Legends like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight have been passed down for centuries. In these tales, magic, medieval romance, political intrigue, and the hearty thrust of the blade and spear provide the backdrop against which larger-than-life characters play out their roles: Mordred, Morgan Le Fay, Merlin, Lancelot, The Lady of the Lake, and even a deathless adversary faced by Arthur’s own nephew, Gawain. Elements of these stories continue to permeate and influence new stories, encouraging our fascination with magic and epic sword and sorcery tales.
During the 1990s, in particular, we saw a rise in a certain type of fantasy that blend together magic and with elements of gritty realism, deep character-driven plots, and worlds that parallel our own in intriguing ways. Examples include Robin Hobb’s Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, David and Leigh Edding’s prequel, Belgarath the Sorcerer, an to some extent the incredibly popular works of J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman.
The proof of great writing can often be felt when the reader steps into a new fictional world and finds that it feels fully realized and lived-in—plagues, monsters, and all. And Andrzej Sapkowski’s tales of The Witcher do just that. For those who haven’t read the books that the upcoming Netflix series is based on, you will find Sapkowski’s stories full of well-crafted adventures and characters of every type: fierce rogues, valiant fighters with questionable morals, sorcerers that abuse their arcane arts, and all the back-alley cretins that would sooner relieve you of your coin than help you out of a quandary. The Last Wish, Sword of Destiny, and Season of Storms are all great jumping-off points if you want a solid introduction to Sapkowski’s characters of the series and the world they inhabit. In the meantime, now that we finally have a premiere date and a final trailer for The Witcher, let’s take a look at the major characters and the actors who will be playing each role…
Geralt of Rivia
One of the last surviving witchers, Geralt was raised at the School of the Wolf at Kaer Morhen, where young witchers were trained and underwent alchemical trials. He, like the rest of his blade-for-hire guildsmen, is a mutant conceived and created by sorcerers who experimented with and manipulated nature. Known to dryads and elves as “Gwynbleidd” (or in human language, “the White Wolf”) Geralt is a monster-slayer, born of a sorceress. A formidable force to be reckoned with, The Witcher’s name and legend has spread across the Continent. Stories abound of his abilities and his exploits and are often exaggerated, leading to a fearsome reverence or even dread on the part of the commonfolk he encounters. To many he appears only as a forbidding stranger, cloaked in black, riding his steed, Roach. To his confidantes he is an enigmatic man and stalwart friend and fighter, loyal (for the most part) in his adherence to a strict witcher’s code.
Henry Cavill portrays the white-haired wanderer in the upcoming Netflix series. While the British actor has headlined action blockbusters (including playing Superman), it’s his various other roles in fantasy and historical dramas that make him a good fit for the part of the Witcher, having built his career exploring complex characters. Some standout early parts include Fernand Mondego’s son, Albert, in The Count of Monte Cristo (one of his first roles on the big screen), the frustrated Melot in the medieval romance Tristan & Isolde, and the smug Humphrey in the 2007 adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. It was Cavill’s role as the Duke of Suffolk, Charles Brandon, in The Tudors that really set his career going and gave him an opportunity to flesh out an extended character arc over the course if the show’s four-season run. Add these credentials to his established love of the Witcher books, games, and lore, as well as an impressive commitment to getting to the core of the character and preparing himself, both physically and mentally, for the series, and you’ve got a man that’s more than ready to don the gauntlets and wield the blade of a witcher.
Ciri (Princess Cirilla)
For anyone not yet familiar with the games or books, Ciri is a princess from the kingdom of Cintra who becomes Geralt’s protégée. Fierce and brave in her own right, she shows extraordinary resilience, fortitude, and resourcefulness while surviving the dangers of Brokilon forest and during her training at the witcher castle, the aforementioned Kaer Morhen. She also receives tutelage and guidance from two skilled sorceresses, Triss and Yennefer, who learn of her potential ability as a conduit for magical power, and is eventually is taken to a temple school in Ellander for more instruction. Although some fans might be more familiar with the character design from the games rather than the slightly different characterization in the books, there’s a lot to be said for both, and how Ciri’s assertive attitude and strong sense of self contribute toward her bold personality. She is by nature proud and one of the strongest female characters in the whole series who later becomes a warrior in her own right.
