After a long wait, Season Two of The Witcher is finally here. Netflix’s retelling of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher is an amalgamation of the novel, CD Projekt Red’s video game adaptation and Netflix’s own treatment takes some liberties but ultimately it’s a fine tale on its own, and we’ve only just getting started.
It’s safe to say that Season Two is where it all begins, as Season One feels more like a prequel that establishes the backstories of our protagonists, Ciri (Freya Allan), Geralt (Henry Cavill) and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra).
Season One was infamous for the Dunkirk-esque storytelling and to be fair it’s quite a feat to condense three timelines and converge them to a singular point in time. You’d be happy to know that this season’s arc is less schmancy and takes place in the ‘present’, so the plot progresses in a linear fashion. I always felt that the brickbats were pretty unfair, but at the same time, I understood that this is The Witcher, not some avant-garde Memento thing. It’s a fair cop.
One thing, however, does remain the same: Ciri’s story remains the core of the Witcher in Season Two, and in many ways, she is the central point that connects almost all key characters in Season Two.
That’s because Season Two is spent uncovering the mysteries of Ciri’s abilities and exploring how she came to have them. It also establishes or hints at the intentions of Ciri’s pursuers and the extent of her role in the world of The Witcher. Season Two also sows the seeds for her coming of age story, as she starts her transition from a spoilt palace brat into a warrior (princess).
Ciri’s development is a little complicated as she understands nothing about what she can do, and yet has to live with the deaths of those around her who die simply by association with her – everyone and his mum want a piece of her, and many will die in the process of trying to capture her or defending her. Imagine waking up a fugitive when all you ever had was royal treatment. And oh, you can seemingly randomly blow s*** up and wreck your attackers when you’re being frightened to death. Dude, that’s messed up. Allan is in top form here and her portrayal of a frightened girl who’s trying to make good is easily one of the highlights of the season.
Because Ciri is the central point or commonality of almost every single subplot, fatigue can easily set in. Fortunately, there’s just about enough character development amongst the rest of the characters to keep us emotionally invested.
The driving force of the series is shaped by the desires of three characters – Yennefer, Fringilla (Mimi Ndiweni) and Francesca (Mecia Simson) – who are being manipulated by a mysterious entity. Developed for the Netflix series, this being is unusually powerful and doesn’t seem to belong in this world but it will kind of make sense once you get to the finale – it’s quite a clever way to introduce a new character that fits in seamlessly into the canon universe. And it’s unlikely the hardcore fanbase would be offended as well. Our antagonist is the narrative tool for Season Two that pushes the three into actions that will set the tone for Season Three.
Truth is, I found myself more emotionally invested in the first season. This time around, more emphasis is placed on moving the story forward. This often comes at the expense of character relationships and the dialogue sometimes felt cursory. To be fair, The Witcher is a far more massive story than its eight episodes per season can contain, so I suppose some compromises are necessary.
Juggling a huge cast of characters can’t be easy, and neither is having to weave all of them into a review. I’m just going to take the easy way out (your boos meaning nothing to me) so here’s a quick rundown for most of the prominent characters this season.
It’s interesting to note that the only constant – or as close to one as you can get – is Geralt himself and that’s perhaps the defining nature of his character. Unless Ciri and Yennefer are involved, of course, and that’s where his emotions get the better of him. Henry Cavill came to the limelight as Superman, but he will go into the history books as the Witcher. Nothing special about his performance, but the usual high-level Geralt cosplay is remarkable enough.
Admittedly, I was confused. Fringilla’s character is nothing like how she was in Season One. In place of her single-minded devotion to the White Flame is a more empathetic individual who, as it turns out, is still capable of ruthless feats. That said, I guess I wasn’t sold on how the events of this season shaped her character, and it felt a little contrived.
Yen goes through a crisis that cleverly addresses her irrational thirst for power, which in turn gives her life meaning – or so she thinks. I don’t know if it’s a spoiler to say that Yennefer ultimately ends up being a mother figure in the books, but Season Two starts her on her way to establishing a new relationship with Geralt and Ciri. While her internal battles make sense, her relationship with Geralt and Ciri doesn’t – it’s weird and awkward. Like really weird. At times, Chalotra looks as though she has no idea what she’s supposed to be conveying in her emotional scenes and frankly I don’t blame her.
