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‘The Witcher: Blood Origin’ Is TV’s Latest Big Fantasy Prequel


Producers of hit series have long used spinoffs to maintain the stories going (and the ad and subscription dollars flowing). In our I.P.-obsessed era of popular culture universes, the will to preserve — and ideally expand — popular TV franchises has only intensified. And most of the time lately, going forward means looking backward.

This 12 months, the most important recent series have been prequels, with “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” and “House of the Dragon” being set long before the events of “The Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones.” “Andor” is a prequel for a movie, “Rogue One,” that was itself a prequel for other “Star Wars” movies. This month “Yellowstone” added “1923,” one other prequel to hitch last 12 months’s “1883.”

Now on Sunday comes “The Witcher: Blood Origin,” a Netflix mini-series that takes place 1,200 years before Geralt of Rivia began slaying ill-minded creatures and thoughtfully pushing back his signature white mane in “The Witcher,” which premiered in 2019 and returns next summer for its third season.

Based on stories by the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, the franchise is known as after monster hunters, of which Geralt is probably the most famous. It is about on a continent (conveniently named the Continent) where witchers rub elbows with elves and dwarves, powerful sorceresses and power-hungry nobility.

A by-product was probably inevitable for a title that has conquered every platform it has encountered: The streaming adaptation of “The Witcher” followed popular game and comic book versions, and it has change into certainly one of Netflix’s most-watched shows ever.

For the creator and showrunner of “Blood Origin,” Declan de Barra, the initial motivation was the chance to expand on clues or allusions in Sapkowski’s books, including by introducing recent characters. Foremost was a desire to give attention to the Continent when it was dominated by elves.

“My favorite a part of the books was identifying with the elvish story,” de Barra, 51, said in a video conversation. “You could possibly see that they were a post-colonized kind of species, they might barely reproduce they usually’re pre-agrarian, but yet they’ve this mythology that’s kind of hinted out within the background. What happened before? What was their Rome before the autumn?”

As a author and co-executive producer for “The Witcher,” de Barra had begun mapping out what he thought happened before the Conjunction of the Spheres — the cataclysm that allowed each humans and monsters to travel from their very own worlds to the Continent. So when the unique series’ creator, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, asked him to attract up a by-product concept, de Barra was ready. For his story engine, he picked certainly one of the oldest and most tested: A bunch of mismatched individuals must team up to avoid wasting their world, on this case from rampaging overlords and one demented wizard.

“I just imagined a gaggle of people that would hate one another in the event that they turn up at a celebration, and put them within the crucible together,” he said. “People who find themselves all different and have reason to have beef with one another but need to work together.”

This being the “Witcher” franchise, a few of them also find reasons to have sex with each other. And yes, there may be just as much jarringly modern profanity in “Blood Origin” as within the essential show, together with the goofy irreverence that sets the franchise apart. (Last 12 months’s special, “The Witcher: Fireplace,” is an hourlong shot of a crackling fire.)

“What’s great about Declan is that he’s very energetic and he has a really raucous, naughty humorousness — and he brings that to ‘Blood Origin,’” Lenny Henry, who plays the plotting Chief Sage Balor, said in a video chat. “So that you get all of the heightened Shakespearean arias from a number of the characters and you then get that low side.”

Balor plays a vital role within the “Blood Origin” universe, setting in motion a series of events that may ripple through time and space. Among the many characters most affected are Éile (Sophia Brown) and Fjall (Laurence O’Fuarain), two warriors from rival clans who find yourself fighting on the identical side as a part of the essential superteam. (How super? The mighty Michelle Yeoh is a key a part of it.)

In a way, Éile is “The Witcher” in a nutshell: a fierce fighter who each comments on and drives the motion with song — that is, in spite of everything, the rare fantasy series that has spawned a cult hit, with “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher” from Season 1. That is an important element for the Ireland-born de Barra, who used to front a hard-rocking band and who’s the co-writer of several numbers for each streaming “Witcher” properties.

“My favorite songs are ones that end really short,” he said by means of explaining the choice to chop the prequel down from its planned six episodes to 4. He also draws connections between epic Celtic ballads and Éile’s tunes, including “The Black Rose” — a direct reference to the Sixteenth-century Irish song “Róisín Dubh.”

“I wanted her to be writing rebel songs for the people,” de Barra said. “I knew there can be nods to Irish mythology in addition to Eastern European mythology, because Sapkowski does that himself with a few of his places and folks, like Skellige Islands and stuff like that.

“He has a potpourri of all kind of European mythology and he pulls the stories and puts them together and bakes his own cake,” de Barra added. “So I felt very comfortable doing that.”

Offscreen, Brown, who’s Black, has been at the middle of the sorts of caustic discussions, regarding race and the way it pertains to source material, which have occurred inside other fantasy fandoms. (You would possibly recall how the sight of Black elves in “The Rings of Power” threw some viewers right into a tizzy.)

“If something recent is coming right into a space, individuals are at all times going to think ‘Oh, that’s not right,’” Brown said. “I got some difficulty when the casting got here out, but I’m not recent to the industry, and I’ve worked very hard to be here, so it didn’t waver my knowing I used to be meant to be there.”

Henry — who can also be Black and who played the harfoot Sadoc Burrows in “The Rings of Power” — selected to laugh at all of it. “What you could have to say to those guys is, ‘You’ll consider an Upside Down where there’s an enormous weird creature made out of corned beef threatening children, but you won’t consider a Black elf?’” he said. “It’s all pretend — anybody could be what they need to be.”

Angst about Éile’s function within the “Witcher” mythos can also be related to what some fans have decried as drastic departures from the books and video games in the unique series. These complaints have grown louder online since Henry Cavill, who plays Geralt and who has been an outspoken fan of the Sapkowski stories, announced, with little explanation, that he’s leaving the show after the upcoming season.

De Barra said any adapter of the “Witcher” stories is “never going to have the option to satisfy everybody,” explaining that dedicated fans of the books and the games will all have their very own differing views of what the characters and the world should appear to be.

“No two individuals are ever going to agree on it,” he said. “The core that was essential for me was just telling a story that I believed in and that might work by itself whilst honoring the books.”

The TV shows integrate Sapkowski’s vision and broaden it, and this dual approach is especially apparent in “Blood Origin.” Because the title suggests, we meet some familiar characters and there are plot developments that may bear fruit generations later, within the timeline of the essential series. But de Barra cautions viewers against drawing too many conclusions.

For instance, in a single scene a seer — who’s well-known amongst “Witcher” fans — says certainly one of Éile’s descendants might be very essential in the longer term, however the show doesn’t indicate whom it would be.

“We will’t spell it out, not now, but it would be spelled out later,” de Barra said. “Most individuals are saying. …” He trailed off. “Anyway, I’ll leave it for now.”

Such comments might be cryptic for those recent to the “Witcher” universe, but they mustn’t worry: While some plot points might be endlessly dissected on “Witcher” subreddits, “Blood Origin” stands by itself. “I hope we are able to introduce many recent fans to the show after which they’ll pour into the marquee series and fall in love with fantasy,” Brown said.

“I’ve watched things once I was younger that made me need to be an actor and made me need to escape and see the world in other ways,” she continued. “So I hope people can see the world in another way through seeing our worlds.”

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