Netflix really, really wants you to like The Witcher. In fact, they’re so willing to bet you’re going to love their epic new series that they staged an impressive fan event right off of Hollywood Blvd. last night to get everyone psyched for the upcoming dark fantasy drama, which premieres on December 20. The event was like a miniature Witcher-themed Renaissance Faire loaded with activities, photo booths and a World of The Witcher “immersive experience”, and it was altogether pretty dang neat.
If you’re not familiar, The Witcher is based on a popular series of novels and video games, about a monster hunter in a fictional medieval land called the Continent. The main character, Geralt of Rivia (played in the Netflix series by Henry Cavill), is a witcher, a mutant created to kill monsters using rad potions, magic and two big-assed swords. The raditude is somewhat diminished by the fact that witchers are essentially in eternal servitude to humans, who mistrust and fear them.
It’s a dense mythology, full of just about everything you could want in an adult fantasy story, including intense monsters, dark magic, and political intrigue. And Netflix’s World of The Witcher fan event did an admirable job recreating the atmosphere of the stories (although thankfully the event was much more cheerful than The Witcher tends to be).
Set up under a massive tent roughly the size of half a city block, the event featured a center stage, where a Renaissance band played music from The Witcher as well as period-appropriate standards. A perfectly amiable Netflix MC came up in between the band’s sets to pull fans out of the crowd to answer Witcher trivia questions.
I’ve played The Witcher 2 and The Witcher 3 extensively and have read some of the books, so I thought I would get up there and dominate like the kid from The Wizard. But it turns out I know way less about The Witcher than I thought I did. That MC was tossing out questions like “Does Geralt know who his parents are?” My god man, I don’t know Geralt like that. You can’t just ask the Butcher of Blaviken that kind of question. Can you imagine tossing that out in the same breath as asking him to go kill a werewolf that’s been harassing your tavern customers? “By the way, you got any photos of your parents, Geralt? Hahahahahaha BOOM, loser!” Anyway, the MC handed out tons of buttons and posters regardless of whether or not you got the correct answer, so everyone was being a good sport about it.
Several photo booths were set up, where you could pose against a dramatic misty backdrop wielding Geralt’s silver and steel swords or stand in an austere dining hall channeling lightning in a bottle. There was also a booth where you could get your face superimposed onto Geralt’s head, which was the type of dark magic witchers were created to destroy.
Attendees were invited to take the Trial of the Grasses, which, in the story, involves drinking a bunch of toxic mutagens that will turn you into a witcher (if you happen to survive the process). My vial of poison tasted a lot like pickle juice, but I got a Witcher medallion out of it. Zero complaints. I’m totally a witcher now.
A bard was set up on one side of the tent, and attendees needed only to tell him their names to hear a song about their legendarily heroic exploits. (I cannot lie, the bard was wildly talented, and he remained firmly in character the entire time.) You could fill out your own Witcher contract and stick it to a bounty board, so I filled one out asking for Geralt to hunt down Henry Cavill’s mustache. Money is no object, we must have that ‘stache. My excitement hit its peak when I got to take pictures with Geralt’s trusty steed Roach. There wasn’t much of a line to meet Roach though, and I feel that’s a travesty.
The World of The Witcher immersive experience was a brief 8-10 minute pop-up, not entirely dissimilar from the haunted mazes you’ll find at theme parks during Halloween. You walked through a big tent that had four different staged scenes. In the first room, we were greeted by a woman who explained to us that she would be training us to use magic on our journey to becoming witchers. (I tried to explain that I already had my medallion, but she wouldn’t hear it.) She had us chant a magic phrase a few times to harness the chaos of the Continent, and then we all made a rock levitate.
The second room held a despondent knight who regaled us with the story of the missing princess Ciri, a major character in the Witcher universe. He stalked around the room lamenting the war that was going on just outside the castle, before sending us on into the infamous bath chamber, which should be familiar to anyone who has played the games. (You had an opportunity to take a photo in the bathtub, but strictly with your clothes on.) The final scene was a dark haunted woods, where we encountered a wild-eyed stranger ranting about giant spiders. That guy deserves to be on the show.
It’s clear Netflix is pouring a lot of effort into The Witcher. Tremendous care was put into this fan event, which was notably meant to appeal to the series’ hardcore fans. (You would’ve been utterly lost if you had wandered in knowing nothing about The Witcher.) But the stories have undeniable mainstream appeal – it’s a dark fantasy storyline set in a rich universe, not unlike Game of Thrones. Netflix certainly wants The Witcher to tap into the same fanbase, and knowing the source material, it definitely has potential. All eight episodes of The Witcher Season 1 will be available for streaming on Netflix December 20. Check back soon for my full review.