If you’re someone who likes video games — or even, god help us, a “gamer” — you’re probably familiar with the Witcher saga. If not, you might be wondering why on earth Netflix’s latest announcement is a series based on some relatively obscure Polish fantasy novels, and also why on earth people seem to be excited about it.
The Witcher games are a phenomenon. A decade ago, the first game was released to little fanfare by a small Polish company using someone else’s game engine; by the time 2015’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt came along, the series was one of the world’s most popular. Wild Hunt has sold 10 million copies worldwide to date, and is still going strong. It’s turned development house CD Projekt Red into a powerhouse, spawned a spinoff standalone card game (Gwent, to which your correspondent may or may not be hopelessly addicted), and put many, many złoty into the bank account of Andrzej Sapkowski, on whose fantasy novels the games are based.
There are, of course, plenty of equally popular video games that would make (or have made) for shitty movies; thankfully, though, the Witcher games’ strengths lie in their stories, which means that they may well make for a surprisingly good transition to television. The games, and the books on which they’re based, draw inspiration from the folk tales of Sapkowski’s native Poland, and they’re set in a richly-developed and intriguing fantasy world. There will be many, many comparisons drawn in the coming months to Game of Thrones, another series based in a world whose politics and intrigue are just as important to the story’s narrative as the characters that inhabit it.
The stories center around one Geralt of Rivia, who’s the eponymous “witcher,” meaning that he’s one of an order of monster hunters who are bred to encourage specific genetic mutations and trained since birth to fight the terrifying and supernatural monsters that inhabit his world. He’s a pleasantly non-heroic protagonist — not an antihero, either, but an interesting, flawed and charismatic character. His penchant for banging hot sorceresses might suggest that the games and stories are a bit male gaze-y, and that’s certainly an accusation that’s been leveled at them in the past, but the stories have also tackled subjects like rape and domestic violence with surprising nuance and compassion.
Anyway, lest I wax lyrical for too much longer, the point is that the stories are to be adapted into an English-language series for Netflix. There’s little in the way of further information at the moment; let the fantasy casting begin!