Showrunners 016: The Witcher Introduction

Welcome back to Season 2 of the story grid showrunners podcast. In 2020 we’re focusing on action and thriller stories. Each month we will release 2 podcast episodes. First, we’ll discuss the expectations of the show from seeing the trailer and reading the series descriptions.  

After this we’ll give you 2 weeks to watch the series and the second monthly recording will cover the 6 core questions (genre, obligatory moments), to help you understand why the series was good/ bad/ innovative and how you can apply learning from this to your writing.

So if you’re writing an action or a thriller story or want to see how we analyse story, we invite you to watch these series with us, so that you too, can have a deeper understanding of how to make a better story . By the end of the year, we will have analysed 12 TV series in the Action/ thriller genre.

Let’s get started! This month the Story Grid Showrunners will dissect the hit Netflix television series The Witcher. 

Today we’re giving you an introduction to the Witcher.

Here is the Wikipedia Description

The Witcher is an American fantasy drama series produced by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich. It is based on the book series of the same name by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski. 

Set in a fictional world, on a landmass known as “the Continent” where the culture is styled in a mix of fantasy elements from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, The Witcher follows the story of solitary monster hunter Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill). Geralt of Rivia is a witcher, a mutant with special powers who kills monsters for money. The land is in a state of turmoil, due to the empire of Nilfgaard seeking to enlarge its territory. Among the refugees of this struggle is Cirilla, also known as Ciri, the Princess of Cintra, who is persecuted by Nilfgaard. She and Geralt are destined to each other. In his adventures, Geralt also meets Yennefer, a sorceress.

The first season is based on The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny, a collection of short stories that precede the main Witcher saga. It explores formative events that shaped the three lead characters, prior to their first encounters with each other.

Melanie: Before I talk about expectations, I just want to say that I think it’s unbelievable great what some short stories and novels about one central character can turn into.  The Witcher was a book series that turned into several comic books that were even adapted by Dark Horse. The stories have been made into a role-playing video game and a Netflix TV Series. So a big thank you to the mastermind behind the story of The Witcher Andrzej Sapkowski.

So what are my expectations?

This time I have not read the book or the comic books before. 

Has anyone of you have read the books, the comics or played the Video Game?

Parul: Coming at from an editor’s perspective, I always start to wonder what genre it is, and Society and Action are screaming out at me. I’m expecting bloodshed and rebellion to cause a change in society. Better still, we have Elves, Henry Cavill. 

Randall: I love Fantasy books, and I always have high expectations they will have a television series that will do the books justice, so I’m really excited about this series.  I haven’t played video games, but I plan on reading one of the books before I watch the TV series so I can get a good comparison. Anyway, from the description I expect some good fights and magic and I hope some good special effects monsters.  This series has a real chance to show the hero’s journey in a fantasy epic, so I hope they do. There seem to be a lot of world high expectations before the series came out, my son plays the game and he was really looking forward to it. I also like to give these new fantasy series the benefit of the doubt, but so far I’m always a little disappointed.  The Shannara Chronicles television series in 2016 comes to mind. But I’m hopeful.

Melanie: I’ve just ordered the first omnibus of the Witcher which I will read in the next two weeks as well as watching the first season of The Witcher on Netflix. So my expectations are based on what I’ve seen in the teaser and the main trailer for the show.

Basically, I’m expecting a great dark fantasy action story with a protagonist who has yet to grow into the role of a hero. There’s a lot of darkness surrounding him and his world, but there’s also hope portrayed by the Princess of Cintra. And I guess there will be lots of crisis moments that not only turn around the values of life and death, but also challenge the moral compass of the protagonist. 

Teaser Analysed

Melanie: “Is it true what they say?” That question right at the beginning shows there was a turning point in the protagonist’s life concerning his worldview. Asking someone if something is true refers to a huge revelation they’ve just experienced and still can’t believe that what they’ve believed so far was not the whole truth. So we know the beginning of the story, the inciting event, the thing that put everything in motion was a revelation to the protagonist.

And then we’re introduced to the world. We hear about different races and how men slaughtered elves. Slaughter is a very strong word and suggests there will be some kind of retaliation. Possibly a revenge theme? But much more obvious is the calm voice who clearly tries to grab hold of the story he’s been told. We dive deep into the question of what’s good and evil in this world and how to maintain your moral compass.

I love that they brought in chaos and order as the primary poles of what they’re trying to put back into balance. ‘But without control Chaos will kill you’. So that goes back to the elves’ mistakes that they taught humans how to turn Chaos into Magic. Not into order, but into something powerful that they can use for destruction.

