Readers of FlickLuster (and our sister site GameLuster) might be aware that I am a fairly big fan of The Witcher. I got into the franchise a few months ago, consumed a probably unhealthy amount of Witcher-related media in the span of a mere six weeks (and then continued to do so even after my article chronicling those six weeks was published), and became a pretty intense and devoted fan of everything Geralt of Rivia. (Yes, even to the point of owning that infamous figurine of him in the bathtub. And the Art of Gwent book. And a T-shirt that just says “Hmm”. And….ok, you get the point).
So it came as a surprise to me when I sat down to enjoy Making the Witcher, a 30-minute special providing a behind-the-scenes look at the first season of the highly popular Netflix series….
…and I totally hated it.
And I’m usually a total fan of “Making of….” type-specials! I was the kind of person who watched all the DVD extras, back in the ancient days before Netflix and Hulu, when physical media was still a thing. I’ve watched and enjoyed several “behind the scenes” looks at a number of other movies and TV shows – and even plenty of video games.
So why didn’t I like Making the Witcher?
Well, first things first. I feel like a jerk for saying this, given the current state of the world and the many probably reasons behind this special’s production and release, I don’t think it was entirely necessary. I’m not saying that a behind-the-scenes documentary for The Witcher isn’t an interesting concept, but this one definitely felt rushed. It tried to cram way too much into 30 minutes and therefore didn’t cover any of several potentially fascinating topics in detail, and was unable to provide the interaction between actors which would have given the special some much-needed levity and heart.
Making the Witcher was probably produced and released in order to maintain interest in the series during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Like many other Netflix productions, The Witcher was forced to halt the filming of season 2 (but, unlike other shows and films, primarily because at least one of the cast members was diagnosed with the virus while on set). Filming resumed in mid-August, following the relaxing of travel restrictions to England for film and TV crews. Season 2 is now expected to debut sometime in mid-2021 at the earliest, rather than late 2020 as originally planned.
So I definitely understand Netflix wanting to get people thinking and talking about The Witcher again during the long dry spell between seasons. Unfortunately, the way they went about it resulted in not a much-needed Witcher fix but rather a brief and ultimately unsatisfying experience.
The number one problem is simply that the special tried to rush through way too much content in a mere thirty minutes. Making the Witcher attempted to cover the history of the Continent, Season 1’s use of a non-linear timeline, the relationship between the show’s central characters, monster design, costume design, portrayal of women, set design and architectural influences, actors’ thoughts on their characters, the world’s magic system, the importance of the series in Poland, fight choreography, and some of the episode writers’ feelings about the stories they were assigned to write.
All of that would have been a lot for a 90-minute or 2-hour full-length movie, let alone a 30-minute special. It felt incredibly rushed, darting from topic to topic without actually pausing to go into detail about anything in particular. This resulted in the less interesting sections (especially the constant digressions into backstory and Continent history) feeling like they took up way too much time, while the utterly fascinating discussions of monster design and actor-centric behind the scenes anecdotes quickly brushed over and leaving me wanting (pun fully intended) much more.
Here I acknowledge that I may have a slight negative bias, because I am extremely familiar with the series and already knew a lot of the backstory information about how the world of the show came to be. Still, I feel like the show’s creative team has been trying to cram backstory details in absolutely everywhere, from interviews to supplementary materials to this very special. This…isn’t a great look, considering that I feel like a lot of this could have been better established within the show itself. With regards to Making the Witcher, the backstory sections were also a disappointment because they didn’t provide the “glimpse behind the curtain” that the rest of the special’s segments did.
Additionally, during the part of the show when they discussed the book series which inspired the show, there was one section which I unfortunately would have to describe as my least favorite in the entire episode. This was the coverage of the series’ treatment of women, where Anya Chalotra (Yennefer) described Andrzej Sapkowski as writing powerful, well-rounded and complex female characters. While I love Yennefer, Cirilla, and the rest of the Witcher ladies….I have to ask, Anya, did we read the same books? I found Sapkowski’s portrayal of women to be horribly dismissive and weak, creating entire characters who served no purpose other than fawning over Geralt and providing yet another opportunity for the author to demonstrate his protagonist’s superhuman attractiveness and sexual prowess. Yen and the rest didn’t become anything approaching “well-rounded” until the games and the Netflix series stepped in, unless we’re talking entirely about chest dimensions.
However, Making the Witcher did have a few bright spots which I found myself thoroughly enjoying. In particular, the too-brief overviews of monster creation, costume design and set design were absolutely fascinating and left me wanting more. While these parts, especially the monster discussion, were somewhat hampered by the fact that everyone seemed to be under some sort of gag order and were unable to make direct comparisons to or even mention the video games, there was a ton of interesting information shared. I especially liked that the monster team were the most willing to share actual behind the scenes footage, rather than simply replaying clips from the actual show. It was really cool to see how the monsters were created using a combination of practical effects and CGI, and how this in turn affected the choreography of the many witcher-versus-monster fight scenes.
I also liked the episode writers talking about the process of creating their individual stories. In particular, Declan de Barra, who wrote Episode 4 (“Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials”) had some really fascinating insights. It really felt like he was able to get inside the characters’ heads, and he was honest about the difficult process of explaining in-universe concepts such as the “Law of Surprise” naturally as the episode’s story progressed. I definitely hope to see more episodes written by de Barra in future seasons.
My favorite element of the special by far was, without a doubt, the interviews with the various actors in which they discussed their characters and how they came to embody the role. I found myself absolutely cursing COVID-19 because the interviews were, by necessity, conducted solo. The actors were extremely complimentary towards one another, constantly stopping to remark on how well a co-star did during a certain scene. In particular, I absolutely laughed out loud when Freya Allen (Princess Cirilla, aka Ciri) compared the dynamic between Henry Cavill (Geralt) and Joey Batey (Jaskier) – both the actors and the characters – to the titular ogre and his traveling companion Donkey from the animated film series Shrek.
In conclusion, if you are a fan of The Witcher, you will likely be fairly disappointed by this special. It does provide a brief half-hour of entertainment, and the actors and some of the crew’s segments are certainly fun to watch. However, those hoping for an in-depth look at what the show was like behind the scenes will find it utterly lacking. You will leave wanting more of The Witcher, which I guess was the goal of the special in the first place….but, really, couldn’t they have accomplished that same goal with some exciting hints and commercials for Season 2 instead?
Both Season 1 of The Witcher and the Making the Witcher special are currently available to watch on Netflix.
PS: The one element of the special definitely worth watching is Joey Batey’s in-character “Unofficial Trailer” for the special, as narrated by his character Jaskier. Watch it below: