Reminder: Please watch The Witcher TV Series before you listen to the following episode. We not only give away spoilers, but we talk about the global story and it’s just more valuable for you if you know what we are talking about because we reference a lot
Randy: Interesting, but no game of thrones. One word: confusing
Mel: Wonderful portrayal of The Witcher by Henry Cavill, but my one word for this TV series: disappointing.
Parul. A good example of how a great idea is lost without structure and world-building.
Geralt of Rivia is a principled monster hunter, killing monsters in exchange for money. After saving Duny from being killed, he becomes connected to Ciri through the Law of surprise.
Inciting Incident: Cursed Duny is attacked when he asks for Pavetta’s hand in marriage.
Turning Point: Geralt claims the Law of Surprise and Pavetta is with his child.
Crisis: Does Geralt take responsibility for the child or not?
Climax: He does not.
Resolution: Mousesack is scared that Geralt not accepting his destiny will release great calamity upon them all.
Yennefer rises to power as a witch and Geralt has more adventures, building to a quest to kill a dragon for different reasons. Yennefer is trying to regain her ability to have children and Geralt has fallen for Yennefer.
Inciting Incident: Geralt risks his life to save Yennefer from the Genie (and his last wish)
Turning Point: Geralt sees that Yennefer is on a quest to kill a dragon
Crisis: Does Geralt join the quest or not?
Climax: Geralt joins the quest
Resolution: Both Yennefer and Geralt end up defending the dragon eggs and Yennefer suspects that the two of them are together because of magic and so chooses to leave Geralt. Finally, Yennefer makes Geralt realize his destiny is to save and protect Ciri.
Yennefer assists in the defense of Sodden Hill against the Nilfgaardians, eventually realizing her gift of incredible power and disappearing. Meanwhile, Geralt realizes his destiny is to find Ciri, gets poisoned during a fight with a monster, has delusional dreams, and finally finds Ciri.
Inciting Incident: Cintra falls, Ciri runs, Geralt is captured and restrained
Turning Point: Nilfgaardians attack Sodden Hill, the key to the North
Crisis: Does the council of Mages intervene?
Climax: they do
Resolution: Yennefer saves the day after an epic battle that includes lots of innovative magic. Ciri and Geralt finally link up
Parul: As a viewer, the beginning hook (episodes 1&2) is out of chronological order. We simply know that Geralt’s destiny is the girl in the woods and that he wants to be left alone, he doesn’t want power. At the same time, we see Yennifer’s rise to power and her desire to have the confidence and strength she hasn’t had so far. Ciri escapes but is on the run.
Middle build is episodes 3-6 – lots of scenes where Geralt is fighting monsters. Ciri is accepted by the Dryads. We understand Geralt’s object of desire better now (he’s linked to Ciri via the law of surprise). More importantly, we see Yennifer’s object of desire to have a child – to be fertile. Distractions/ progressive complications: fighting dragons.
The ending payoff is across episodes 7-8. We finally get clarifying information about Geralt’s link to Ciri and see Yennefer make a decision to fight for someone other than herself (Tissaia).
Mel: It’s evident in the ending payoff that The Witcher Series does not consider Geralt of Rivia as its single main protagonist. Since I had only seen the trailer before and read the comic book by Dark Horse I expected this man to be the hero. The single main protagonist and Ciri and Yennefer as his sidekicks.
But my disappointment started already in the second episode.
It was hardly about the witcher at all. His storyline was only there for further exposition about the problem with the Great Cleansing that killed so many elves. And he wasn’t in real danger even though he was captured. It was clear he would not be killed by three elves and a goat-man. So that was rather boring.
The main story in the second episode was all about Yennefer.
It was then that I suspected, we have multiple protagonists once again.
And in the ending payoff, it’s so evident that this story failed to include Geralt as a hero. Yennefer becomes the hero. She’s fighting the big battle. Geralt was imprisoned and then he was badly wounded and on that cart in his own delirium. He was out of the picture.
