The Witcher – Lukewarm Take

So I’ve been watching the Netflix adaptation of the book and game series “The Witcher”.

CW: discussion of sexualised violence/rape.

I didn’t really come into it with any particular expectations. In fact knowing that it was adapted from a computer game (I initially wasn’t aware of the books) I probably had lower expectations than I do for other series. Mostly because computer games and narrative fiction have radically different approaches to telling a story. Games can rely to some extent on the player’s participation to fuel engagement with the character. Also players can replay a failed challenge time and again until they succeed, giving them a sense of achievement that simply can’t be reproduced in a more passive medium.

That said, I’m starting to quite like it. I think I struggled initially with it being rather unrealistic (I kept being put in mind of the Mitchell and Webb sketch about the screen writers who couldn’t be bothered doing the necessary research). But after a while I became more comfortable with the series when it became clear that it doesn’t take itself entirely seriously. Long story short, humour can let you get away with all manner of sins. Which makes the po-faced first episode or two a bit of a stumbling block.

But the thing I still don’t like is the sexualised violence. True there isn’t much of it directly depicted, but references to rape occur multiple times in the first episode including at least one instance of this being sold as character motivation/backstory (drink!). And I just don’t get it. For me it has added precisely nothing to the story, world or characters. It’s just an unnecessary element to throw in, like an anchovy in a milkshake.

There seem to be two arguments for including repeated references to rape/sexual violence; historical accuracy/grittiness and showing that a show is “edgy”. Both are complete bullshit.

Attempting to make this story gritty/accurate falls at the first hurdle and every single hurdle thereafter. I’m no historian but the first episode alone has enough in it to make fucking Braveheart feel like a documentary. The series is absolutely at its best when it leans into the silliness (it’s not too spoilery to say that a major plot point literally revolves around the “Law of Surprise!” literally, that’s literally it’s name). The entire notion that anyone watching this would be put off by the “historical inaccuracy” of not having everyone talking about rape every five minutes is frankly infantile.

I know that this is a pretty lukewarm hot take by now but I’m so fucking sick of this. Because it makes me distrust the creators. It automatically alienates a huge amount of your potential fanbase. And if nothing else it puts in a barrier to enjoying it that means it took me most of season one to drop my guard enough to actually start enjoying this show.

Tl;dr gratuitous use of/discussion of sexualised violence/rape is hell a stupid and needs to die in a fire.