Crestfallen Game of Thrones fans are pinning their hopes on The Witcher, the first major fantasy title to debut since Thrones disappointing final season. Fantasy fans are desperate to fill the Westeros-sized hole left in their hearts, which makes The Witcher’s timing impeccable. But after Netflix dropped its teaser trailer, it’s clear The Witcher can’t be the next Game of Thrones. It’s too magical for its own good.
Thrones fans don’t merely miss the show. They miss the early seasons of the show, when it was good. Thrones’ final two seasons were disastrous rush jobs. They leaned heavily on CGI. The writing was poor and central characters were protected by impenetrable plot armor while others met unsatisfying ends. The show runners paid minimal attention to crucial plotlines or just dropped them completely. The well-crafted interpersonal drama and politics that made Thrones great in the first place was forgotten. Early season Thrones was fantastical, sure, but the true appeal was the deft human drama.
The Witcher’s world is more immersed in magic and fantasy, and the show will likely suffer for it. It’s hard to create fantasy worlds that viewers will accept, and having to do so while reinterpreting the Slavic culture The Witcher is derived from is going to be especially challenging. Netflix is betting people want to watch an extremely jacked Henry Cavill play a monster-killing bounty hunter, and they’re probably right. But there’s no telling what happens with the rest of the story and universe repurposed from Andrzej Sapowski’s book series. The trailer is exciting, but it all seems driven by Cavill’s Geralt. Drawing swords against werewolves and giant spiders will make for great television, but will anything else?
Streaming services and premium cable channels are desperate to find the next Thrones. HBO’s snowy GoT prequel already has a pilot, while three other spin-offs wait in the wings. Amazon’s Lord of the Rings prequel is set for 2020 alongside fantasy titles like Conan and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. And Netflix has several fantasy projects in development, including Shadow and Bone, Cursed and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Regardless of its success, The Witcher will never command pop culture the way Thrones did. Thrones’ audience grew steadily over eight seasons of weekly hour-long episodes. Netflix binging won’t deter dedicated Witcher fans, but full-season streaming stifles the conversation and word of mouth hype generated by weekly content.
But the same popularity that defined Game of Thrones made its final seasons that much more disappointing. By its end, the show seemed better at branding than entertaining. HBO juiced it for every ounce of content it was worth, including a two-hour “making of” documentary that revealed how dissatisfied its actors were with the series’ ending.
The Witcher could be a commercial and artistic success, but it can’t be the next Game of Thrones—and fans shouldn’t want it to be. The comparison is too easy and shows’ universes are too different, both on-screen and off. Besides, no one wants to look ahead to a crappy ending before seeing the beginning, anyway.