After its 9 year reign as one of the most successful (and expensive) TV shows ever made, the disappointing ending of Game of Thrones means that it has largely disappeared from public consciousness. Despite spurring the creation of thousands of memes, being a source of countless Twitter arguments, and having a regular viewership of over 10 million people, it’s hard to find anyone who enjoyed the finale.
First published in the 1990s, The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski has long had a cult following in Eastern Europe and gained popularity with a role playing game released in 2007. The first game, The Witcher, was nominated for the 2007 RPG of the Year and it was soon followed with The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (2011) and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015).
And in 2017, Netflix commissioned a television adaption of the cult classic. With Henry Cavill in the title role as Geralt of Rivia, Netflix’s The Witcher could provide Game of Thrones fans with the satisfying ending they have been craving, but does it truly have the potential to pull the same viewing figures?
The Witcher combines elements of history and fantasy in a merciless world of magic, war, and – it can’t be denied – steamy romance. Sounds like all the ingredients necessary to draw in fans of George R.R. Martin’s series. And with already loved characters such as Dandelion (a roaming troubadour played by Joey Batey), Yennefer (an elusive enchantress played by Anya Chalotra), and, of course, Geralt himself, the show has the potential to draw in the same fierce loyalty people felt towards the Starks (I’m looking at you Arya).
To reach the scale of Game of Thrones, however, The Witcher will have to maintain an audience through 8 series – if the books are anything to go by. Few shows can maintain that momentum. And with the producers deciding to start, as Sapkowski did, with a series of short stories that build the world, they also have to overcome the difficulty of drawing in an audience who may not recognise the importance of these standalone tales.
What drew so many to Game of Thrones wasn’t just the violence, sex, and dragons: it was the political intrigue. The fact that, beyond the vivid fantasy, there was a literal game being played. Whilst readers of The Witcher know that there is plenty in store for Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri, the first season makes for a confusing introduction to their futures together. All three have overlapping but separate plotlines, but if audiences are unwilling to stick around long enough to see this come to fruition, The Witcher may never take off the way it could.
The Witcher has a careful line to walk now that the second season has started filming; they can’t rush to reach the same levels as Game of Thrones, but if they aren’t careful, viewers won’t see the story that lies beyond the first season, and give up before things have really begun.