I did not like that.
Action – Man vs monster? Man vs Society
Mel: We as editors ask about what’s the genre because it helps us determine if the story worked or didn’t work. Genre sets expectations. And if the promise to the reader or the viewers is not kept, the story was not only disappointing but it also just didn’t work.
So this TV series was disappointing to me. And Genre is one of the reasons.
So I was struggling to say with certainty what genre the global one was. The one the entire story revolves around.
Yes, in the trailer we were promised an action story.
In action stories, especially man vs. monster, the monster is defined to be an animal – like the shark in JAWS or the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. But we literally have monsters in this TV series. But this story is no horror story either. In horror stories, we have a single, non-heroic protagonist who wants to save his life. This is true for Ciri, but she’s not the one who has to deal with monsters. It’s Geralt of Rivia. But he’s very much capable to fight monsters. So this series has elements of horror, but it is no horror story.
Now the first episode’s purpose is to establish the Genre.
If we look at how the story started, we have Geralt killing a kikimore in a murky swamp. That’s action. Perfect. I was happy as I saw it because that’s what the trailer promised. But then the first episode shifted to the crime genre (Assassin for hire) to love and Betrayal (Renfri and Geralt) and to war (Cintra and Nilfgaard).
So I was very confused about the genre because there’s so much going on in the first episode already. They didn’t take the time to establish one genre first.
If we look at the last episode, we have this huge battle scene. So I’m guessing we could also make a case that The Witcher Series belongs to the War Genre.
At its core, a War story must have soldiers on a battlefield with the possibility of death. But not every story must be set in a time of war. It has to build and lead to a big battle, which is the equivalent of the “hero at the mercy of the villain” scene for an Action Story or the “proof of love” scene for a Love story.
Shawn Coyne, our mentor says:
“The War story is an arch-plot (Hero’s Journey) or mini-plot (multiple characters) external genre that culminates in the big battle event in which the combatants fight righteously and prevail or crumble and die in disgrace….War stories, like Society stories, use tightly confined plot trajectories to represent global power struggles. Even the epic war stories focus on deeply personal and specific human conflict.”
So war stories focus on the protagonist’s changes as a person and the brutality of war. The story is as much about a person as about a battle.
And we do have that in The Witcher. A mini-plot story with three main protagonists: Geralt, Ciri and Yennefer.
Parul: I agree with you here. Another way of looking at this is that the Core Event does not match the object of desire for the protagonists, nor does it match the inciting incident.
Yennefer, Ciri, Geralt
No clear hero, which isn’t a problem, Game of Thrones did it well, however, in only 8 episodes we are introduced to 3 main characters and scores of minor characters, but aren’t 100% invested in any. And the 3 characters are connected in the end, that’s obvious, but the connection is slow in coming.
Geralt: Find the girl in the woods, turns into keeping the surprise child safe, changes to find Ciri (although note that Geralt always wants to save everyone innocent like Reacher)
Yennefer: Be strong and beautiful, turns into having a baby, turns into saving Cintra for Tissisia
Ciri: Stay safe, find the Witcher
Action:Life is saved when 2 people (Yennefer and Geralt) are willing to sacrifice themselves.
War: Honor is gained in war when a soldier (Yennefer) sacrifices for their fellow soldier, regardless of victory or defeat in battle.
Randy: Yes, definitely – monsters killed, check; Magic used, definite check; reluctant hero, check; Good fight scenes, check.
Mel: I completely disagree. Sorry, Randall.
I’ve talked with others and some of them told me that the series didn’t hold their interest and they stopped watching after the first episodes. And we know why. We’ve watched the trailer and expected way more action and struggling characters. But episode 2 was hardly about the witcher at all. Maybe Parul was right that it is a society story but even to that they didn’t commit to the fullest.
It’s the same with The Walking Dead. Many I know only watched until Negan showed up. Then Walking Dead, in season 7 and 8, wasn’t as much about survival anymore and killing zombies. It became political and the action scenes got less.
