LOS AHenry Cavill at the "The Witcher" Premiere Screening at the Egyptian Theater on December 3, 2019 in Los Angeles, CA

What’s the Deal with Warhammer, the Upcoming Project from Henry Cavill?

Henry Cavill is set to star in a live-action TV adaptation of 'Warhammer 40,000.' So, what is 'Warhammer'?
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Henry Cavill, famous for portraying Superman on the big screen and Geralt of Rivia on the small screen, will no longer be in either of those roles. After leaving The Witcher behind to pursue his career as a movie star in DC’s upcoming Superman reboot, Cavill got the boot from current DC James Gunn. 

So, with Gunn rebooting Superman from scratch and Cavill no longer attached to Netflix’s Witcher adaptation, what’s next for the mega-star? Well, UK-based Games Workshop has been dying to make its Warhammer franchise the next big thing, and Cavill’s got a big enough profile to make this happen. They’ve teamed up with Cavill and Amazon to make a live-action Warhammer series a reality. But what is Warhammer?

In short, the Warhammer franchise is a fantasy setting that serves as the backdrop for a pair of unrelated tabletop games. The original Warhammer setting is a high-fantasy one, simply named Warhammer Fantasy, though it was recently rebranded to Age of Sigmar. The version of Warhammer that draws the biggest crowds (and that Cavill is a huge fan of) is Warhammer 40,000, or simply 40K, which is a dark science fantasy epic in the vein of Dune. 

But What Is It?

So, that’s clear as mud, right? Okay, in a bit more detail, Warhammer, in both its forms, is a tabletop army game in which two or more players field squads of plastic, hand-painted characters that represent armies locked in combat. There are tons of factions in both games, and players are encouraged to pick an army that speaks to their favorite aesthetics. The franchise has even become so popular that it’s had a massive crossover with the trading card game Magic the Gathering.

Some players love the over-the-top fantasy designs of Age of Sigmar, but many more are drawn to the “grim darkness” of 40K. In 40K, the distant descendants of humanity are locked in an eternal war with the forces of a mystical antagonist known only as “Chaos”. The Chaos Gods, manifestations of humanity’s worst tendencies, command legions of demons who can strike at reality from their nebulous demi-plane called the Warp.

Unfortunately for the races of the galaxy, faster-than-light travel is only possible through the use of the Warp. So, if you intend to visit distant star systems, you’re certain to pass through the setting’s equivalent of hell. No big deal! Thankfully, humanity’s “God Emperor,” a half-dead psychic hero from a forgotten age, uses his powerful mastery of magic to light a massive beacon in the Wap that human starship pilots can navigate by. 

Playing the Game

In short, Warhammer is a tactical game. Players control an army made up of their favorite models. Unlike a board game, each player brings their own components to the table. The highly customizable nature of the game is one of its biggest strengths. If you’re an artistic person who loves to express themselves through your creations, Warhammer gives you a huge canvas to show off your skills.

Players use tape measures to see how far their units can move across the board and roll dice to see if their attacks are accurate and if their armor is strong enough to withstand attacks from their opponents. There’s a heavy element of careful placement and using your units to fulfill their unique battlefield roles.

For instance, if you have a squad of long-range characters who wear light armor, you’ll want to keep them far away from the front. Conversely, your sword-toting, heavily-armored shock troopers want to be in the thick of it, trading blows with your opponents’ champions.

The Grim Darkness

The Warhammer 40,000 setting is so grim and dark that it’s actually the source of the adjective “grimdark”. The preamble that prefaces every 40K book starts with “in the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.” This sets the tone for the galaxy quite well. While humanity has survived into the year 40,000 AD, it’s not doing too well. Sure, humans have populated planets all over the galaxy. And yes, the species has achieved conditional mastery over faster-than-light travel.

But life for the average citizen of “the Imperium of Man” is about as bleak and awful as possible. Each planet in the Imperium is under constant threat of invasion by a hostile alien force. Whether that force is space bugs named Tyranids, rampaging Orc pillagers, Dark Elf pirates, or the demons that haunt every human’s nightmares, the end result is typically a painful death for the majority of the planet’s inhabitants.

