The Witcher TV series, starring Henry Cavill as the lone, monster-hunter title character, shall soon arrive on Netflix with an 8-episode first season based upon the books by polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. As a result, some people are revisiting the same question that once circulated in the gaming community: Does one need to read The Witcher books before playing the video games? Naturally, the more timely inquiry here is whether one needs to read the books and/or play the games before watching the TV show, or can one simply “go in cold,” so to speak?
The former inquiry surfaced in 2015 with the release of Witcher III: Wild Hunt game, and the answer was “nope.” Although the background knowledge of the books and short-story collections certainly would have enriched the gaming experience, investing even more time (and money) in the books was unnecessary at the time. That is, unless one’s trying to avoid book spoilers, in which case, yeah, it’s a little silly to go into the games and expect not to be spoiled about what happens in the books. That expectation is kind of like clicking on an article about a movie and anticipating hearing nothing at all about the film’s subject matter. It happens! More often than people would like it admit, even.
Well, I’m about to say something that might cause scoffing among gamers and avid readers alike, but it’s also not essential to play the games or read the books before watching Netflix’s The Witcher TV series. Will it help? Of course it will help, but it’s not necessary by any means. In fact, playing the games might work a disservice to the viewing experience.
Let’s talk about the books first, since that’s easiest to address. Sure, especially where the books are concerned, simply to put the names of lesser characters and places to memory before watching the action-packed series, checking out the source material would come in handy. In this case, the first two chronological books, The Last Wish and Sword Of Destiny, would be most useful. However, it’s not mandatory for casual viewers to read the books if they only want to settle back and surrender to the bulk of the series, which follows three main characters — Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), Yennifer (Anya Chalotra), and Princess Ciri (Freya Allan) — as their fates intertwine, and they must come together while navigating the series’ increasingly volatile and unstable continent.
Now, when it comes to the games, they’d be almost entirely counterproductive (without the books) in helping prepare one to watch The Witcher on Netflix. For more context, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich recently told Entertainment Weekly that the TV series only adapts the books, not the movies. Furthermore, the books launched the characters’ stories, and the gaming developers did not really adapt the books but fashioned the games as sequels. As a result, the games are considered non-canon (and sort-of sequels), and in fact, Sapkowski has alleged in court that he never made a deal for anything but the first game to be made. That’s a roundabout way to insist that, yeah, the games might familiarize you with the series’ characters, but they won’t duplicate the experience of getting to know them from the beginning.
From here, I cannot yet discuss the merits of the TV series since Netflix won’t allow reviews to be published until midnight on release day. However, I can point toward our interview with Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, who stressed that the series does something that the books don’t do, which is to tell the stories of Yennifer and Ciri from their own perspectives. Whereas The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny are told solely from the perspective of Geralt, so the inevitable outcome is that the two lead female characters were viewed through a male lens. In that light, one can make the logical leap that the series might actually be more enriching than the books in some ways, but for now, we can really only reiterate our original point: The Witcher TV series can be enjoyed by viewers without any prior knowledge of the source material.
Netflix’s ‘The Witcher’ streams on December 20.