Game of Thrones finished its record-breaking eight-season run on HBO in May to not-so-good response from fans and pundits, yet its legacy as the best fantasy TV series in history was never in question. Netflix—and virtually every other network and streaming service—would like to take advantage of the growing fantasy fever with more monsters and enchantment.
The HBO drama changed the way standard TV crowds see the fantasy genre, say Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, the showrunner of Netflix’s own upcoming fantasy series, The Witcher.
“You have this audience out there that realized, ‘Oh my god, there’s this entire genre that I haven’t been paying attention to,’” Hissrich told Quartz. “I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Game of Thrones. It showed that everyone can come to fantasy and find themselves. That’s why it’s so big on television now.”
Based on the admired series of novels by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher follows the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter who patrols the “Continent,” a fantasy kingdom besieged with evil beings (both human and magical). Along the way, he collides with a powerful sorceress and a young princess escaping her war-torn realm.
The Witcher is just one of the numerous big-budget, grand fantasy series you’ll be able to watch on TV in the coming years. Amazon is investing billions of dollars in a show based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. (The company is as well developing shows based on Conan the Barbarian and The Wheel of Time, a famous series of novels by Robert Jordan.)
Showtime is making a TV show based on the fantasy book series The Kingkiller Chronicle. And HBO, for its part, isn’t quite ready to let Westeros go: It has already ordered a Game of Thrones prequel, titled House of the Dragon, straight to series.
In spite of the fact that it’s been almost 20 years since Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and the Harry Potter movies made fantasy a decent (and profitable) movie genre, TV has been more slow to take it on because of money related limitations.
But thanks to deep-pocketed Silicon Valley players (in addition to Disney entering the streaming landscape), television production budgets are ballooning, and networks are more keen to take the financial rise now that Thrones has shown the genre can be more than a niche offering. The audience for fantasy obviously exists, and now the money does as well.
“We’re now, technologically speaking, at a place in television where we can create really believable monsters,” Hissrich said. “The expectations are there, and in television we’re finally able to meet them.”
Unlike Game of Thrones, which made light of a significant number of its delightful fantasy elements to appeal to genre newcomers, The Witcher leans into those conventions. Geralt himself is a practitioner of magic, and barely a minute goes by without a character casting a magic charm, felling some foul beast, or attempting to lift a curse.
“People have asked me, ‘Is it going to be the next Game of Thrones?’ The truth is, The Witcher is going to stand on its own two legs,” Hissrich said. “It really is its own show.”
Definitely, until now, the series focuses nearly solely on three characters (two of them are women), and how their stories become entwined.
“The hallmark of good fantasy is that it’s based in reality,” Hissrich added. “People think of fantasy movies and television to be about pure escapism, and it’s not really. You want to be able to relate to what these characters are going through. My first goal was to create really grounded, believable characters. And then you get to the fun stuff.”