It all began in April, when the consistently accurate (and NSFW) leak blog Recapped reported that actress Millie Brady had been replaced in the role of Renfri. We weren’t ready to believe it at first, but evidence kept mounting up. Soon enough, we understood that The Witcher’s Pilot episode would be undergoing significant changes, including reshoots for its most pivotal scenes. Below you will find everything we know about the original filming, news regarding the reshoots, and also an educated guess as to why this happened in the first place.
The Pilot That Was
To the best of our knowledge, filming for The Witcher’s Pilot began with the episode’s climactic fight scene. The fight, occurring in the market of Blaviken, pits Henry Cavill’s Geralt against an entire band of outlaws led by the exiled princess Renfri. In the original Pilot, the members of Renfri’s band were all actors: Shane Attwooll as Nohorn, Luke Neal as Vyr, and Matthew Neal as Nimir. The previous Renfri, Millie Brady, was certainly there as well. Also likely to be on set was Rebecca Benson‘s character, Marilka. We would later learn that all of these actors, barring of course our lead Henry Cavill, were recast. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Filming for the Blaviken fight sequence took place over three days in November during the production’s first week of filming and was directed by Alik Sakharov. Alik helmed the show’s Pilot episode (as well as episodes 2, 7, and 8). Take a look at the images below for added context.
Since many of the Pilot’s scenes were likely filmed indoors at Origo Studios, very little information about them has leaked. Other important characters in this short story include Caldemeyn, Marilka’s father and a friend of Geralt, whose actor is still unknown (and may have been cut from the show), and the villanous mage Stregobor, who is played by actor Lars Mikkelsen. We have hope that at least Lars was not replaced in the reshoots, as his scenes with Geralt are rather remote and detached from the rest of the story. The next time the cast of the Pilot was spotted on location was at the Canary Islands in March. There, Millie, Shane, Luke, and Matthew filmed a scene together in a forest location. The scene in question may have been part of a flashback sequence. Below, you will find an image of Renfri’s old band together on location, supplied by a source.
Everything seemed fine and well in March as they filmed these scenes on La Palma island; none of the actors involved knew what was coming. However, less than a month later, the decision was made: The Witcher’s Pilot was to be reshot, and with an entirely new cast to boot.
The Pilot That Will Be
In April, Recapped leaked the rumor that Millie Brady was being replaced in the role of Renfri. Since her scenes were wrapped and finished (as was the whole episode) many were skeptical at first, even with Recapped’s flawless track record of Witcher leaks. Shortly after, the listing of Rebecca Benson’s Marilka was removed from The Witcher’s IMDb page (which was worth noting, as removing a cast member from IMDb is far more difficult than adding one and often requires proof from an official source). By the end of April, the crew took once more to Mafilm studios to film on a familiarly muddy set likely standing for Blaviken, featuring Geralt and a donkey.
Reshoots were confirmed when Redanian Intelligence, with the help of redditor u/ofekalt, spotted a new actress listed under the role of Marilka on The Witcher’s Wikipedia page: actress Mia McKenna-Bruce. Once we found her CV, also listing her as Marilka, reshoots were officially confirmed and the search for our new Renfri began. As previously reported, we believe actress Emma Appleton will be the show’s new Renfri, but we have no news on that front. We do, however, have news on Renfri’s band of outlaws.
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As long expected, Renfri’s entire band of outlaws appears to have been replaced and recast. Heading Renfri’s new crew is Packy Lee of Peaky Blinders fame, who we’ve long suspected will be the new Nohorn. Or, as we like to call him, Newhorn. Take a look at the image below, where Packy can be seen in Budapest with another actor (who is not part of the cast). Notice that Packy is bald there, as Shane Attwooll was during filming. Beneath that picture is another, this time from Packy’s official Instagram account, where he thanks Henry Cavill for a gift of rosemary water. It appears they had a good time, despite the gruesome scenes they shared.
And who played the rest of Renfri’s crew? Instead of actors Luke Neal and Matthew Neal, The Witcher hired professional stuntmen Erol Ismail, Tom Rodgers, Thomas Hacikoglu, Stepane Fio, Francois Coetzer, and Szigethi Balazs (two of whom must be stunting for Henry and Packy). Stunting for Renfri was Lucy Cork, who also has an impressive resume.
