Toss a coin to your witcher! After two long years, Netflix is back with its Henry Cavill-led breakout fantasy epic, The Witcher.
Season 1 of the epic fantasy series was mostly set up in a way that could be massively confusing — the current season pokes fun at this when they have a character tell Jaskier the Bard (Joey Batey) that he couldn’t even tell there were multiple timelines until the fourth verse of one of his songs – but was still somehow undeniably enjoyable. In Season 2, all of that setup pays off as all of the timelines are synched, and our hero Geralt of Rivia (Cavill) is finally united with the child he’s been charged to protect, Cirilla (Freya Allan). The result is that while the show’s freshman season was often caught between trying to be a self-serious fantasy and laughably ridiculous situations, the new season is much more confident in tone and cohesive in story.
For fans of The Mandalorian, this marks another great entry in the category of stoic warriors suddenly becoming fathers and taking their new duty very seriously. This Geralt is far from the one we met in the series premiere who tried to pretend he didn’t have feelings and that he had no interest in getting involved in other people’s problems. As Ciri struggles with who she is now that she’s lost her home and everyone she’s ever loved, Geralt is believably sincere as he tells her how special she is, and tries to protect her while also encouraging her in what she wants to achieve.
What Ciri wants is to be a witcher, to feel strong, powerful, and like she has some agency in her life. Luckily for her, she’s headed to the perfect place to train — Geralt’s home Kaer Morhen, which is where he grew up, and still where witchers head to ride out the winter. This is a stunningly shot show, and the snowy landscape only adds to that. Unlike some other shows, scenes set at night — almost the entire season premiere takes place after sunset! — are never too dark to see, but rather are beautifully lit with blue light reflecting off the snow, or a warm glow from a campfire.
Visiting Kaer Morhen and meeting the other witchers, as well as Geralt’s mentor Vesemir (Kim Bodnia), really helps flesh out this vast world, as well as Geralt’s background, which was kept frustratingly opaque for most of the first season. It also brings us some great montages of Ciri training to be a warrior, portraying her immense persistence and courage. Somewhat less depicted are her magical powers. If you’ll recall, when she screams she makes things shatter. This doesn’t happen at all in the first six episodes released to the press from the eight-episode season, which is what was released to the press. Geralt is fascinated by Ciri’s powers, including her possession of foresight, and he brings in multiple people to teach Ciri how to use her magic, including the mage Triss (a lovely Anna Shaffer), but none of them ever actually seem to do so. The consequences of Ciri’s abilities, however, are explored a great deal and have dire implications.
In a lot of ways, this season is about surrogate parental relationships, whether between Geralt and Ciri, Vesemir and Geralt, or Tissaia (MyAnna Buring) and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra). Vesemir is kindly and welcoming to Geralt and Ciri, even if not all the other witchers are on board with this new dynamic, and he offers what sage advice he can to Geralt about being a father. But he is also flawed in his priorities, as he seeks a way to return the witchers to their former glory. Tissaia is the opposite, as her desperation to find Yennefer in the bloody aftermath of the battle of Sodden gets the attention of her fellow mages. Her singular focus on Yennefer out of all the mages she’s mentored over the years, and over her other responsibilities rubs a lot of people the wrong way. It’s a softer side of her character that we didn’t see as much last season and makes her far more likable.
But, in case you’ve forgotten, this is primarily a show where the central conceit is that Geralt fights and kills monsters, and this season does not skimp on that aspect. While Geralt is not at the moment really focused on his job, which is to travel around and get hired to take down monsters (and it seems like witchers take the winter off anyway), he and Ciri still come up against plenty of devilish beasts. One of these is the creepy and bat-like bruxa in Episode 1, which is styled as a sort of twisted and bloody version of Beauty and the Beast, kicking off the season with a bang. Another one is a leshy–a creature in the form of a giant tree who spectacularly shoots out branches and vines to ensnare its victims.
One major character I haven’t really mentioned here is Yennefer ( I can’t talk about her arc too much without getting into spoilers), who is lost after the battle of Sodden, and struggles to find her new purpose. She spends much of the season just trying to survive, but eventually is put on a collision path with Geralt and Ciri. Jaskier reappears in a surprising way, and with a banger of a new song. As for Fringilla (Mimî M. Khayisa), she comes into her own as a strong leader ready to pick Nilfgaard up off the mat after Sodden, and makes an unexpected partner in the process.
This season really settles into its characters and their own internal struggles, as well as the way they relate to each other. That coupled with plenty of action, mythology building, badass new monsters, and overall a visual feast makes for an extraordinarily good time. Anyone worried that Season 1 was lightning in a bottle, think again, because this season blows last season out of the water. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another two years to get Season 3.
The Witcher, Season 2 Premiere, Friday, December 17, Netflix