Upcoming Netflix fantasy series The Witcher adapts Andrzej Sapkowski’s bestselling fantasy stories for TV, starring Henry Cavill as the titular Witcher Geralt of Rivia, who uses enhanced abilities to protect the world from terrible monsters – be they terrifying creatures or evil men (though usually the former).
Now, a new trailer has been released for the series and fans are excited – if also a little bemused. You see, unlike previous fantasy adaptations like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, there’s a bit of a wrinkle in this translation from page to screen. Unusually, there’s millions of fans of Geralt, his world and the Witcher universe who may have never picked up one of Sapkowski’s books in their life.
Confused? Well, while the Witcher books are popular, particularly in their native Poland, they’re far better known for being adapted into a series of console videogames by CD Projekt Red, and it seems fair to say that these games (and particularly the third instalment The Witcher III, Wild Hunt) have slightly coloured fans’ expectations of what to expect from Netflix’s take on the source material. Cavill himself is a fan of the game, in fact, and lobbied for the role after falling in love with the character.
Now, just to be clear, Netflix is adapting the books, not the game – the latest trailer makes that explicit at one point, written onscreen – and from the start, this has thrown up issues. For example, when Cavill was first cast as Geralt and showed off his costume, fans were bemused as to why he didn’t have the game character’s beard – but in the books, which are set about 10 years earlier than The Witcher III, Geralt didn’t have a beard, so they were accusing the series of a change that it hadn’t made.
Similarly, a trademark of Geralt’s character in the games, his dual swords (one silver for monsters, one iron for men) weren’t present, with only one seen strapped to Cavill’s back – again, not really a change, despite what videogame fans thought, as in the books Geralt does usually carry just one sword, at least to begin with (he keeps the silver one with his belongings, but obviously in a videogame it makes sense for him to carry it) – but it still perturbed them.
As more and more details of the game have leaked out, more and more of these discrepancies have leaked out too, from the appearance of popular characters (notably Geralt’s ward Ciri and his love interest Yennefer) to what the Witcher actually gets up to in his adventures, and even with the new trailer’s release the YouTube comments are stuffed with jokes and questions relating to the game (with a few noting that Geralt seems less concerned with playing-card sidequests than when they last saw him).
So far, the creators of the Witcher TV series have taken pains to emphasise that videogame fans shouldn’t expect to see everything they’re used to in the new Netflix series, presumably partly due to rights issues – the changes and adaptations CD Projekt Red have made belong to them, after all, and partly because they’re simply adapting an earlier portion of Geralt’s life than the games, specifically (it appears from the new trailer) the short stories written by Sapkowski that are collected in The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny.
But perhaps it’s not as simple as all that, because the new trailer also tells a slightly different story. At one point during the footage, fans have been quick to notice that we see Geralt soaking in a tub, which in of itself isn’t that breathtaking – were they really going to cast Henry Cavill and not have some sort of ‘Poldark moment?’ – but has wider implications for gamers.
You see, the bathtub scene seems to be an explicit reference to a notorious scene in The Witcher III where Geralt takes a similarly steamy soak, so it looks like even if the Netflix show won’t (or can’t) adapt it directly, they’ll still be throwing a few crumbs and easter eggs to game fans when they can.
Fundamentally, the Witcher III has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide and is known as one of the best video games ever made, so it’s almost certain that the vast majority of fans coming to watch Cavill’s take on the character will have that version of the story foremost in their mind.
And with that in mind, it’s nice to see the team between the Netflix adaptation nodding to this fact when they can. Though we’re also still waiting for the extended Gwent-playing bottle episode, or the several-episode arc where he goes looking for a woman’s cooking pan.
The Witcher will stream on Netflix from the 20th December