With the spectre of Henry Cavill’s final season as a cast member, lead actor, and ‘hard carry’ of The Witcher TV franchise, looming over the third season, it’s hard to watch the current episodes without thinking that they went into this season preparing for a future without him.
I’m probably imagining things, but Season 3 does feel like that in some ways: Geralt (Henry Cavill) doesn’t get that much screen time as a lot of it is spent establishing an upcoming conflict and developing the rest of the cast. It seems a little unfair for me to say this but like it or not, as good as the rest are–and I think the casting for The Witcher is quite underrated–they are secondary and placed next to Cavill, who plays the moral compass of the Witcher universe with such aplomb. It’s no surprise why the poster child for stoicism is a fan favourite that’s seemingly absolved of all criticism from the fanbase. Liam Hemsworth, the prince-in-waiting, has some mighty shoes to fill.
And for a medieval-style fantasy world where monsters are commonplace, we don’t get that many epic fights. Ironically, the first scene that opens the show is an unnecessarily gratuitous blood and gore fest that would qualify as a bait and switch: they certainly subverted my expectations because it’ll be a long while before the next one comes along.
The supporting cast will be pulling their weight in this season’s web of intrigue, which is centred primarily around the hunt for Ciri (Freya Allen) because her powers and status will help the power players attain their goals (or so they believe).
The power play begins
Although Geralt refuses to get involved in worldly affairs, his reticence does force his retinue into a side–his own–and his resolve to stay the course will be tested. Ciri is now very much on everyone’s radar at this point. Here’s a quick rundown of how we got here in case you’ve forgotten.
The Wild Hunt are well aware of Ciri of her presence and are coming for her; Emperor Emhyr var Emreis of Nilgaard (played by Bart Edwards, and voiced by Charles Dance) moves to subjugate the North and reunite with his daughter Ciri; the powers that be in Redania led by Vizimir, and under the instigation of Sigismund Djikstra (Graham McTavish) and Philippa Eilhart (Cassie Claire), want Ciri to secure their power over the Northern states.
And let’s not forget that there’s also the subplot of the wandering elves led by Francesca (Mecia Simson) who are seeking revenge AND Ciri (of course) whom they believe to be hen ikeir (she has Elder Blood) and is the child prophesied by the legendary elven oracle Ithlinne: in other words, they will get played by everyone else.
Last but not least, we have The Witcher universe’s version of that annoying friend who keeps showing off the only trick he knows with a Zippo lighter. Outcast mage and all-around boring character, Rience (Sam Woolf), is relentlessly snapping at her heels. The difference is that he is doing it for an unknown employer making moves behind the scenes, which is only marginally more interesting. It’s not too far-fetched to assume that the grand reveal is the MacGuffin that switches the show from slow burn to overdrive, or at least I hope it will be. But if you’ve been following the TV series so far (or the books), it doesn’t take much to figure out where this is headed.
Less action, more drama
Season 3 fleshes out the side characters a little more and gives them a chance to stretch their acting chops. However, even this talented cast can’t save a few awkward moments–for example, Yennefer’s attempts to reconcile with her past mistakes only make me wonder if the writers have actually dealt with such conflicts in real life. Other head-scratching moments include the inclusion of an adventurous storytelling mechanic in Episode 5, much like the one that made Season 1 unnecessarily difficult to watch. While I enjoyed Season 1’s out-of-order storytelling as it made me keep track of each thread, Episode 5’s sequence did little to complement the nuances of the situation. The trouble was, there wasn’t anything particularly complex material to work with, so the mechanic just feels pointless.
In more modest moments, Season 3 also takes the time to rebuild relationships between Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), Ciri and Geralt. While Yennefer and Geralt’s romance is an indispensable part of The Witcher, it’s their budding familial relationship that takes centre stage, especially Yennefer’s growing realisation of her dreams of being a mother. Yennefer and Geralt’s worldliness is shown to be what a brash and idealistic Ciri needs; an allegory of current times, perhaps?
A new wild card and an explosive finish
Radovid (Hugh Skinner) is probably the most striking of the new characters and is undoubtedly the new maverick who will shape the political landscape in the North. His buffoonery belies a canniness you would associate with a shrewd politician biding his time for the right opportunity. Phillipa and Djikstra start to catch on and value his skills, but you also get a sense that he might be playing them for fools instead. And for some reason he has his eye set firmly on Jaskier–is he trying to get to her through him as well?
The first part of Season 3 is somewhat slow, but there’s a good mix of intrigue and drama to keep things interesting enough. The way things are going, I’m quite certain that the second part of Season 3 will be explosive; presumably, that’s why they split the episodes unevenly. While The Witcher has been accused of straying too far from the lore and ruining the spirit of the books, the showrunners look intent on staying the course, come hell or high water.
For all its flaws, the first half of Season 3 is arguably the best version (or at least it has the most potential) of this reimagined vision thus far. Staunch fans of the book will probably want to look away, but for the rest of us, Season 3 is still watchable.
- The Witcher Season 3, Volume 1 - 7/107/10
The Witcher Season 3, Volume 1
The Witcher can be good in spurts and it seems possible for the show to survive the loss of Cavill. The writing is still a mixed bag, but hopefully, it will come good eventually.