5 ways Netflix’s The Witcher connects to the games
December was a big month for fans of The Witcher franchise, and we don’t just mean because they get to spend holiday money on new books, merch, Gwent packs, or a sixth copy of Wild Hunt just because it came out on a new console.
The world of Geralt, for the first time, became a TV show through Netflix’s The Witcher, whose first eight-episode season went live on December 20.
Many fans of The Witcher entered through the franchise’s most popular video game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. As a more accessible (and frankly, better) title in the game series than the first and second installments, it brought on wave after wave of new fans over to Geralt’s grim and sometimes overly impartial outlook on life. Even if you played the first two games, though, there’s a chance the new Netflix show left you a bit confused. You may have heard by now that the show is based on The Witcher book series, not the games, which means there are many subtle and not-so-subtle differences to the games themselves.
There are nations you’ve probably never heard of, Nilfgaard are the religious fanatics instead of Redania, and King Foltest is way lamer than you probably remember, for starters. The list of differences between the show and games is far longer than just those three things, but that doesn’t mean there are zero connections to the games.
To help coax fans of the games into watching the show, and hopefully reading the books, we’re going to list five big similarities shared by both the first season on Netflix and the games. First, let’s set some ground rules. I won’t be listing characters, because almost all of them are there in one way or another, even if they’re just mentioned. Yennefer, Geralt, Triss, Ciri, and Emhyr are there, and even Vesemir was at least brought up.
There’s no point using character names as a similarity, because, well, that’s boring and implied. In the same vein, we won’t be using locations, geography, or monsters, either. They’re all there—the showrunners did their research, so there’s no point highlighting which ones were done correctly, as if the word “correctly” can even be applied to a world of make-believe.
And with that, let’s begin.
1. History repeats itself
This is a fairly convoluted similarity, but probably the most important one to mention. The Witcher is a story-driven gaming franchise. Even Gwent, its card battling spin-off, is heavy with lore baked into every card. Geralt, in both the books and games, has lived a very long time. One major theme of his time both in the virtual world and on paper is that history repeats itself, and he’s been alive to watch it happen several times. The plot of the show, which takes place further into Geralt’s past than Wild Hunt, mirrors the plot of the third game without copying it, and it mirrors this theme pretty heavily.
Just like Wild Hunt and Assassins of Kings, the show drops you into the middle of a war. There’s an invading nation of incomparable power, similar to Nilfgaard in Wild Hunt, religious fanatics spreading violence and death (sometimes self-inflicted) in the name of a higher power, and, most importantly, the common folk. The Witcher has always done something pretty spectacular in that it takes these incredible, larger-than-life stories of prophecy and magic, but focuses it all on how it impacts the average person.
Geralt, as a monster hunting freelancer, interacts with farmers, miners, prisoners, soldiers, and more on a regular basis. In the games, as well as the show, you’re able to see how these incredibly violent plotlines affect these folks, and usually it’s not in a great way.
You’ll see death, you’ll get depressed, and you’ll watch Geralt repeatedly not care, just like in the games.
This one is far less meaningful than shared themes of storytelling, but dammit, I care about it a lot. Henry Cavill, who plays Geralt in the show, get’s the witcher’s patented and indifferent “Hmph” down perfectly.
In the games, you might recall that Geralt comes across as a bit, er, crass. He responds with short answers, seems irritated with everyone who ever comes in contact with him (aside from, like, three people), and he always carries with him this air of “I care so little about whatever is happening in anyone’s life, ever” that never seems to go away, even in his more intimate moments. All of that can be summed up by one thing that Geralt does rather often in the games—a short, indifferent, and grunt-like “Hmph.”
He uses it to respond to people asking him questions, imposing their drama into his life, and even when a gryphon takes a chunk out of his gut with a rake of claws. Geralt has, apparently, deemed it as the perfect response to any situation, and Henry Cavill has captured that essence perfectly. He “Hmph”s for every third line of dialogue, and each time he does, I’m reminded just how little Geralt cares for the struggles and dreams of the people he works with and against, and how little he cares about the monsters that nearly kill him on a daily basis. And I love every second of it.
