Photo by Christoforos Sassaris.
Ever since “The Witcher” TV series was announced over two years ago, audiences have been eager to see what Netflix could do with the immensely popular dark fantasy franchise. Soon after it was announced, though, the casting choices were made public, and that is where the problems started.
When the showrunners revealed that the casting choices were made with the character descriptions from the books in mind instead of the video games, audiences were upset. Then it attracted the ugly sort of controversy when the showrunner, Lauren S. Hissrich, explained that the show would also be using non-white actors too. In terms of casting, it doesn’t really upset me to have a diverse cast, even if some of the characters we have come to know and love look different from how we imagined. However, I can see why people are upset.
“The Witcher” is largely based in European Medieval lore and slavic folklore, best seen in representations such as the nations of Northern Kingdoms, the continent where the world of “The Witcher” takes place. In the entirety of the characters that have been presented by the books and games, many of the characters are white, albeit of different ethnicities. This mostly racially homogenous fictional world could be because Poland itself is pretty racially homogenous as well.
… it is great the cult classic novels are getting adapted into a big budget TV series, it’s a shame that Netflix didn’t give the games more credit …
As such, it could be just be a creative byproduct of the location and society. Despite this, there other lands in the world of “The Witcher” that would explain the presence of non-white humans, such as the land of Zerrikania, where characters have been described with tan or dark skin color. It is also worth noting that the book’s author, Sapkowski, claims that the presence of non-white characters in the upcoming show wouldn’t go against the lore of “The Witcher.” I would hope that this incredulous reaction that fans have had towards characters of various racial backgrounds is simply based on situations within the lore that don’t always make it clear why there are racially varied characters and not more ugly prejudeces that I won’t get into.
What does upset me, though, is how Netflix, and the show’s creative consultant, book author Andrzej Sapkowski, have intentionally eschewed the video game series in order to focus on the books.
I suppose making an adaptation (the Netflix series) based off an adaptation of the books, (the games by CD Projekt RED) would have posed a number of creative problems. It would have shunned the books entirely, which would not be fair to the author, who spent years writing the series. However, by dismissing the games, Netflix is ignoring how the games by CD Projekt RED contributed significantly to making “The Witcher” franchise an icon in popular culture. Whenever audiences think of Geralt, Triss, Yennefer, Ciri and Dandelion for example, they immediately think of the games. When audiences think of the locations within “The Witcher” lore, they think of Temeria, Redania and Nilfgaard as depicted in the games. When people think of the fashion and costume design for the characters of the world of “The Witcher,” they think of the games. Whether or not people have read the books the games are based on, the fact remains that author Andrzej Sapkowski and the showrunner Lauren Hissrich owe the Polish game studio a debt to how the games made the book series so popular around the world.
As to why Netflix have ignored the games, the reasoning is a bit nebulous. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, showrunner Lauren Hissrich explained the focus of the first season was distinctly book focused: “We’re not adapting the video games, it’s a straight adaptation of the books. Which is great as the videogames are also an adaptation of the books. They went one direction, we actually get to go to another.” This deviation away from the games could be chalked up to simply taking an artistic license.
Others, though, have speculated that it may be because of the book author, Andrzej Sapkowski, that the showrunner and Netflix are focusing on the books rather than the games themselves. Sapkowski has long been known for his distaste of “The Witcher” video games and, to a degree, video games in general. In terms of his feelings on the games based off of his books, simply put, he doesn’t think highly of them. In an article with Vice.com back in 2017, the author made his feelings on video games clear: “A video game serves a different purpose… It works differently. How much substance can there be in the lines of text when the hero walks through the woods and talks to a squirrel? Where’s the literature in that? Where’s the room for depth or sophisticated language with which games could elevate culture? There’s none.” While it’s clear that the author doesn’t care for gaming in general, I can understand why he is protective of his work: he wants people to think of him when they think of “The Witcher” and not the video games.
This moving away from the games to the books by Netflix could also be because of the legal dispute where Sakowski wanted more royalty profits from CD Projekt RED, which got resolved earlier this year, but nobody can say for sure. The point remains that while it is great the cult classic novels are getting adapted into a big budget TV series, it’s a shame that Netflix didn’t give the games more credit where credit is due. Hopefully, Netflix will include a few nods to the games in the TV adaptation, as the showrunner has hinted.
Kelly Baker is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minors in journalism and film criticism. KB819687@wcupa.edu