When Netflix first announced that they were adapting The Witcher, it was well known that the streamer was expecting this to be their Game of Thrones. That said, what Netflix can do and HBO couldn’t is produce spin-offs simultaneously with the main series. Nightmare of the Wolf is the first of many such examples that Netflix is hoping to intertwine with the show starring Henry Cavill as Geralt. Fans can only hope that this won’t be the last anime-inspired spin-off as this film delivers a version of The Witcher that is totally unique.
Produced by Studio Mir, a Korean animation house, and based on the titular book series by Andrzej Sapkowski, Nightmare of the Wolf takes place before the events of the first season of Netflix’s The Witcher. Vesemir, a swashbuckling Witcher who slays deadly creatures for coin and glory, must face his past demons as a new threat arises that sees the Witchers pushed to the brink of extinction. Having escaped poverty to become a Witcher, Vesemir, the soon-to-be mentor of Geralt, learns that “witchering” is about more than just the money.
While there are many things to like about the live-action adaptation of The Witcher, there is something to be said for how an animated spin-off feels like a truer representation of what this universe can offer. With animation there is room to diversify and experiment, specifically with fantasy and magic. The tone of Nightmare of the Wolf leans more into horror, the best way to showcase monsters and their gruesome nature. Audiences are introduced to beasts whose powers include transformation, illusion-casting, and, to put it nicely, an unforgiving appetite for human limbs. Pure shock is present throughout this anime interpretation – the feeling that anything can happen at any given moment is eerie but also lively.
Not even a few minutes into the story and a family is murdered by a Leshen, a forest creature that lives to kill, and it’s thrilling to see the battle that ensues with Vesemir set free from the limitations of live-action. Though the monsters are a spectacle of their own, it’s the magic-filled chaos that will leave viewers astonished as the film unleashes the full creativity of the Witcher universe. Whether it’s Vesemir slaying a flying beast with his sword or Tetra, a female mage with a hidden past, using her magic against multiple enemies, it’s nothing short of amazing. There’s specifically a scene towards the end that includes a fight with fire and portals that will leave any spectator in awe.
While the film promotes a self-contained arc, it’s all been confirmed as canon to the adventure audiences have witnessed in the live-action series. Theo James as Vesemir is the prominent connecting thread as his voice can be heard in the season one finale of The Witcher as Geralt is having a near-death experience and flashing back to his childhood. Theo’s portrayal of Vesemir is exciting as he fully delves into the cunning, cocky, Nathan Fillion-like attitude that acts as a great counter to Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Geralt. Kim Bodnia will portray Vesemir in season two of the show and whether the few hundreds years have changed Vesemir or not, Theo James is excellent at carving out his own lane for a prominent character that will be seen more in the coming years.
Other threads to the main series include Tom Canton as Filavandrel, last seen connecting with Geralt in episode two of The Witcher. There’s much discussion about destiny in the show and, as such, having Filavandrel tied to both Vesemir and Geralt should not go unnoticed. Aretuza also gets mentioned as Tetra explains how she once studied there. Kaer Morhen, the location where Witchers are created, is the particular item that fans will be pleased to witness as the curtains are lifted on the process humans go through to become Witchers. Nightmare of the Wolf has more subtle references to the popular series that proves Netflix is doing a good job of expanding the world that many have now come to love.
Those looking for a seamless telling of Vesemir’s rise to being a Witcher will be disappointed, however, as there are a few moments in the film that impede the narrow pacing. It is of no surprise that some of the problems viewers had with season one of The Witcher carried over. Though Nightmare of the Wolf has more time to hide the problems than say a single episode on Netflix, it can still be felt. The pacing and direction may be somewhat underwhelming, but it’s the the relationships between characters and complex themes that make this narrative compelling. The political ramifications of the Witchers’ existence is fascinating as their real nature begins to be questioned. Even if the pivotal twist is predictable, it’s the romance between Vesemir and Lady Zerbst that carries the heart of the film.
Nightmare of the Wolf is a new look into the world of The Witcher that embraces its wildness and sets a path for future anime-inspired installments. It’s excellent material for those wanting to learn more about the franchise and the final shot will leave audiences fulfilled. But for those that prefer only watching Henry Cavill majestically walk on the road of destiny, this film is not a necessary viewing experience at the moment.