In the Netflix series, Ciri will be played by British actress Freya Allan. Observers of the production stills or recent trailer will perhaps notice that the now 18-year-old Allan appears a bit older than her character as originally depicted in her first meeting with the witcher; some argue Ciri’s age as being on the younger side of 12 to 15 years of old, at that point. Whatever her exact age, when you take a closer look at the books on which the show is based, she is clearly described and portrayed as someone who is still a child—and in spite of the actress’s age, that youthfulness still comes across in the glimpses we’ve seen of her so far. This seems to have been a deliberate casting choice—Freya Allan still fits believably into the role of a fair-haired child of the Elder blood and playing a younger character is something she has done before on the small screen in AMC’s Into the Badlands series. In her own words, the actress has further explained that Ciri is quite a young, still somewhat naive character who has been protected all her life and so there is a lot of room for her to develop and grow as the story moves forward. Ciri has also grown up surrounded by power and privilege—though her status was princess came with its own duties and expectations—and has been sheltered from war, famine, and other hardships of the world outside the royal court…until now.
Jaskier (aka Dandelion)
Jaskier (called “Dandelion” in the English translation in the books, though the show is sticking with the character’s original name) is the quintessential rogue, utterly brimming with braggadocio—a defiant poet who delights and enlightens the masses with his lyrical works yet chafes against the rules and constraints of society. On one hand he embraces the lofty pursuits of fame and artistic expression, while on the other he spurns tradition, and has no qualms embroiling himself in trysts and courting danger. To some degree, Dandelion is the comic relief, serving as a necessary and lighter contrast to the brooding witcher, whom the bard often chastises whenever he finds Geralt dwelling on the past or indulging in self-pity—but he also displays a charming vulnerability.
Joey Batey is an accomplished dramatic performer who has previously played key roles in The White Queen and Knightfall and is practiced in stage combat and medieval sword fighting. It’s somewhat surprising, then, that there hasn’t been more media attention afforded him or his character in The Witcher. While you may find some features that explain who Jaskier is, many other articles fail to mention the bard at all, and we haven’t even see his face in the teaser or trailers for the show thus far. For fans already steeped in the lore of The Witcher universe, this seems like quite an oversight when you consider just how important the bard and his companionship is to his long-time comrade, Geralt, as well as his influence and connections throughout the wider world. He’s a bit of a favorite, and fans at various comic cons and other promotional events tend to ask about him all the time—the level of interest in the character is high. To give you a sense of how integral his character is compared to other main characters in the stories, Jaskier/Dandelion is mentioned almost two hundred times in The Last Wish while Yennefer—who is clearly promoted as a major character in the upcoming Netflix series— is mentioned less than a hundred. Not that we don’t want to see more of Yennefer and her story, but let’s hope Jaskier still has a major part to play!
Yennefer of Vengerberg
One of the first impressions one gets of Yennefer is that she is the furthest thing from a passive damsel in distress—a stereotype in fantasy that Andrzej Sapkowski wanted to avoid in his books. Fiercely independent, she travels the continent following her own plans and agenda. In so doing, she has made something of a name for herself both as an advisor to kings and as a member of the Lodge of Sorceresses. Because Yennefer has served and aided powerful people, she has also been privy to all kinds of political games and has fought wars alongside other mages; she is accustomed to navigating her way through intrigue and danger. There are some who might go as far as saying that they’ve never heard of her helping anyone if there wasn’t something in it for her, and it’s true that she can and will manipulate situations to work in her favor. Yenn does, however, respond to Geralt’s request to protect and care for Ciri, and soon becomes something of a mother figure to the younger woman.
All of this reveals that she isn’t simply a love interest of Geralt’s but his equal, and one that challenges him as much as he does her. As far as Geralt and Yenn’s relationship is concerned, it is tumultuous at the best of times. Fans and readers familiar with the pair know of the bond that ties them together, as well as the tragedy. As a result of her use of magic and his witcher mutation, they cannot bear children—something that creates unspoken tension between the two. Over the years, Yennefer has earned a reputation for great loyalty to those she trusts, but also possesses a legendary temper to match.
