Why did Henry Cavill quit The Witcher? The actor’s exit stumps the internet

Henry Cavill in The Witcher  (Netflix )
Henry Cavill in The Witcher (Netflix )

What is going on with Henry Cavill? Last November, the actor announced that he would not be returning to play the lead character, Geralt of Rivia, of The Witcher for its fourth series.

Then, he made the surprise announcement that he will not be reprising his role as Superman in DC’s next film, less than two months after announcing the opposite.

Sharing the news on Instagram to his 23 million followers, he said, “I will, after all, not be returning as Superman. After being told by the studio to announce my return back in October, prior to their hire, this news isn’t the easiest, but that’s life.@

On Twitter, Gunn, who directed the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and Suicide Squad, explained that the next Superman film is going to focus on an earlier part of Superman’s life, which is why Cavill will not star.

In the thread, he added: “But we just had a great meeting with Henry and we’re big fans and we talked about a number of exciting possibilities to work together in the future.”

Cavill’s Witcher exit

Last week, the third series of The Witcher – the last to star Cavill – was released on Netflix, once again raising questions and rumours around the actor’s exit.

The new series has pulled in mixed reviews, but Cavill is seen as somewhat saving the show’s labyrinthine plot: “Really, it falls to Cavill to carry the whole thing, which he does with aplomb,” said The Standard. “The man utterly sells it: you care about Geralt, and when he is not on screen, the whole thing suffers. This series will be poorer without him.”

So what’s going on?

In November it was announced that Cavill will be replaced by Hunger Games’ Liam Hemsworth in The Witcher. Despite another major star joining the cast, this was not enough to placate all of the fantasy show’s 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.

In an article published in December, Peter Friedlander, Netflix’s Head of U.S. and Canada scripted series, spoke to Variety about Cavill’s Witcher exit. He said: “Henry is an extraordinary Geralt and I think Liam will continue and also be an extraordinary Geralt. There has been a legacy of amazing, iconic characters where the actors have changed and we’re hugely optimistic about this. We will continue to honor the IP, the fans, the storytelling, all the way through.”

In a November statement, Cavill had 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 was stepping down.

What do we now know?

Eight months later, his exit largely remains a mystery, though fans believe it is likely to be due to creative differences between Cavill and the team behind the Netflix production.

Perhaps there’s something to this. Cavill, a longtime fan of the franchise, had previously indicated in interviews that Netflix’s reimagining of Geralt did not perfectly align to his own ambitions for the character.

Cavill’s Geralt was loved by fans despite his broody and sometimes cold demeanor. “Everybody came out of season one laughing and loving Geralt’s fuming [nature],” said showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich to The Hollywood Reporter in November 2021. “But Henry was saying that when you read the books you spend a lot of time in Geralt’s head. So how can we put that on the page? Meanwhile, I wanted to tell the story of him becoming a father figure to Ciri.”

Speaking to The Philippine Star in December 2021, Cavill said: “The toughest part for me was finding that balance between the showrunners’ vision and my love for the books, and trying to bring that Geralt to the showrunners’ vision. It’s about treading a fine line there. It’s the showrunners’ story and so it’s an adaptation. The tricky bit for me was finding Geralt from the books’ place within that and being able to serve both as much as I could.”

The cast didn’t know about Cavill’s exit

“We found out quite a few months after wrapping… we found out the day before the world found out,” said Freya Allan, who plays Ciri, Cavill’s character’s surrogate daughter. “It was a shock. Everyone was in shock at the same time.”

“I cried when I found out; I just didn’t expect it. I feel very connected to him through our characters.”

The cast still hadn’t met Hemsworth in person when they were interviewed last week, and explained that they were only told that he would be replacing Cavill a couple of days before the public: “We just got told the day before it was announced,” Allan said. “So it was a lot.”

“We’ve been together for five years. So for anyone to leave after working with someone for that long, we’re going to feel that loss,” said Anya Chalotra, who plays Sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg, to The Telegraph.

Speaking at Netflix’s Tudum event in June, Cavill spoke directly to his cast mates, saying, “You guys bring so much nuance and detail to these characters, which are often at risk of being over simplified... And what you guys have done with the characters has involved work, care and effort, and believe me working with you guys was the biggest pleasure.”

Meanwhile, Hemsworth said he was “over the moon about the opportunity to play Geralt of Rivia”. In an Instagram post shared in October, Hemsworth said, “Henry, I’ve been a fan of yours for years and was inspired by what you brought to this beloved character. I may have some big boots to fill, but I’m truly excited to be stepping into The Witcher world.”

Everything to know about The Witcher

The Witcher’s third series has just been released. Series one and two are also up on Netflix so there’s time to catch up for those wanting to jump on the bandwagon. 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 focused 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.

Henry Cavill and Anya Chalotra in The Witcher (Susan Allnutt/Netflix)
Henry Cavill and Anya Chalotra in The Witcher (Susan Allnutt/Netflix)

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, series stars 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 absolutely 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”.

It’s third series, which was released on June 29, also pulled in mixed reviews. The Standard gave it three stars, saying, “the sheer amount of lore here was so perplexing that I found myself trawling the Wiki (yes, there is one) for answers”, but also commended its “fun parts”.

The Witcher season 3 part 1 is available to watch on Netflix now; part 2 will be released on July 27