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Breaking Down the Magic, Monsters, and Burly Men of the Witcher Trailer

Wotcher, Witcher.
GIF: Netflix

At Comic-Con last week, Netflix finally, after months of teasing, gave us our first look at The Witcher in action. Not only did it reveal some pretty major, if unsurprising connections to the world of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels, it also gave us some intriguing hints to what fans familiar to the CD Projekt Red games can get out of this new show.

The trailer opens, unsurprisingly, with a shot of Henry Cavill as the titular Witcher: Geralt of Rivia, a mercenary monster hunter who travels across the world killing monsters for gold. Geralt can do this—and has all that white hair to boot, a marker that sets him apart from even his fellow Witchers—because he is part of the self-named ancient order that exposes its warrior recruits to dangerous, toxic mutagens to transform them into Witchers, giving them enhanced strength, agility, senses, and the ability to cast magic, which is otherwise a very rare ability in The Witcher’s world—a place called The Continent.

“I remember hearing stories about Witchers… is it true what they say?” the narrator tells us, as we cut to a brief shot of of Geralt doing what he does best: fighting monsters. We see a little more of this encounter later on, but it appears to be an adaptation of the very first short story Sapkowski wrote about Geralt, “The Witcher,” eventually collected in the first short story anthology in the series, The Last Wish. In that tale, Geralt is tasked with slaying a beast called a Striga—who is actually the raised body of a Princess named Adda, cursed to transform into a monstrous beast for having an incestuous relationship with her brother, the prince of Temeria. “The Witcher” sees Geralt fight the beast and lift the curse from Adda.

Before we see too much more, we cut back to another brief shot of a bloodied Geralt in the town from the opening. Geralt is from a splinter faction of the old Witcher order called the School of the Wolf, hence the wolf medallion he’s wearing in these town scenes and elsewhere in the trailer.

Next, we get a brief shot of a forested realm and its warrior women inhabitants: these appear to be Dryads, and this is the realm of Brokilon—home to the all-female race and the toxic waters that can be used to transform members of other species into Dryads themselves. We see them encountering a young girl who is actually one of the most important characters on the show: Ciri, played by Freya Allan. A young princess from the kingdom of Cintra, Ciri is being hunted by a whole host of nefarious parties because of both her royal connection and her untrained, but vast, magical powers.

As we cut across shots of some interesting figures—a caravan of black-armored soldiers, a young, disfigured woman, who will become very important momentarily, and a woman using magic to casually lift a rock—we hear another figure provide more narration. This time essentially setting up the backstory for The Continent at large, explaining the history of magic and how, in an event known as the “Conjunction of the Spheres” in the books and games, supernatural beings and monsters began appearing across the world: “Elves are the original sorcerers of the Continent—when humans and monsters arrived, elves taught humans how to turn chaos into magic…”

“…and then, the humans slaughtered them,” the narrator—a mage named Istredd (Royce Pierreson) concludes, revealing himself as having been speaking to the disfigured young woman from earlier. This woman is another major Witcher character, known to fans of the books and games alike, but perhaps not in this particular form: this is Yennefer of Vengerberg, played by Anya Chalotra. A powerful sorceress herself, Yennefer was born with a severe curvature of the spine, and an abusive upbringing with her father leads to further traumas being inflicting on the young woman.

Yenn is what is known as a “source,” someone with natural-born capacity to wield magic, a rarity among humans. Eventually, she can harness this ability to completely alter her appearance to other people, casting an ever-present glamour that presents herself as a physically able, attractive young woman… which is why it’s slightly less peculiar that she eventually becomes one of Geralt’s love interests in the books and the games.

We next cut to a shot of the show’s version of the Isle of Thanedd, home to Aretuza. That’s a magic school for young women that Yen and several other sorcerers we’ll meet in the series, as well as Ciri herself eventually, honed their magical abilities.

“Chaos is the most dangerous thing in this world,” the green-robed sorceress we saw floating a rock earlier says to one of her students. This is Tissaia de Vries (played by MyAnna Buring), who plays a huge part in Yennefer’s backstory, being the woman who took the young Yenn in and helped hone her magical abilities to treat her conditions.

