The success of The Last of Us makes The Witcher’s failure even more painful

Historically, video game adaptations have, by and large, had a very bad stigma. Whether it was untimely release dates, overtly spasmodic dialogue, or just plain cheesy dialogue effects, the realm of “so bad it’s good” movies was notorious for that particular subgenre of action movies.

Of course, a lot of that was due to it being a product of the technology and availability of the time (I’m talking Super Mario Bros.). The stigma has caused many fans to sigh deeply when the mere premise of a game adaptation has been brought up.

Super Mario Bros. Movie 1993 Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo
Image Credit: Universal Pictures

Then, of course, there was the Witcher series, which debuted on Netflix in 2019 as an adaptation of author Andrzej Sapkowski’s popular fantasy series. In many ways, it was considered a success given its visual and spectacular action scenes, as well as a well-rounded cast centered around Henry Cavill in the role of Geralt the White Wolf. Couple this with some of the stories from the book which were beautifully adapted, like Renfri’s sad tale from The Lesser Evil, and really felt like a step in the right direction. Heck, even episode 1 of season 2 was great as it adapts another tragic story from A Grain of Truth. The remainder of the season made the advances made with the first season, essentially stripping them down as they deviated significantly from the source material, turning Yennifer into a power-crazed whiner and Eskel into a completely different character.

But HBO’s The Last of Us? Aside from the first two episodes being shot-for-shot live-action versions of Part I, the HBO show managed to make the games feel even more grounded while fleshing out fewer plot points that just adding context, not subtracting it. The irony is that film adaptations use this very approach to try to reinvent what happens in the game for fear of boring the audience, and most of the time they fail.

Image Credit: Naughty Dog & HBO

Take for example the last episode of TLOU that aired, “Long Long Time”. At the beginning of the episode we learn that Ellie and Joel continue their journey to Wyoming to find Joel’s brother while first stopping in Bill’s town to get a car. The only problem is that after the very grotesque death of Tess at the end of the episode, Joel is still reeling from it.

However, instead of just continuing on to Bill’s town, the show takes its first major detour by telling us Bill’s backstory. It introduces us to him and his life partner Frank, who commits suicide in the game. It contains most of the story notes for the most part, but it’s a sort of exhibition that we’ve never seen as it’s only hinted at in the games. It’s endearing to see such a loving relationship on screen and only helps add depth to this post-apocalyptic world.

In addition, people with no prior knowledge of TLOU games can start the show and immerse themselves in the apocalyptic world of the first game. Since it follows the same story as the game for the most part, it can use the same things that made Part I work in the first place.

It’s not just about zombies either, it’s about people and connections and how far we go for family and loved ones. Finally, fans of the game can sit back and get to know these characters in a way they’ve never done before.

Image Source: HBO

As an alternative to The Witcher, its main complaints included how much it deviated from the source material, presentation issues, and a thorough explanation of how this world works. Shifts in characters’ motivations, which then became contradictions to almost everything fans knew about the characters, were also big red flags.

One example of this is how much the show glosses over why Ciri is so important (or why “the law of surprise” is so damn important to The Witcher’s world). By the end of the first season, viewers should understand why Ciri means so much to Geralt, even though he rarely has any scenes with her.

Instead, a good chunk of season two is spent rationalizing why we should care about Ciri, and it’s a mess. Also, in season two, it almost seems like The Witcher can’t decide whether Geralt’s romance with Yennefer is more important or his surrogate father relationship with Ciri.

I’ll give you a hint – the answer is a bit rhetorical as not even loyal fans of the series can answer it. This is just the tip of the iceberg though, as season two REALLY throws the show off the rails.

So what could The Witcher have done to avoid this fate? First of all, it could be argued that Netflix was very confused about the story they wanted to tell, so a roadmap would have been nice.

As Season 2 kicks off, the character dynamics and ergo relationships are everywhere and it’s very hard to tell where the story is going. Even without the Ciri issue, had showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich focused on what works and continued the journey of Jaskier, Geralt, and Yennefer from that first season, then that in itself would have been an improvement.

Regardless, fans who are familiar with the series know that The Witcher has quite a complex lore. In this area, Netflix should have decided which specific plot points to focus on first and move on from there. For reference, for most of the season we’re kept in the enchanting location of Kaer Morhen, the ancestral home of the witchers.

There are silly notes to other stories involving the elves’ pregnancy, which is nice and pretty much takes away from the story at hand. Then we should take care of the fact that Ciri’s father is not only alive, but is also the evil emperor. Given that we don’t see much of her father throughout the show, that means next to nothing.

The Witcher Season 2 Ciri and Gerald
Image source: Netflix

It should also be said that the Witcher series should have built on the things that people loved about the first season: the monsters and the quest to kill them. Watching Geralt go on quests to take down evildoers (many of which used very well done CGI) was absolutely breathtaking, especially when he used the same sword fighting techniques and “sign” magic straight from The Witcher 3 : Wild Hunt originated . In hindsight it was a lot of fun.

But who’s to say if The Witcher’s upcoming third season will mark a small course correction? With any luck, the showrunners did their due diligence and realized their half-baked second season didn’t accomplish nearly enough. I strongly suspect that going forward, production companies will pay attention to the masterful work that Neil Druckman and HBO have done with The Last of Us and take inspiration from it.

But given that The Witcher season 3 ended before it even aired, that’s unlikely. Let’s just hope they get a good farewell to Cavill before he hands over the role of Geralt to Liam Hemsworth. Time will tell when The Witcher returns to Netflix for its third season sometime in 2023. The success of The Last of Us makes The Witcher’s failure even more painful

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