These stuntmen underwent extensive training before reshoots of the fight began, and they shared some clips of that training via social media. We don’t know whether this is the fighting style they used in the show or they were just fooling around, but they certainly have impressive skills.
For a long while, we’ve been following them under the impression that they were stunting for Renfri’s crew, but since no such actors have been found (other than Packy) we believe that there are none. Why would a bunch of stuntmen fill actors’ shoes, you ask? Well, since the script for the Pilot was revised before the episode was reshot, it’s certainly possible that the roles of Vyr and Nymir were truncated and that Newhorn will be speaking most of the lines. The stuntmen would shine during the fight scene in the markets of Blaviken, where their impressive skills would come into play. Below, we have another glimpse at Renfri’s band, and this time in costume.
Reshoots for the fight scene were completed on the show’s final week of filming, so it appears the snake does indeed bite its own tail, in classic Witcher fashion. Below is a familiar image, previously reported by Redanian Intelligence as proof that the Blaviken fight was reshot by director Marc Jobst in place of Alik Sakharov. The image also shows that the filming was done with 96 frames-per-second, which could suggest slow-motion shots were involved. This time, the picture comes courtesy of none other than stuntman Tom Rodgers, who says he left his hand behind on the muddy ground of Mafilm.
On the crew side, it appears Marc Jobst was appointed to direct the new fight scene in place of Alik Sakharov, as Alik was busy filming other scenes. Marc was a late addition to the show’s roster of directors, likely brought in to help Alik with the complexities of filming the season’s final two episodes at the same time as reshooting the Pilot. They’ve both directed episodes of Black Sails, so Alik may have been familiar with his work. As previously reported, Marc directed at least a portion of the season finale’s mage-heavy battle sequence, so it appears his scenes are focused on action. Another new crew member associated with the reshot Blaviken fight is stunt co-ordinator Wolfgang Stegemann, who likely had a role in revamping the scene.
And so, with a new cast, new stuntmen, and a new director at the helm of this pivotal fight scene, we still have many questions. No doubt more answers will be provided when the show finally airs this December, but there is one question whose answer we may never know…
So, why did the reshoots happen in the first place? Do we have reason to worry about the show? What was so wrong with the Pilot that showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich and her team decided to rewrite it up to nine times, recast most of its actors, and reshoot most of its scenes? Given the contracts involved, neither Netflix nor the Witcher team are likely to share the answers with us, so speculation will have to do.
Firstly, it’s important to note that reshoots and recasts are a rather common affair, especially in Pilot episodes. For example, the original Pilot of Game of Thrones was almost entirely scrapped and several roles were recast (including that of Daenerys Targaryen). So, to answer the second question, we don’t need to be worried just yet. And as for the first question of why, the answer is also simple. The pilot simply wasn’t good enough as it was originally filmed.
Whether it was the fight sequence that didn’t work or one of the many actors who were later replaced, something about the Pilot did not meet Netflix’s standards. And so, the decision was made to rework the episode.
That began with rewriting the script, and making what was likely a very difficult decision to replace key cast members. And then, a schedule for the reshoots would have had to be worked out, which could conflict with the schedules of the old cast, even if the role they played in the original Pilot was perfectly adequate. Millie Brady, for instance, had already begun filming for season 4 of The Last Kingdom when these reshoots were filmed, and it’s possible that her schedule would not allow a return to The Witcher. In the end, the episode was remade from the ground up, and the only element which remains of its previous iteration appears to be Lars Mikkelsen‘s Stregobor.
Despite the loss of some excellent cast members, we believe the choice to rework the Pilot is something to be thankful for. The Pilot episode of any show has to be perfect, given the importance of first impressions on a new audience. This is a fact Netflix knows and has likely guided their decisions here. With a fresh and capable cast and crew, as well as the knowledge of hindsight, The Witcher would be able to craft a better Pilot. One that old and new fans will enjoy without ever knowing the story behind it.