In the new adaptation, Anya Chalotra has signed on for the role of the sorceress who must navigate the chaos of magic. The English actress has appeared in a recent adaptation of The ABC Murders starring John Malkovich as Hercule Poirot, and, like the rest of the cast, has had some experience in a fictional SF/F setting, having voiced Robin Loxley in the YouTube animated original, Sherwood, which is set in a future dystopia. Chalotra broke out into mainstream recognition in 2018 with Wanderlust and is still something of a newcomer; before that, she appeared in various theater productions such as Much Ado About Nothing and The Village. Many fans who have only known the version of Yennefer who appears in the games may be wondering why she has a physical deformity in parts of the trailer, but an explanation can be found in the source material. Without spoiling anything, the books go into some detail on her early life and the disfigurements that marked her childhood; you can read a more spoiler-y explanation and analysis of Yen’s appearance in the trailer here.
Like her friend and colleague Yennefer, Triss Merigold is also a legendary enchantress. Many magicians in the world of The Witcher work as healers, making a living by providing magical services to the townspeople. Yet Triss also shares another, more intimate link with her raven-haired colleague: a love of Geralt—although hers is a deep, impassioned longing. We first learn of this desire on her visit to the witcher castle in Blood of Elves, but the truth of her romantic feelings is fully revealed to Geralt (in a moment to which Ciri was secretly privy) during their journey to the temple at Ellander. In a cruel irony, during this journey the healer is afflicted by a serious and mysterious illness yet cannot take any of the concoctions she makes for the sick as she is allergic to them.
Playing Triss is actress Anna Shaffer, who some might remember as Romilda Vane from the last three Harry Potter films. Curiously enough her character in those films also fell in love with the main protagonist of the series who just so happens to be a magic user tied to prophecies. Shaffer has also been a series regular on the British soap Hollyoaks, among other television and movie appearances, but her casting in The Witcher heralds a return to popular fantasy.
Roach (aka Plotka)
Called Plotka in the original Polish version, Geralt’s faithful mare, Roach, is his constant companion on many a lonely trek through the wilderness. “Plotka” is a term of endearment which roughly translates to “Roach” or “Roachie.” Right from the beginning, a unique sense of communication exists between them: the witcher speaking, leading, and comforting, and Roach responding to his actions and the timbre of his voice. Yet despite the evident closeness between mare and rider, Roach is not necessarily always the same horse. During one particularly strained conversation with Dandelion/Jaskier, Geralt makes a curious statement to the effect that all of his horses are named Roach—a fact the witcher claims his friend knows very well. It may simply be the harsh reality of his dangerous profession that makes this necessary—he inevitably loses steeds to precarious falls and the beasts he hunts. According to Geralt himself, horses can instinctively recognize and sense dangerous creatures, and it is safe to assume that they must encounter many threats along the open road. And yet his compunction to maintain the sense that each horse is Roach might reveal more about the witcher than it seems—maybe his almost-sentimental-seeming attachment to the name “Roach” hints at Geralt’s attempt to retain some small sense of his old humanity—something that, just like his human emotions, has been lost due to the mutations he’s undergone. Perhaps it could even be a tenuous link back to his life as a human boy, the memories of which have been obscured from natural recall by the effects of the witcher trials.
The Witcher arrives December 20th on Netflix—let us know your thoughts on casting and what aspects of the series you’re most excited to see in the comments!
Salut, selamat datang, willkommen, and g’day fellow adventurers! I’m JKA Short, a spec/slipstream writer based in Australia. I’ve worked as an educator internationally as well as in my home country while pursuing a writing career. Some of my published work to date has appeared in LINQ Magazine, Cream Magazine, LLF, The Gamer, SFFWorld, Watkins magazines, ComingSoon and Mandatory Media. I have also reviewed and promoted emerging and indie authors who have been published by Interzone, Analog, Black Static, Angry Robot Books and IndieReader. Locally, I’ve also written for Cairns Life, Paykel Media and have completed an internship with Brandtree Creative. I am currently working on my first full-length adventure-slipstream fiction and am seeking representation.