Netflix’s The Witcher did the overperforming thing in Season One. It genuinely had no right to be as good as it turned out to be, what with Henry Cavill in a Fabio-esque wig and the grunting and the monster hunting, all of which could have careened off a cliff of campiness. Yet no, the show played its card seriously (for the most part) and churned out a mutant-powered loner — powered by Cavill’s honest-to-god video game cred — who’s worthy of more respect than he receives on The Continent where he resides. Sure, the show could have simply given us a bathtub-dwelling beefcake hero fueled by swashbuckling sequences from stuntmen, but that’s not how things went down.
Cavill threw himself into the game, and he did all the stunts and brought authenticity and (dare I say) gravitas to Geralt of Rivia. In the aftermath, we found out that showrunner Lauren Schmidt-Hissrich made Henry wait forever for the role. She explored hundreds of prospective Geralts and circled back to him, realizing that he’s The One and apologizing for the slight, and the dude who didn’t really need this role took it because he wanted it. He’s no mere hired gun, and that’s one of the biggest reasons why he convincingly embodies this underappreciated hero, who does his thankless duty without complaint.
Hat tip to ol’ Jaskier for previously coaxing an unspoken admission from Geralt to let us know that there was more under the surface (so it’s not such a surprise this season, when he does less grunting and more talking). Speaking of the humble bard, I will not spoil his new look or location, but everyone knew he’d pen a new anthem for this season. That was obligatory, and I’m here to tell you that it’s a banger (oh boy, this guy is a salty one). I already can’t get the song out of my head. I loathe and love it.
Alright, so The Witcher‘s first season launched a Netflix franchise. Atop the already existing book series (by Andrzej Sapkowski) and video games, there’s a prequel TV show (Blood Origins) in the works. Heck, an animated prequel movie already happened, and everything is coming up Witcher with (let’s face it) the pressure for a second season to be as fan-satisfying as the first one. It does so in numerous ways:
(1) By cutting out those confusing timelines. The only real complaint that I ever heard about The Witcher is that it was difficult to figure out the “when” of it all. And that’s true. Geralt was in the present and the past and seemed to be wearing the same damn wig, and that added some unnecessary work on the audience’s behalf, just to stay “with” the show. At times, figuring out what the hell was happening was more work than it should have been. That requirement, fortunately, is no longer a thing. The timelines unite, and it’s straightforward, and the three main characters (Geralt, Ciri, and Yennifer) are all embracing their destiny and moving into the future. Whew.
(2) The time has now come for us to really get to know Geralt of Rivia. And that’s a delicate prospect, given that the close-to-the-sleeve version of this guy was such a hit and so understatedly funny. For this switch to happen, changes needed to happen to keep things fresh while also retaining, at its core, his vibe from the first season. His demeanor needed to shift in a believable way, so the show switches up the context. Geralt’s no longer confined to traveling to different towns to take out monsters. Instead, he spends a great deal of time at Kaer Morhen, a witcher winter refuge of sorts. We get to see him interact with other witchers, to whom he’s much more forthcoming. As well, he’s now a father figure to Ciri, and boy, that could have backfired, but the writing’s done so well that we’re not seeing a The Punisher situation here (I still can’t get over that). Geralt is not softer; he’s still Geralt but with a few more layers. It works.
(3) Some familiar faces portray key additions. As forecast, we get to know Geralt’s mentor, Vesemir. In the animated prequel, he was much more of a swaggering dude than a grumpy Geralt-type witcher. For this live-action season, he’s obviously been through some sh*t over the decades and is played by Kim Bodnia. If you watch Killing Eve, then you know how much of a twinkle in his eye this guy can communicate. Bodnia uses that ability to delightful effect here, but he’s not the only treat in this season. Kristofer Hivju (Game Of Thrones‘ Tormund Giantsbane) portrays Nivellen, an old friend (with a great laugh) who Geralt barely recognizes at first, and I’ll leave it at that.
(4) Princess Ciri turns into a badass, and Yennifer stays one. This show loves to hammer home the concept of “destiny,” and that doesn’t change. These two young women and Geralt are tied together in ways that we were not aware of when the show began. Especially in the case of Ciri, her true purpose in life unfolds in a way that one would never have imagined during her sheltered original life. It’s not a spoiler to say that Ciri has some serious powers that are going to go somewhere major, and when all is said and done, she might even be more fearless than Geralt. Let’s just say that what she does is vital to the very fabric of The Continent, and Freya Allan must have had to train like hell ahead of Season 2. Likewise, Yennifer shifts into a different gear. Rather than being an all-powerful sorceress, she’s lost much of what’s important to her. Things did not end well for her at the Battle of Sodden, and there are a lot of obstacles in her way. Anya Chalotra adds a sweetness to Yen this season, too.
(5) Mightier monsters. For a show about monster hunters, it feels awfully strange to say that the monsters in this show come secondary to the human and elf characters. Like, the show is compelling enough without showing off these vile and deadly creatures. And I do think that even if the producers decided to save some dough and not show all of the monsters, people would be good with this. Yet The Witcher is committed to giving us those monster-money shots. Lemme tell you, the monsters this time around are more frightening and elaborately rendered, and I don’t even want to know the CGI budget on these episodes. They spent a ton of dough, and the effects are nuts.
Yep, this show does not take shortcuts, and again, Lauren Schmidt-Hissrich and company didn’t need to pull out the stops. A few corners could have been cut with such a pandemic-interrupted season. Fans really would have understood if the episodes were less “epic,” yet somehow, that feeling still comes across even without a ton of group battle scenes. Toss a coin to this season of The Witcher, it’s a banger and a rager.
‘The Witcher’ returns to Netflix on December 17.