3. Sorcerers and sorceresses
One of the largest facets of the show is the Brotherhood of Sorcerers, which fans of the games should be very familiar with, especially those that played the first and second titles. In the games, the more often mentioned group of magic wielders is called the Lodge of Sorceresses, a powerful group of sorceresses including big plot characters like Yennefer, Triss, Fringilla Vigo, Philippa Eilhart, Keira Metz, Francesca Findabair, and the list goes on.
This group advised kings and royal courts at its surface, but staged coups and puppeted nations in the shadows. The Lodge, just in case fans of the game need a refresher, is the successor of the Brotherhood of Sorcerers, which was completely dissolved after a bloody coup at the hands of a traitor mage working with Emperor Emhyr in ye olden Witcher lore.
Without spoiling anything, fans of the games will be happy, or unhappy (depending on how much you like the Lodge in the games) to know that the Brotherhood functions in much the same way. They advise courts and plot schemes, all with the higher purpose (or guise) of “protecting the realm.” With all of the aforementioned sorceresses present in the current Brotherhood, and most of the mages who were killed in the coup that dissolved the Brotherhood still alive in the show, we can assume that there is some turmoil within the group of magic users brewing on the horizon, but that’s just guesswork at this point.
I know I explicitly said I wouldn’t use character names as similarities in this list, but I’m making an exception for Roach. Why? Because he’s more than just a name.
Roach is Geralt’s horse. You don’t hear much from him in Assassins of Kings, but he’s how you get pretty much anywhere in Wild Hunt. He even somehow follows you to Skellige when you hop across the ocean to get there. Don’t bother inquiring as to how that’s possible, especially considering he wasn’t on the boat with you, because the game is as vague as possible in describing the phenomenon.
With Roach, Geralt can be himself, and in that way, Roach is more than just a horse. Roach is the only being that Geralt is never irritated with, even if he gets spooked and bucks Geralt off. Geralt’s always had a way with Roach. He talks to the horse, buys it fancy armor, and generally just cares for it in a way that he just doesn’t care for or about anyone else for much of his life. That’s how it was portrayed in the game, anyway, and the show does a good job of replicating that relationship.
Henry Cavill’s Geralt seems to really care about his Roach, too. He talks to it, comments on how weird it is that he talks to it, and talks to it some more. You know, all the standard interactions you have with your horse. Hey, we’re not judging. The showrunners decided this important facet of Geralt’s personality was worth holding onto, so that’s exactly what they did.
A key part of the games that would have been foolish to overlook was the act of actual witchering, which is a witcher, like Geralt, being hired to track down and kill some mythological or otherwise magical monster or creature. If you’ve played the games, you’re well aware of this practice. A frantic farmer’s son gets kidnapped by a hag one day, and another a werewolf wipes out a whole village. There’s a wide range and spectrum to what sorts of hunts Geralt can partake in, and the show explores some very interesting options.
One key takeaway from Geralt’s witchering days in the games, though, is that there always comes a point where going off to kill a hag or a pack of drowners probably isn’t the best way he could be spending his time. These moments would come when he’s on the precipice of uncovering a massive political conspiracy or, you know, saving the realm from certain destruction. Either way, when the plot ramps up, and usually you know if it’s ramped up, going off to finish one of the side contracts in your quest log probably isn’t considered appropriate. The show captures this feeling, too.
Almost the entirety of the first half of this season is Geralt just going around slaying monsters. They range in levels of interest, but mostly, it captures the classic “haggle for payment, research monster, kill monster” process that he repeats so many times in the game. Then, the plot ramps up, and just like the games, contract work slows down. It’s not because he isn’t offered work, I assume, but when he’s involved in country-ending wars and sorcerer schemes, that stuff just needs to take a back seat, even if we don’t want it to.
Overall, the show is in a weird place. It’s based on the books, so even fans of the games might leave the first season with lingering confusion. But if you read the books, you’ll pretty much know exactly what plot twists and developments are on the way, which ruins some of the excitement. As someone who has delved deeply into the world of Geralt on both sides, I can say that it's very likely that the confusing parts will be explained further down the road, probably in the second season.