The Witcher: Blood Origin Was Okay, But It Could – and Should – Have Been Better

After the first two seasons of The Witcher both premiered on Netflix around Christmastime in 2019 and 2021, 2022 has been a bit different. With Season 3 not debuting until 2023, we instead got The Witcher: Blood Origin, a 4-part prequel series set roughly 1200 years before the stories of Ciri, Geralt, and the rest of Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy series The Witcher. In terms of showing us certain formative moments of this universe, Blood Origin ticks a lot of boxes, but from a storytelling perspective, it sadly leaves a lot to be desired.

I’ll be covering the main plot setup in this post, but won’t be going into how the story specifically plays out past the first episode. This is so that I don’t completely spoil the show for those who haven’t watched it yet and might be on the fence!

Where It All Began

The framing device of Blood Origin is Geralt’s friend Dandelion (AKA Jaskier), played by Joey Batey. The loveable bard has found himself in the middle of a fight with Temerian soldiers, but is saved by a mysterious being who seeks to tell him about stories from the past. The reasoning for this seems to just be so that Dandelion can include them in his infamous songs. Said stories will include details of the Conjunction of the Spheres, a significant historical moment where worlds and realities collided; this is why the world of The Witcher ended up with so many monsters and creatures populating it. Also, Dandelion is told, the stories will include the creation of the very first Witcher. As a premise, these are exciting moments for fans of the series to witness told in live action.

From here, we’re thrown into the aforementioned past 1200 years prior, and we then follow the story as it plays out over roughly 4 hours of TV. As this is set before the times of men and monsters, most of the characters are elves, and the main conflict is to do with Elven city Xin’trea (also known as Cintra, as in the main series). Princess Myrwyn stages a coup to kill all the Elven clan leaders and take power for herself, and much of the series is about the story of seven ragtag characters who team up to stop her regime. If this sounds generic and overly-straightforward, well, sadly yes.

The way Myrwyn (Mirren Mack) takes power is very rushed, with chief sage Balor (Lenny Henry, fresh off another high-profile fantasy series The Rings of Power!) summoning a powerful dragon-like creature to murder said clan leaders. This is the kind of hierarchy-altering event that, say, House of the Dragon takes a whole series to build to, but here it all plays out very quickly in a scene that lacks tension or stakes – because we don’t really know any of these people. The dim lighting and insubstantial vaporization effects of the clan leaders just doesn’t make the impact they should. The coup scene is serviceable, but nowhere near as epic as it could be if there had been more of a build-up where we understood the royal dynamics before they were destroyed. This is rushed feeling is one I’m disappointed to say applies to other parts of Blood Origin too.

An Unlikely Partnership

This leads us onto our heroes, and with only four episodes, we’re introduced to them at a rapid pace. The two main characters who get the most development are Éile (Sophia Brown) and Fjall (Laurence O’Fuarain), two Elves who’re each the sole survivor of their murdered clans at the previously-mentioned coup. Éile is now a wandering bard, and Fjall has been banished from Xin’trea because he strayed from his duty guarding Myrwyn and was discovered having an affair with her.

Éile and Fjall are initially antagonistic towards each other, but have to put their differences aside to team up and fight back against Myrwyn. These two are also the key players in creating the first Witcher later on in the show. This is an element of the show I did enjoy, getting to see the early, formative creation of the infamous Trial of the Grasses that Witchers have to go through. Sadly, with only four episodes, we don’t get nearly as much time with Éile and Fjall as we need in order to believe their burgeoning love story, and this makes their grandiose gestures in later episodes more hollow than likely intended.

Then again, compared to the other five that make up the main crew, Éile and Fjall get a wealth of development! Perhaps most underutilised is Scían (Michelle Yeoh), another last survivor – this time of the Ghost Tribe. Scían is an expert in fighting and tactics, but other than a few cool action scenes and twists, we never really get to know her as a person. This is a problem exacerbated with each new supposed hero the group collects; there’s Elven fighter Brother Death (Huw Novelli), Elven magic users Zacaré (Lizzie Annis) and Syndril (Zach Wyatt), and the charismatic Dwarf Meldof (Francesca Mills). All these characters have individual quirks and traits that make them intriguing at a surface level, but that’s often as far as the show has time to go. We’re still having these characters coming together in episode three of four, leaving very little time for us as the audience to become engrossed by the group dynamic before they take on Empress Merwyn.

