It feels like eons since Netflix debuted its TV adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher novels in late 2019. Time kind of stood still during the COVID-19 outbreak that has beseeched us for the past two years and that is mainly the reason why this second season has been delayed for so long. Doing everything it could to ensure the safety of its cast and crew, production on The Witcher – Season Two halted numerous times due to filming setbacks and positive test outbreaks.
At long last, though, Netflix subscribers have eight new episodes to chew through and it seems fans couldn’t get enough of Geralt of Rivia’s tale. This second run quickly shot up the Netflix charts after its December 17, 2021 release and is close to supplanting both Squid Game and Arcane as one of the service’s top shows of the year.
Is this second season worth that praise, or are fans simply desperate for any scraps of Witcher content they can find?
The Witcher (Season Two)
Showrunner: Lauren Schmidt Hissrich
Release Date: December 17, 2021 (Netflix)
Unlike the first season’s more anthology-based approach to storytelling, The Witcher – Season Two goes for a more straightforward narrative that is heavily serialized. You won’t be able to jump around to different episodes and understand what is going on as things are firmly set in place to progress between each episode in a linear fashion. While fixing the one major error of the first season (random time periods, which even gets mocked a little in this season), it course corrects a little too much by robbing the show of its unique format.
Anyway, Season Two kicks off immediately following the events of the first season’s finale. If you’ve forgotten what happened during that conclusion, either rewatch the final two episodes or check out Netflix’s convenient recap. Either way, Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) and Princess Cirilla of Cintra (Freya Allan) have finally found each other and are starting off to fulfill their destiny…whatever that may be.
On the other end of the spectrum is Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra), a powerful mage that helped destroy all of the opposing forces at the Battle of Sodden Hill in the first season’s final episode. Having unleashed the “chaos” that was inside of her, Yennefer is now without powers and gets captured by her previous sister in arms, Fringilla Vigo (Mimi Ndiweni), as a bargaining chip to make up for her failures.
Right out of the gate, it’s very clear where this season is going to focus its attention: Geralt and Ciri are finally getting the arc that was teased in the first season and Yennefer…is basically repeating her story from last time. It’s an odd change for a character that was depicted as an absolute powerhouse last time, and sadly, this season doesn’t do much with the angle.
Geralt and Ciri, though, absolutely make this season. I may have been a bit mixed on my impressions from Season One, but The Witcher finally feels like a show worth giving a damn about now that its star players are together for most of their screentime. Geralt comfortably steps into the role of surrogate father to Ciri and she often rebels in a fashion similar to a teenager. It’s heartwarming, cringy, frustrating, and utterly captivating.
The performances from Cavill and Allan are much more confident than they were in Season One, which contributes to the audience growing to care about these characters. Ciri isn’t helpless -unlike what her portrayal in the first season would have you assume-, but Geralt does everything he can to protect her from the evils of this world. In doing so, he also imparts his knowledge and experience to her so that she can fend for herself in his absence.
The dynamic between the two drives the majority of the plot threads this season, even if every episode is linked in either direct fashion or by tangential circumstances. The very first episode, which may be the best of the series, has Geralt and Ciri staying in an old mansion with one of Geralt’s old friends, Nivellin (Kristofer Hivju). While initially seeking refuge in an old Witcher village, Geralt realizes something is wrong and travels to Nivellin’s home for shelter.
After arriving, Geralt notices something is very off here: Nivellin has been cursed by some unknown banshee and now assumes the form of a beast. While Ciri was ready to kill him, Geralt teaches her that Witchers don’t kill for sport, but to protect the world from evil. It’s touching and goes a long way to humanizing him like some of the first season episodes.
This plot takes a turn for the worst, though, as viewers soon learn the truth of Nivellin’s curse. I won’t spoil the twist, but it creates the same moral quandaries that viewers experienced with Geralt’s journeys in the first season, just with the added benefit of Ciri tagging along as emotional baggage. She doesn’t yet know the truths of this world and seeing this vileness upfront changes her, for better or worse.
Meanwhile, Yennefer is dicking around in a subplot that has her bitching and moaning about losing her powers and making some deal with a powerful spirit to get them back. She crops up from time to time in each episode but feels woefully underutilized as a result. It’s not until the sixth episode that she even encounters Geralt with many assuming she had perished at Sodden Hill. I don’t quite understand the angle, especially since her plot ends up ruining the finale of this season.
While comparisons to the source material will always yield disappointment, I feel it is necessary to make the comparison this time. In the novels -and even the games, to an extent-, Yennefer becomes Ciri’s adoptive mother after the two first meet. Yennefer is an all-powerful mage that takes shit from no one but has become numb to the world after decades of absolute power. Having lost the ability to give birth and looking for something to give her new life, she takes Ciri under her wing to impart her knowledge to the child. It’s touching and a fitting conclusion to a specific part of Yennefer’s life.
In Season Two of The Witcher, the plot gets changed to Yennefer unknowingly sacrificing Ciri to get her powers back, then coming to her senses and trying to set things right. It not only feels rushed as hell but flips the motivation for her eventually mentoring Ciri. Instead of regaining love in her heart and wishing to love instead of destroy, she makes this unforgivable mistake that Geralt and Ciri ridiculously forgive her for within two minutes.
To explain it in further detail would spoil most of the plot of this season, so I’ll spare you the details. Needless to say, a lot of the side characters that you grow to love get offed and it feels unearned. One of the more controversial changes this season was with the character of Eskel (Basil Eidenbenz) and I didn’t mind the angle taken. While only in a single episode, his past with Geralt is given a solid explanation that makes his eventual death feel dramatic and defeating. It pissed off fans as Eskel plays an integral part in the novels, but the weight of his loss ripples throughout the rest of the season.
That change is something I can get behind as it informs the progression of Geralt and Ciri. Yennefer’s change almost feels like punishment for the character being popular. It’s a bizarre tweak that unravels a lot of the goodwill Season Two has going for it, which is basically an improvement on all of the good qualities contained in Season One.
I wouldn’t call the CGI here good, per se, but it looks miles better than what we got last time. The fight choreography is also better, even if the action sequences are still a bit stilted and framed awkwardly. Thankfully, we have even fewer battles to deal with and they often crop up at the end of an episode to further accentuate the plot at hand. When the action does happen, you anticipate it and get sucked into the stakes at hand. It’s such a drastic change from Season One that I’m surprised I’m even writing about the same series here.
I could continue explaining more about the side characters or how the lite cliffhangers at the end of each episode compel you to keep going, but I think I’ve said all I really need to about The Witcher – Season Two. Anything further would be more of a deep dive into the themes, imagery, and story that a review simply doesn’t cover.
Whatever I think of the story this time out, one thing is certain: Netflix has just about elevated The Witcher to the status of a great series. I was initially hesitant to call it good after the lousy finale, but I really love the dynamic that Cavill and Allan have together. The two of them are a joy and I simply want to see these characters grow into the figures that fans know they become. If that isn’t enough of an endorsement to check this out, nothing else I say will be.
Here’s hoping that with Season Three, The Witcher continues to mature into the great series I know is lurking beneath the surface.