Season 2 saw the titular Witcher embrace his role of old da, leaning heavily on the teachings of his mentor, Vesemir. By the end of the season, Geralt had grown into a papa bear, learning that he could trust no one to keep Ciri safe, particularly Djinn-bound love interests and sorceresses. Season 3 continues these themes with a healthy dose of division, deceit and war, but our little family of three sticks by its motto of "never lost, always found"—even when portals are transporting you god only knows where.
The majority of the Continent's key players are revealed throughout Witcher season 3 and we're treated to a range of new and familiar locations. Aretuza and Redania are well-trodden places after three seasons, but we also get to see the hustle and bustle of Gors Velen, an area in the north that looks like it could be close to Mahakam, an ancient elven site called Shaerrawedd—it's all go as Ciri seeks refuge from those that hunt her.
Prince Radovid, now King Vizimir's brother as opposed to his son—a change from both the books and the games—is throwing his weight around in the north, and Philippa Eilhart and Dijkstra are up to absolutely no good in Redania as they seek to become the biggest force against Nilfgaard. Meanwhile, the notable Keira Metz has entered the game at Aretuza, with Stregobor and Vilgefortz up to some subterfuge and anti-Brotherhood crimes in the background. Over in Nilfgaard, Emyhr var Emreis is far more present and foreboding, Francesca is still in charge of the elves despite things with the Scoia'tael starting to get a little complicated, and Ciri is caught in the middle of it all.
The lion cub of Cintra's fighting lessons from Kaer Morhen have certainly paid off as she battles a series of new monsters with ease, such as the fearsome Aeschna—and on a boat, no less—and the equally terrifying Jackapace, but her lessons in magic are a different story. While every major faction on the Continent seems to be conspiring against them, Yen and Geralt think that taking Ciri to Aretuza for more training is a swell idea. Forgetting, of course, that Yen freed Nilfgaardian bad boy Cahir and is pretty much responsible for the Northern Kingdoms being an absolute mess right now, and that the Brotherhood are not exactly keen to host her again. Not to mention that Vilgefortz and Stregobor have their own seedy agendas.
Anya Chalotra reprises her role as Yennefer of Vengerberg and once again, her character undergoes another transformation: into motherhood. Keen to rebuild trust between Geralt and Ciri, she displays an unfamiliar kindness and softness towards them both, writing a series of "Dear friend" letters to Geralt that those who played The Witcher 3 will remember.
Freya Allan again does a wonderful job of reprising her role as Ciri, full of teenage angst and rebellion. She's a young woman who's unsure of herself and her abilities, and Allan portrays Ciri's fear and frustration on a heart-wrenching level. While not a descendent of Lara Dorren, I was once a teenage girl, and have felt that incandescent rage of not meeting the expectations of my elders and wanting to choose my own path—or destiny, as it is in The Witcher. There's also a lot of humour with her, despite all the literal Chaos around her, especially when she and Jaskier are hanging out. There's a lot of humour all round, such as Graham McTavish as Dijkstra uttering a devastating "Fucking prick" at Geralt.
For viewers who aren't saddled with knowledge from the books, it's unclear in Volume 1 who the bad guy really is. Of course, this is the Witcher universe we're talking about, so it's more about who's the villain of the moment, rather than there being one overarching foe. Stregobor and his obsession with wiping out half-elven novices and experimenting on them, for example, definitely makes him a bad guy. Emhyr and his relentless need to rule the Continent, and Francesca with her deep hatred of humans—definitely a pair of baddies. Rience and his forbidden fire magic—you get the picture, everyone's an arsehole in season 3. There is still the unknown identity of Rience's elusive sorcerer boss, and the writers have gone to lengths to try and trip you up along the path to discovering who it is every step of the way.
Volume 1 follows the timeline of Andrzej Sapkowski's second novel, Time of Contempt, with decent accuracy, ignoring the whole Radovid is the king's brother thing and a few other minor details. By this point in the story, Ciri still isn't embracing who she is—a powerful Child of the Elder blood, in case you hadn't heard—and she's struggling to control Chaos magic. What she is having is visions, which landed her in hot water in the past. She sees a Redanian messenger and instantly has a vision of him being shot in the neck with an arrow, almost giving away her and Yen's position as she tries to warn him. It's here that Yen admits her past mistakes to Ciri and takes her to where her home once stood, revealing her complicated past to her ward. It's the idea that one small mistake can have catastrophic consequences and that Ciri needs to think before she acts: saving one person's life—the messenger, say—could lead to many more being killed instead.
