Two and a half years ago showrunner and writer Lauren Hissrich pitched her idea of how she would develop The Witcher into a television season. Now, after so much hard work of writing, filming, editing and promoting, The Witcher has finally been released on Netflix.
Pre-production for Season 2 is already underway and after a well deserved Christmas break, Lauren is ready to welcome 2020 and the next phase of The Witcher‘s production. But before doing that, she spoke to Redanian Intelligence about her fandom experience, the writing process, adaptational nuances and what we can expect from Season 2. Read our full Q&A below:
REDANIAN INTELLIGENCE: Firstly, congratulations on Season 1! Most of those interested have already watched it and the reactions are in. How did you find the whole fandom experience post-release? Are you taking into consideration the feedback of what generally worked and didn’t work for the fans?
LAUREN HISSRICH: Thanks! This entire past month has been so surreal and wild — from watching the earliest impressions of the show come in, to embarking on a four-continent press tour, to finally witnessing the launch of something I’ve been working on for over two years — I can hardly put it into words (and that’s rare for me).
But one thing that hasn’t changed is my interactions with fans. I made a conscious decision to dive deep into the fandom from the moment I signed onto the project, and I’ve worked hard to maintain that level of honesty and trust through all stages of production. It’s no different with the release. Now that the show is out in the world, I feel like it’s my responsibility to read accolades and critiques, to interact with joyous fans, and also fans who have concerns on how their favorite story was adapted. Anyone that’s been following my journey during this process knows that I’m a fan, too; I love this material, just like they do. So these are easy discussions to have — fun and enlightening, too. Not that I always see eye to eye with different facets of the fandom, but I’ve found that the discourse is generally smart, positive, and civil. It’s one of my favorite parts of this whole process.
I’m very proud of what our team created on The Witcher. I love all the passion that was poured into it, all the great performances, and gorgeous sets and costumes, and fun storytelling. But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep learning and improving, too. We’re not making this show for our own egos. I always want to keep upping our game, so the show can continue resonating with audiences as it did this first season.
RI: What was the toughest short story to adapt from a writer’s perspective?
LH: They all had their challenges, honestly. Choosing the story for the first episode was daunting. When you’re introducing a character who is almost 100 years old, you need to quickly be able to illustrate what his life has been up to this point… and then demonstrate why, after 100 years, we are joining his journey right now. I settled on “The Lesser Evil” because it concludes with an epic fight that completely changes Geralt’s understanding of himself, his job, and the Continent. It spurs him on a new journey in this old world, which is a great kick-off point. But then we had to figure out how to unspool the rest of the stories in a cohesive narrative fashion, so that each of Geralt’s adventures felt like it was building on the prior one, creating the bones of this journey. Choosing the order of them was tough. And then there are inherent limitations of the television medium — episodes 102 and 103 (adaptations of “The Edge of the World” and “The Witcher”) initially came in at over 90 minutes each, so we found ourselves having to trim back certain details and scenes. It was a tough lesson to learn, for me — I had this enthusiastic attitude of “But I want to do it all!” when the truth is, it doesn’t all fit. It’s one of the biggest changes we’re incorporating into season two: we’re writing shorter scripts, so we’re not losing important moments and characters on the edit room floor.
RI: Let’s talk about Jaskier, one of the absolute highlights of the season. In this season we mostly saw his comedic side along with glimpses of his more serious, deeper side. Is the latter something you are excited to explore in the future?
LH: Yes! One of my favorite moments with Jaskier is from Episode 106, when he and Geralt are sitting on the cliff’s edge, and he says “I’m just thinking about what pleases me.” You have this character who has quite literally attached himself to the coattails of our Witcher, in order to rustle up material for songs. But what happens instead is… he finds a friend. Jaskier starts to think about what he needs and wants in the world, and in season two, we’ll see him begin to discover it.
RI: Another highlight of the season is obviously the amazing MyAnna Buring as Tissaia de Vries. How did that casting come about and how did you enjoy writing for her?
