There's a certain joy to watching a sarcastic, buff, and altogether quite terrifying man transform into a caring and devoted father figure. The first season of Netflix's The Witcher focused heavily on transformations and mutations, and while Season 2's pace is slower, change is still a central theme: Geralt and Ciri have found each other, Yennefer's fiery gambit has sent her in a new direction, and the northern kingdoms have been warped by fear and hatred following Nilfgaard's violent expansion.
The time jumps are out this season. One episode picks up where the last one ended, and the story spans months, not decades. Flashbacks and visions are more obvious this time around. It makes the show more conventional and each episode less distinct, but after previewing the first six of eight episodes, Season 2 hits the mark.
It's grim as hell in parts, but there are some cracking one-liners and at least one catchy new tune to balance things out.
What makes a monster?
There aren't as many beasts slain in The Witcher's second season: Man is very much the monster here. We're introduced to Francesca and Filavandrel, two elven leaders, and see up close humanity's cruelty toward elves. Those familiar with the books and games will know that, eventually, all non-humans will be targeted, but in season 2, an unusual alliance has formed between elves and the zealots from the south. The aftermath of the Battle of Sodden, which Season 1 ended on, takes a massive toll on each of the main characters and reshapes the world, setting new secret plans in motion. As ever, there's a constant struggle for power and control in a world that's more violent than ever.
What's new to this season is love and tenderness. While Yennefer and Geralt's love and lust for each other blossomed in season 1, this season brings with it a more familial love. Vesemir regards the Witchers he trains as his sons, and the Witchers embrace each other as brothers. Geralt becomes a fatherlike figure, and his positivity and protection of Ciri is as big a turn-on as seeing him in a bath. Salvation plays a big role as the elves seek to reclaim their lands, fleeing Velen with the help of the mysterious Sandpiper.
The lion cub of Cintra
The best performance of the series comes from Freya Allen, who plays Ciri. Her story is at the centre of the season—a lot of time is spent in Kaer Morhen, the Witcher hideout where Geralt and brothers train her—and her arc begins with fear and denial. She's frightened of herself and still distrusts Geralt, but desires his strength as a way to protect herself and express her fury at the forces which destroyed her home.
In keeping with the books and games, Ciri is witty, outspoken, and stubborn. (It's a mystery who she got that from given that Calanthe was her grandmother and she's hanging about with the White Wolf.) She switches wildly between overconfidence and not believing in herself, and it takes a whole bunch of Witchers and sorceresses to help her realise that she can control the Chaos within her, even if it won't be easy. Carrying the fate of the world on your shoulders is no easy task, and Allen brings a wonderful mix of childishness, focus, and determination to the role.
Henry Cavill's portrayal of Geralt of Rivia remains stalwart, but he's a bit of a sad dad right from the off of the season. The sudden appearance of a more fatherly Geralt creates a bit of whiplash if you're coming directly from a season one rewatch. In his attempts to guide Ciri and protect her from his uncouth colleagues, his charming gruffness does reappear fleetingly, but he's a more thoughtful and less sweary Witcher overall. It feels as though opportunities were left on the table by not making that transition more of a struggle.
For the opposite reason, the other Witchers at Kaer Morhen can feel unbelievable at times, too. They bristle at the presence of Princess Ciri, which is expected, but their occasional nastiness toward her is unconvincing. It's hard to think these jolly, aged warriors need to be told not to mock a lonely orphan to tears. Otherwise, the Witcher's winter downtime is fun to watch.
Meanwhile, Anya Chalotra transforms Yennefer of Vengerberg from a powerful and vengeful sorceress into an outcast. She says "Fuck!" more times than Geralt does, but she's also become more thoughtful. This is a new Yen who's consumed by defeat, rather than one hellbent on proving herself. It's always welcome when Geralt and Ciri's training sessions pause for a check-in with Yen's many problems.
There's not so much wholesome family fun in Yennefer's story (though there are sweet moments). The persecution of the elves is violent, disturbing and very uncomfortable to watch. Nilfgaard has been the bad guy until this point but the North is proving to be a shitty place, too.
In season 2, the power-hungry—like Yen and captured Nilfgaardian Cahir—have lost their status and aren't adapting particularly well to this new prospect, whereas other characters, like Fringilla and Vilgefortz, are making moves to become more powerful. Isn't usurping fun?
The setting up of things takes time, but the pace quickens by episodes five and six and there are some excellent fight scenes, including a hand-to-hand combat scene in the Temple of Melitele. Geralt single-handedly fights off a gang of mercenaries, using their own weapons against them. The brutality hasn't diminished since Geralt's Butcher of Blaviken moment in the first episode of season 1. This season's slow-motion swordplay includes an unfortunate meeting between a blade and a guy's face. The fight choreography remains brilliant. Cavill almost glides through the air despite being hench AF, and he makes stabbing people while pirouetting look easy.
Seeing Kaer Morhen and the Witchers together is an absolute delight, and you can see the influence the Witcher games have had on its design. A foreboding keep high up on the mountain, there's a real sense of family and togetherness here. Lambert is still a prick, and Kim Bodnia is excellent as Daddy Vesemir. He's a wise and sarcastic old codger who loves his strange little family, but even as he embraces Ciri as his own, he sees a use for her that could put her life in danger. There's also a nice little easter egg at the Medallion Tree, so keep your eyes peeled.
While not as bursting with action and new locations as the first season, The Witcher Season 2 is just as complex and engaging. A softer Geralt takes some getting used to, but each character develops a new depth, and even without having seen the final two episodes of the season, I'm excited for an eventful Season 3. The Wild Hunt is near, and it's time you started training for their arrival.