So even if you’ve got an established series, changing the primary genre to something completely different has to be done very carefully and not that drastic. After all, who out there wants to see a story about power shifts and political struggles when life and death scenes are more engaging to them and the reason they wanted to watch the series in the first place.
And I wanted to watch The Witcher for the promise of getting an action story. And that’s what it didn’t first and foremost deliver.
Parul: The trailer promised action, the film delivered action and war
Genre: The story was promised to be an action story. I can only speak for the comic books, and Randall probably for the video games, but they are much more about action and monster slaying.
Protagonist: Geralt wasn’t the main protagonist which I thought he would be, so I was discontent that I had to spend so much time with other characters when I wanted to see some great monster-slaying fights and him on his quest to find his destiny. The smaller, self-contained stories, especially if they involve Geralt hunting a powerful monster, are far more compelling. And in the last episode, he didn’t save the day. Yennefer did. Geralt was just weak and hurt while there was another big battle going on. And that for a climax episode to have the supposedly main protagonist not participating.
Yennefer: She seems like the most important character because she has changed the most. And for her, there was the most at stake.
Anthology: The beginning of the series feels like an anthology. There was no overall picture to be seen. All you could hold on to were your expectations set by the trailer: So I was waiting for Geralt and Ciri to meet because that was promised to be his Call to Adventure that he refused. And right in the first scene, Ciri ends up in the woods. So is Geralt. So I expect that they meet. But I had to invest 8 hours into the show until they met. Meanwhile, Ciri is in the woods the entire season. And what has worked as a form of narrative drive before to keep the viewer engaged, was used so much, that it became almost boring and ridiculous.
Non-Linear Storytelling: This story wasn’t told in a linear way. It’s okay to use non-linear storytelling, but if you end up confusing the viewer who loses his sense of time, don’t do it. It was so confusing since I didn’t know that Geralt’s and Yennefer’s story started in the past to the recent event of Nilfgaard’s attack on Cintra. Suddenly dead people were alive again. I was totally confused by the time shifts. I had no clue what was going on. If a confusion gets so big that it throws the audience out of the experience because they start to wonder if they’ve missed an important detail, then that causes unhappiness.
Destiny sounds more like deus ex machina: Ciri ran one way and Geralt after her and suddenly she must have turned 180 degrees and runs directly into his arms. I know they wanna highlight the destiny part, but that is just too far fetched and a rather unspectacular first encounter. After all, their meeting was not only promised to us in the trailer, but it was set up in the very first episode and we had to wait for all 8 episodes for it to finally happen.
Randy: The real enemy might be Fringilla, manipulating the Nilfgaardians, but she is an underdeveloped villain. Cahir, leader of the Nilfgaardians, could also have been built up to be a bigger villain, but we don’t really know his motivations except “to get the center of it all”.
Who is Vilgefortz? He kind of comes out of nowhere and fights like a ninja.
Why is the titular character laid out for the whole finale? Was that smart?
Witcher tries to reach Game of Thrones Heights but doesn’t quite achieve it.
Mel: With so many people loving the world of the witcher, do they feel unhappy now that it isn’t a pure action monster-slaying story or rather happy to see this fantasy world’s trouble on a larger scale?
Randy: The Witcher fans seem to like it because they know all the back story. The timelines didn’t confuse them as much as newbies like us apparently.
Parul: This is like Game of Thrones but with not enough information about who the houses are, and where their loyalties lie.
Come back in 2 weeks where we will introduce you to the Netflix Series – You!
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.
Category: 5 commandments, 6 core questions, Authors, Blog, Screenwriters, Story Grid, Story Grid Showrunners Podcast, television, tv series, WritersTags: female assassin, Jodie Comer, Killing Eve, netflix, Sandra Oh, villanelle
Hi, my name is Randy Surles and I edit Thrillers and Action novels. I specialize in Fantasy, Science Fiction, and anything with a military flavor to it.