This has very much been the year of the fantasy prequel. And the likes of Andor, House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power have shown that the key to a great one is a story that doesn’t tie too heavily into events from the original series.
The Witcher: Blood Origin does its best to carry on the run of brilliant prequels by taking place 1200 years before Henry Cavill’s Geralt set about hunting monsters. It explores the legendary Conjunction of the Spheres: a piece of Witcher lore that kickstarted everything we know about the Continent. In the process, Blood Origin is often just as violent and volatile as the original show.
Sadly, it isn’t as revolutionary as it likes to think it is. The four-part series centres on a gaggle of outcasts driven by revenge, family loyalty and a righteous sense of purpose as they take on political ambition and royal privilege. Warrior-turned-political singer Éile (Sophia Brown), disgraced soldier Fjall (Laurence O’Fuarain) and wise-cracking Meldof (Francesca Mills) are more than charismatic enough to keep Blood Origin feeling fresh. Likewise, Mirren Mack’s princess Merwyn is both complex and misguided, making for a wonderful antagonist who’s a victim of her surroundings.
With just four hours to play with, there’s little in the way of world-building and there’s no time for hand-holding, either. If you don’t know what a Witcher is, or why humans and elves have such a contentious history, the grand reveals at the end will probably leave you cold. However, the lore often takes a backseat to more digestible tales of redemption which are sure to ruffle feathers online.
This series was reportedly reduced from six episodes to four, and while this means Blood Origin has a real sense of urgency to it, there are moments where you wish it had time to take a breath. Michelle Yeoh’s badass Scian brings gravitas, but her character is never more than wise and deadly. Sadly, Lenny Henry’s ferocious Chief Druid Balor feels similarly underdeveloped. Perhaps this prequel needs a prequel, if only so we can spend more time with Huw Novelli’s swaggering Brother Death, too.
Blood Origin rapidly tells a tale about great change for the world of The Witcher but it never truly feels as vast as it should. And disappointingly, the closing moments tie themselves far too tightly to the main series for this prequel to stand on its own. Despite being action-packed, full of intriguing characters and gorgeous to look at, Blood Origin never fully escapes The Witcher’s looming shadow.
The Witcher: Blood Origin debuts December 25 on Netflix.