The Witcher Blood Origin review: Michelle Yeoh can’t save weightless prequel

Cameron Frew
Michelle Yeoh in The Witcher Blood Origin

The Witcher: Blood Origin may realize fans’ worst fears: it’s an altogether unsatisfying prequel built on a compelling, epic idea that somehow feels generic, choppy, and incomprehensible.

Gwent cards on the table: I’m not a Witcher expert. I’ve dabbled in the games, I’ve watched the main series on Netflix, and I haven’t read any of the books. But like any good critic and writer, I always want to learn; with Rings of Power, I corroborated my notes with various wikis and forums each week, much like I did with House of the Dragon, to ensure I wasn’t insulting anyone with my ignorance.

So, imagine the eye-twitching panic I felt when I tried Googling “Scian”, “Merwyn”, “Daédwóde”, and other names and places in Blood Origin, and found nothing. That panic quickly turned into a headache; how could I write credibly about something I barely understood?

Then, comfort set in upon realizing the show’s greatest fault: asking its audience to invest in a sprawlingly sketched-out world with established lore that’s impossible to grasp in four episodes. That, and it’s a bit underwhelming.

The Witcher Blood Origin: What is it about?

We open on flames, rain, and blood. Jaskier (Joey Batey) stands alone on a muddy battlefield as warriors as slain before his eyes; arrows thud them to the ground, swords slice through necks like fresh bologna. “F*cking f*ckity f*cking f*ckity f*ck,” he shouts, fairly.

Soon, the fighting is frozen in time, and he’s greeted by someone who looks just like him, before they transform into the Seanchai we’ll come to know, played by Minnie Driver, a storyteller who’ll guide both Jaskier and the audience through the show. “I need you to sing a story back to life,” she tells him.

The story concerns the efforts of seven strangers in the Elven golden era who fought together before the Conjunction of the Spheres, when the worlds of humans, elves, and monsters became one, and the first Witcher was created – so don’t expect Henry Cavill to show up. This isn’t a bluff: he’s not in it.

These people, introduced in a not-so-snazzy sizzling reel, are: Fjall of Dog Clan (Laurence O’Fuarain), Scian of Ghost Tribe (Michelle Yeoh), Brother Death (Huw Novelli), the mages Zacharé (Lizzie Annis) and Syndril (Zach Wyatt), Meldof (Francesca Mills) and her hammer Gwen, and Éile the Lark (Sophia Brown). They’ll have to contend with Merwyn (Mirren Mack) and her chief sage Balor (Lenny Henry, in his second major fantasy appearance after Rings of Power), who brew chaos and rebellion across the Continent.

Blood Origin suffers by comparison to superior TV

Creator Declan De Barra claimed Blood Origin emerged from “one of those rare sort of David Lynch in the café moments”, which grossly oversells not just the depth of the show, but its artistry. The writing has its moments (“I’m one for a good story. I think you might be the start of one,” Brother Death says, armed with a cleaver), but the dialogue is mostly bland, trite, or derivative – one character actually says, “Come with me if you want to live.”

Perhaps it would be easier to swallow if it weren’t for Rings of Power, which engulfs any scenic value Blood Origin has with its epic vistas and high-budget, intricate VFX, and House of the Dragon, which features similar royal conflicts that unfold with nuance, compelling character development, and good performances. One scene with the queen walking among the “lowborn” in a hooded cloak is basically a King’s-Landing-in-disguise clone, and let’s not get started on the CW-level dragon flying around.

The cast of The Witcher Blood Origin

Wolfgang Stegeman, the choreographer who brought The Witcher’s first bone-breaking fight to life, is sorely missed in Blood Origin, which strings together practical set-pieces without much flair and an over-abundance of CGI gloop, reminiscent of 2019’s Hellboy reboot.

The show was conceived from “a few lines” in the books, but in expanding the vague, foggy folklore, it’s managed to strip two major events in The Witcher’s lore of any mystique, especially when they’re bottled down to four episodes decreasing in length right up to the finale and stabilized by Driver’s clunky narration (an issue with the show’s structure as a whole, not the star). It’s like being read a bedtime story by someone who already wants to go to sleep.

Blood Origin cast is game and (almost) innocent

Michelle Yeoh has earned innocence; she gets to swipe, slash, and twirl her sword, and hone her steely charisma to ensure every episode is in her orbit. Brown and O’Fuarain are active, likable leads with a prickly, engaging chemistry, especially as the show develops. Other characters aren’t afforded the same development, but the MVP is Mills’ Meldof, who out-charms anyone who stands before her with her Northern wit and cheek – not to mention she gets one of the best scenes, an off-camera hammer invasion à la You Were Never Really Here.

Alas, the villains (who we won’t spoil) rarely connect, often one-note and sketched without the substance to understand their pursuits of power, be it royal or magical.

The Witcher Blood Origin review score: 2/5

Who is The Witcher Blood Origin aimed at? It can’t be the casuals, who won’t appreciate (or care enough to notice) the show’s approach to the lore, nor is it the hardcore fans, who are likely already angered by its canonical freestyling.

It’s a passable, quasi-brutal blur of magic and blood you’ll forget the moment it’s done. Just play The Witcher 3 instead.

The Witcher: Blood Origin hits Netflix on December 25. Find out more here.