“It’s a bit complicated,” a guard at the docks calls out to Jaskier (Joey Batey) about one of his new songs. “Took me until the fourth verse to understand there were different timelines.” That’s the kind of sly, self-aware humor that The Witcher once again brings to its layered fantasy storytelling. Showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich also made an adjustment after that Season 1 experiment; Season 2 has dropped the timey-wimey stuff, and instead sets a more linear—although still complicated—story that follows Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) and his ward Ciri (Freya Allen), who are finally reunited.
Based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels that spawned an extremely popular gaming franchise, Netflix’s series remains both fully engrossing and fully ridiculous. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Like any good bard, Hissrich understands that both parts are necessary to tell a great fantasy tale. It’s also worth noting that Season 2 is a marked improvement over that messy, if enjoyable, first season. More episodic in nature, especially at the start, the series can now let us relish in everything that was previously established. That means Geralt traveling with Ciri—the Child of Surprise whose powers and lineage become more surprising by the day—mourning what he believes is the death of Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), and meeting up with more witchers at their stronghold in Kaer Morhen, including Geralt’s mentor, Vesemir (Kim Bodnia).
(Viewing Note: The show has always found an easy balance between mythology and character work, but it is still helpful to watch Netflix’s anime movie Nightmare of the Wolf as a bridge between seasons. It explains how witchers are made, and also explores Vesemir’s moving backstory.)
Starting small and expanding exponentially with each new episode, this new season sees the foundations of what we learned in the first season play out practically. In addition to Geralt’s witcher brethren, we’re introduced more fully to elven culture, the politics of Redania and Nilfgaard, the neverending backstabbing of various mage factions, and to a host of fascinating side characters who breathe new life into the show’s world and lore—not to mention some terrifying monsters. Familiar faces, like Yennefer’s mentor Tissaia (MyAnna Burning), Nilfgaardian commander Cahir (Eamon Farren), kind mage Triss Merigold (Anna Shaffer), the historian Istredd (Royce Pierreson), and devout Fringilla (Mimi M. Khayisa) also make memorable returns, each adding to the rich tapestry of this growing world.
But it is a staid Geralt, more or less resigned to his fate and laser-focused on the protection of Ciri, who remains the series’ anchor. Cavill again excels at portraying this hunky mutant fighter as tired and largely over it, but also as someone who has been around for a long time and seen some shit in his day. His expertise, not just in the realm of monsters but of men, is peppered throughout in casually nuanced ways. He also gets to take part in a few exceptionally gnarly fights, which are creatively violent punctuations unafraid to add humor into the mix.
Still, Season 2 is really Ciri’s story, and anyone who has played The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt knows that following the lion cub of Cintra and trying to discern what’s happening and where she’s going is central to any Witcher story. Geralt may have keep of her here (for the most part, there is a side mission he follows on his own), but the rest of the characters in the story are all chasing after her because of her status as a princess, the prophesy suggesting her magical power, or to capture her for any number of interested parties looking to use her for their own ends. Meanwhile, Freya Allen perfectly channels the changeability of a young girl trying to understand who she is and her place in the world, and what agency she might yet possess in both strength and grace.
What that means is that Season 2 is absolutely packed with action as well as essential world building that adds up to a show that is, once again, incredibly fun to watch and easy to become immersed in. Each of the six episodes available for review (out of a total of eight) feel—in the best of ways—much longer than their runtime. So much happens among so many exponentially splintering storylines, and yet, none of them are weak links. When we zoom from the frigid halls of Kaer Morhen to a cozy tavern in Oxenfurt to a beautifully serene temple to the frightening site of a destroyed artifact, the story does not stutter or slow down. The characters come in and out of each others’ lives, often ruled by forces beyond their control, but there is never a sense of wheel-spinning. Each of these characters and their ever-changing journeys are fascinating to unravel, and while you may want to spend more time with them, moving on to another chapter is rarely disappointing.
That said, let us not forget some of The Witcher’s worst instincts, which can arrive in writing that makes you feel like you’ve missed an episode somewhere, or packs in an uninspired amount of F-bombs (a few are genuinely funny, most feel like script filler). Or perhaps it’s in following two characters who are supposed to be in hiding as they walk through town in literally the brightest possible garb (the cloak and jacket are, however, fabulous). On a more positive note, the effects budget does seem to have gained some coin (crowns? florens?) which augments a few of the season’s most intense moments. It’s also worth mentioning that while, so far, there’s not a banger up to the level of “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher,” Jaskier does have a new heartfelt single this season.
More than anything though, The Witcher’s excellent Season 2 is a deeper dive into a rich world that shines in its focus on Ciri and Geralt’s relationship, and how that connection influences everything around them. Though there are plenty of things to quibble over from book to screen (or from videogame screen, although the show is expressly pulled from the page), The Witcher is perhaps best viewed and accepted as a fresh translation of an old fable. Redoing the same thing over and over again, exactly the same way, is boring. The Witcher’s interpretation of its original text offers up something new—and that’s refreshing, both within this story and for fantasy TV at large.
The Witcher Season 2 premieres December 17th on Netflix.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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