Anyone familiar with the many iterations of The Witcher — Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy books, the video games, or the recent Netflix adaptation — knows of the sword-swinging hero, Geralt, a role currently owned by Henry Cavill. They also may know of Geralt’s teacher, the Witcher Vesemir, who remains a relatively unseen figure in Geralt’s history in the Netflix series. But in the season 1 finale, Vesemir manifested in a warmly voiced echo: “Geralt, I’ve been waiting for you.”
We now know that Vesemir’s voiceover was an Easter egg for a then-unannounced The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, a film focused on Geralt’s mentor in his younger years. Written and produced by Beau DeMayo, a staff writer on The Witcher, with The Witcher showrunner and executive producer Lauren Schmidt Hissrich co-producing, the animated feature — now out on Netflix — finds Vesemir working as a disgruntled servant of a noble estate. He soon flees servitude and seeks coin and glory under the brutal Witcher headquarters of Kaer Morhen. There, his body and soul undergo numerous trials and magical experiments to mold his mortal body into a suitable and magical physicality for the monster-slaying vocation.
Netflix recruited Studio Mir, the team behind Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, to create the anime film in The Witcher universe. While the inspiration of Berserk, Van Helsing, and Vampire Hunter seems clear, the film’s director Kwang Il Han (with Myungran ‘Ran’ Ha translating) tells Polygon that when approached, Netflix’s creatives asked Studio Mir, “Should we go for the Japanese style or the American style?” The studio’s answer was transcendent. From the perspective of Kwang, “We go for the Studio Mir style,” the animesque aesthetic recognizable in Studio Mir’s international work on Korra and the recent Dota: Dragon’s Blood. He said the viewer can decide whether the film fits the “anime” definition.
For DeMayo, writing for Studio Mir’s brand of animation is liberating compared to live action. “There’s a scope to anime that you can do that you can’t do in action on particular projects,” he says, citing one sequence in the film, the Trial of the Grasses, where a herd of young Witcher protégés are forced to ingest poison and writhe in their cells. “Like not thinking about actor availability or active capabilities or stunts that could potentially injure your actors ... I’m not having to write around those considerations. The sky’s the limit.”
DeMayo, who penned the third episode of The Witcher flagship series, “Betrayer Moon,” says he’s fortunate to fill in the blanks of Witcher history through Nightmare of the Wolf since Sapkowski’s source material left those areas untouched: from Vesemir’s dirt-poor adolescence to the Witcher-populated Kaer Morhen eons before a Witcher like Geralt was a rarity of his kind.
“The Witcher is about family. It’s about Geralt raising Ciri, it’s about Yennifer raising Ciri,” DeMayo says referring to the arc of the next Witcher season. “[This anime] is a question of who raised Geralt?”
New Witcher characters join the family
Kim Bodnia (Killing Eve) will play Vesemir in season 2 of the flagship series, but Theo James (Divergent) takes on the character in Nightmare of the Wolf, after providing his voice for the Easter egg cameo in season 1. “In the books, and even the video games, Vesemir loaned himself as this kind of old grandfatherly figure,” DeMayo says. This is amusing since DeMayo’s writing approached the youthful Vesemir — endowed with a muscular bod that carries the memetic franchise tradition of shimmering and soaking in bathwater — with a merrier demeanor than the moody Geralt, although no less a preview of how the crass Geralt was shaped. According to DeMayo, James was cast for his ability to be flippant, romantic, and heartbroken, “Vesemir is the Casanova, [as] Geralt is the no-nonsense bruiser,” DeMayo says. “Deglan is the mighty.”
To develop Vesemir’s era, the team populated the one-off movie with original characters who did not previously exist in the Witcher. There was a chance to glimpse an elder Witcher in the hulking and austere Deglan, voiced by The Hobbit star Graham McTavish, who will also appear in The Witcher season 2 as master spy Dijkstra. Vesemir is rivaled with the noble witch Tetra, his “purist” foil voiced by Lara Pulver, who preaches suspicion about the Witcher ways and this conflict takes it into spoilery territory.
As for familiar faces, Vesemir interacts with Filavandrel, the dethroned King of Elves reprised by Tom Canton from his introduction in “Four Marks,” the second The Witcher episode. Haunted by the extermination of his elvenkind, he is investigating his own mystery. He was featured because of his moral compass in contrast to Vesemir’s lack thereof and the opportunity to work with a character who can live centuries and “speak to the fabric” of the anime and the show.
Is more animated Witcher on the way?
Is Nightmare of the Wolf the spark of more The Witcher animated projects on Netflix? While the film is self-contained, a few loose ends occur to not question this. Netflix has invested in streaming anime spinoffs or adaptation of franchises like Pacific Rim and Dota. Could these open-ended threads factor into the live-action season two or other parts of the franchise?
All DeMayo can divulge is that those open ends were conscious creative decisions. Already, the Witcher has a live-action The Witcher: Blood Origin prequel, involving Michelle Yeoh and Jodie Turner-Smith, on the way.
For director Kwang, “I hope audiences would love [the film] enough that it will create the next part of the project as well.” In response to a question about whether viewership could lead to more animated Witcher projects, he replied, “That is natural.”
The Witcher: The Nightmare of the Wolf is out now on Netflix.