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The Witcher Season 2 (2.1-2.6) Review

December 10, 2021 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
The Witcher Season 2, Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia Photo Credit: Netflix
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The Witcher Season 2 (2.1-2.6) Review  

Author’s Note: This is a spoiler-free review for The Witcher based on screeners for the first six episodes of Season 2 provided by Netflix.

Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia. Photo Credit: Jay Maidment.

The Witcher finally enters its sophomore season. The wait for the second season has been longer than expected due to the pandemic, but absence has definitely made the heart grow fonder. The first season was dark fantasy with a nice pulpy, sword and sorcery bent.

At the end of the first season, Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), an elite monster hunter called a Witcher, has finally been united with his child of surprise Ciri (Freya Allan). Ciri is the last surviving royal of her kingdom of Cintra after her home was sacked and overtaken by imperial invaders from Nilfgaard.

Season 2 picks up in the aftermath of Ciri coming under Geralt’s care and guardianship. Unfortunately, the Continent in which they find themselves is a dangerous, war-torn place. Not to mention, Ciri is a princess of a deposed kingdom, making her a target. But that’s not all Ciri is carrying. She is a child of destiny, and she holds the key to greater secrets and powers beyond imagination.

Season 2 begins with a “A Grain of Truth,” which harkens back to the short story of the same name collected in The Last Wish, which was the first of two collections of short stories for The Witcher. The Last Wish was a fantastic book that featured dark, subversive takes on iconic fables through the lens of The Witcher world. “A Grain of Truth” is a unique iteration of Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, featuring Kristofer Hivju (best known for his work as Tormund Giantsbane on Game of Thrones) as the proverbial “beast,” Nivellen.

“A Grain of Truth” is undoubtedly the best episode of the season thus far, offering an adaptation of one of the best short stories for Geralt of Rivia. The major difference here is Ciri’s presence. However, the fact that Ciri comes along for the ride is an adaptational change that’s quite effective, as it gives her a firsthand look at Geralt’s job as a monster hunter along with the sometimes unusual company he keeps. Hivju is fantastic as the tragic, yet lively, Nivellen.

Kristofer Hivju as Nivellen. Photo Credit: Jay Maidment.

Eventually, the two make their way to the Witcher stronghold of Kaer Morhen, the ruined home to the School of the Wolf, Geralt’s mentor Vesemir (Kim Bodnia) and what little remains of their guild. With the sacking of Kaer Morhen, as depicted in the anime prequel Nightmare of the Wolf, the means and ability to create new Witchers have been lost.

While Geralt is strict in his duty to keep Ciri safe, he’s not blind to the horrors of the Continent. He realizes that Ciri must find her own “power and purpose” in the world and the means to survive, so Ciri becomes his new apprentice in the ways of witchering.

Freya Allan as Ciri and Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia. Photo Credit: Jay Maidment.

The first season of The Witcher was primarily adapted from the two short story collections: The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny. Season 2, on the other hand, is loosely adapted from the later full-length novels The Blood of Elves and The Time of Contempt. Book readers who may have been put off by the many changes from the first season should be ready to steel themselves as Season 2 makes even further diversions off the beaten path.

Some of the changes that were made for Season 2 are understandable as this is an episodic TV series. One subplot in particular offers more background on characters and a story thread that sets up events in the greater geopolitical scheme of The Continent regarding the Elven alliance with Nilfgaard. Additionally, there’s the growing dissent and discord among the Chapter of mages and sorcerers at Aretuza.

It’s unfortunate that there are a lot of significant changes, tangents and diversions from the books that make less sense. Obviously, there could potentially be a grand payoff of certain subplots later on. It’s clear that the introduction of new characters and new subplots are playing the long game. Other times, the changes and additions come off as head-scratching and grating to the nerves.

The other ambivalent feeling that’s hard to let go of is while some changes for the service of adaptation are certainly understandable, it’s hard to let go of the existence of excellent scenes, characters and changes from the books that never really play out onscreen.

