Fans of “The Witcher” have already heard about series star Henry Cavill — who plays Geralt of Rivia, the protagonist of the books, video games, and TV series — leaving the show. If you’re a fan of “The Witcher” and you hadn’t yet heard, I’m sorry you had to find out this way.
Did you hear that? That was the sound of nerds everywhere groaning in protest, mourning the loss of one of our own because Henry Cavill was (and is) perfectly suited to play Geralt of Rivia.
Allow me to explain. For a moment, I want to ignore the churlish games the first season of Netflix’s “The Witcher” played with the timeline, the deviations from the novels and games in season two, and all of my anger surrounding Cavill’s replacement. We’ll ignore Cavill’s chiseled physique (as much as we can, anyway) and his perfectly terse Geralt grunts. Yes, these are the reasons Cavill’s Geralt captured the hearts of so many fans, but they stem from an important facet of Cavill’s life.
Cavill is a huge nerd. He’s a fan of Andrzej Sapkowski’s “The Witcher” novels, and because of his fandom, he wants to portray Geralt in a way that’s true to the source material. And he has — so, so well.
It’s hard to watch other people live your dreams. As a child who grew up with video games, I understand fantasizing about taking on the role of your favorite character. If you’d have told 7-year-old Nathan he couldn’t be Spyro the Dragon when he grew up, he would have been distraught. Thirty-year-old Nathan still wants to be Spyro the Dragon some days, but he hides his internal pain (slightly) better.
Because of his dedication to the source material, Cavill effortlessly won the hearts of “The Witcher” fans everywhere. We had our surly, rough-around-the-edges, doesn’t-play-nice-with-others Geralt perfectly translated to the screen. We got a believable Butcher of Blaviken, a character we can effectively see resisting the Trial of the Grasses to become the White Wolf. For many fans, it feels less like Cavill is playing a character than becoming Geralt. He isn’t just a Witcher, he is the Witcher — without whom there is no show.
By no means am I attempting to denigrate the rest of the cast. Joey Batey nails Jaskier’s laissez-faire attitude, Anya Chalotra provides a killer Yennefer of Vengeberg, and Freya Allan’s version of Ciri perfectly captures her fighting spirit, but none of them bring superfan status to the cast like Cavill does. Because there have been allegations of people in the writer’s room lambasting and mocking the “The Witcher” novels, fans are worried they’re losing their biggest advocate, especially after the Netflix adaptation’s second season and whatever fresh hell concocted the “The Witcher: Blood Origin” miniseries that I still drink to forget.
In the new land of video game adaptations — both animated and live action — a more cynical critic might decry “The Witcher” series and its spinoffs as blatant cash-grabs, capitalizing on the increasing popularity of all things nerd culture. When you have the writers’ room actively altering the source material, it’s hard to trust them to take care of your favorite characters, stories, and dynamics. We don’t even get the Geralt-Yennifer-Triss love triangle that helps both soften and add dimension to Geralt in the games. (Yes, I once called “The Witcher” a “fairly true” adaptation of the source material, but after going back through the second season, I would like to rescind that statement. We all make mistakes.)
In a way, Cavill’s departure from “The Witcher” can be considered an omen of things to come. If such an ardent fan can be so easily replaced, what does the writing on the wall foretell about future adaptations? How absurd would it be if we got an adaptation of the Icewind Dale Trilogy where Drizzt Do’Urden was turned into a social butterfly instead of the ostracized drow he is in the R.A. Salvatore novels? What if someone in the writers’ room decided cats are dumb and Guenhwyvar would be better as a wolf instead of a panther?
Hopefully, Cavill’s departure from “The Witcher” is just an unfortunate misstep in the future of video game and novel adaptations and not an indication of trends to come. I can’t even say I’m rooting for his replacement, Liam Hemsworth. I am, despite my better judgment, rooting for “The Witcher.”
Henry, I will miss you. Thank you for your dedication to the stories and characters I so fervently love. Thank you for advocating for us nerds. I can’t wait to see your “Warhammer 40,000” series. I think we all hope it stays truer to the source material than other projects you’ve been involved in.