When the first season of The Witcher dropped in 2019, fans of the hit book series and the beloved games waited with bated breath to see if the Netflix show would be everything they wanted it to be and more. For the most part, the first season was a massive success—spurning the inevitable comparison to Game of Thrones.
It does stand to reason that The Witcher would be crowned heir apparent to the HBO tentpole. This is both a blessing and a curse: more viewers would be intrigued with the premise and yet there is also a mounting pressure to reach the peaks that Game of Thrones did—and deftly avoid the pitfalls the show fell into, too.
So as The Witcher ventures into its bigger and higher-stakes second season, the question lingers in the misty air: will it be a silver screen triumph or a sophomore slump? The good news is that the showrunners have never been interested in making the next Game of Thrones. While ambitious and thought-provoking, the heart of The Witcher has always been in the right place, focusing more on complex interpersonal dynamics and conflicts. This season is no different, even going further and really coming into its own as a fantasy show.
Season two departs from the heavily criticized standalone timeline of the first season, favoring a linear episodic structure exploring the aftermath of the battle of Sodden Hill. It follows our beloved trio—Ciri, Geralt of Rivia, and Yennefer of Vengeberg—as their intricately weaved plotlines from the previous season culminate. Also, The Witcher’s worldbuilding gets riper by the season through improved visual effects, the debut of familiar characters from its source material, and enhanced detail in its various locales, both old and new.
Effectively setting the tone for the characters’ newfound relationship, the series starts strong with Geralt and Ciri’s encounter with a Bruxa—one of the infamous monsters in The Witcher games. Unfortunately, the season loses its balance due to the showrunners’ risky yet admirable decision to stray away from its source material. One such example is in the weakening of infamously strong characters like Yennefer. While newcomers to The Witcher universe may not notice these changes, they may leave avid fans of the games and books disappointed at the series’ effort to individualize its adaptation—a struggle that the second season inherited from the first.
Despite this, the show manages to cohesively build toward Ciri’s destiny of something “much more”—uncovering an old elven prophecy that briefly explained the history of The Witcher universe through the conjunction of the multiverse. If the first season was the appetizer for character building, season two is the long-awaited second bite that teases explosive developments in future seasons.
‘Was it worth it?’
While Henry Cavill and Freya Allen’s returns as Geralt and Ciri have gusto and palpable chemistry, their dynamic wasn’t fully realized as the show skipped the development of their relationship. Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer overcomes her differences from the incarnation in the source material by imbuing complexity and vulnerability to her portrayal.
On the bright side, other series regulars return with expanded roles. Anna Shaffer refreshingly captures Triss Merigold’s genuine kindness while Joey Batey’s Jaskier chews the scenery with his signature charm and newfound ennui. The new cast additions complement the wider scope of the second season. Killing Eve’s Kim Bodnia captures the wisdom of his character but portrays Vesemir with unclear motivations. However, the bigger scope came at the cost of underutilizing the extra witchers, as Geralt’s past and the moral greyness of the witcher world are insufficiently explored.
Other character debuts, meanwhile, were unable to hold their own. Basil Eidenbenz as Eskel—a younger witcher—and Graham McTavish as Dijkstra failed to live up to their initial promise due to lackluster characterization. However, Mecia Simson’s portrayal of Francesca Findabair, the elven priestess, stands out—getting a plotline of her own which is detrimental to the sociopolitical worldbuilding of the continent.
‘Born of deeds done’
Season two finds the characters grappling with loss and searching for purpose. Both Geralt and Ciri come to terms with their past and move forward together as a found family, bringing out each other’s interesting qualities. Even Jaskier gets an upgrade as a rebel smuggler for the elven cause, adding more nuance to the fan-favorite and grounding the context of xenophobia and persecution this season.
But perhaps no one embodies this journey more so than Yennefer, who goes after a revolving door of trophies—power, beauty, motherhood—to make herself feel whole. While this arc can often feel repetitive, it highlights the show’s larger theme for its female characters this season. We see Yennefer, Fringilla, and Tissaia bend over backward to grasp what little power they can have within exploitative and patriarchal institutions; we soon realize this power ultimately has very little meaning.
All these bring us to the season’s main conflict of destiny versus choice. While season one leaned heavily on the theme of destiny bringing people together, season two emphasizes that neither destiny nor blind adoration is enough. We have to choose to be good, to be brave, to be ruthless, and to stand for something. As they contend with this realization all season, the place they arrive at in the end feels earned and satisfying, even if the storylines that led them there were flimsy at times.
While the execution leaves a lot to be desired given the show’s challenging task of adapting the books to screen, The Witcher manages to deliver a thrilling follow-up that develops its characters and sets the stage for future installments. Its best feat is truly cementing its own identity this season. It might not be the next Game of Thrones, but until then, The Witcher will have to do.