“But without control, Chaos will kill you,” Tissaia warns, as we get a few more intriguing shots: Ciri on an icy plain, Yennefer smashing a mirror, and what could be an overhead shot of the Chapter of the Gift and the Art, the higher conclave of sorcerers on Thanedd that Tissaia is part of. Eventually, in the books the Chapter is destroyed by infighting in a coup over whether not to support the invading Nilfgaardian Empire, a major faction in the series that we’ll see a bit more of soon.

We cut to cool shot of Geralt swinging a silver whip back in the same ruined castle he was shown briefly fighting in earlier. This feels like once again more affirmation that this action sequence is Geralt’s fight with the Striga in “The Witcher” as this twirl is basically ripped from the introductory cinematic for the first game in CD Projekt Red’s beloved video game trilogy, which depicts the same fight.

As we get to see a few more shots of Geralt’s battle with the Striga—and picking up some coin as a reward, as Witchers are wont to do—we get yet another narrator, this time a woman. “So that’s all life is to you,” she asks, of Geralt. “Monsters and money?” Basically…yeeeeaaaaah.

We cut to a wounded, recovering Geralt to see that this narrator is none other than not just another sorcerer, but another important figure in the books, games, and his life in general: Triss Merigold, played by Anna Shaffer. Triss, like Yenn, is also a source, and, like Yenn, is a love interest of Geralt’s. This scene presumably takes place shortly after Geralt’s encounter with the Striga, as when he first meets her, Triss is an adviser to the King of Foltest, who recruits Geralt to cure his daughter of her monstrous curse. “It’s all it needs to be,” Geralt says of the monsters and money.

“Something out there waits for you,” Triss ominously warns, as the trailer really starts getting into the main premise of the show: an adaptation of what is actually the first proper novel in Sapkowski’s series, Blood of Elves. “This child will be extraordinary,” a man tells Geralt, as we cut over shots of Ciri and her homeland, the kingdom of Cintra. This man is actually another interesting character from the books and the games—Mousesack (Adam Levy), better known to gamers as the druid Ermion. Mousesack has a small but important role in the books, guiding Geralt and Ciri to their eventual meeting.

As we mentioned, uh, a while back, Ciri isn’t just the princess of Cintra, but has elven blood, giving her magical abilities. We appear to cut to either one of her main abilities—magical visions and, at this point in the series, uncontrolled teleportation—as we see the young Ciri in a desert region looking upon a distinctly magical-looking tree.

In a brief interlude from Ciri and Geralt’s story, we cut back to moments between Tissaia and Yennefer during the latter’s brutal training. “Yennefer, imagine the most powerful woman in the world,” Tissia instructs, presumably beginning to teach Yen the magical ability to alter her appearance. “Do you have what it takes?” (not really a spoiler: she does! Yen is eventually one of the most powerful sorcerers around).

But now we’re back to Ciri’s story, and an important introduction of just one of the primary threats in the series: the invasion of the Kingdom of Cintra by the Nilfgaardian Empire. Nilfgaard attacks Cintra during the First Northern War. The woman we see here standing dumbstruck as the Nilfgaardian army attacks is likely Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May), Ciri’s grandmother. “She is why they came,” Calanthe says, presumably referring to Ciri. Calanthe leads her people in the fight against the Nilfgaardian’s until the bitter end, when, as we see briefly here, Cintra’s capital (also named Cintra, helpfully), is razed to the ground by the Nilflgaardian army.

As we see a brief moment of Ciri’s vast magical powers displaying themselves in the Cintran court—blasting the gathered crowds back suddenly. Mousesack continues to urge Geralt to face his destiny: protecting Ciri from the clutches of Niflgaard’s emperor. We also get some brief shots Yennefer’s glamoured form here, too—the appearance she projects to those around her to mask her true body.

“Find Geralt of Rivia,” Calanthe tells Ciri.

We finally cut back to the town we saw Geralt in at the start of the trailer. Note that Geralt isn’t fighting monsters here, but humans—this could be a town called Blaviken, where Geralt earns the nickname “The Butcher of Blaviken” for killing a bunch of thieves and mercenaries on the hunt for a local mage. Or it could just be any town and Geralt’s in a scrap because, at this point in history the Witchers themselves have become a rare breed, and aren’t really held in the highest regards, because they’re…well, kinda creepy monster hunters? Usually one of them being present is a portent that bad things are going down, so commonfolk tend to not particularly be too keen.

