For the foreseeable future any big-budget fantasy series, which boasts of an ensemble cast and grand scale, is bound to be gauged by whether or not is it at par with Game of Thrones. Only after that initial impression can a series be further analyzed and subsequently reviewed. If you think it is unfair to compare The Witcher with Game of Thrones, you are incorrect.
The Witcher is based on a novel series written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. The novel series has also spawned a very successful RPG with the same name.
So, for a simplistic question 'is The Witcher the next Game of Thrones', my simple answer would be NO. But in terms of quality of production, complexity of the story and the sheer scale of this concept, it is certainly at a level with Game of Thrones.
Let me first point out the greatest gripe I had with this eight episode first season of The Witcher: the story is quite convoluted. I mean, it took me three episodes to understand that the events shown in this series are actually taking place in two different periods of time, decades apart. Although this does make the eventual convergence of these two separate timelines in the final two episodes of the season very convincing and very satisfying.
The first and the most important positive point of this series is Henry Cavill's acting. Not only does Henry Cavill adopt the persona of The Witcher quite well, his mere presence... the physicality of his presence elevates each scene he is in to a different level. He is like a hulking god in this season. Although, his appearance with the white hair and the radiant eyes does remind me of the Magic the Gathering planeswalker Sorin.
Anyway, the construction of this series is episodic. Each episode begins with the introduction of a quest and each episode ends when the quest is fulfilled. Interlinking these eight episodes is the overarching story of the two female leads Yennefer played by Anya Chalotra and Princess Cirilla played by Freya Allen.
Freya plays a part decently well, although there is not much to her side of the story. She is more or less the victim in this chapter of the story. Anya on the other hand plays the part of Yennefer in two different avatars: the helpless, deformed girl and the strong, willful woman. The transformation between the two is shown in the climax of an episode in such intense fashion that it is almost unbearable to watch.
And that is the beauty of this series: intensity! On the surface The Witcher is the story of a monster hunter and we have seen a lot of those in different series and movies. But the intensity of the encounter, the thrill leading up to the climax and the excellent execution with a blend of awesome action and CGI... these make this series exceptional. The visual effects are marvelous in the sense that they are seamless. The story being set in the Medieval age in an imaginary Continent, full of fantastical creatures and monsters, it goes without saying that each scene must have been touched up with CG. But it has been done so gracefully that you won't feel the transition between live-action and CG.
And at the end of the day you will feel you are watching a fulfilling and well-crafted story. Despite each episode being self contained in a way you will find it very hard to stop in middle of your binge.
But, no matter how well executed this series is as a whole, you will definitely feel that it is a thirteen episode season compressed into eight episodes. There are places where there are time jumps which will leave you disoriented and there are some characters popping up in the middle of the story which you don't have any introduction to and you have no clue how they are doing what they're doing and why they are doing it. This compression and convolution does boil down to the emotional stakes in The Witcher. Henry Cavill's Geralt is said to be in love with two women in this season, but there is not enough interaction and build-up to justify the intensity of those emotions.
There is nudity and on-screen violence in this season, but neither is excessive or gratuitous.
All in all, the series The Witcher has had a great start with this eight episode first season. And I give it Seven thumbs ups out of ten.