An especially significant plot development for one character is transferred over to another. From an adaptation standpoint, it’s understandable why this trait was turned over to this character. However, this backstory element was a major part of the character’s backstory and development. The result is that some characters are robbed of great scenes and development that are handed over to other characters in order to prop and build them up more when they don’t really need it.

The first season also set up some major changes to the rules of magic that don’t always line up. Season 2 tries to work around these rules in certain ways or even ignores them. This is an instance where changing the rules from the books made little sense. Channeling magic in the books requires incredibly precise discipline, skill and control. It’s incredibly dangerous. It’s not a case of trading the life energy in equivalent exchange to create magic. Now, fire magic is some sort of magical taboo, which seems incredibly inconsistent.

New to the cast this season is Kim Bodnia as Vesemir. It’s great to finally see Vesemir make an appearance, though his personality and demeanor have significantly changed from his depiction in Nightmare of the Wolf. This is a much more experienced and grizzled Vesemir, but he still appears to vary greatly from what was initially envisioned for the character. Geralt does have a fatherly bond with Vesemir, and for Vesemir, the Witchers are the only children he has ever known. The introduction of Ciri to Kaer Morhen does somewhat shake up the dynamics at Kaer Morhen.

The villainous Rience, another notable character from the books, also appears this season, portrayed by Chris Fulton. Rience definitely appears to be among the more fun heavies and arch-rivals for the show.

While Season 2 goes through multiple ups and downs, it’s great to finally see Geralt and Ciri onscreen together, to finally see their relationship and bond play out. Geralt accepting Ciri as his daughter, not by blood but by choice, the forces of destiny be damned is a major theme of the show. Thankfully to the credit of strong performances by Cavill and Allan, that bond truly comes across. The show works best when Ciri and Geralt are onscreen together.

Anya Chalotra was really the breakout performer for the series in the first season as Yennefer of Vengerberg, besides Joey Batey as Jaskier. After initial skepticism, she truly nailed the all-powerful mage. Yennefer’s subplot picks up shortly after the Battle of Sodden where she went missing. There’s an emotional conflict for Yennefer throughout Season 2’s progression that feels a bit forced and contrived. It’s easy to see where her subplot is going, but it also seems like a contrived way to raise the stakes for her. Anya Chalotra’s performance is game, but her material is not as strong as the first season.

Anya Chalotra as Yennefer of Vengerberg and Mimi Ndiweni as Fringilla Vigo. Photo Credit: Jay Maidment.

One thing that’s interesting about Geralt and Yennefer is that Geralt was not looking to have a child, but he gets one. Meanwhile, Yennefer is desperate to have a child, but she can’t have one. The answer is obvious. There some hints of that finally coming to fruition this season, so hopefully it pays off in a satisfying manner. This is the pivotal and central trio to the story.

It must be said that Season 2 music takes one step back from the wondrous songs in Season 1 composed by Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli. They’re replaced in Season 2 by Joseph Trapanese, whose work is serviceable, but lacks the verve, intensity and personality of Belousova and Ostinelli’s music. Some of the themes from Season 1 are present for certain callbacks in Season 2, but their music is very much missed.

Based on the first six episodes The Witcher Season 2 is a bit of a mixed bag thus far. It plays like one that is better viewed in its entirety, or even with later seasons down the line to really enhance the full viewing experience.

Freya Allan as Ciri and Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia. Photo Credit: Jay Maidment.

Season 2 of The Witcher debuts on Netflix on December 17.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Geralt of Rivia embarks on his journey with Ciri in Season 2 of The Witcher, with many bumps in the road. The Season is fantastic in the beginning with "A Grain of Truth" taken from The Last Wish short story collection. When the story starts veering into the novel portions of The Witcher mythology, it begins to exhibit some adaptational issues. Nonetheless, strong performances from the lead actors, solid action and fight choreography, visuals and the dark fantasy setting elevate Season 2 to some degree. Some new cast members deliver standout performances. The heart of Season 2 is Geralt and Ciri's relationship, which is well executed. Other characters and subplots remain to be seen if the writers and producers can really manage to nail them in a way that really works despite the ways in which they have potentially veered off the path. This rating is more or less a placeholder until the full season is available.