The Witcher (S2 Review): An Improvement Over its First Season

The Witcher returns for a thrilling and impressively crafted Season 2! Fantasy isn’t my genre but I do enjoy this series. Read ahead for elaboration…

*Minor spoilers for The Witcher Season 2– mostly introductory plot points from early in the season*

Following the vicious Battle of Sodden, Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) meets his “child surprise”, Princess Cirilla of Cintra (Freya Allan). They soon embark on a quest to Geralt’s home: Kaer Morhen. Sinister forces continue to covet the young princess for unknown purposes. Meanwhile, Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra) finds herself powerless, bound as prisoner of Nilfgaard and drained of her magical abilities. And the ever-persecuted Elven population prepares to reclaim their former lands.

The Witcher‘s most compelling plot in S2 was Geralt and Ciri’s relationship. Destiny brought them together, but their bond turned out to be real and powerful. Cavill and Allan maintained excellent chemistry! I fully bought into their adoptive father/ daughter dynamic. Such a relationship is something I sorely missed from S1 (in retrospect).

Of course things aren’t perfect between Geralt and Ciri from the get-go. They grow from understandably tense to genuinely compassionate throughout S2. In this universe of constant back-stabbings, physical and emotional abuses, and self-interest, a positive, no-strings-attached pairing comes as a pleasant surprise. Geralt and Ciri give me faith in The Witcher world.

Thanks to Ciri, the strong, silent (often-grumbling) Geralt learns to treat his allies better. Geralt grows to allow himself emotional connections. Perhaps another instigator for this change is his belief that Yen died at Sodden. His heartbreak almost assuredly inspired feelings of regret over how they parted ways. Couple those feelings alongside his inclination to protect Ciri from danger, and you get a guy who now understands the value of friendships/ love. I mean, he IS still Geralt. So he didn’t exactly turn into a sap. But the differences in his character are striking, though they were relatively subtle.

What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Henry Cavill as Geralt? He disappears into this role! And he must have so much fun playing that part. It’s well-known how big a fan Cavill is of The Witcher. But I just need to re-iterate how much a person’s passion bleeds through to their craft. The man deeply cares about his work, and that comes through in spades. He believably conveys the role’s physicality and stoicness. Though he doesn’t forget to add a soul underneath all that brooding badassery.

Ciri’s character improves considerably from Season 1! She was always on the move, interacting with different people in strange environments, so I never got to know her character so well as I wanted. But this year she’s with Geralt and the other Witchers for most of S2. And, in this time, I learned a lot about her: she’s filled with thoughts of vengeance against “The Black Knight” (Eamon Farren) for killing everyone she knew, she’s terrified of the power within her, and she’s willing to put her safety at risk for her goals and ideals.

Freya Allan as Ciri in The Witcher S2: About to do something crazy…

At the core of Ciri’s story is something relatable: that of a young person in a big and dangerous world searching for their purpose, and making mistakes on the road to self-discovery. But she’s made of a strong spirit which doesn’t suffer defeat lightly. Geralt and The Witchers train her in their methods of combat, though nobody pushes Ciri harder than herself. Her drive is admirable and endearing. However often she fails (which is often), she continues till she learns her lessons properly. With that drive, and her excellent tutors, she may yet become The Witcher‘s most powerful character. She’s got a great story which is still only in its beginning stages.

Yennefer spends S2 suffering a personal crisis following the battle of Sodden. As I mentioned above: she’s lost access to her magic. This might not be such a huge deal for most people, but it’s a tragedy for Yen. Mastery of “chaos” is how she defines her self-worth. So, to lack magic means she lacks a massive part of herself. Unlike Ciri and Geralt, Yen’s character regresses in S2. She once again becomes a sad woman desperate to be special. And that opens her up to be manipulated…

NOTE: don’t get me wrong: in this case, the character “regression” was a worthwhile direction which kept me engaged. It made perfect sense for her character as she stands this year.

I hesitate to discuss this season’s main antagonist, because of spoilers. But it was a solid villain concept, weaved well between S2’s many plotlines. I wondered if certain reveals regarding them were MEANT to be twists, considering they were sorta obvious? But watching the villain’s plan unfold stayed engaging because I had no idea what they were doing or how or why. I just knew it’d be bad and it’d be big.

Anya Chalotra as Yennefer of Vengerberg (pictured in somewhat of a tough spot)

Fringilla (Mimî M. Khayisa) became a stand-out character in S2. She never made an impression on me in S1. But I’m invested in her arc now! Her political power-games with the Nilfgaardian elite seemed precarious at best. Though that’s why they stayed interesting. You wonder all year whether she’d succeed or fail in her ambitious plans. Mimi Khayisa pulled off a complex performance. Fringilla acts like this super-confident person whilst possessing a terrible inferiority complex. Striking that balance of character traits is difficult! So to see it done well is rewarding as a viewer.

Elves and Elven society take a prominent role in The Witcher this year. S2 takes a deep dive into the abuses they’ve suffered as a people and how they plan to deal with them. With their race slowly dying out and being driven off its ancestral lands, they have two options: retreat until they’re extinct, or stand their ground and fight for a place on The Continent. And an idealistic new leader aims to take her people to the promised land!