As you can probably tell, I’m quite disappointed by Blood Origin, and writing all this out confirms it to me as well. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad show – the performances from the cast are solid, and the characters and story all work on paper. But that’s just it – the show is fine, but lacks the sort of rich character bonds and exciting world-building which the books and (most of) the TV show has delivered, and it’s because the characters are constantly being pushed to the next plot point and we rarely get a moment to breathe. To put it bluntly, with this many characters and this much story, the 4 episodes just don’t seem to be enough, and I wonder why Netflix went for a reduced episode count compared to the main The Witcher seasons.

Moves and Countermoves

Let’s look at some positives though, because Blood Origin isn’t completely without them. The fight choreography remains fluid, fast-paced, and substantial, with satisfying weight to every weapon that gets swung – the Netflix live-action shows have been very successful at translating the dance-like combat of the books into a TV format. The locations look fantastic too; we get plenty of loving, sweeping shots of the world. The set designs of Xin’trea and the other smaller towns and villages look authentic and genuinely lived-in too, which goes a long way to making us believe this world is real.

In addition, I’ll reiterate that I think the cast do a great job with the material, and all of the main cast appear to be giving it their all. The two leads Sophia Brown and Laurence O’Fuarain give Éile and Fjall as much individuality as they can in the limited screentime they have, and it’s a lot of fun seeing Michelle Yeoh and Lenny Henry properly hamming it up, even it’s sad that they’re so underused.

Also, whilst I’ve established my opinion on how the story has a lot of room for improvement, it’s undeniably cool as a fan of The Witcher to see a live-action depiction of such a seismic event as the Conjunction of the Spheres. It’s such a pivotal moment that set up this world, but we’ve never seen it play out before. I guess Dandelion is the sole person in the main timeline that knows about it now? The credits list The Witcher author Andrzej Sapkowski as having some sort of involvement, but it’s difficult to tell how closely he was involved with the decisions being made story-wise. There’re some other neat nods to the main Witcher story too, such as seeing certain Elven characters at a much younger age. Elves live much longer than humans, so the 1200 year time gap isn’t much of an issue!

Fate or Fiction?

Overall, Blood Origin was, well… Fine. If you’re a fan of The Witcher, then there is some enjoyment to find here, but don’t go in with your expectations too high. The short runtime does mean that Blood Origin at least doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. It tells the story it aims to tell, and keeps The Witcher in the zeitgeist until Season 3 of the main series is released. It’s just disappointing that Blood Origin rushed to the conclusion so fast. A 6-8 episode run, with more downtime where we got to know the main heroes and their various dynamics, might have made the final assault on Xin’trea and Myrwyn much more enthralling and less predictable.

With the way the limited series Blood Origin ends, it also seems unlikely we’ll get a second season which can fill in the character gaps. If it does well viewership-wise, though, who knows? I’d certainly be up for giving a second season a shot; there’s a lot of lore about how humans took power from Elves in the time between Blood Origin and The Witcher, and there’s definitely storytelling potential within that if Netflix decides to pursue it.

As for The Witcher franchise as a whole, I will admit to being concerned about the direction Netflix is taking the show. With Season 2 departing more from the source material of the books, and Henry Cavill himself leaving the show to be replaced by Liam Hemsworth in Season 4, I’m less confident about how the series will portray the 5 main novels that Season 3 will start to cover. I adored Season 1 of the show, but it seems to be going in a bit of a different direction now, incorporating aspects from the video games. I’ll of course give the show a chance, though, wherever it decides to go! I even have an idea for how they can make the change from Cavill to Hemsworth work, sorta… But I’ll keep that to myself, for spoilers sake!

If you watched The Witcher: Blood Origin this Christmas, I hope you enjoyed it! In terms of The Witcher, I also have some posts on this site about the spin-off card game GWENT and my journey playing through the games from CD Projekt Red.

Have an amazing day!

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