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The Witcher cinematographer on Kaer Morhen and season 2

After Season 1 of The Witcher turned into a runaway hit for Netflix — becoming one of the most-watched series on the streaming service soon after its premiere — fans had to wait nearly two years for the second season. Delayed due to the pandemic, Season 2 of The Witcher finally premiered in December 2021 and brought Geralt of Rivia — Henry Cavill’s gruff, monster-hunting hero — back for more adventures.

The second season of The Witcher brought fans deeper into the show’s world of terrifying creatures and deadly political machinations, and introduced audiences to the witchers’ hidden sanctuary, Kaer Morhen, among other fantastic — and dangerous — locations. Led by showrunner and series creator Lauren Schmidt, the team tasked with bringing the world of The Witcher to life in season 2 included cinematographer Romain Lacourbas (Marco Polo) and a long list of new and returning names both behind the camera and in front of it.

In an interview with Digital Trends, Lacourbas shared some of his experiences working on Season 2 of The Witcher, which included the production of the fairytale-inspired premiere, the introduction of Kaer Morhen, and the climactic season finale.

Henry Cavill as Geralt in a scene from season 2 of The Witcher.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Digital Trends: The Witcher is so unique in that the story is so informed by the books. But fans’ visual expectations for it are often shaped by the video games. How does that relationship between all the existing material settle out on your side of things?

Romain Lacourbas: It’s interesting because I didn’t play the game myself, but I went through a bunch of images and YouTube stuff on the game, just to get a feeling for its atmosphere. That was in the early stage of prep, and then I tried to step out of that and get inspiration from other stuff, too, so it can have its own identity without being influenced too much by the games.

In some ways, it was starting from a blank page, especially for the first episode, which is quite fairytale-like. Obviously, because of that storytelling and writing, my influences on that episode were closer to Beauty and the Beast and the fairytale genre rather than the game. Fans are always going to expect an homage to the games, but I think you do need to step out of that at some point and do your own thing.

Henry Cavill and Kim Bodnia in a scene from season 2 of The Witcher.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There are some amazing new locations introduced in Season 2, including Kaer Morhen. What sort of direction and input were you given when it came to bringing Kaer Morhen to the screen?

When I started prep, Andrew Laws, the production designer, had already made some very beautiful, amazing concept drawings of what Kaer Morhen should be. Usually, when you do a period piece or fantasy or sci-fi show, there are already people on board who have worked on the research and designed stuff, so you get a very comprehensive vision of what the world could be or should be. I was really impressed by all those drawings, especially those of Kaer Morhen, which was really something. It’s dark, it’s gray, it’s scary, and it’s cold. There are no windows, so the wind runs through the rooms — because those guys don’t feel cold anyway, right?

That was basically the starting point for discussion, and then we started talking more about the details. I wanted to introduce color, which was an interesting paradox, having some vibrant and saturated color in a place that is so gray-ish. It was interesting to have that kind of balance in what you see. I talked about it a lot with Andrew and with Lauren [Schmidt], the showrunner, as well. And little by little, it became the Kaer Morhen you saw.

Characters from The Witcher relax in Kaer Morhen.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Second seasons are always exciting, because there’s a lot the creative team learns from the first season, and there’s some extra freedom to try new things. Even though you didn’t work on Season 1, were there some changes you saw in the show’s approach to the new season?

Well, the fact that we’re introduced to a new world that wasn’t shown at all in Season 1, Kaer Morhen, opened up a lot of possibilities on its own, and a lot of freedom for all of us. Like I mentioned before, we could kind of start from a blank page because that’s a place no one has seen before in the show. I love that freedom. It’s not like doing a first season, obviously, but you are presenting a new world to the audience.

The Witcher (2019)

The Witcher
62%
8.2/10
tv-ma
2 Seasons
Genre
Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Drama, Action & Adventure
Stars
Henry Cavill, Anya Chalotra, Freya Allan
Created by
Lauren Schmidt Hissrich
Watch on Netflix

So it felt like a first season to you?

In some ways, yes. Although having said that, in Season 2 you also need to respect the look of the characters and what’s been established already. For instance, in the fight between Geralt and Vereena (Agnes Born), when she’s a bat and chasing him in that courtyard in front of Nivellen’s mansion, there’s a moment during the fight when the bat comes at him from behind, and he rolls over and manages to put his sword on her chest, I believe. When that happens, there’s a moment when he waits a moment and you see the sword on his back, and he’s in this iconic position that hopefully brings back an image you’ve seen before. It’s significant. We’ve seen him do this in season one.

Henry Cavill and Agnes Born face off in a scene from season 2 of The Witcher.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

That’s something you need to include and respect in Season 2. You need to make sure the season calls back to season one in a way — not necessarily in terms of color, but at least in terms of composition, angles, and everything else. There are little moments like this, more than general scenes or story points, that are key moments that connect what’s going on now to what the audience saw in the first season.

What was the experience like with the cast of season 2? Are some cast members more collaborative? Henry Cavill, for instance?

They’re all very collaborative. I’m not trying to just be nice, too. On the actors’ side, and on the production side, they’re all very welcoming. They’re all very open-minded. It was a bunch of new directors this season, so everyone wants to bring their own sensibility to the story, but it truly was a collaborative adventure. It was a very long adventure, too. Because of COVID, it lasted about a year and a half!

Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia in a scene from season 2 of The Witcher.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

That’s true! It feels like I was writing about production on season 2 for years!

From early prep till we wrapped, we’re talking about a year and a half for me, and the art department and costume department were involved even before me. So I don’t see how this adventure could have been completed without a very collaborative and nice atmosphere as we were lucky enough to have.

Seasons 1 and 2 of The Witcher are both available now on Netflix.

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