The Imperium doesn’t bat an eye at these staggering, world-ending invasions, though. There are so many human-controlled planets that the High Lords of Terra back on Earth have forgotten more worlds than they have active contact with. Some of these long-forgotten star systems have been home to human settlements for thousands of years, and the people there have only the faintest memories of their long-lost home world. Any time the Imperium reestablishes contact with these missing colonies, their requests are simple: the planet has to pay its back taxes or face obliteration. 

The Forces of Chaos

The primary conflict in the 41st Millennium is the eternal battle between the Imperium of Man and the forces of Chaos. The term “Chaos” collectively refers to the four ChaosGods and their legions of ageless demons, as well as their mortal followers. Each of the Chaos Gods represents some fundamental flaw within humanity, and, according to the gods themselves, they only exist due to the evil that dwells in the heart of man.

Khorne, the god of war, demands eternal bloodshed and represents humanity’s violent tendencies. Tzeentch, the god of deception, is constantly plotting a convoluted web of interlocking schemes and represents man’s instinct to lie and deceive. Nurgle, the god of disease, represents the unchecked growth of human life throughout the galaxy. And Slaanesh, the god of depravity, is the ever-hungering id of hedonistic mortals. 

Together, these four gods represent the most pervasive threat to humanity. Since their forces strike from the extradimensional Warp space, no human settlement is safe from their corrupting influence. However, they’re far from the only alien force that wants to see the Imperium reduced to ashes.

The Aliens of Warhammer

Several alien sub-factions also clash with the Imperium (and each other) and make the 41st Millennium an age of ceaseless war. There are the rampaging Orcs, which spring up from the ground fully grown and know only hunger for mayhem. Ancient Necron automatons have recently reawakened and now seek to reclaim their long-abandoned empire. 

The Eldar, a race of elf-like aliens, are as ethereal as they are unknowable. Their depraved cousins, the Dark Eldar, are among the galaxy’s cruelest inhabitants. The Tyranids, space bugs from beyond the galaxy, serve a hive mind and seek to devour all life in the universe. 

The Tau, a fledgling species that embraces scientific advancement, represents the smallest playable faction in the tabletop game. However, they make up for their small numbers with a mastery over technology and an army of anime-inspired giant robots. There are several other sub-factions of various alien races, all of whom are represented on the tabletop by astoundingly detailed miniatures.

The Imperium of Man

Humanity is far from overmatched by all of these threats, though. Over the course of tens of thousands of years, the Imperium has developed an astonishingly massive military comprised of everything from post-human Space Marine warriors to towering war machines that can make entire planets quake beneath their stride. 

The Imperium also has a number of “secret service” military branches that protect it from the most insidious influences of Chaos and various alien saboteurs. The most prominent of these is the Inquisition, a shadowy organization that employs underhanded tactics to suss out Chaos sympathizers and brutally purges demons and their adherents to preserve order in the Imperium.

Another of these secretive organizations is the Grey Knights, an order of paladins who train in exorcism and are called upon when demons invade a planet en masse. The Grey Knights are specialists who can even purge Demon Princes, the Chaos Gods’ highest-ranking underlings. Because of their secretive nature, though, the Grey Knights are only employed when a demonic incursion has become so dire that the planet itself is at risk of falling to the invaders’ sinister influence.

Where Does Cavill Fit In?

Henry Cavill is a Warhammer mega-fan. He collects and paints the models and plays the tabletop game regularly. It makes sense that Games Workshop would tap him to be both an executive producer and star in a new Warhammer live-action series. He’s clearly passionate about the subject matter, and he also has the star power to bring newcomers into the fold. 

Some outlets have already noted that Cavill might end up portraying an Inquisitor in his starring role for Amazon’s Warhammer series. One notable character he could portray is Inquisitor Eisenhorn, a fan-favorite character who features in a well-regarded series of novels. Also, an Inquisitor would make a great protagonist for an initial live-action outing because the Inquisition works behind the scenes and rubs shoulders with some of the most important characters in the Imperium.

Others have speculated that he could portray a well-known Space Marine character, like one of the legendary Chapter Masters or even a “Primarch,” the godlike progenitors of the Space Marines. Or maybe he’ll be a brand-new character created specifically to help ease newcomers into the massive and daunting world of Warhammer 40K.