There are so many names to learn in this episode. There are at least seven principals and then there’s a bunch of supporting cast and then everyone they’re information dumping about. “Witcher” is all about the exposition. Except when it’s not and then so long as it’s not about titular character but definitely not protagonist Henry Cavill, it’s fairly solid stuff. Let me see if I can recap without running out of breath.
Cavill’s an enhanced human who has video game powers—he’s strong, can heal, is an accomplished swords man, and can force push people when the meter’s charged enough. During the opening action sequence, with Cavill versus a monster (he’s a monster hunter, all witchers are apparently monster hunters), isn’t particularly good. Iffy CG and not great choreography. But the scene where Cavill takes on a bunch of regular guys? Pretty good stuff. Not super exciting, but far more competent than the battle scenes.
Anyway, humans hate witchers and can tell them by sight. Because of the blond wig? It’s unclear. So while townspeople are being mean to Cavill, Emma Appleton is nice to him. Then a little kid, Mia McKenna-Bruce, takes Cavill to meet the town wizard (Lars Mikkelsen, who ought to be stunt casting and is instead bland White man casting—discount Liam Cunningham in “Game of Thrones” terms). Mikkelsen tells Cavill a story about mutant girls born during an eclipse. Bonus points if you don’t just follow what Mikkelsen’s blathering about but can figure out why writer (and series creator, based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s novel series and its subsequent video game adaptations) Lauren Schmidt wants to do so much exposition since Mikkelsen’s not good at saying it and Cavill’s not good at listening to it. Though at least Cavill’s supposed to be ignoring it.
Long story short, Mikkelsen wants Cavill to kill Appleton. Cavill refuses, leaves town, where Appleton tracks him and tries to convince him to kill Mikkelsen for her. What is a witcher to do, especially since Appleton’s willing to up the ante with some seducing.
Meanwhile, completely unconnected to Cavill, Mikkelsen, and Appleton is princess Freya Allen. Who looks different from McKenna-Bruce after a while but not initially. Especially since Allen’s one of the characters with the funky eyes. Various people in “Witcher” have funky eyes. It usually means they have superpowers.
Allen lives with queen grandma Jodhi May (who’s technically old enough to be a grandma but not realistically) and king grandpa Björn Hlynur Haraldsson—of the Nordic cast, he’s far and away the best). Björn’s the fun one, May’s the badass warrior queen (“Witcher” doesn’t explain the differences in the fantasy world’s gender politics but there’s definitely something). They’re preparing Allen to rule, she just wants to goof off. Little does she know she’s got superpowers and her destiny is to hang out with Cavill.
Once we hear it’s her destiny, the episode makes a little more sense—at least from her perspective—but otherwise it’s weak as both pilot and prologue. Cavill’s not important to the story yet because it’s Allen’s story and they haven’t met yet.
It’s well-acted enough from May, Appleton, and Allen, but the fantasy land is nowhere near compelling enough with the way they set it up. Nonsense names and exposition dumps and no monsters after the first scene.