Around Even with some stumbles in season 2, Netflix’s Witcher universe delivered one of its greatest episodes ever, made clever work of even the franchise’s most twisted disclosures, and teed up spinoffs galore about this time last year. Then, last month, it was announced that Henry Cavill, the real-life Superman who played Geralt, will be replaced by Hunger Games star Liam Hemsworth.
Still, The Witcher, like so many other programs, appeared like it might live on — after all, what was a single actor to a multiverse, especially one with a highly anticipated prequel just over a month away? However, the rigorous scrutiny makes each new step in the Witcher world feel heavier (even if Nightmare of the Wolf, the animated film about Geralt’s mentor, was the first journey outside of the original program). And, sadly, The Witcher: Blood Origin is the worst-case scenario: a deeply chaotic and unpleasant series that calls into question The Witcher’s promise in a post-Cavill age.
Blood Origin, set 1,200 years before Geralt and Ciri’s unconventional father-daughter connection, covers some of the universe’s most pivotal events, such as the creation of the first Witcher and the Conjunction of the Spheres, “when the realms of elves, men, and monsters combined into one.” For others who aren’t as involved in Witcher mythology, the trailers promised Michelle Yeoh as a sword master, which should boost the possibility of nearly any property.
However, the main plot of Blood Origin is found elsewhere. Éile (Sophia Brown) is an elite elf fighter from the Raven clan who has abandoned her fighting career to become a traveling poet. Trouble on the Continent, however, draws her back to the sword, bringing her together with Fjall (Laurence O’Fuarain), a warrior elf from the enemy Dog clan. As the two untangle the larger war they’ve gotten themselves into, they assemble a merry band of adventurers, including Meldof (Francesca Mills), a dwarf with a hammer and a proverbial axe to grind; Brother Death (Huw Novelli), a warrior with a bloodied past; and Yeoh’s Scan, an unrivaled fighter who wants to retrieve a sword sacred to her people.
The wicked Chief Sage Balor (Lenny Henry), who wants stronger magic to conquer other worlds, and Princess Merwyn (Mirren Mack), an elf ruler seeking to escape the limits of patriarchal monarchy, await them in the capital city.
In other words, Blood Origin has a lot going on for only four episodes (an order cut down from the reportedly six that were planned and shot). Nonetheless, Élie and Fjall are the story’s core, and where its seams begin to show, if not completely fall apart: As we witness their relationship go from reluctant friends to comrades in arms, it becomes evident that the narrative has little time or interest in real stakes or emotions. We know nothing about these individuals, and when history is revealed, it feels sloppy and late, so disconnected from the main plot that it reveals how little any of the specifics truly contribute to the program.
When someone close to Élie is endangered or Fjall remembers the lady he loves, the feeling is ostensibly important to their tale but is also quickly forgotten, leaving no permanent imprint on their arc or character.
Which is the most surprising aspect of Blood Origin. The series, possibly more than any other I’ve watched, is strongly anchored in exposition. But nothing is explained or investigated; minor things are tossed aside with similar, haphazard attention. The warrior clans of Fjall and Éile have no distinguishing traits. There’s a class clash alluded to in a song Élie is renowned for, but there’s never much thought given to what it means in-universe beyond “lower-class individuals are hungrier than their wealthy counterparts.”
The duo’s band of warriors each have their own narrative, but those frequently appear to exist merely to… tell the audience about, and that’s it. Syndril and Zacaré (Zach Wyatt and Lizzie Annis), magical twins, mourn over a horrible occurrence in their history, and that is the limit of its influence. When Élie promises Scan the chance to regain her people’s precious sword, it is introduced in the discussion with no explanation for how Élie would’ve known it was missing. Meldorf’s whole quest is completed in her first two introduction scenes (although it might have been completed in one).
In a stronger program, they may be intriguing implications of the bigger world and the history we don’t witness, or telling details about how little these battles actually are, or even simply a minor blunder to be ignored. They all felt like blatant mismanagement here, a clue of how much was perplexingly trimmed out to get the tale to its conclusion.
None of this has to be the end of a franchise. The Star Wars prequel trilogy has its supporters, who value the innovative concepts found in George Lucas’ sloppy implementation. Even as a forerunner, Blood Origin does not provide the same delights. It reveals so much that it overlooks why the big Witcher-universe events are significant to the story. The majority of its discoveries are ignored or cut to death, requiring the beats to be conveyed through a voice-over spoken to Jaskier (Joey Batey) in The Witcher’s chronology.
