Title: The Witcher – Season 2
Creator: Lauren Schmidt
Stars: Henry Cavill, Freya Allan, Anya Chalotra, Anna Shaffer, Joey Batey
The Witcher – Season 2 will premiere on Netflix on the 17th of December. This review is based on the first six episodes. This review will contain spoilers for the first season of The Witcher.
There is a scene in the second season of The Witcher, which sums up the main issue I had with the first. The bard Jaskier (played by Joey Batey) is standing on the ramp of a ship he wants to board. The captain has just recognized the famous tavern singer, and they’re discussing one of his songs. “It took me to the fourth verse to understand that they’re different timelines,” the captain says. “But I spotted the dragon reveal a mile away.”
It is a hilarious and self-ironic break of the fourth wall. I know I’m not alone in saying that the first season was slightly confusing at times, especially for those not familiar with the novels or the video games this series is based on. It took me a second viewing of the first season to really appreciate the story and its characters. And when I did, and I understood how the story of the first season is told in different timelines, with a burning city as an anchor point.
Based on the best-selling novels from Polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher, which also inspired a popular video game series, the series follows mercenary mutant monster hunter Geralt of Rivia (played by Henry Cavill) in his travels across the monster-filled and morally grey realms of The Continent. The first season of the series premiered on Netflix in 2019 and became one of the most-watched on the streaming service.
When we left our characters in the first season, the various story threads and timelines had finally come together. The Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, had caught up with his destined ward-to-be, the Princess Cirillia (played by Freya Allan), who had been on the run from the armies of the Nilfgaardian Empire. And in the aftermath of the Battle of Sodden Hill, no signs could be found of the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (played by Anya Chalotra) after she had used illegal fire magic to decimate the Nilfgaardian army in defense of the Northern Kingdoms.
The second season of The Witcher picks up in the aftermath of the Battle of Sodden Hill. Geralt and Ciri are going to the Witcher stronghold Kaer Morhen to take shelter for the cold winter and decide their next steps. Meanwhile, the sorceress Yennefer has lost her magical abilities and been taken prisoner by the escaping survivors of the Nilfgaardian army.
Many series often take a season or two to find their stride. And this is especially true with The Witcher. The first season often felt more like an unnecessarily confusing character introduction and setup. But now with the timelines synced up, we can really get into what I felt would be the core of The Witcher’s story.
One episode that stood out from the six I had access to was the first in the season, titled A Grain of Truth. After coming to an abandoned village, Geralt and Ciri takes shelter from the harsh winter night at the nearby manor of an old friend. The cursed nobleman and magician Nivellen (played by Norwegian actor Kristofer Hivju – check out my interview with him here) live seemingly alone in the cold and dark manor, having driven off servant by his bestial appearance.
Through excellent and not at all humor-less dialogue between Nivellen and his two guests, we are reminded of the situation Geralt and Ciri find themselves in and the stakes for the season to come. It also drives home the moral questions central to this season while asking who the real monsters are. There is a nod to a more traditional gothic horror in this particular episode that I really enjoyed.
At Kaer Morhen, we are introduced to Geralt’s mentor Vesemir (played by Danish actor Kim Bodnia) and the other members of this dwindling group of Witchers. The striking visuals that started with the first episode continue here, with the large, looming, ruined castle serving as a backdrop to Ciri’s training as a Witcher.
Meanwhile, Yennefer is on the road again, without her magic and drawn towards a destiny involving her former enemies and the persecuted elves of The Continent. Although she is still her manipulating and arrogant self, Yennefer also becomes more vulnerable and desperate this season, and her story is more interesting.
The second season of The Witcher is a significant improvement from the already great first, especially in its pacing and more coherent storytelling. Characters feel more developed, and the cast seems more confident now with a whole season behind them. The stakes are also higher this season, with world-ending prophecies and destinies for our characters to contend with.
The father-daughter relationship forming between Geralt and Ciri forms the emotional core of this season, helping it to tell a more coherent and more enjoyable story. This season also feels more structured and less episodic, with the story flowing more easily from one episode to the next. It all follows the same timeline, meshing it together to create a fantastic whole.
So if this is an indication of what kind of quality we can expect in the series in the future, I hope we will get many more seasons, even if that means we have to endure more “so-bad-it’s-good” songs from Jaskier the Bard. Because I can promise you, he has a new “hit” for us in this season too, one that I found myself liking and listening to more than I would admit, despite the song’s clumsy rhymes and horrible puns.