Then the protagonist is questioned if his life is all about monsters and money, and he says it’s all it needs to be. Then there are a couple more scenes about an extraordinary child and another character, maybe a king, saying: “You can’t outrun destiny”. With that, we see clearly that the protagonist has so far avoided the hero’s call to adventure.

Trailer analysed

Parul: From a bird’s eye view of story, what do we see? We see a state of normal, an unjust society where Elves have been abused by humans. A society where there is a threat of rebellion. To be honest the trailer (assuming you know nothing about the story), isn’t that clear. But we see that there are a few key protagonists including Cavill, the Witcher and Princess Ciri – will they change the world they live in? In the trailer, we have hints of morality and society.

Melanie: In the main trailer, they introduce the protagonist as a mutant. Someone who was created by magic. Since I’ve seen the teaser before, I know that the witcher has the power of magic within him, but it’s his decision if he uses that power for destruction or creation. For putting things into chaos or trying to establish order. 

But quickly we learn that the Witcher just kills monsters for money. So he’s not doing anything for the greater good of humanity or the world. 

He’s killing monsters for selfish reasons. 

So we see morality is clearly established as the main internal genre because morality turns around the core value of selfishness and altruism.

But what gives us hope for this character is what we learn about him when this woman asks him: “People call you a monster too. Why not kill them?” 

And he answers: “Because then I am what they say.” 

Randall: that’s a great point Mel.  He has the power to be a monster and he chooses the honorable path.  We don’t know if that is because of the way he is made or his own choice.

Melanie: His answer shows us that he’s sophisticated enough to see the consequences of his actions. So that’s another hint that there’s a strong morality genre at play. Better still, it’s gonna be ‘Morality – Testing. 

This subgenre of the internal genre is according to the definition of the Story Grid about the following storyline: “When a protagonist of highly developed will and sophistication experiences a challenge and trial but maintains their inner moral compass and strength of will, they make a selfless choice and earn respect and admiration.“

It could also be a Status – Admiration internal genre: “When a sympathetic protagonist with the nobility of character and motive, along with a sophisticated worldview, encounters misfortune they will rise in spite of it.” That means the protagonist will be able to adapt his worldview with the new information that comes forth.

What makes the trailer so interesting or better, what hooks us next to all the fight and battle scenes, is that the established protagonist is told that this one woman, Princess Cirilla, is his destiny. But he refuses the call to adventure. Or when we look away from the stages of the hero’s journey and to the obligatory scene of the action genre, we have the ‘Hero sidesteps responsibility to take action’. 

And best of all, we as the viewer as well as the protagonist, are told what happens if he’s not following what he’s destined to do. 

We hear what’s at stake. 

And it’s not only life and death, as we’re used to from the action story, but it’s also unleashing the true calamity upon them all. Which is basically saying the end of the world as they know it. 

And if that happens, it will be the Witcher’s fault. So there’s the threat of damnation. Another hint for the morality genre.

It could not be made any clearer and once again, we think with everything that’s at stake and with a protagonist we value as someone who has the potential to be the hero, the last line of the trailer once again circles back to the question of morality. 

The Witcher says: ‘I’ll take that chance’ with which he expresses his inner darkness with an overt refusal of the Hero’s Journey call to change.” 

So this trailer is all about establishing the protagonist, the external and internal genres and what’s at stake. And it shows all that by focusing on the Heroic Journey’s stage of The Call to Adventure and its refusal.

Randall: Great analysis of the trailer Mel.

I see epic fantasy battles, great monster vs Witcher fights, attack magic, quests, prophecies – all the great things I love about fantasy series.

As you mentioned, they really did a great job setting the stage for the story – reluctant hero who must accept an unwanted quest or face damning the world.  

There also seems to be a lot of magic, though not from the Witcher, so the question remains is the magic good or bad in this series, or does it depend on the user.

Tune in next week when we use the 6 Core Questions from the Story Grid to analysis the whole Season!

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The Story Grid

Story Grid Book

If you want to learn more about writing a story using the Story Grid methodology, go to the Story Grid Webpage to find free videos and articles on how to implement the methodology.

These articles contain information about the 5 Commandments of Storytelling and the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. They also give details on obligatory scenes and conventions for specific genres, such as the thriller, love story, war story, crime story, and more.

For an example of how these techniques are used, read Jane Austin’s The Pride and the Prejudice with annotations by Shawn Coyne.

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