enjoying both a whole lot.

If you strip away all the fantasy or respectively Star Wars trappings of The Witcher and The Mandalorian, what you find in both cases is the story of a traumatised, monosyllabic and emotionally stunted loner, who hunts bad guys (many of whom aren’t quite so bad), finds himself guardian to a child with special powers, a child everybody is after, and becomes a better person in the process. Of course, Baby Yoda is still a baby, while Ciri is a young teenager, but apart from that it is notable that both The Witcher and The Mandalorian are stories of (reluctant) fatherhood. Furthermore, both Mando and Geralt find themselves at the centre of a found family, only that Mando gets a magical alien baby with Force powers, a troubled former shock trooper, a grumpy Ugnaught and a gun-toting droid nanny, while Geralt gets a teenaged princess with magical powers, a troubled sorceress and a goofy bard. I suspect it’s the found family aspects that made me fall in love with both shows, because I am a sucker for found family stories.

However, it’s certainly interesting that the two most discussed SFF shows of the 2019/2020 holiday period were both stories of reluctant fatherfood and stories which feature a largely positive image of parenthood. Now I know that quite a few people of a usually conservative bend complain about the image of fathers in US TV shows as useless bumblers, mostly referring to sitcom characters. I don’t watch sitcoms, so I rarely see the bumbling and idiotic US sitcom fathers. However, I have issues of my own with the portrayal of fathers of US television, namely that fathers (and sometimes mothers) are portrayed as overly controlling towards their teenaged children. Examples are Roger Murtaugh in the TV version of Lethal Weapon (which made me dislike Murtaugh, a character I liked in the films) and Danny Williams from Hawai Five-Oh, who at one point freaks out that his ten-year-old daughter (!) is smiling (!) at a boy. To German viewers like me, these overly controlling fathers seem very alien, not to mention borderline abusive, because my father never tried to tell me how to dress (and if he had, he’d have gotten some massive pushback) or who to hang out with. And while some of my friends had more controlling fathers, not even the worst of them reached the level of a Danny Williams or Roger Murtaugh. This is also why I was so annoyed at the grisly book turned movie turned TV series Das Pubertier (the title is a really offensive German pun that equates teenagers with animals), which features terribly controlling parents, because German parents didn’t use to be like that and hopefully aren’t today either. As a result, I was pleasantly surprised to see two positive portrayals of reluctant fatherhood in the kind of show where I would have least expected them.

So toss a coin to your Witcher, because it is a highly enjoyable series, which will almost certainly appear on my Hugo ballot.

*The Polish name means “Buttercup” as far as I know. In English, he’s Dandelion, in Czech Marigold (which causes issues with Trish, the character who actually is called Marigold) and in German, he’s Larkspur.

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4 Responses to Toss a Coin to Your Witcher: Some Thoughts on The Witcher

  1. J R Tomlin says:

    My problem with it is simply that gay people apparently don’t even exist in the world. That was probably to be expected in the period and place they were written. That it has not been properly addressed in recent versions is simply homophobic. The game decided to address it by using one of the most oldest homophobic memes possible for their single gay character, that gays end up spending their lives alone and miserable. So I won’t be watching it.

    • Cora says:

      Eastern Europe in general and Poland in particular due to the fact that it is a very conservative Catholic country is sadly behind the times when it comes to LGBTQ representation. Not to mention that western fantasy was only starting to dip its toe into featuring LGBTQ characters in the 1980s as well.

      Still, there is no need for the series to stick to the books so closely in that case. Given the many sorceresses, at least some of them could have had relationships with other women without affecting the plot in any way.

  2. Chuck Litka says:

    My problem with the show is much more trivial. In the final episode, who but an idiot would attempt to stem a vast invading army from the same side of a wide and deep crevasse as the invading army, when you could have simply destroyed a span of the bridge and mooned them from the far side? (And you have magic to counter any magic crossing.) I really hate when they do stupid things simply for visual effects, which is why I’m not a Star Wars fan. And it struck me that the various settings and scenery didn’t seem to be very coherent — but I haven’t read the books or seen the maps. Indeed, my only exposure to the Witcher was brief clips of the game play on Youtube reviews of gaming laptops. So, all in all, it was okay, but I much prefer the Chinese or Korean historical dramas on Netflix.

    • Cora says:

      The books don’t have maps, at least as far as I know. The various wintery woodlands are more typical for what I’d expect from East European fantasy and those scenes were shot in Hungary, while the desert and mountain scenes were shot on the Canary islands.

      Regarding the final battle, yes, the military strategy was idiotic. And it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of real world examples and film adaptations thereof of blowing up bridges to hold back the enemy.

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