Istredd (Royce Pierreson)
Jaskier (Joey Batey)
Give this man his own show. Jaskier steals the scene every time he appears, and while Season One’s Jaskier teeters wildly between cringe and brilliance, Batey has ironed out all the kinks and Jaskier is now a motormouthed force of nature. The delivery is as sharp as it is self-deprecating and lonesome; never has being annoying been so delightful. A bit of Geralt has rubbed off on him as well (haha phrasing), despite the acrimonious split in Season One, and he gets his fair share of heroic moments.
Filavandrel (Daniel Olbrychski) and Francesca Findabair
The Queen of the Elves takes centre stage as she is one of the key figures who will shape the political landscape of the North along with Fringilla. The King of Elves plays second fiddle for the most part but there is an indescribable dignity in the manner he bends the knee to his wife, Francesca. His character could easily be written off by critics for pandering to the woke crowd, but ultimately he, like Eist (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) in the first season, plays the perfect foil.
Tissaia (MyAnna Buring)
In Season One, it’s revealed that the resident ice queen has a lot in common with her favourite student, Yennefer. Season Two shows that Tissaia is prone to vulnerability and is far from an infallible matron. Well-meaning but deeply flawed, the court of the Brotherhood will no doubt be in turmoil before long (my guess is Season Three) as she starts to let her emotions get the better of her.
Cahir (Eamon Farren)
The single-minded Cahir is contemporaneously the most boring yet most interesting character in the Netflix series. Hopelessly loyal to the White Flame, Cahir shows that despite his one-track bullying ways, he is an honourable man – albeit a sinister one. You never quite know where he’s at, but then again after some thought… you do. At least he’s not a complete ass**** to his allies.
Triss Merigold (Anna Shaffer)
I don’t know why I bothered to have an entry for Triss, but I think they did her dirty here. And #camptriss will not be pleased about the relationship situation. Her development was minimal and more often than not, she’s used to move the story along. Maybe it will make more sense when the next season drops.
Vesemir (Kim Bodnia)
Bodnia’s portrayal of Vesemir is low-key one of the underrated performances in the series. His ability to subtly convey emotion while fighting to strike a stoic figure is for me at least, one of the surprising highlights of the show. It’s not fun watching him deal with grief throughout the season, but I guess that means he’s doing it right.
Lydia (Aisha Fabienne Ross) and Rience (Chris Fulton) are two new characters who are racing to hunt down Ciri at the behest of their mysterious boss (spoiler in the books). To say that Rience is annoying (in a good way) would be an understatement and thankfully he gets his comeuppance for showing off that stupid lighter trick one too many times.
We are introduced to the Redanians, who are established as the next in line to make a play for Cintra. While Nilfgaard prefers being the tryhard, the Redanians prefer to have someone stab you in the back. King Vizimir (Ed Birch) looks to be suitably slimy and the quirky Dijkstra (Graham McTavish) is effectively the Varys of The Witcher universe. The pair are a hoot to watch.
I don’t think anybody had expected Witcher to be a feminist-driven show, and yet it’s one where many of the stories revolve around the women, even when the central figure is the thirst-inducing Henry Cavi––OK wait, my bad, how could I have missed that?
If the Ministry of Social and Family Development needs some promo material to espouse the virtues of the family unit, then the Witcher will be perfect for the job – after all, the core of the story is essentially about a family unit that stays together despite their flaws and despite all odds. Geralt and Yennefer can have their antagonistic moments, but they are unified in their desire to protect Ciri. There you go.
Is it better than Season One? Yes and no. Season One had more memorable moments, but Season Two has more development. The Netflix Witcherverse is slowly but surely taking shape and though it’s quite different from the source material, this one has promise too. Definite binge.
The Witcher: Season 2
Verdict - 7/10
The Witcher is still trying to find its way, but nonetheless there are plenty of upsides to make it an enjoyable watch.