It’s fair to say that anticipation is high for upcoming Netflix series The Witcher, which stars Henry Cavill as monster hunter-for-hire Geralt of Rivia, a character made popular by a series of bestselling videogames – though from the first few announcements, fans have been a little concerned about the version presented on-screen.
For example, unlike the popular Witcher game series, Cavill’s character has no beard, and carries just one sword on his back instead of two. Meanwhile his surrogate daughter Ciri (Freya Allan) is younger, unscarred and far from the capable warrior fans of the game are used to.
So what gives? Is this a choice of the people adapting the characters, and if so, why have they made these changes?
Well, the truth is simple – they’re not adapting the Witcher games at all. While the games are definitely the most popular and widely-experienced version of the characters, Geralt and co were actually first created by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski in a series of books and short stories from the 1990s. That’s what the series is adapting – the books, not the game – which is why some of the characters are different.
“It was an easy decision not to adapt the ganes, because at some point, you’re adapting an adaptation, and you start to water it down,” showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich told RadioTimes.com.
“The good news is, the videogames are also based on the books.”
Specifically, the characters are younger, because (in an unusual move) the Witcher games are actually sequels to the books, with the events of Sapkowski’s saga used as backstory for the videogame characters. In other words, Ciri is different because she’s younger, Geralt hasn’t grown his beard yet and as for the swords… well, in a videogame it’s probably easier to have a character carrying two weapons rather than switching them out from his saddlebags, like Geralt does in the books.
So how did this weird doubling of The Witcher come about? Well, after finding success in Poland and many other countries, the Witcher book series was developed into a videogame in 2007 by Polish company CD Projekt Red, followed by sequels in 2011 and 2015.
The games went worldwide – but Sapkowski’s books had only just begun to be translated into English at the time, so the digital version of Geralt became more well-known than his print counterpart. The first collection of short stories, The Last Wish, had its first English translation in 2007, while later books in the saga only became available over the last few years.
Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia, with the Witcher III version of the character (Netflix, CD Projekt Red)
Now, thanks to this Netflix series that (comparative) lack of notoriety might be about to change (the books are still very popular, just not “33 million games sold” popular) – and really, fans of the Witcher games should be grateful.
Given that the whole series will be set before the plot they’re used to, there’s no danger of it ruining the version of the characters and world they love, changing the details in adaptation or cutting out favourite moments (though it appears there’ll be the odd reference to the game, as we’ve noted previously).
And Henry Cavill, a fan of the games, has revealed how they inspired his performance.
“From the game, I’ve actually drawn some inspiration, especially from Doug Cockle’s performance,” he told RadioTimes.com and other journalists.
“I’ve tried, with fewer words, to get to the core of who the character is. I wanted to express the gravitas and stony, direct nature of Geralt from the get-go. Sometimes he won’t say anything, whereas in the books he had a full conversation with someone.
“So if I could do it with a couple of words, with a certain weight to the voice, then I’m at least staying true to the essence of who the character was from the books. And that happens to be very similar to how some of the game performances are done.”
In other words, fans are just getting a Witcher prequel instead of a rewritten version of the story.
“In terms of the game fans, what I would say is: ‘It’s just a different way of telling the same story.'” Hissrich said.
“Obviously, the games gave progressed beyond the books at this point. We’re going back to the beginning, and we’re developing the books as they were written.
“I think it really is a different way to tell the same story, and I think for a gaming audience, it’s great, because you will always have the games. The games are fantastic. You can go play them and watch this. It’s the same with book readers.”
And who knows? If the series goes long enough, maybe an adaptation of the games could be on the cards one day anyway. Finally, the Gwent storyline we’ve all been waiting for.
The Witcher streams on Netflix UK from Friday 20th December