A few more random shots follow: Another shot of the Striga, Ciri begging with Calanthe that she can’t face her destiny alone before fleeing Cintra, and Yennefer encountering Geralt, at a masquerade that is likely the Belleteyn, a May Night festival Geralt and Yen meet each other at in Sword of Destiny, the second anthology collection in the book series. This isn’t actually how they first meet in the book series—that’s detailed in the short story “The Last Wish,” which collected in the anthology of the same name.

“No matter what you choose,” Mousesack continues, “You’ll come out bloody.”

We see Geralt getting involved in what appears to be a fight between Cintran soldiers and commoners—and we actually get a very brief glimpse of another character from the books.

This peculiar looking character is Duny and…is actually really important, but saying why would constitute ruining a major spoiler for the series at large. Suffice to say, at this point in the series, Duny is actually a prince who was cursed to look like a strange, hedgehog-like being.

We get another few glimpses of Ciri—first, encountering the Dryads after fleeing Cintra, and then second, what appears her escape from capital (you can juust about make out the blue cape she’s wearing throughout the trailer).

The trailer climaxes back during Geralt’s fight in the town from the opening—it’s cut to make it look like Yennefer is calling on Geralt and is in this fight as well, but it appears to be two different shots, given the inclement weather Yennefer is being drenched by is not present in Geralt’s scrap.

Back on Geralt though, you see him do something very familiar to fans of the game—point out three of his fingers. This is how Witchers cast magic in combat, called Signs, making runic gestures. He’s likely using Aard, one of the most basic signs in the game, which is essentially a telekinetic blast.

We sharply cut to a very brief, very peculiar shot of Tissaia catching a bolt of lightning and redirecting it through a hole in the ceiling. It’s hard to say where this is from, but if we were right earlier and Tissaia’s fellow sorcerers in the Chapter of the Gift and the Art are in the series, this could be part of the coup attempt, but that actually comes quite a bit into the series.

The trailer actually instead concludes with a very game-fan pleasing shot: a giant, spidery creature emerging out of a swamp as an incredibly messed up looking Geralt prepares to face it down.

The creature has a few more limbs that suggest it could even be an Arachnomorph, spider-creatures introduced in DLC for the third Witcher game, Wild Hunt, but given the books are the major source material for the show this looks like it could more likely be a Kikimore, a giant insectoid creature Geralt battles as a prelude the short story “The Lesser Evil,” a fight with which eventually brings Geralt to the town of Blaviken, where he earns his infamous nickname. It’d make sense if it is, given the town we saw him fighting in earlier!

Anyway, it’s this last shot that’s going to be especially pleasing to fans of the games: Geralt’s got black eyes here because he’s…poisoned himself to near death? Preparation ahead of combat is as important to the actual fight itself in The Witcher, and Witchers often temporarily boost their mutagenic abilities even further by drinking potions before going into a fight. But the potions are actually, essentially, various strengths of poison, so Geralt has to balance a fine line between giving himself a temporary boon and, well, killing himself.

In the games, this is represented by a toxicity meter that fills as players chug potions in and out of battle. As Geralt looks sicklier and sicklier the more it fills, a near-maxed-out meter is represented by, you guessed it, black eyes. It’s a cool visual callout to fans of the games to indicate that some serious business is about to go down.

Although short, our first look at The Witcher is a sweet one, whether you’re coming to it as a fan of the original books or of the gaming saga that catapulted their world into the wider cultural sphere. So far the show’s take on the novels seems to expand on the world in some interesting ways—especially on its focus beyond Geralt, particularly Yennefer’s origin story—while at the same time drawing in some familiar, fearsome foes that fans who devoured the Witcher games will get a kick out of seeing replicated on screen.

How much longer we’ll have to wait for this version of The Witcher to fully reveal itself remains to be seen—Netflix wouldn’t give a release date beyond later this year.

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Source: Kotaku.com

The Witcher’s Showrunner on Getting Video Game Fans Into the Series, and Season 2 Hints

Ciri (Freya Allan) on Netflix’s The Witcher.
Photo: Netflix

When Netflix first pitched Lauren Schmidt Hissrich the idea of doing a series based on The Witcher, she turned it down. She was a fan of the books and video games—so much so she even included a bathtub Easter egg in the first season—but was afraid of taking on a fantasy saga. What finally convinced her? Getting to tell the story she wanted in a way that not just appealed to fans of the books, but the games which are even more famous than the source material.