LH: This is one of my favorite parts of television writing: letting stories organically unfold and seeing the magic that results. I never imagined Tissaia de Vries being such a huge part of these first eight episodes, but everything changed the moment MyAnna Buring pulled Anya Chalotra from that pigsty on day two of shooting. These two actors are so passionate and raw; neither are afraid of showing toxic jealousy, or needy vulnerability, often times swinging wildly between the two. By Episode 108, I realized that in addition to tracking Yennefer and Geralt, and Geralt and Ciri, what I was really craving was resolution for Tissaia and Yennefer — so they could finally admit their potent, powerful, messed-up maternal love.
In terms of casting, it was all done by the amazing Sophie Holland and her team — and MyAnna was one of her very first suggestions. I couldn’t be more thrilled.
RI: In Season 1, we’ve already seen some of the biggest conflicts that will shape the rest of the series. How important was setting up the struggle of the non-humans for you and what can we expect from that angle as the series progresses?
LH: One of the most interesting things about reading fan reactions to the show on Twitter and Reddit is the healthy debate about whether or not we appropriately honored the soul of Sapkowski’s source material in the adaptation. What intrigues me the most is when someone declares, as part of this debate, “But THIS is the meaning of the books.” I’m a firm believer that all art is subjective; it means different things to different people, and can’t be boiled down to a single moral or lesson or purpose. When I spoke with Sapkowski, we talked about what his books meant to him — he gave me a fair share of important points, but the thing that resonated most with me is this struggle between humans and non-humans. This can be extrapolated into our current real world in dozens of ways: immigration, racism, sexism, xenophobia, class warfare, yes. But it’s also as simple as old playground feelings of not belonging, feeling on the outside, feeling “other.” It’s something every single person can relate to, in one way or another. It’s really important, in a world of dragons and monsters and elves, that we keep the emotional touchstones of the show really relatable, so we’ll be continuing to explore it a lot in season two.
RI: Speaking of non-humans, the dwarves in The Witcher are played by little people, which is a nice surprise after the CGI downsizing that has been a trend for some time. Was that an immediate decision or did you have discussions about that?
LH: No discussion at all. This was an easy decision for our casting team, and a great way to showcase talent that isn’t always given a chance to shine.
RI: One of your writers confirmed the scripts for Season 2 are already done. Can you tell about the experience of writing for actors you have already worked with as opposed to the first season, when you had almost no idea who exactly you were writing for?
LH: Like everything, it’s easier the second time around. We know the actors now, how they physically embody the characters, how they deliver humor, how they deliver drama, what their voices sound like, what a single look can do, and when silence works better than anything. Script-wise, we don’t have as much world-building exposition to set up, so we get to spend more time with the characters, too — really building them as individuals, and fleshing out their relationships with one another, which is fun.
RI: In the season finale Ciri finally found Geralt of Rivia. What can you say about exploring their relationship in the next season as well as eventually establishing Ciri’s relationship with Yennefer?
LH: As expected from the saga, Ciri really takes center stage in season two. The whole world is after her, and she has to find safety and respite with Geralt (and eventually, Yennefer). Problem is, they’re complete strangers. She doesn’t know Geralt, doesn’t see why she should automatically trust him, and really doesn’t love when he starts making big decisions in her life — especially when she’s still mourning the loss of her grandmother in Cintra. For his part, Geralt dutifully wants to protect Ciri, but also doesn’t know anything about being a dad, and certainly doesn’t know how to balance that with the need to continue doing his job. There’s some comedy in how these two come together and eventually bond, but that belies a deeper reflection on what it means to become a family.
RI: And lastly, what can you tease about our favourite Redanian spy, Sigismund Dijkstra in Season 2?
LH: Wait. Can you tease anything about your favorite Redanian spy Sigismund Dijkstra in Season 2? (Seriously. You often seem to know more than I do.)
Thanks Lauren, we’ll take it as a compliment! And as for Dijkstra.. well, at least we know he’s in.