The Witcher: With Henry Cavill exiting season four, here’s everything else there is to know

 (Netflix / Katalin Vermes)
(Netflix / Katalin Vermes)

On Saturday, it emerged that Henry Cavill will not be returning to play Geralt of Rivia in the fourth series of The Witcher – leaving fans distraught.

He is set to be replaced by Hunger Games’ Liam Hemsworth, but even the news of another major star joining the cast has not been enough to placate fans.

“Liam Hemsworth replacing Henry Cavill as Geralt doesn’t even make sense visually. I like Henry as Superman but he was so good on The Witcher and he has SO MUCH chemistry with Anya. Yennefer and Geralt won’t be the same,” Tweeted one supporter.

As could have been predicted, the Twitter-sphere was flooded with memes as viewers decried the decision.

And it seems that writer Andrzej Sapkowski may also be saddened by the decision. In December 2019 he reportedly said: "I was more than happy with Henry Cavill’s appearance as The Witcher. He’s a real professional. Just as Viggo Mortensen gave his face to Aragorn [in The Lord of the Rings], so Henry gave his to Geralt — and it shall be forever so."

In a statement, Cavill said: “Alas, I will be laying down my medallion and my swords for season four” but did not provide any further details about the reason he is stepping down.

On Christmas day The Witcher: Blood Origin, a limited four-episode prequel series set 1,000 years before the world of The Witcher, will be released on Netflix. It is set to detail the creation of the first Witcher – the highly-trained monster slayers the main series is about (Cavill’s character is one of these supernatural hunters).

The Witcher’s third series is set to be released in the summer of next year, which means if you are new to The Witcher universe there’s still plenty of time to watch series one and two.

But if you want a quick recap, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything to know about The Witcher.

The books

The brainchild behind The Witcher is Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Sapkowski submitted his first short story in the series for a fiction competition held by science fiction and fantasy magazine Fantastyka, in 1986.

Though the book only came third, Sapkowski had soon built a loyal following for whom he continued to write. Eventually, they were published as a collection titled The Witcher in 1990. As of 2022, Sapkowski has written six novels and 15 short stories, all of them focussed around main character Geralt of Rivia and a recurring cast of characters including Ciri, Yennefer of Vengerburg and Dandelion.

Though The Witcher is noted for its rich universe, this actually didn’t come into existence until Sapkowski started writing full-length Witcher books, incorporating Slavic folklore, more generic monsters and his own imagination to create a medieval-Poland adjacent world for Geralt and his friends to inhabit.

What are Witchers?

Witchers, as they were first written by Sapkowski, are “monster hunters for hire”. Possessed of supernatural skills (including magically enhanced senses and the characteristic golden eyes), Witchers travel around the world tracking down beasts in exchange for cash.

However there is a stigma involved with being a Witcher: often taken from their families at a very young age and forced to undergo a series of magical mutations that, it is rumoured, strips them of their ability to feel emotions (most trainees die before they become Witchers), they are treated as outcasts and objects of fear by the population at large. As a result, they have become rather rare and the profession is seen as a dying art.

Witchers are also split into several schools, which teach their students different abilities and different moral codes. Geralt of Rivia (the Witcher whose story we follow) belongs to the School of the Wolf, which is based in the remote castle of Kaer Morhen.

 (Bandai Namco)
(Bandai Namco)

The games

By the time the millennium rolled around, Sapkowski’s books, though possessed of a loyal following, were not massively successful outside Poland.

Attempts had been made to make his books into a video game in 1996 and 1997, but they had both failed - however, in 2003, game studio CD Projekt Red effectively bought the rights to The Witcher franchise and released the first game featuring Geralt in 2008.

This was followed in 2009 with The Witcher II: Assassins of Kings, and in 2015 with The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. This last release is what catapulted The Witcher into the stratosphere: the game is widely acclaimed as one of the best ever made and won the studio several awards.

In March 2022, the studio also confirmed that they were working on the next instalment of The Witcher franchise, codenamed The Witcher: Polaris. Though not much is currently known about the game, it won’t feature Geralt as the main character, but is set to kick off “the beginning of a new saga” in the same universe.

Despite the success, the games also came in for some controversy: in 2018, Sapkowski asked CJ Projekt Red for around $16 in remuneration, citing that although he had sold the rights to The Witcher for a lump sum, the games had become more successful than originally reflected in the price. By 2019, however, both parties had come to an agreement.

The TV show

When did it start?

After all the success of Sapkowski’s works (which have now sold over 30 million copies), it seemed like only a matter of time before one of the major streaming platforms attempted an adaption, and Netflix won the privilege.

First scheduled to become a film, it was then decided that Sapkowski’s eight novels would work better as a show – after all, there was so much material to develop. Production began in May 2017 and two and a bit years later, the first eight-episode series was released.

What’s going on?

Interestingly, Netflix chose to adapt some of the short stories which preceded the main Witcher saga – The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny (which were published in English in 2007 and 2015 respectively) – for its series.

The storyline of the first series is non-linear, moving between different time periods as audiences are introduced to the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (played by Anya Chalotra) a Witcher, Henry Cavill’s Geralt and Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon aka Ciri (played by Freya Allan), the crown princess of Cintra.

Geralt becomes Ciri’s protector, and the story follows the monster hunter, focusing on the destiny which ties him to Ciri. Later, as audiences get acquainted with the characters and their histories, the storylines merge into one.

Who stars in it?

As well as Cavill, Allan and Chalotra, the first series starred a relatively new cast of faces including Eamon Farren (2017’s Twin Peaks), Joey Batey (The Riot Club), Mimî Ndiweni (Black Earth Rising) and Anna Shaffer (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince).

Who is the team behind it?

The Witcher’s showrunner is Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, an American producer and screenwriter who wrote some episodes of the first season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy and some episodes of The West Wing back in the early Noughties.

The soundtrack was created by award-winning Russian-American film composer, Sonya Belousova and Swiss–Italian composer Giona Ostinelli, who previously worked on Homeland and Community. The soundtrack song Toss a Coin to Your Witcher went to number one on the iTunes Top Soundtrack Songs.

How was it received?

Series one of The Witcher received a mixed reception. The critics, by and large, panned the series, saying that it was a feeble Game of Thrones: Darren Franich from Entertainment Weekly, thought it was a “borefest” and the Independent said: it was a “painfully transparent attempt to fill the Game of Thrones void with more blood and boobs”.

However audiences loved the show: when Netflix released its list of most popular series of 2019 in the US at the end of December, The Witcher was listed second, following Stranger Things 3. This was a particular feat given that the series had only concluded ten days earlier.

The Witcher’s second series, which was released in December last year, on the whole, was better received. Rotten Tomatoes said: "The Witcher’s second season expands on its first in all the best ways,” while Radio Times said, “A flawed but exciting return for Geralt of Rivia”.

The Witcher: Blood Origin will be released on December 25