Netflix’s December 2019 release of “The Witcher” was a welcome — and genuine — surprise for TV fantasy fans who had become cynical after a decade of “Game of Thrones” and mostly failed “Game of Thrones” want tobes. This series was entertaining, didn’t take itself too seriously, and avoided all of the pitfalls that other would-be heirs to the Iron Throne had fallen into. It didn’t go overboard with sex or violence, and it had catchy songs like “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher.”
Unfortunately, “The Witcher: Blood Origin,” Netflix’s new spinoff, is a letdown. It appears to have forgotten what made the original such an effective escapist treat, as it is overly violent. It’s a bad sign for the franchise, which is already dealing with the impending loss of star Henry Cavill.
The original “Witcher” didn’t rely entirely on Cavill as the titular character. The series wisely evolved into an ensemble work, decentering legendary witcher Geralt of Rivia, a stereotypical heroic white male. The series appeared to be laying a solid foundation by elevating Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra) and Princess Ciri (Freya Allan) to leads in their own right. However, Cavill’s enthusiasm was as much a part of the series’ charm as his Superman-like physique. (The man actually filled a bathtub.)
Netflix has already tried one spinoff, “The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf,” an animated feature film that was barely noticed. The first live-action spinoff, “Blood Origin,” is a prequel deep-dive that chronicles how witchers came to be.
The showrunners gathered a slew of talent for the four-part series, with Michelle Yeoh headlining as part of her ongoing career renaissance (Yeohnaissance?) alongside British up-and-comers Sophia Brown, Laurence O’Fuarain, and Mirren Mack. Sir Lenny Henry and Minnie Driver appear in the series, as does original fan-favorite Joey Batey, best known as the bard behind “Toss a Coin.”
Part of the issue stems from the show’s chosen narrative — a group of disparate warriors banding together to combat a rising evil. The show even acknowledges how many fantasy films rely on “Avengers-style” plot lines. “The Witcher,” on the other hand, is based on old school tropes. Season one saw Geralt embark on adventures based on classic Eastern European fairy tales, similar to those told and retold by Disney for decades (albeit in neutered form). Season two was a straight out of Joseph Campbell’s playbook hero’s journey. There’s no reason why these stories can’t be told again (again).