*This article is based on reaction from episodes 1-6 of The Witcher Season Two, after early access to those episodes were granted*
After a cavalcade of Covid-19 related set-backs, Season 2 of The Witcher is finally coming to Netflix on 17th December. Season one ended dramatically with the Witcher, Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) finally catching up with the Princess Cirilla of Cintra (Freya Allen), who he is destined to protect after evoking the Law of Surprise. Nearby, Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) has used fire magic to win the Battle of Sodden and we were left not knowing her fate. Season two opens with Geralt, believing Yennefer to be dead, travelling with Ciri to his childhood home of Kaer Morhen where he believes she will be safe. What he doesn’t realise is that the largest danger to Ciri is the power that comes from within. Season two is gripping from the first episode, but sets the tone as a very different and more spectacular show from the first.
Written by Tresca Mallon
What Season Two does right
The primary complaint from season one was the mind-boggling timeline. A non-linear timeline with three separate narratives, a choice made for the tv series and not in the books or video games. While the three timelines eventually catch up to each other mid-season one and the approach is somewhat refreshing, it is also, at times, a hot mess which drew a mass of criticism - watch out for an amusing, if slightly fourth-wall breaking reference to this backlash in episode six. Many blamed their inability to grasp timelines on the fact that none of the characters aged, especially mortals who canonically age normally like Jaskier (Joey Batey). Showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich admitted in a Reddit AMA that this was a mistake which would be remedied in Season 2. While there’s not a major time span and it’s much easier to grasp with only two parallel plotlines, as promised, this season Jaskier has facial hair to age him and even has his much requested bonnet from the Witcher video games.
An important improvement this season has been the development of the principal character Geralt of Rivia. In Season one, Geralt’s dialogue largely consisted of grunts, one word answers and, every so often, a deadpan “fuck.” This season explores Geralt’s background as he and Ciri travel back to Kaer Morhen. With more dialogue and glimpses of a softer side, Geralt somewhat shirks his tough, loner exterior. Henry Cavill revealed in an interview that this was largely due to his own insistence that Geralt not fall into the trap of becoming a “tropey” strong, silent protagonist. He wanted him to reflect the more intellectual Geralt presented in the novels. This character transition is very smooth from Season 1 and fits well with his character arc away from merely a sullen monster hunter.
Cirilla is also significantly more developed this season. In season one she was largely a scared young girl running from one danger to the next, while season two sees her get some much needed autonomy as she begins to learn how to protect herself. While she often makes questionable decisions with this new found independence, we also get a glimpse of her strong will as she struggles with the unknown and dangerous power inside her. Allen gives a complex performance and provides a character who contrasts nicely with Cavill’s.
A major complaint from season one of The Witcher was the emphasis on excessive and gratuitous female nudity disproportionate to that of male nudity. Perhaps this was an attempt to emulate the success of the cultural behemoth that is Game of Thrones. Courting this comparison in season one was a mistake and thankfully a markedly different tact is taken in this season. Season two has tapped into the series’ inherent nerdiness and leant into the more fantastical elements of the continent which fans of the book especially will love and it’s just a lot more fun. And yet it still has elements that will keep GOT fans interested as the various kingdoms’ grapple for power. In addition, there are much more developed conversations between the women and scenes which centre on female characters, an element which Schmidt Hissrich regretted cutting from season One.
What Season 2 does wrong
Most of the issues in Season two seem to be consequences of Covid-19 restrictions. One example is that Freya Allen who plays Cirilla has evidently aged between seasons despite season two picking up immediately after the events of the previous. This is obviously unavoidable. There are also some clunky CGI landscape shots which might be explained by limits on ability to film on location in the midst of the pandemic. The two parallel timelines seem almost clinically separated for much longer than necessary making the writing slightly jarring at times. This could also have a lot to do with Covid-19 in an attempt to keep actors on each set to a minimum.
The Witcher has an incredibly dedicated and vocal fanbase, unafraid to call out what they view as flaws in the show. Whether a show’s direction should be dictated by its fans is another debate, but The Witcher’s showrunner and writers have obviously listened to their critiques. This seems a wise decision and the series is heading in an exciting direction as of Season 2 Episode 6.