As a result, the individuals are unable to make their case, and the wider prequel implications never add anything new or meaningful to the society we are supposed to be seeing the beginnings of.
Worse, it emphasizes how little the audience requires any of this, and how damaging it may be to go too deeply into the franchise’s nooks and crannies — how shallow The Witcher’s high fantasy realm can feel when not grounded by some broader intensity. There are elves, dwarves, goblins, and magicians, to name a few. There are terrifying monsters out to devour you, as well as supernatural prophecies.
In The Witcher, we get the idea that our knowledge of these things is limited to what we need to know. They’re a little part of a broader, more expansive universe, hinting at a greater tale if only we had the time to gaze in that direction.
When the designers of Blood Origin employ elves and humans interchangeably, its sector of the universe loses any residual differentiation. In The Witcher, what is the difference between an elf and a human — magic? Strength? Ears? It appears to be… nothing within Blood Origin. And if these creatures, their universe, or their issues aren’t fundamentally different, why does it matter if their sphere becomes conjunction-junction with that of the main world?
Perhaps there are deeper explanations in the Witcher history, but Blood Origin is so intent on being a standalone tale that it appears purposefully unable to fit with the other brands.
While Nightmare of the Wolf pales in comparison to The Witcher’s exploration of monsters or Yennefer’s yearning for motherhood, it nonetheless grapples with the larger questions of Witcher legend. Finally, it succeeds to give a glimpse into a key chapter in The Witcher’s history.
Blood Origin, on the other hand, appears to be just marginally capable of having that dialogue, relaxing the laws of the universe to the point of incoherence. Those boundaries are what distinguish The Witcher’s fantasy world; we need to know that chaos magic comes at a high cost. But nothing in the text of Blood Origin explains what distinguishes Balor’s use of it from his previous use. While his bigger objectives of conquering other civilizations are typical, the finer elements of his worldview are lost, flattening his — and everyone else’s — fights.
Whatever there is to say about power and who wields it, Blood Origin is so densely packed with worthless exposition and toothless history that it can’t be taken seriously. There are certainly broader intentions there, such as Merwyn’s sense of being stuck in her duty, but they can’t amount to much when every scene is charged with presenting and delivering on new motives at the same time. Merwyn is nominally a power player, but she never feels like it since her decisions are, at best, rash. And this jerky, nonsensical tempo lies at the heart of every tale. There isn’t time to savor the quieter, wiser moments that define the greatest scenes in the Witcher universe.
As a result, the Blood Origin conflicts become extraordinarily fluid, flowing dizzyingly and robotically down tracks merely because the tale requires it. At best, they make the battle in The Witcher proper appear foolish, and at worst — well, it makes you wonder if there’s any point in expanding this on-screen universe at all (a crazy feeling to have about a narrative that’s fueled decades of books, short stories, and video games!).
Art, by definition, is an experiment, and experiments can fail. But Blood Origin thuds loudly, each echo of its impact more unsettling than the previous. This drama doesn’t have to explain whether The Witcher can survive without Henry Cavill – but it’s a scary glimpse at what the universe may be like without him. Cavill isn’t the only thing that makes The Witcher; some of the universe’s most intriguing elements have nothing to do with him at all. But he is a distinguishing aspect of it, a devoted admirer who sees such depth in a character who could easily be made uninteresting.
As our main character, he (or the others who care about him) sets the tone for the series, and the poignancy he produces spills over into stories he’s not even in.
Blood Origin is the polar opposite of that: a universe with no distinguishing fantastical traits, a multiverse that not even Michelle Yeoh can save. It’s a flat universe filled with generic archetypes battling to get from point A to point B because the story demands it. The issues go deeper than not having a star to anchor the world to. The Witcher: Blood Origin eventually succumbs to the peril that any universe (and there are many) faces when it eagerly grows, losing what makes it unique.
Blood Origin makes little attempt to understand what makes the Witcher universe distinctive or significant, leaving it as a convoluted, irresponsible attempt to push more Witcher things out the door. If The Witcher is to survive the loss of a star and grow into a larger universe, it must make a stronger argument than this.