During a press roundtable at San Diego Comic-Con, Hissrich talked about why she ultimately decided to do The Witcher. Joking how “Netflix loves that story,” Hissrich shared that she agreed once the streaming network showed how much they cared for and valued the story she was most interested in telling:

I read the books and I basically said, “I loved The Last Wish. It was an incredible read. But I’m not a fantasy writer, guys, like I’m not who you’re looking for.” And they said, “Well, what would be your entrance into the story? If we said you have to write this, What would be your entrance in?”

I said it would be about what happens when Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer meet, and how we can craft a really disjointed family that’s meant to be together. That’s something that I knew that I could bring. That’s the base of all fantasy right? It’s just human experience. It’s maybe human experience in a world that we don’t live in, with monsters and with magic, but it really comes down to just what it’s like to walk through the world.

Hissrich emphasized that the core of the first season is about bringing Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer together and creating that core which defines many of the books and games. However, it is going to take some time to get there. Freya Allan, who plays Ciri, told io9 that Ciri and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) don’t spend a lot of time together this season—at least, not without Geralt—but that she’s looking forward to having more of that relationship develop between the two of them in the future.

“That’s something we haven’t explored yet. But I’m really looking forward to looking at that more, and I think it’s going to be a great relationship, because I think it’ll be very maternal one, [with] two strong female characters together and so I’m very excited,” Allan said.

For now, it’s about setting the stage. In fact, there are a few other things we won’t be seeing in the first season, but Hissrich hinted they could arrive in the second season should the series get one. She wouldn’t go into detail, as she doesn’t want to spoil things, but she did note how Istredd, one of Yennefer’s many lovers, is being introduced in the first season. He’s only in one of the original stories, but his early, more teasing presence in the first season hints at something bigger later on. Hissrich said it’s all about laying the groundwork for a larger story, instead of overloading the first season with too many characters or references.

“There is so much that I intended to put in this season, but I’m actually a really big believer in not cramming in story just for the sake of cramming in story,” Hissrich said. “It’s about letting these characters breathe and grow, so there’s definitely things that we didn’t get to.”

However, letting the characters do their own thing might be especially challenging for fans of the video games. Hissrich confirmed in the interview that the series is based on the original books, and will not be a video game adaptation. However, there will be Easter eggs and references that game fans will appreciate, like the aforementioned bathtub, but it’s it’s not based on the version most fans will recognize. It presents a unique problem because the games are arguably more well-known than the books. Several folks, including myself, weren’t even aware there were books until fairly recently.

I asked Hissrich about the unique challenges in developing a TV show based on a series where arguably the adaptation, meaning the video games, is more famous than the source material. She said video games are a powerful medium in that viewers, or players, feel a sense of control and autonomy over Geralt. But in this case, that control is being handed over to Henry Cavill. The themes and tones are similar but the presentation is different, and she trusts that audiences will be able to move seamlessly through both:

What I will always say to gaming fans when they say, “Is the show for me?” And I say well, what you love is based on the same books as this show is going to be based on, which means we’re all dealing with the same set of characters, the same themes, the same tones. What’s different is is the look, of course.

I think that people who really love the games are gonna love the show too. I think you just have to be open to seeing it as a journey where you’re sitting back and it’s happening, as opposed to you being in charge of it. And I think that’s gonna be a challenge for some people, certainly it’s a challenge for me to not feel like I get to control everything. I mean, I guess in this case I kind of do!

The Witcher hits Netflix later this year.

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Source: Kotaku.com

Here’s Why The Witcher Auditioned 207 Other Guys for Geralt When Henry Cavill Was Right There

It’s been a long road, Geralt of Rivia.
Image: Netflix (YouTube)

When Netflix revealed it was making a television adaptation of The Witcher, Henry Cavill immediately wanted in. However, producers still auditioned over 200 actors for Geralt before choosing him for the job. Why did it take four months and hundreds of actors before going with the leading man who wanted to be there in the first place? Showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich explains.

