The Witcher: Nightmare Of The Wolf takes place decades before the events of The Witcher and follows the story of Vesemir (Theo James) the Witcher who trained Geralt of Rivia when he was just a wee lad.
(Vesemir is being played by Kim Bodnia from Killing Eve in the live-action Witcher’s second season, so you can see a great deal of time has passed).
Even if you’re not into anime, you should absolutely watch Nightmare of the Wolf if you care at all about the story of the Witchers. The events of the movie will play directly into the show’s second season, not just because of Vesemir but because of the Witcher fortress of Kaer Morhen, which will be one of the more important locations in the coming season.
Some spoilers follow.
Nightmare of the Wolf is partly Vesemir’s origin story and partly the story of the fall of Kaer Morhen and the near-eradication of the Witchers themselves at the hands of the powerful sorceress, Tetra Gilcrest (Lara Pulver).
Tetra has her reasons to despise Witchers, though I won’t spoil those here. Suffice to say, she’s made it her lifelong quest to rid Kaedwin of the Witcher menace. She accuses them of dishonesty and defrauding the people and the crown, of creating the very monsters they then hunt down and various other crimes.
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She’s opposed in this by Lady Zerbst (Mary McDonnell) a noble widow and adviser to the king, who supports the Witchers. To say that these women do not see eye to eye would be a massive understatement.
One thing leads to another and a final battle at Kaer Morhen finally takes place that’s quite riveting. Along the way we meet a mutant elf, plenty of terrifying monsters and the elf king Filavandrel (Tom Canton) who we’d met previously in Season 1 of The Witcher (he captured Geralt and Jaskier after which Jaskier penned his catchy Toss A Coin To Your Witcher tune).
We also meet Vesemir’s tutor and master, Deglan (Graham McTavish). Deglan is a bold and fearsome leader with some dark secrets and a rather precarious relationship with morality. Ultimately we discover that his own hubris is as much to blame for the Witchers’ downfall as Tetra’s ruthlessness.
Rounding out the main cast is Vesemir’s childhood love, Illyana (Jennifer Hale) who plays an important—and surprising—role in this story.
You never know if a spinoff like this will be a cash-grab or lose the tone and feel of the series by adopting such a different medium. Altered Carbon: Resleeved, the anime Altered Carbon spinoff, was bad enough to make me worry about this one. Same with the Dragon’s Dogma anime. Then again, Castlevania is a terrific Netflix anime based on a video game series, so it really is hit-or-miss.
Fortunately, Nightmare of the Wolf is well worth your time. The cast is outstanding, the story is at once action-packed and moving. Vesemir is such a strikingly different Witcher than Geralt and it’s fascinating to see how he became a mutant and just how awful and dangerous that process is (perhaps even more awful and dangerous than becoming a sorceress).
The movie adds layers to the Witcher universe, giving us important backstory and more of the fun politicking and intrigue that makes this series so compelling. There’s also a lot of terrific action and magic, the kind of stuff that costs a lot in a live-action but can be done relatively easily in an animated film. You won’t see Henry Cavill doing back-flips and jumping twenty feet into the air, but Vesemir isn’t constrained by such paltry matters as physics—if only the games had such riveting combat!
I honestly have no complaints. The film is never boring, never poorly written or acted, and runs a most welcome hour and 23 minutes. Movies are too long these days, but not this one. I suppose if I had to complain about anything it would simply be that the animation style is so different from the show, and it might have been nice to dial down the anime aspects to make it feel just a bit more in line with the show and games. But honestly once I was watching I hardly noticed or thought about it. If the art style turns you off, I still think you should watch this one regardless.
Oh, and the music, composed by Brian D’Oliveira (whose past work is mostly in video games) is quite lovely as well:
All told, Nightmare of the Wolf is a welcome addition to the books, shows and video games in the ever-expanding Witcher universe.
The film was directed by Kwang Il Han and written by Beau DeMayo, based on the work of author Andrzej Sapkowski.
You can, and should, watch it now on Netflix.