Netflix’s The Witcher’s Swordplay is Not Historically Accurate and That’s Okay.
So recently, I was finally able to finish Netflix’s The Witcher. It was pretty much sacrilege for me to put it off for so long as a sword fighter and a Witcher fan. Now that I have finished it, I can say that I very much enjoyed it! The story was very engaging, and I appreciated the episodic nature of the series. I’m still not 100% on how I feel about the different timeline storytelling but it was enough to keep me engaged.
The one thing I was really looking forward to was the sword fighting in the series. I really wanted to see a good fantasy series with fun sword fighting. I was never really into Game of Thrones (I’m not going to draw any comparisons here to GOT) so I only had this to look forward to. For background I am an actor combatant and sword fighter. I’m certified in six weapons including longsword, which is the style of sword The Witcher has branded. To clarify, I am not a swordmaster. I can only give you my thoughts based on my experiences as a fighter. I’ve mainly studied German style of longsword and dabbled in some Italian longsword. I’ll keep you guys posted once I reach Witcher status.
A Lot of Flash
Now that’s out of the way, what do I think of the sword fighting in Netflix’s The Witcher? I’d say it’s basically the same to how I feel about the game’s sword fighting; flashy but not at all realistic. I was hoping to see some historical longsword come to life, but it all came down to all for show and not a lot of skills.
At first, I kind of felt disappointed by this fact and then I was really split. My instructor, who has taught me everything I know about swords, said the fighting was trash. There’s no technique involved and it’s just slashing for the sake of slashing. Then a really good friend of mine pointed out to me, “Of the general audience, what percentage of them would care?” It really gave me a lot to think about because in the end, at least it looked cool.
I for one am in the middle of the argument. Though it’s not something you would show a real-life swordmaster, it does the job for what it’s meant for, entertaining audiences. The Witcher’s sword-fighting choreography is one of those things where if you have to look from afar to enjoy. Start slowing things down and you’ll begin to see the flaws.
The best example for me to explain is the first episode of The Witcher, the market fight. The pacing of the whole fight is very well done. It’s all one shot and very smooth flowing from one enemy to another. Geralt is a badass and no one can compete with him as a swordsman. And I think that’s sort of the problem when it comes to Geralt fighting other people with swords. He’s such a badass he doesn’t even need to hold his sword upright. He starts in a reverse grip and keeps going in a reverse grip the whole way.
The thing with a reverse grip is that it’s not a real guard if you were fighting in real life. You lack mobility and you don’t get enough reach in terms of attack or defense. Just grab a broom or stick as if it were a sword and hold the long end along your forearm. If you try to slash with it, you won’t get far. I know it’s meant to show that Geralt is better than all of them that he doesn’t even need to try his best. He just slashes and moves on to the next guy. I think it just compromises the tension of a fight. If Geralt’s going into a fight and we know he can beat them no problem, we won’t be as invested. If there’s a danger there for Geralt, we’re immediately on the edge of our seats. When Geralt is fighting monsters and supernatural beings, we’re immediately invested because it’s a bigger danger than Geralt is used to. He could die if he’s not careful. If this were translated into his sword fights, it would be a big A+ for me as a series.
Now Geralt is not the problem when it comes to the show’s lack of sword skills. Henry Cavil is excellent in terms of his form and pacing in a fight. The problem lies in the henchman that Geralt fights. There’s really a lack of targeting and they just go in slashing for nothing. It’s supposed to make Geralt look good, but I just wish there was more of a threat when Geralt had to face human threats.
A Ballet of Blades
With all that said, I understand why they went for what they did. Watching it through a second time I can see that the style they were going for was not brutal German fighting but more of a dance. The show’s choreographer Vladimir Furdik explained, “I thought that [Geralt] should be fighter who can already predict, three seconds ahead, when he’s going to kill someone else. When he fights somebody, he can already predict what they’re doing. So, his fight should look like very comfortable, kind of like ballet.”
I think I will forever be conflicted with the show’s style of fighting. Making the choreography more dance-like makes for more flashy moves and big wow moments, but it sacrifices skill and a sense of stakes. I’m not saying that any of it is wrong. It’s supposed to be fantastical and not everything has to be 100% realistic. I just believe that it can still be improved. If we can get more sword fights with the same stakes as we did with the monsters for the second season, it’ll be one hell of a show.