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The Witcher season 3 volume 1 review: A great beginning to a bittersweet end

The Witcher confronts a woman in The Witcher season 3.
The Witcher
“The Witcher season 3 volume 1 has too many characters for its own good, but a more faithful approach to the books results in a satisfying prelude to star Henry Cavill's eventual departure.”
Pros
  • Excellent performances from the show's three leads
  • Top-notch production values, especially during the last two episodes.
  • Exciting, fast-paced action sequences.
  • A compelling political angle to complete the show's heavy dose of fantasy.
Cons
  • Uneven visual effects, especially regarding the show's famous monsters.
  • Too many supporting characters
  • No (memorable) Jaskier song.

After a one-and-a-half-year wait, Netflix’s The Witcher is back for its third season. Split into two parts, the first five episodes debuted on June 29, bringing fans back to the Continent and into Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer’s lives. Much has been said about The Witcher — critics embraced its second season, although audiences were less receptive to the numerous changes made to Andrzej Sapkowski’s literary series.

By now, it’s best to see The Witcher as its own thing, inspired by rather than straight-up adapting the novels; it exists parallel to the books and video games, much like the spheres in the series’ lore. When addressing The Witcher like this, one can become much more understanding of its decisions, thus becoming more involved in the plot. Indeed, now in its third season, the show is much more confident, treading a path carved as much by Sapkowski’s work as it is by its own choices.

A family at last

Three people stand next to each other in The Witcher.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Witcher is strongest when focusing on the unique bond between Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer. It’s no surprise that the best episodes in Volume 1 feature these three together — it’s what the show has been building toward since the beginning, and luckily, it doesn’t neglect this crucial relationship. There’s a genuine spark between them; although bonded by destiny, there’s an earnest and surprisingly endearing connection here, and the show doesn’t shy away from showing their domestic bliss, even if just for a few precious scenes.

Henry Cavill is the best he’s ever been as Geralt. Abandoning the overly silent and stoic demeanor he adopted in previous seasons, Cavill’s Geralt is more open, vulnerable even — Ciri and Yennefer’s influence, no doubt. Geralt is more talkative, wiser, and almost witty, the frustrated poet he is in the books and games. He is also embracing his role as both a father to Ciri and a lover to Yennefer, although the latter is more hard-earned. Season 3 allows Cavill to do the most he’s ever done with the role, emotionally speaking. Episodes 4 and 5 are particularly strong for Geralt, and Cavill exploits every minute he gets, showing sides to the White Wolf that we haven’t seen thus far. It’s not an overstatement to say Cavill delivers career-best work in The Witcher season 3, making his departure harder to accept.

After being sidelined in season 2, Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer is back with a vengeance. Yennefer is arguably the best character in The Witcher, a complex and compelling figure with sketchy morals and a self-interested, almost self-sabotaging nature. Yen gets plenty to do in Volume 1, and Chalotra is game, whether performing some eye-popping magic spells or sharing her now-famous one-on-ones with Tissaia. Her romance with Geralt is also back in full force, and Chalotra’s chemistry with Cavill remains undefeated. However, Yennefer’s strongest scenes are with Ciri, with Chalotra and Freya Allan doing stellar work portraying the characters’ dynamic. Yennefer finally gets her wish to be a mother, and Chalotra beautifully portrays the character’s complicated emotions toward Ciri.

Lastly, Allan completes the trifecta with her most assured portrayal of Ciri thus far. Now a competent fighter, Ciri is struggling to control her magic, spending Volume 1 adapting to her overwhelming raw power. Ciri could easily be a thankless role – the magical child destined for greatness and pursued by every character in the show. However, Allan avoids clichés, instead focusing on Ciri’s vulnerabilities. The result is a rich and empathetic performance that brings the show together and justifies why everyone and their mother wants to get their hands on this powerful princess of Elder Blood.

Too crowded for its own good

A man holds a sword to a woman's throat in The Witcher.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

As it happens to many shows, The Witcher feels too crowded sometimes. Unlike other shows that thrive on massive ensembles, The Witcher is best when focusing on Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer. Supporting characters like Jaskier remain a welcome comedic presence — although season 3 doesn’t feature any memorable tune on par with season 1’s Toss a Coin to Your Witcher or season 2’s Burn Butcher Burn. Jaskier does get an individual and pleasant enough storyline that expands his character without taking too much time from the action.

Major players like Tissaia, Triss, Istredd, and Stregobor get their dues but remain supporting figures in the main characters’ stories. Dijkstra and Philippa also receive more screen time, although their presence is justified and necessary as the Continent’s politics become increasingly prominent. However, the same can’t be said for the elves, whose expanded role in season 2 was one of the show’s most controversial choices. Sadly, they remain contentious in season 3; their storyline doesn’t feel compelling enough to earn a space in the already crowded world, and Francesca is still a rather unlikable figure. Season 3 introduces more elven characters, but none make a lasting impression. Similarly, Fringilla and Cahir are wasted in Volume 1 to the point where it’s unclear why they’re still a part of the action.

The Witcher is at a point where it needs to start killing off some major players. Losing Henry Cavill will be bad, but trying to juggle this many characters in a story that only cares about three seems pointless. Not every fantasy project needs a sprawling world, and The Witcher‘s lore is already convoluted enough to justify a more focused approach. In this show’s case, less might be more.

In the land of gods and monsters

A man walks down a path in The Witcher season 3.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Although The Witcher has all but abandoned the monster-of-the-week formula it used in previous seasons, season 3 still has several worthy foes for Geralt. The action sequences are still a high point in the series, with elegantly choreographed fight scenes that feel thrilling, hectic, and visceral. Alas, the visual effects remain uneven; standard monsters get a pass because they’re gone before audiences can get a good look at them. However, there’s a particular creature halfway through the season that stands out, and while I admire the show’s ambitions and desire to think outside the box, there are some ideas they just can’t quite pull off.

The production values remain top-notch. Episodes 4 and 5 have some of the richest and most lush scenery in The Witcher‘s three-season history, bringing its most ambitious set piece thus far to compelling and satisfying light. Episode 5, in particular, might be the show’s magnum opus, and while its narrative can get dangerously gimmicky, it doesn’t go on for too long to overextend its welcome.

In its last three episodes of the season (saved for Volume 2, which premieres next month), The Witcher adapts Sapkowski’s Time of Contempt storyline that most book fans will immediately recognize (and cherish). However, concise storytelling and a major concentration of characters mean fans of the show unaware of the book or games will have no trouble understanding what’s at stake for Volume 2.

What Henry Cavill’s impending exit means for the future of The Witcher

The Witcher: Season 3 | Official Trailer | Netflix

Finally, we can’t talk about The Witcher without addressing the Henry Cavill-sized elephant in the room. With this being his last season, there is an undeniable and bittersweet element to volume 1, especially as the show’s story becomes what fans always wanted it to be. The truth behind Cavill’s exit will probably not come to light any time soon, if at all. However, it’s not only me who thinks Cavill was born for the role of Geralt, and his loss will weigh heavily on the story.

And yet, the show must go on, and The Witcher is charging full speed ahead toward its exciting future. Season 3 Volume 1 is a wonderful prelude for what will surely be a thrilling final act and, hopefully, a worthy send-off for Cavill. And while I wasn’t sure about splitting the season in two, the choice might actually pay off. Episode 5’s cliffhanger is good enough to keep audiences guessing until July 27, when Volume 2 debuts, bringing season 3 to a close.

Volume 1 of The Witcher season 3 is now streaming.

Editors' Recommendations

David Caballero
David is a Mexican freelance writer with a deep appreciation for words. After three years in the cold world of Marketing…
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