I only loved The Witcher after I did these two things

Henry Cavill as Geralt and Anya Chalotra as Yennefer in The Witcher on Netflix
(Image credit: Susie Allnut)

I'm shocked to say that I actually love The Witcher on Netflix. Not that this should be a huge surprise, it's wildly popular (and one of the best Netflix shows). But I just didn't get it at first. And it became a nagging concern in the back of my mind — that I was fully aware of a pop culture blind spot I should have fixed.

Trying to watch The Witcher shouldn't have been so complicated. I should have been able to just give it a chance, and give up. But something kept telling me I should be in on the show. Not only does The Witcher seem to have a soft spot in many of my friends' conversations — leaving me feeling left out — but it's getting a strong grip on the public, possibly becoming one of the bigger shows today. And Netflix even greenlit The Witcher season 3 before the second season even arrived.

But I didn't really click with the show. Trying to watch the first episode multiple times (at least twice), I just wasn't really getting into it. I'd written it off as "I don't dabble in swords and sorcery that often." 

Fortunately, I tossed a coin or two to my local Witcher fanatics, and I got the exact advice I needed.

The Witcher newbies may need to read as they watch

Watching Marvel movies on Disney Plus with my parents, I've grown accustomed to how they watch everything with subtitles. They're just at that age and hearing level where it's a necessity. I, out of a belief that I was too young to need subtitles, didn't even know this would be the thing I needed. But while I was bemoaning my failure to get The Witcher, someone asked me, "have you tried turning on subtitles?"

It all made sense. The Witcher's world has its own series of peculiarly named cities and people, and I was just getting too confused to follow. On top of it all, I'd later realize, the show was telling its story from different points in time. But being able to see words such as "kikimora" and "Blaviken" on my screen helped a lot. The former, I now know, is a monster and the latter is a city. But both of these terms could have been swapped out for the other, and they both would have fit.

Henry Cavill in art for The Witcher

(Image credit: Katalin Vermes/Netflix)

Then, before I knew it, I was finally able to follow the meeting with the mage Stregobor (Lars Mikkelsen). I don't know about people who haven't played the games or read the books, but the backstory of this mage shacking up in a tower that another mage, named Irion, created, and to have Geralt called here to explain the Curse of the Black Sun? A bit confusing. 

And it all clicked a little easier when the subtitles from a previous scene helped me remember who Renfri (Emma Appleton) was, and why we weren't supposed to take Stregobor at his word about her being a threat.

Subtitles also helped me keep track of what was going on in the castle in Cintra. Princess Cirilla is also called Ciri, and she's bantering with her grandmother Queen Calanthe and her husband Eist — all before the invading Nilfgaard army slaughters Cintra. 

Which leads me to the second half of how I really got into The Witcher.

Relax and take notes

Then, right when I was about to start watching, my friend Alyssa Mercante (editor at our sister site GamesRadar+), gave me the other piece of the puzzle. After I learned that she's an über-Witcher expert, I asked if she had any advice. She, ironically, was so entrenched in the books that her initial hiccup (if you can even call it that) was about the differences.

Some shows require a little (or a lot of) extra care.

Eventually, she suggested that a "little character cheat sheet and map" would be helpful. I, in turn, took this advice to mean "just create a little written document." I pulled open Bear (my favorite notes app) and started taking notes about it all. Character names would be set in a bold font, and I organized my notes about where things were happening, with a Blaviken and a Cintra section.

This time, when I finished episode 1, I left with a sense of having understood what happened, rather than confusion.

The true lesson The Witcher's taught me

So, what changed? To break it down to the most simple levels, I've retained character names and cities and understood alliances because I was paying closer attention. 

And it was more than worth it. I steamrolled through the rest of season 1 and then watched season 2. Hilariously, some of my notes turned out to not be important. We haven't seen young Marilka, who helps Geralt find Stregorbor's lair since. 

But this just goes to show me that some shows require a little (or a lot of) extra care. So, I'm ending this with my silliest new year's resolution: stop half-watching shows and movies on TV, and futzing with my phone during them. I'm sure that couldn't have helped.

In other streaming news, the first big canceled show of 2022 got the axe from Prime Video. While it didn't get raves, that dramatic teen series had a lot of hype behind it. Looking for what to watch next? Our guide on how to watch Peacemaker online will prep you for the first DCEU show, and get ready for The Book of Boba Fett episode 3 release date, as that show's just warming up.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.

  • pbergonzi
    Thank you for having the gumption to stick with it even though you initially didn't want to, such that now I can thank you for your insights.