Yen and Ciri make a stop at Gors Velen and while there, Ciri has a little trinket that Yen enchants with a locator spell. After fighting another monster—and, ultimately, drawing attention to herself again when told not to—Ciri uses the trinket to find Yen. Only, other sorceresses detect the magic and swarm her, giving Ciri her very first taste of the cattiness of Aretuza and the sorceresses. And she thought hanging around with smelly, foul-mouthed Witchers was bad. These are all very heavy things to burden a child with and, understandably, Ciri decides she's getting out of there and flees Aretuza in the search for Geralt. It's here that we see the Wild Hunt again as they touch Ciri, confirming their existence as simple specters is more than an understatement.
By far the most interesting plotline follows my new favourite trio: Philippa, Dijkstra and Radovid. King Vizimir, as usual, is being a bit of an idiot and decides he wants to oust Dijkstra as his main spymaster and centre Radovid in the heart of Redanian Intelligence. Sidelining Dijkstra is a bit like opening a can of tuna in front of a cat and then expecting it not to scream bloody murder as it climbs your legs to reach the treat: don't do it, it's a rookie mistake. Philippa and Dijkstra are in a sort of BDSM power-play relationship—she quips more than once that he likes a bit of pain and there's a whipping scene that leaves little to the imagination—and it helps them sort out who's doing what in each scheme. They're still trying to get their hands on Ciri, of course, as well as figure out who Vizimir is meeting up with secretly—something Dijkstra is extremely bothered by. So bothered, in fact, a head shows up in a box at dinner.
Philippa and Dijkstra are the personifications of deceit and subterfuge, while Radovid plays the role of drunk playboy quite well. But Radovid is no fool; he ensnares Jaskier under his spell with ease, even though our bard has his own internal conflict about wanting to hand Ciri to Redania as it's the safest option, because maybe she wants to just be a princess and queen instead of the world ender? In the final episode, all of that meticulous planning from every side—Yen, Geralt, Radovid, Redania, Vilgefortz, Istredd—is all revealed in a fast-paced flashback episode reminiscent of the first season. The ending is abrupt, with Dijkstra giving Geralt a clear message: you should have chosen a side.
A special nod must also be given to Philippa for being the best-dressed person on the Continent. As a polymorph—a shapeshifter—she transforms into an owl, and the sharp-eyed among you will spot her in the background of various scenes. When she isn't eavesdropping as a bird of prey—a fitting animal, given she has no qualms about taking out those who displease her—she wears the most beautiful feathered outfits, with intricate headwear and hairstyles that elevate her beyond even Yennefer's renowned beauty. She is elegance and grace, and she will rip your eyes out if you get in her way. Goals, honestly.
A new beginning
The world of the Witcher grows ever darker with terrifying and disgusting new monsters and human-made creatures, and the threat of war feels far more present. Even though there is a lack of battlefields, there is plenty of conflict in season 3, and a heap of deaths that had me yelling at my screen. In one death, Cavill once again demonstrates his commitment to the role of Geralt of Rivia with some true chef's kiss swordplay, decapitating an enemy as if he was slicing through butter. The sorceress's power is truly something to behold, and there are far more magical events in season three that are simultaneously wondrous to watch and absolutely horrifying—think along the lines of the movie, Carrie.
Henry Cavill's final performance as Geralt is, as always, beautifully executed, but it's clear this season is about his transformation from solitary witcher to dedicated daddy; that is, he'll become an unstoppable father on the hunt for his missing daughter.
A lore-accurate swap from Cavill to Hemsworth is planned, and part of that transition will need to focus on Geralt choosing a side—namely, his side, which is that of finding and protecting Ciri—and obliterating anyone who stands in his way. The reference to The Lady of the Lake precedes the beginning of the first Witcher game whereby Yen and Geralt are severely wounded and rescued by Ciri, and Geralt loses all his memories, which is a good way to just shoehorn Hemsworth in. I'm still not happy about it, but it does mean I'm very excited for the next season, which is due to start filming later this year. As for what it all means for the Continent, alliances must be forged, broken then brokered, and it's going to get tit for tat very quickly. Fortunately, in season 4, we should hopefully see the arrival of one Zoltan Chivay, and things will get interesting.