The Witcher: Blood Origin review
This is an advanced spoiler-free review of The Witcher: Blood Origin miniseries coming to Netflix on December 25, 2022.
After the latest news about Henry Cavill is leaving The Witcher after its third season airs in 2023 on Netflix (Liam Hemsworth takes over the title role in season 4), it’s easy to assume that the popular fantasy franchise may be on the decline. However, Netflix proves that there are still plenty of enjoyable stories to be told in author Andrzej Sapkowski’s imaginative universe with its entertaining prequel miniseries, The Witcher: Blood Origin. Set 1200 years before the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, in a time before monsters and humans roamed the continent, Blood Origin packs a powerful punch with a captivating cast of misfits wonderfully reminiscent of the popular American westerns, The Magnificent Seven.
Blood Origin’s story excels in its build-up to the Conjunction of Spheres and the creation of the first prototype Witcher more than the actual payoff in the end. Some of the story is hampered by the political intrigues of the ancient city of Xin-Trea (sin-tray-ya), where the young princess Merwyn (Mirren Mack) and the lowborn sorcerer Balor (Lenny Henry) conspire to gain ultimate power in the continent. We will let you discover what that power is for yourself and why the Golden Empire wants it. While Mack and Henry deliver fine performances throughout, their characters lack the dynamism and development of our band of misfits.
The Seven Outcasts and their respective adventures are definitely the highlight of Blood Origin and are worth watching on their own. Each individual has their own unique backstory and personality. If I had one complaint about the group, I just wish we could spend more than four episodes with them.
The first two entries in the miniseries are mostly used to bring them together, with Laurence O’Fuarain’s Fjall and Sophia Brown’s Éile serving as the de facto leaders of the group. Michelle Yeoh brings a welcome bit of gravitas as the Elfan swordsman Scian. Yeoh continues her reign as an absolute badass in everything she’s into as she slashes and slashes her way through waves of enemy soldiers. In typical Witcher form, the action scenes are a joy to watch with fantastic fight choreography and plenty of blood.
Action aside, creator Declan De Barra (The Witcher) – along with directors Vicky Jewson and Sarah O’Gorman – also make excellent use of Iceland’s stunning scenery. Each scene of Fjall, Scian and Éile traversing the beautiful landscape on their journey adds to the otherworldliness of the series and transports us to a fantasyland unlike any other. The excellent use of on-location set pieces with our heroes outshines the less interesting aspects of the story once it centers on what’s happening in Xin-Trea, where luscious scenery is traded in for pre-built sets that look like… well, as a set.
Speaking of visuals, the special effects visuals, especially when it comes to the monsters, aren’t as polished as what we’ve seen in The Witcher or recent high-budget fantasy series like House of the Dragon or Rings of power. But while some of Blood Origin’s creatures may lack some sophistication in the VFX department, it never completely took me out of the story.
Back to the seven, one of the most unexpected and welcome surprises in Blood Origin is a fearsome dwarf called Meldof, memorably played by Francesca Mills, who carries a mighty hammer she calls “Gwen”. Meldof’s backstory and reason for wanting revenge on the Golden Empire can rival any of her peers. And Mills is just so damn funny and charming that her character could easily star in a spinoff series of her own.
The series also offers some fun easter eggs for fans of both video games and books, with cameos and references to some notable names from Witcher lore. But as the series draws to a close and the struggle for power in the Continent comes to a head with the Seven and the Golden Empire, the series begins to unravel a bit. While it’s nice to have this entry into The Witcher universe to give more context to why the Conjunction of Spheres happened and how the first Witcher came to be, it all feels very rushed in the last episode. While I applaud the creators for not wanting to overstay their welcome, Blood Origin could have used a few more hours to bring the show to a satisfying conclusion.