Acting in ‘The Witcher’ season 2 excels, while the actual story has fans split

Written By Amanda Andrews, Editor-in-Chief

3.5 Globes

Two years ago, for my first-ever review for The Globe, I decided to delve into the world of “The Witcher”—the hit Netflix fantasy show adapted from Andrzej Sapkowski’s widely popular novel series. “The Witcher” became Netflix’s most-watched TV series at the time (although its viewing figures would be surpassed eventually by other giant successes like “Squid Game”). With the second season finally streaming, it felt only natural for me to return to this show.

Warning: some spoilers for “The Witcher” ahead.

Released on December 17, 2021, “The Witcher” season two continues to follow the stories of its main characters: Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), the titular witcher, Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra), a powerful mage as well as Geralt’s love interest, and finally Princess Cirilla of Cintra (Freya Allan), the child tied to Geralt by destiny—aka his unofficially adopted daughter. Unlike last season, which relied on non-linear storytelling and covered decades of time in this universe, the timeline has finally merged into one for all three characters. But if you think that makes its story any less complicated, you’d be dead wrong.

With Geralt and Ciri having found each other at the end of season one, they are quick to make their way to Kaer Morhen, a fortress in the mountains where Geralt grew up and was trained to be a witcher. Here, Ciri learns how to fight, inspired by the hardships she experienced after losing her entire kingdom, while Geralt uncovers some of the truth behind Ciri’s magical powers and why the continent is changing because of them.

Meanwhile, Yennefer, who was incorrectly presumed dead at the end of the Battle at Sodden Hill, manages to escape her brief captivity, only to find she has bigger problems. Throughout the episodes, she goes on a journey of self discovery about her magic and greater purpose all while being at her emotionally lowest point.

This season also features the return of the fan-favorite bard Jaskier (Joey Batey), who spins three new yarns that were partially composed by Batey, a music artist in real life, himself.

In amongst all this, a new kingdom, Redania, with a power-seeking king is introduced as well as a beleaguered elven civilization, a nefarious fire mage Rience (Chris Fulton) and his mysterious employer Lydia van Bredevoort (Aisha Fabienne Ross), the concept of the Wild Hunt, a new, nuanced side to the Nilfgaardian empire that served as the primary antagonist in season one—and the Voleth Meir, the main villain of season two.

It’s a crowded cast of characters and ideas for sure, especially for only eight hour-long episodes. And it’s this, along with some questionable writing choices, that makes this story much denser than the already complex prologue that had set it up.

Much like its first season, “The Witcher” season two has people split. Fans of the books and “The Witcher” video games, who were mad about the adaptation’s first season, are now livid about the various and many liberties the Netflix show has taken with the source material. Most professional critics, on the other hand, think that the writing actually significantly improved. People who came across the television show with no knowledge of any of the pre-existing Witcher source material seem to either be totally dismayed with the show’s direction or are raving for season three.

I find myself somewhere in the middle. I am someone who discovered “The Witcher” universe from the Netflix show and really liked the first season. Despite its meandering nature and the out-of-order storytelling, the writing and performances by the actors were remarkable and had me clamoring for a second season. Obviously, transitioning from a non-linear, parallel structure narrative to a more traditional style was always going to be rough, and the time between filming due to COVID-19 delays likely did not help anything (certainly not the very noticeable difference in the appearance of Ciri’s actress who aged quite a bit between seasons), though those things couldn’t be helped. However, many of the overpacked first few episodes left me confused and frustrated at first, which are not great feelings to have while watching a show, even though the more pressing questions I had were answered by the end. The season very much could have benefitted from an additional episode or two to better round out all the stories, especially considering how many scenes had to be cut, making some parts of season two feel unfinished.

There are several other problems with this season beyond somewhat clunky writing and continued unfaithful adaptation of the source material, a glaring one being the failure to set up convincing romances. Multiple times over, particularly in this season, a man and a woman would share a space in a few scenes where there was no obvious romantic tension or affection, and then viewers were later told rather than shown that they were now a couple. Although I am someone who would pick good plot development over romance any day, there’s no doubt that romances (if they’re done well) impact certain choices and the direction of a show, so that is something that will need to be fixed for a more successful third season.

While the writing was somewhat lacking, the acting did not let down by any means and was probably more refined than last time. Freya Allan did an incredible job at expanding Ciri’s characterization beyond being a scared little girl with powers she doesn’t understand. The connection between Ciri and Geralt was also very compelling, which is partly credit to Henry Cavill’s insistence this season of making his character more insightful and profound compared to the grunting warrior he was in the first season.

But the standout performance of this season, which everyone seems to universally agree upon, is Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer. The sheer rawness and every subtle emotion in her expressions and her speech could pierce anyone to the core, and her vulnerability is balanced so well with her innate capability and power that you can’t help but be rooting for her (well…most of the time—let’s not talk about that seventh episode). Book fans may complain, but Chalotra’s Yennefer is likely one of the most complex, engaging and most importantly realistically messy female characters to ever grace the screen, and I cannot wait to see what she does next. Another very interesting performance was done by returning antagonist Fringilla (Mimi Ndiweni), a mage supporting the Nilfgaardian empire. Though her actions were quite despicable before, this time around she is much more sympathetic, and we get a better understanding of what drives her.

Some other highlights were the narrative adding more angles to the conflicts of the continent and the motivations of certain antagonistic characters. All of this, along with a jaw-dropping reveal in the last few minutes of the final episode, means the third season, which was confirmed by Netflix, should have plenty to work with.

No release date for season three has been announced, but anyone looking for new Witcher content doesn’t have to wait too long—the prequel series “The Witcher: Blood Origin” is set to come out on the streaming platform sometime in 2022.