Video game adaptations are all the rage right now. Netflix is taking full advantage of this trend and has made sure “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners,” based on “Cyberpunk 2077,” and “Arcane,” based on “League of Legends,” have both joined its roster of video game content. Further capitalizing on the success of its “The Witcher” series, based on the video games of the same name, Netflix created its own original prequel story to “The Witcher” franchise, giving audiences a brand-new story in “The Witcher” universe, but we wish it hadn’t.
Instead of an inspired new storyline set in a familiar universe, viewers have been subjected to a trite concoction of various fantasy tropes vaguely painted with a “Witcher” brush. Continue on for this hater’s diary of Netflix’s “The Witcher: Blood Origin.”
“Blood Origin” starts with a classic, if borderline stereotypical, bloody nighttime battle scene where we are reintroduced to an old “Witcher” favorite, the bard Jaskier (Joey Batey). But, because it’s edgy and cool and definitely not like the other fantasy series out there, it’s upside-down. We get it; you’re trying to “flip the franchise on its head.” We’re all very proud you went to film school, and congratulations on your student loan debt.
If you really wanted to break the fantasy mold, you would have done something other than what everyone else is doing in “Game of Thrones” or “The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power,” or even the original “The Witcher” series. Or you would have started your series with something other than an uninspired string of F-bombs.
Jaskier is wrenched from the battlefield to an idyllic forest meadow, where he is confronted by an unspecified Elf who offers him a fancy lute if he writes a song based on the story she’s about to tell him. Once again, we find “Blood Origin” assaulting readers with more blasé fantasy tropes. We’ve seen this “story within a story” narrative time and time again, and “Blood Origin” doesn’t do anything original with it.
Shortly thereafter, we, the poor viewers, are introduced to a large Elven city, thousands of years in the past, in an aerial shot of a CGI city that could have been ripped straight from the “Game of Thrones” title sequence with the textures scaled down. And while we’re ripping off “Game of Thrones,” we might as well throw in some royalty having an affair with their protector. While princess Merwyn (Mirren Mack) and her protector, Fjall (Laurence O’Fuarain), aren’t siblings like Cercei and Jamie Lannister, their love affair might have been more exciting if they were.
The political intrigue at Merwyn’s court, coupled with the aerial shot of the city and her love affair with Fjall, who ends up exiled for breaking his oath to protect the princess, feels forced. Yes, the “The Witcher” books, games, and series all have core elements of fantasy political intrigue, but something about how “Blood Origin” does it makes it seem like the showrunners are trying to cash in on the popular, profitable fantasy formula.
In an effort to throw audiences off the scent of the blatant fantasy rip-offs, “Blood Origin” then cuts to a brief introduction of its “original” cast. On parchment. Like many of the geography-related scenes in the “Lord of the Rings” movies and “Rings of Power” series. This takes a lot of much-needed suspense from the scenes when these characters meet: We know they’re going to team up in the end, and there are only four episodes, so they make friends quickly.
We start to focus on The Lark (Sophia Brown), who seems to be a traveling minstrel and apparent folk-hero agitator. She lands in the “Witcher” version of the town from “Footloose,” which hasn’t had music in a long time. She performs a song on an instrument that looks like a violin and piano had a love child after a wild weekend with a hurdy-gurdy. It’s called a “key harp,” which somehow sounds even dumber than it looks.
After whipping some knives at some tavern-going audience members accosting a young serving girl to show us she means business and is the main character even though we already knew that since it started with her, The Lark makes a corny wisecrack about it, so we know she’s relatable. The Lark then continues her song (which is trying too hard to be this series’ “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher”) to cheers in the crowd. They haven’t had music in ages, so they’re just happy to be there.
Speaking of uninspired, we then cut again to the “Game of Thrones” city aerial-shot ripoff. Based on the fact we’ve had two shots of the same city, “Blood Origin” isn’t working with the same budget “Game of Thrones” did.
This is when Merwyn and Fjall get caught in the throes of passion. “So protect me,” Merwyn urges, which is almost as dumb as Fjall f(j)alling for it. Fjall is exiled and disowned by his father. He seems more upset by relinquishing his axe. So are we.
Merwyn’s brother sets her up with a widower for a peace treaty. She’s more upset about being told what to do than losing her lover. So are we.
Next up is Balor (Lenny Henry), “Blood Origin”’s own knockoff Jafar (yes, from “Aladdin”), except his Iago is a mute woman. He’s in cahoots with some floating ball of light, and he’s trying to assassinate Merwyn because of course he is.
Before viewers get too bored with diet-Jafar, we cut back to The Lark explaining her entire backstory to a small girl who looks suspiciously like Ciri from “The Witcher,” and we’re not supposed to notice how ham-fisted it is. The Lark ran away from her royal beginnings after her swordmaster taught her how to play the world’s dumbest instrument. Her mother disowned her, probably for not playing the lute instead.
The Lark is then taken to prison by the town guards because throwing knives at people comes with consequences. She finds Fjall, and they fight because they’re big tough fighters and that's what you do when you’re a big tough fighter. Fjall gets bailed out, and the fight is over.
Then we cut to Merwyn’s brother, Altivir (Mark Rowley). He is being briefed by generals, since he is in charge. With a name like that, it’s easy to see why. He proposes his peace treaty. His advisors hate it because without war we’ll miss the only good parts of this show: the battle scenes. Jafar pretends he doesn’t have a horse in the race.
We find out Fjall was bailed out by his cousin who asks him to come home to witness the signing of a peace treaty between the warring elves. Fjall, who is too cool to admit he’s sad his father disowned him, (dis)respectfully declines before wandering to a brothel since he is a big tough fightin’ guy with big tough fightin’ desires. He can’t pay because The Lark stole his big tough fightin’ chain.
The Lark uses the chain to break out of prison, and when she returns to the tavern to gather her worldly possessions, her sister is waiting for her, begging her to come back home. The Lark declines because even though she just proved she’s a big tough fightin’ Elf, she prefers her wandering minstrel life because “it’s art, mom. You wouldn’t understand.”
The Lark accidentally triggers definitely-not-Ciri’s magic powers, and the child spews cryptic “the price that was promised” ripoff malarkey (I miss “Game of Thrones”). The Lark changes her mind and agrees to go with her sister, which means she gets to see her sister assassinated right in front of her. We have only four episodes, so we have to be efficient.
The Lark fights off the assassins, and Fjall shows up to get his chain and has to help since he doesn't want to get blood all over it. Nobody talks during the whole fight. They’re friends now since we have only four episodes. The Lark tells us her real name, which sounds like the sound you make when you’re trying not to fall off the couch.
Merwyn fixes an intricate clockwork contraption that isn’t supposed to foreshadow her future at all. She goes to the treaty signing ceremony. She kills Fjall’s sister while Balor’s summoned dragon-beast thing (that he just apparently asked the floaty light ball for) kills the rest of the Elf clans. No one signs the treaty because you can’t sign a treaty when you’re dead.
Merwyn is installed as the empress of all Elven-kind, and we’re not supposed to think about the dragon-related ruling family from that other popular fantasy show. You turn “Blood Origin” off and start rewatching “Game of Thrones.”