The Witcher effectively sets up the abuses with which Elves deal. They’re shown to be imprisoned, executed, and publicly humiliated. The Elves’ story explores one outcome of oppressed peoples finding their inner power. They dare to hope their lives can improve. Like with Yennefer, Fringilla and the Elves each desire something SO badly that their hope can be manipulated into a dark weapon. I think that’s a poignant and timely message in this era of societal upheaval: hope and ideals are great but can be led astray by persuasive people with agendas.

Joey Batey belting his lungs out in The Witcher S2 (“BURN BUTCHER BURN!”)

Jaskier continues his streak as my favourite character of this universe. Who thought it’d be possible for him to top “Toss A Coin to Your Witcher?” I most certainly didn’t. But, I think he did… I’m sure that’s bound to be a hot take. But “Burn Butcher Burn” is a banger! And Joey Batey is exceptionally talented. Unfortunately he didn’t have much to do this year. He gets into some trouble and plays the comic relief, and that’s about all. Was his part bad? Not in the least. I’m just a bitter fanboy who feels I deserve more Jaskier.

The Witcher S2’s plot-lines resolve in a great ending! I’m pleased to report everything came together well. Don’t expect anything so big as Season 1’s conclusion though. This time the battle is more personal. But that’s a good thing. The Witcher is pacing itself, ensuring stakes raise slowly instead of trying to top itself every year. They delivered a solid conclusion to the story of the year. If you want thousands more bodies piled on top of that (when they didn’t need to be there), I dunno what to tell you… except you have very strange desires.

Fret not over what crazy finale you didn’t receive (though it was still a wild ride), and rejoice over S2’s sets up even bigger stories to come! The Witcher made some big revelations about the state of The Continent and future dangers it may face. The amount of lore this season dropped is astounding! Better than the sheer quantity, I found all the information fascinating too. I’m extremely excited for S3’s plot.

Beyond general lore of The Continent itself, S2 explains a good deal about The Witchers and their culture. We’re introduced to Geralt’s adoptive family and thankfully spend a great deal of time with them. This decision puts Geralt into a new perspective. Now we see what he’s like around his equals, and his father-figure. Said “father”, Vesemir (Kim Bodnia) was one of the season’s greatest stand-outs. His tragic backstory and capable leadership were instantly appealing to me. Bodnia brings a sense of aged wisdom to the role, and imbues Vesemir with a sympathetic melancholy.

Henry Cavill and Kim Bodnia dramatically staring at something off camera.

It’s great how The Witcher still feels episodic with its monsters of the week (though humans commit more atrocities than monsters this year)! Too many big budget shows go for an “8-hour movie” approach and I’m sick of that style… Like, I REALLY dislike it. The beauty of TV is that, while it can build to a bigger picture, each episode ought to be a self-contained story. And The Witcher excels at finding a balance between the two.

Oh yeah! I also appreciate how S2’s timeline was chronological. I, more than anybody else I know, love weird storytelling techniques. But The Witcher S1 was just confusing (I didn’t understand there were three distinct timelines till halfway through the season). S2’s plot flows nicely and is actually comprehensible!

The Witcher thankfully maintains its high production values. Almost everything looks excellent! Big shout-out to The Witcher‘s set designers (and VFX artists) for giving each environment a unique vibe. Every castle/ bar/ bedroom feels lived-in, and all the Kingdoms’ aesthetics are distinctive.

The series’ CGI is well-handled on the whole. Though the computer imagery was noticeably better when combined with practical effects. My only complaint: some of the monsters could have done with more polishing. A few of them looked JUST fake enough to take me out of the show. I’m sure I wouldn’t have noticed or cared if the bar for standards on this series wasn’t so high.

I don’t normally notice things like this, but the costume designs are gorgeous. I particularly love Ciri’s various dresses. But Geralt’s armor also stood out for its eye-catching studs (and I’m not just talking about Henry Cavill’s physique).

Action sequences are well-handled. The brutality is felt in full force. Every punch or strike carries weight and impact. The camera shots are dynamic without disorienting you, and they expertly draw your attention where its most needed. Sometimes a room’s geography was unclear, but I always knew what was happening.

As an extension of action: The Witcher uses sound to great effect! I love hearing how far away the monsters are, or on which side before they attack. This technique puts us directly in the minds of whichever character is focusing, and allows us more active participation in their plight. I often tried to pinpoint the monster’s location myself! All this to say The Witcher‘s sound design is excellent.

My one real criticism of S2 is its darkness. I don’t mean that in any thematic sense: the show is too dark to see sometimes… Maybe that was just a me problem? I dunno. But I don’t believe it was an intentional choice to limit the viewer’s scope. Or maybe it was? As a filmmaker– darkness is my friend when I’m trying to obscure a bad-looking shot. So maybe they were protecting us. Or maybe they just messed up the light balance.

I’m not generally huge on fantasy stories. But The Witcher‘s world grips me like few do. It’s well-acted, well-produced, and well… really cool.

An exceptional cast of characters, action, and story universe combine to make The Witcher Season 2 a Must See!

Which characters deserve more screen-time next year? What did you think of The Witcher Season 2? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time,

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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