Creatureless Feature

‘The Witcher’s’ neckbeard fanbase is less than thrilled at the overwrought political intrigue in season 3

Do you hear that? It sounds like the gathering of rusty pitchforks and rotten fruit, like a thousand angry nerds clacking grave obscenities on their keyboards in unison on the Internet. Why on earth could that be? Oh, that’s right…the new season of The Witcher has dropped on Netflix! And by the stench pervading the geeky corridors of its online forums, the fandom is still less than thrilled with the adaptation on the series’ third go-round. I suppose the question is: does the most recent outing of the popular swords and sorcery series warrant such hatred still, or is the bile of a billion Witcherverse neckbeards just the lingering taste of sour grapes?

Well, I happen to be one of those neckbeards, and of course I have a few thoughts on the matter, now that we have five of the eight episodes of this season. Most notably, it’s the last season starring our geek emperor Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia before bequeathing the role to Liam Hemsworth. Cavill has long stood as an outspoken fan and champion of both Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher novels as well as the hit games by CD Projekt Red, and–according to legend–the actor bowed out due to the show’s writers and producers expressing open disdain for the vision and lore of its source material. For the fans, Cavill has fallen on his sword in the name of principle, and we couldn’t possibly love him more for it. Showrunner Lauren Schmidt-Hissrich, conversely, might as well be a bruxa or a chernobog or a striga at this point, an odious monstrosity deserving nothing less than the taste of a Witcher’s silver sword.

But is The Witcher season three really that bad? Well, no. The hatred is clearly overblown, even by my own nerdy fan standards. That said, it’s not really that great, either. After the disappointing debacle that was season two (which I wrote about here), Hissrich and company surely knew they needed to stanch a bit of bleeding in order to keep the series in the good graces of viewers. To their credit, season three does its best to keep more closely to the source material, namely the novel Time of Contempt, second in the Witcher series.

As in the second season of the show, Geralt and his sorceress ladyfriend Yennifer of Vengerberg have formed something of a found family with young Ciri, she of of the elven “elder blood” and possibly apocalyptic magical powers who literally every mage and regent in the known kingdoms wants to either kill, capture or wed. Which, of course, means that they’re constantly on the run to keep young Cirilla safe, which is difficult, seeing that she has a wonderful knack for putting herself in danger constantly. But hey, it’s understandable. Even with all those cool magical powers and the fate of the universe on her slender shoulders, she’s still just a teenager, after all.

What follows is a combination of snoozefest high fantasy politics punctuated all too infrequently by terrifying monsters and tight action sequences. As much as I love the lore of this land, Hissrich and company don’t have the talent or the cast to make us care about who’s persecuting the elves and for what reason, why the witches need to curry favor with the brotherhood of sorcerers, or what, exactly, the king’s spymaster is secretly plotting with his own sorceress accomplice. Even for someone well-versed in this universe, it’s too much too quickly, and unless you’ve taken a fistfull of Adderall and pored over Sapkowski’s every written word with a microscope, you’re bound to get a little lost in all the dull machinations involved here.

Luckily, there are monsters! Too few of them, sadly, but it wouldn’t be The Witcher without at least a couple of terrifying beasties only a Witcher can handle. There’s a giant doodlebug/armadillo thing terrorizing Ciri in a maze, which was fun, and a brief encounter with a smallish sea monster, also fun, especially when it’s whipping snooty bards around with its tentacles. Best, though, was the terrifying amalgamation of body parts that Geralt encounters in a haunted castle, a mass of connected limbs and torsos rolling around like a giant, fleshy koosh ball of human limbs. If that sounds gross, it is, in all the best ways. And of course it’s also wonderful watching Geralt puzzle out a way to slice it to ribbons. It’s moments like this that make me feel that the series does still indeed have some spark left in it, even if that ember seems to be fading with each subsequent installment.

This season does its best to give us an interesting cliffhanger at the end of episode five, in which we finally think we discover the culprit behind some of the more evil goings-on throughout the narrative, only to have that assumption turned on its head in the final moments. Problem is, the lead-up to the big reveal was too convoluted, so the payoff feels less satisfying. I’ll still watch the last three episodes of the season, but I’m not champing at the bit to do so, which is a shame.

On the bright side, the cast is mostly capable, and the core characters–Cavill, Anya Chalotra’s Yennifer, Freya Allen’s Ciri, and Joey Batey’s Jaskier, in particular–do admirably with the material they’re given and are generally a joy to watch. The action is appropriately frenetic and gleefully gory, which has become a satisfying hallmark of the series I really wish they’d lean into more. There are the requisite sweeping drone shots of cliffs and forests, and clearly Netflix didn’t skimp on the costume budget, either, which we see in full effect during the big party set piece in episode five.

Ultimately, however, none of these are enough to save this season of the Witcher from the gibes and howls of its fanbase, who at this point have all but renounced the series wholesale. And, to be fair, you can’t entirely blame them. This season, despite its bright points, is often confusing and uneven, saved only by some scary monsters and the undeniably cool presence of Henry Cavill. Who knows what will become of the series once he exits the show? Let’s just say the Vegas odds are…unfavorable.

Whatever happens with the future of this show, one thing is certain: Liam Hemsworth is a brave man to step into Cavill’s boots. Maybe we should be nice and toss a coin to the new witcher when he does? If anything, let’s do it because the fanbase is running out of rotten fruit.


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Scott Gold

Scott Gold is the author of The Shameless Carnivore: A Manifesto for Meat Lovers, a selection of which was excerpted in Best Food Writing 2008. His writing has appeared in numerous publications both in print and online, including Gourmet, Edible Brooklyn, Thrillist, Eater, Tasting Table, Time Out, and OffBeat, and he has served as a feature food writer and photographer for The New Orleans Advocate, restaurant critic and dining writer for Gambit, and resident “food pornographer” for the New Orleans arts and culture website In 2016, Gold served as the "national bacon critic" for Extra Crispy. His radio essays have also been featured on Louisiana Eats! with Poppy Tooker, and as a correspondent for WWNO’s All Things New Orleans.

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