The Witcher Season 2 review: Moving forward again, with focus

Season 1 of The Witcher was a massive hit for Netflix, quickly becoming one of the most-watched original series on the streaming service and introducing a new audience to Andrzej Sapkowski’s book series set in a medieval world filled with terrifying monsters and magically enhanced hunters. Despite all of that acclaim, however, the first season of The Witcher frustrated some fans with its use of multiple timelines to tell its complicated initial story arc — something series creator and showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich assured fans would no longer be an issue when protagonist Geralt of Rivia returns for season 2.

Not only do the first six episodes of The Witcher season 2’s eight-episode arc confirm Schmidt Hissrich made good on her promise of more straightforward storytelling, but the second season also allows for a more rewarding sophomore arc as the series shifts focus to its characters instead of its continuity.

Henry Cavill holds a sword as Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher.

New beginnings

Following the timeline-twisting events of the first season, the second story arc of The Witcher picks up after the climactic battle of Sodden Hill, with Henry Cavill returning as the monster-hunting witcher Geralt of Rivia and Freya Allan as Ciri, an exiled princess in Geralt’s protection whose destiny is inextricably linked to his own. Anya Chalotra also returns as the powerful sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg, whose actions turned the tide of war at Sodden Hill, and who also finds herself linked to Geralt in both love and fate.

Season 2 of The Witcher follows Geralt and Ciri as they explore the latter’s mysterious, magical roots, and the backstory of the witchers themselves when the pair find themselves in Kaer Morhen, the witcher’s winter sanctuary and training grounds. Meanwhile, Yennefer finds herself once again navigating the tricky politics of war and the changing status quo among the nations besieged by the empire of Nilfgaard.

Amid all of that political drama and historical deep dives, however, season 2 of The Witcher also manages to find time to pit Geralt against all manner of monstrous creatures. It also introduces a long list of characters familiar to fans of the books and games, including Anna Shaffer as the sorceress Triss Merigold and Kim Bodnia as Geralt’s mentor, the veteran witcher Vesemir.

Freya Allan and Henry Cavill in a scene from season 2 of The Witcher.

Bringing it all together

Season 2 of The Witcher doesn’t waste any time picking up where the first season left off, and although its long-awaited return to the show’s world of monsters, magic, and political intrigue is welcome after nearly two years, the show’s rapid dive back into its own mythology is likely to feel a bit overwhelming for anyone who’s lost track of where things left off in season 1. Fortunately, Schmidt Hissrich and the rest of the show’s creative team do a nice job of doling out breadcrumbs of exposition as they sweep you along in the next chapter of Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer’s adventures.

The series’ more linear storytelling in season 2 also serves it well, as the events occurring around the aforementioned trio cover a lot of ground — both geographically and narratively. By having the characters’ arcs unfold more or less in parallel (instead of in different timelines), the season’s more complicated plot points become more manageable and the various narrative threads feel like a shared saga instead of discrete stories with little in common beyond their setting.

This unified vision for The Witcher ends up having a positive effect on other aspects of the season, too, giving you more time to focus on its richly developed characters and the fascinating world they inhabit instead of trying to make sense of the timeline.

The Witcher (2019)

The Witcher
tv-ma 2 Seasons
Genre Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Drama, Action & Adventure
Cast Henry Cavill, Freya Allan, Anya Chalotra
Created by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich

Getting to know you

Returning as Geralt, Cavill seems significantly more comfortable as the show’s titular, gruff monster-hunter. Instead of spending most of his screen time grunting and sighing, Geralt eases into a more fleshed-out character in the second season as his relationships with Ciri, Yennefer, and his fellow witchers give him a depth that was only hinted at in season 1.

Ciri also starts down a new path in the series’ second season, pivoting from the first arc’s damsel in distress to a more standout, assertive character as the story progresses. Playing a central figure in the saga who finds herself protected, pursued, and investigated by various factions, Allan adapts well to Ciri’s new position in the story, which has her eager to follow in Geralt’s footsteps — despite the witcher’s reservations.

Sadly, Yennefer’s arc isn’t nearly as compelling over the second season’s first six episodes, as the sorceress spends much of the season dealing with the aftermath of her actions at Sodden Hill, and often serves as a supporting character in her own portions of the story. It’s a disappointing turn for Chalotra’s character, who was introduced with a fascinating, powerful, and (literally) transformative arc in season 1, only to meander somewhat aimlessly through much of the second season.

The let-down of sidelining Yennefer is eased a bit, though, by the new characters introduced during the season.

Freya Allan and Anna Shaffer in a scene from season 2 of The Witcher.

Shaffer adds a nice dynamic to the story as Yennefer’s kindhearted sister in sorcery, Triss, even if her live-action character lacks the assertiveness of her counterpart in the books and games. There’s a warmth to Shaffer’s portrayal of the character that somehow makes the world of The Witcher feel simultaneously harsher and more relatable as we see it through her eyes.

One of fans’ most-anticipated new additions to the cast also gets a satisfying introduction, with Bodnia bringing a genuine sense of paternal pride and emotion to Vesemir that adds more depth to both the character and the nature of the witchers’ relationship to each other. Bodnia’s Vesemir might not be quite the character fans expected, but he’s the character the show needs in order for the audience to understand Geralt better.

Worth the wait

Although the first six episodes of season 2 of The Witcher don’t take the story in any shocking new directions, the show’s decision to soak a bit in the rich world the characters inhabit feels like the right move — particularly after a debut season that often felt like it was moving too quickly or was too disconnected.

Kim Bodnia in season 2 of The Witcher.

The extra time with Geralt and Ciri is well spent, and each of the new characters introduced during the season end up feeling important enough to care about as their paths cross with the series’ leads. That’s no small achievement in a show as crowded as The Witcher, and it speaks volumes to the series’ willingness to take its time with the story and make its world feel inhabited by characters with real emotions and motivations.

To its credit, season 2 of The Witcher doesn’t try to copy the formula of its wildly successful first season, and instead, seems to genuinely understand which elements made it a success, and where it has the freedom to change up its approach to the story. There’s a sense of comfort and confidence with the story in the show’s second season that seems to have led the show’s creative team to be more patient with the story unfolding around Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer, and The Witcher is better for it.

If the first season of the series offers any indication of what to expect from the final two episodes of season 2, there are still plenty of big things to come for all three of the lead characters and their supporting cast. Fortunately, the calm, focused approach to their saga The Witcher takes this time around has made all the time between those big moments just as rewarding.

Season 2 of The Witcher premieres on December 17.

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