Why ‘The Witcher’ Is the Ideal Netflix Binge-Watch Show

     January 3, 2020

I never thought I’d say this, but I kind of love The Witcher. Granted I’m definitely into stuff like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones and other shows and films that delve in the realm of fantasy, but The Witcher felt—at least in the lead up to its release—a bit impenetrable. It’s based on a series of novels and short stories that then spawned three successful video games and even a prior TV and film adaptation. There’s a lot of lore involved in this particular story, and it felt like maybe The Witcher was a show made purely for those who are already fans, or who are really into lore-driven fantasy content. And I fit into neither one of those categories.

But as it turns out, The Witcher was absolutely for me. Henry Cavill’s titular Witcher is indeed a magical hybrid creature/being with a complicated backstory, but he’s also got a dry sense of humor, liberally throws around the word “fuck,” and frequently battles insanely cool/creepy monsters that are also somehow princesses. Simultaneously, the show is telling two other stories that at first seem wholly separate but are also totally engaging: a sorceress origin story with an ambitious yet emotional girl named Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra) and a very Game of Thrones-esque tale of a princess on the run (with a secret) featuring Freya Allan as Ciri.

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Image via Netflix

Just typing all of that out reminds me once again of how this show initially felt so thick with lore to the point of putting me off, but after diving into the series’ first season on a dreary New Year’s Day, I fell a little bit in love with this goofy-ass high fantasy series, which also feels like the epitome of what a binge-worthy Netflix series should be.

While Netflix’s entire model is built on the idea of bingeing its content in single sittings, a number of Netflix’s best shows are actually best enjoyed in chunks instead of as one massive meal. David Fincher’s Mindhunter is moody and deep, and its themes take root the longer you sit with the individual episodes. GLOW more resembles a “dramedy” hybrid than a binge-worthy series, and great care is taken in making each episode stand alone. Even Stranger Things is built on such a heavy season-long arc that it benefits from taking it in a few episodes at a time, otherwise you run the risk of the bevy of events all running together.

But with The Witcher, that’s kind of the point. The show is a little confusing to start, but not so much if you just take the whole thing in one episode after another. Much like reading a great fantasy novel or settling in with the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings, this is a show that pulls you into its world so deeply that you’ll find you don’t really want to leave. The world building on the part of Lauren Schmidt Hissrich is commendable, as are the engaging (and often funny!) performances from Cavill, Chalotra, Allan, and many others. There’s even a Bard who follows The Witcher around singing a song that is, I kid you not, a total banger. It’s silly and makes no attempt to hide the fact that it’s heavily inspired by fantasy video games like The Witcher, obviously, but also stuff like Skyrim, and much like you enjoy getting lost in those games for hours on end, settling into five or six episodes of The Witcher in a row is a total blast.

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Image via Netflix

The structure of The Witcher’s first season also greatly benefits from binge-viewing. There’s a Christopher Nolan-esque twist about halfway through that reveals some of the events you’ve witnessed in the three disparate stories aren’t necessarily happening at the same time, adding greater complexity but also depth to the characters’ connections. This is the kind of twist that would probably need a hefty “previously on” in a week-to-week format in order to keep viewers dialed into the story, but as you barrel through episodes 4, 5, and 6, the non-linear storytelling clicks into place really nicely.

This is also a show that isn’t necessarily episodic in its storytelling, despite initially appearing so. There are multiple points at which I figured I was in for a “monster of the week”-type tale involving Geralt, only to discover this particular monster or story is inherently connected to the overall story being told by Hissrich and her writers. Everything is connected, and the show does a great job of tying everything together. And make no mistake, there is a lot of story being told, so that’s no easy task.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that Netflix released The Witcher just before the holiday break, which provides the perfect opportunity to get lost in just such a show. And while the streaming service is struggling a bit to find its footing in the face of stiff competition from Disney+ and Apple TV+ and HBO Max and whatever the hell Peacock will be, as well as the looming loss of its highly watched licensed content like The Office (Friends is already gone), The Witcher feels like the ideal path forward—at least for a portion of Netflix’s content.

Put frankly, given the complexities involved and the sheer amount of storytelling, The Witcher is easier to watch and easier to love when binged. Not every Netflix show needs to be binged, or even should be (again something like Mindhunter benefits from breaks), but if we’re looking at Netflix as the destination for binge-viewing content, The Witcher is the new gold standard. Fun, thrilling, and highly addictive. So toss a coin to your Witcher and bring on Season 2 ASAP.

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