Henry Cavill leaving could be the best thing for The Witcher

When Netflix announced that Liam Hemsworth would be taking over the role of Geralt of Rivia, it caught fans of the popular fantasy series by surprise. But don’t dispair just yet, writes Louis Chilton – sometimes a shake-up like this can be exactly what a TV show needs

Monday 31 October 2022 07:08 GMT
Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia in ‘The Witcher’ on Netflix
Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia in ‘The Witcher’ on Netflix (Netflix)
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It was the news that no one was really expecting. On Saturday, Netflix announced that the hit fantasy series The Witcher was being renewed for a fourth season. So far, so good. But there’s a catch: Henry Cavill would be stepping down from the lead role, to be replaced with The Hunger Games star Liam Hemsworth. Cavill had played the grey-haired demon slayer Geralt of Rivia for two seasons (with a third forthcoming) to a warm reception from fans. To fans of the Witcher books, or the massively successful video game adaptations, Geralt is a Big Deal, and Cavill had thrown himself into the role with gusto and all the requisite reverence. Reactions to the news have, then, been predictably sour, ranging from doom-mongering predictions of creative decline to threats of a boycott. But is this really justified?

After all, The Witcher is hardly the first TV series to recast a character. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air famously recast Janet Hubert as “Aunt Viv” after season three, with Daphne Maxwell Reid taking over. Loads of shows have done it, whether we’re talking sitcoms (Arrested Development; Family Guy) or prestige dramas (Mad Men; Game of Thrones; Better Call Saul). While it’s rarer for a TV series to recast its sole lead, it’s far from unheard of. Back in 2021, Ruby Rose stepped down as the lead of the CW’s Batwoman after just one season; Javicia Leslie was quickly embraced by fans as her successor.

Some series and film franchises have even turned the logistical need to switch up a lead actor into a key selling point: think Doctor Who or James Bond. This changing of the guard frames the whole endeavour as an opportunity, something where people can go, “Ooh, I’d love to see their take on the role.” Just last week, the prospect of a new actor (Ncuti Gatwa) being given the keys to the Tardis created a real buzz around Doctor Who. What would he be like? How will he compare? The same goes for Bond. Everyone has their favourite; just because Daniel Craig took over doesn’t make the Brosnan years disappear.

Of course, I’m sympathetic to those who are gutted about Cavill’s much-teased seven-season run on The Witcher being cut short. There are some roles that should never – and would never – be recast. Imagine if James Gandolfini had left The Sopranos and been replaced by Paul Giamatti. Or if Bryan Cranston walked off Breaking Bad and Woody Harrelson took his place. It’s impossible to picture. I suppose, for whatever reason, we are often more accepting of radical cast changes in heightened genre fare than in “realistic” three-dimensional dramas. Perhaps the strongest material incentivises actors to stay. Who’s to say Geralt isn’t also this kind of untouchable, un-recastable role for Cavill?

Not long for this world: Henry Cavill in ‘The Witcher’ (Netflix)

It’s also true that Liam Hemsworth is a lesser star than Cavill – albeit not necessarily a downgrade. Cavill’s performance as Geralt was praised by many fans of the series, but failed to make waves in the wider critical sphere. Since the days of playing Man of Steel’s Superman, Cavill has always carried a reputation as being a bit of a stiff performer, and The Witcher does little to shake that impression. For Hemsworth, meanwhile, Geralt offers a chance at a mainstream breakthrough, with the former Neighbours star having yet to enjoy the kind of profile that his older brother Chris has achieved.

In announcing Cavill’s departure, Netflix shared chummy, on-brand statements from both actors, sending out a clear message: service will continue as normal. It’s a front, naturally: there’s nothing normal about recasting the lead actor of a multi-million pound TV series. But maybe it’s better this way. Sometimes, there’s nothing more thrilling than not knowing what’s going to happen next.

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