(The Witcher premieres on Netflix on December 17th)
Two years ago, when The Witcher Season One debuted on Netflix, I fell in love instantly. As a smart and mature adaptation of the books, with nods to the hugely successful game franchise thrown in, the Henry Cavill-led TV adaptation wowed me on every level.
Then COVID hit, and the show went into hibernation. For a TV series, especially on a streaming service known for canceling things at the drop of a hat, that’s a worryingly long time.
So it makes me impossibly happy that the wait was not in vain. The Witcher Season Two improves the beloved series on every level, sprawling out in a spellbinding epic that feels grander with every episode.
While the first season remains a brilliant introduction to The Continent, the second season expands the vast mythology surrounding it. Though the episodic nature from two years ago is toned down some, apart from a brilliant Beauty and the Beast-riffing opening chapter, The Witcher has lost none of its charms during the long hiatus.
Picking up in the immediate aftermath of The Battle of Sodden Hill, Geralt and Ciri search for Yennefer among the ruins and corpses. Believing her dead, a heartbroken Geralt heads north towards Kaer Moren, home of Witchers. There, he will keep Ciri safe, training her for the harsh world that awaits.
Meanwhile, Yennefer, who is very much alive, travels south as a prisoner for the Nilfgardian army while coming to terms with the aftermath of her display of power last season. But a chance encounter with refugee elves leads her to discover a more ancient and terrifying threat than anyone could have expected.
The story sprawls into the unexpected from here, combining elements from multiple books with surprising efficiency. But The Witcher is so packed with surprises and turns that going in blind is the best possible way to experience it. Especially for newcomers.
Those who found the first season’s time-hopping narrative difficult to follow will be much happier this time around. Season 2 is far more streamlined, despite splitting the party to all corners of the world. By the time Geralt and Ciri arrive in Kaer Moren, it feels like a much-needed reprieve from adventuring.
It helps, too, that Kim Bodnia, playing Vesemir, is one of the big wins for the series. Endlessly charismatic, Bodnia embodies Vesemir with a sturdy warmth tempered by a snarky world-weariness. His fatherly relationship with Geralt is one of the great joys of the season, providing much-needed stability to the craziness surrounding them. It’s also great to see Geralt loosen up now that he’s on his home turf again, especially when he gets to pal around with fellow Witchers.
Then there’s Freya Allan, who got very little to do last season apart from getting tossed around. She’s in exceptional form this time around. Ciri is an active participant in everything that happens around her, and Allen steps up her game considerably, delivering a nuanced, delicate performance of a person growing up in a world that sees her more as an object than a person.
And yes, Jaskier is back with a new song. Yes, it’s a grand showstopper. No, I won’t spoil any of it.
If there are downsides, they are once again squarely on the shoulders of the antagonists. The sprawling cast is impeccable for the most part, but complex villains like Stregobor and Fringilla Vigo remain elusive once again. That might be because the series is still very much setting up the pieces, but it’s still a little disappointing. Especially as this season introduces a host of new characters.
But that’s usually the trade-off with a series like this. Expansive lore and a cast of dozens need time to breathe. It’s not until the third or fourth season that we get to reap the benefits of all the deck building. All we can do now is go along for the ride, hoping it’ll pay off. Which is asking a lot, but I firmly believe it’s worth it.
The grander scale also means a bigger budget, and it’s here that the second season delivers in spades. The Witcher looks and sounds incredible – though with one notable caveat. The fight choreography has taken a hit at some point, and while some scenes impress with their scale and inventiveness, too many look like they’re from a far lesser series. A climactic fight in close quarters is particularly jarring thanks to hectic editing, which feels far more comparable to Xena than a big-budget epic.
These are minor quibbles though, and for the most part, I had too much fun to care. Where The Witcher succeeds is far more critical than where it falters. As a replacement for Game of Thrones, it still stands alone as a singular success, bringing the novels to life with unfaltering grace.
A third season is already underway. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another two years for it.