During a press roundtable at San Diego Comic-Con, io9 asked Hissrich to elaborate on a revelation from The Witcher panel that they’d auditioned 207 other actors before choosing Cavill—even though he’d gone to the streaming network expressing interest, well, basically as soon as he heard about the show existing.

“As soon as it was announced it was going to be a show, he contacted his agents who contacted Netflix and said he wants to be part of this. And Netflix was like, ‘We don’t have a show yet, there’s nothing to be a part of!’” Hissrich told me. “Once I came on board they expressed that to me, and I sat down and met him. But I was really honest with him and I said, ‘It’s really great to meet you, you seem like a nice guy. But we don’t have a script, we’re not even casting.’ And he sat back and understood.”

Over the course of about four months, Hissrich and the other producers auditioned 207 actors for the part of Geralt of Rivia. That’s not necessarily an unprecedented number, but it is pretty high—especially knowing that Cavill, a headliner who played Superman in several DC films, not only wanted the part but knew The Witcher series like the back of his hand. Hissrich explained that she thought it would be best to cast a wider net and see who else was out there, because she wasn’t sure Cavill was the right fit. But as talented as the actors were, it kept coming back to him:

The really interesting thing is that I do think with casting you have to see everything to know that you have the right thing. And having met with Henry, I knew he wanted the show but that didn’t mean that he necessarily was the right person for the show. So I met everyone else that also thought they were the right person for the show.

We had great auditions, but honestly I couldn’t get Henry’s voice out of my head as I started writing, and ultimately I called him back and said, “Are you still interested?” And he was like, “Absolutely. What do I need to do?” And I said, “I need to hear you be Geralt.” So we both flew to New York and basically did an audition, and he was pretty much hired on the spot.

Cavill’s casting did result in some interesting choices and changes for the character. For example, Cavill insisted on doing all of his own stunts. Every time you see Geralt performing an action sequence, it’s actually Cavill, and Hissrich explained that the actor had all the cuts, bruises, and “exhaustion to prove it.”

Hissrich also noted that there was one thing she ended up changing to better suit Cavill’s take on the character: This version of Geralt talks way less than he was originally supposed to.

“One of the things that probably shifted the most once we cast Henry is that Geralt speaks a lot less than I initially intended. In the books, Geralt’s actually quite chatty. He talks a lot. What I found, though, is that on-screen—especially with Henry portraying him—a lot can be done in looks and in grunts. Henry’s a big grunter. I mean that in the best way possible,” she said. “It’s kind of amazing what is accomplished in silence, and I think makes him that much more powerful of a character.”

The other interesting casting story from The Witcher is connected to Ciri, played in the series by Freya Allan. According to Hissrich, the whole process was “really difficult.” She’d initially planned for Ciri to be played by a child, following the character’s story and trajectory in the books. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find the right young actor for the part—especially because they needed someone who could “grow up fast” to match the show’s faster-paced progression. Combined with complicated child labor laws that limit an actor’s ability to shoot at night, eventually, Hissrich came to an impasse.

“Someone said to me: ‘I’m not sure that Ciri is going to be able to be a big part of the series.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that’s not gonna work for me.’ So we skewed a little bit older,” she said.

Hissrich went on to share the story of choosing Allan for the part of Ciri, who was a newcomer who’d initially been cast for a different part:

We had actually cast her for another role. She had signed the contract, and was signed on for a one-episode role in episode one. We met everyone we could meet for for Ciri and I still just wasn’t finding it, I couldn’t find that sort of the person who embodied her in the way that I wanted them to…Sophie Holland, our casting director, actually called me and said, “I think we should think about Freya Allan for this.”

In the end, the casting of Cavill, Allan, and Anya Chalotra as Yennefer was kind of kismet. While Chalotra was the first and easiest casting of the trio, all three actors were hired on the spot once they’d finally gotten a chance to read for the roles. As Hissrich put it, it showed they’d found the right fit.

“For Henry, for Anya, and for Freya, each of them was cast in the room when we finally got in the room, which was incredible,” she said. “That’s how you know [you have] the right person.”

The Witcher debuts on Netflix later this year.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Lauren Schmidt Hissrich’s name in a few places. We have updated to correct and we regret the error. 

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Source: Kotaku.com