Not even a witcher is immune to the ravages of COVID-19, as news emerges that filming on the Henry Cavill-starring Netflix fantasy series, The Witcher, has again been delayedby the pandemic, with four crew testing positive.
Cavill has been wearing the magnificent white wig to once again portray Geralt of Rivia in season two and last week he revealed that he had returned to London from Yorkshire to film some scenes in a studio during lockdown. Subsequently, however ,the crew members’ positive tests meant the whole operation would close down while everyone was tested.
It’s not yet clear what impact this will have on the scheduled release for season two on Netflix.
To coincide with Halloween, Netflix dropped a very brief first look at what’s to come, hidden in a montage of creature encounters from the first season.
Set to the unmistakable tune of Bobby Pickett’s Monster Mash, fans should keep an eye out around the 15 second mark, and again at 31 seconds, for two blink-and-you’ll-miss-them new clips.
Based on the Witcher novels by author Andrzej Sapkowski, which also inspired a hugely popular series of video games, the show follows a solitary monster hunter named Geralt of Rivia (Cavill).
Over the course of the first season, he found himself slowly drawn towards a powerful sorceress and a princess with a dangerous secret, crossing paths in a finale that sets up the next chapter.
The second season will see Geralt take Princess Ciri to his childhood home of Kaer Morhen, while the kings, elves, humans and demons of The Continent all strive for greater power.
The series has been a mammoth hit for Netflix, prompting them to announce a live-action spin-off series titled The Witcher: Blood Origin, set 1200 years before the events of the main show and telling the story of the first ever Witcher.
Here’s everything we know so far about The Witcher season two including storylines, cast, and how coronavirus has impacted shooting.
The Witcher season 2 release date
The Witcher season two has no specific launch date just yet, but we do know that the series will not return until 2021, especially following the latest shutdown caused by four crew members testing positive for COVID-19 in November.
Before this development, showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich confirmed the timeframe during a Reddit AMA: “We don’t yet have a target launch date for season two past 2021. We don’t want to rush the product. That doesn’t benefit anyone.”
The spread of coronavirus caused producers to suspend filming for five months between March and August, meaning they had a lot of catching up to do and, hopefully, the latest hold-up won’t be excessive.
Earlier, Henry Cavill shared an image of himself in make-up after a long shoot, revealing that regular COVID-19 testing is being carried out on set to safeguard the cast and crew.
View this post on Instagram
No bald cap this year. Just pounds of 2 types of medical tape and some glue…. Removal is a joy. Jacqui and Ailbhe here, though, have the deft touch of angels. Jacqui more so an Angel of Vengeance, but that's all part of her charm. Oh and for those who may be worrying. All of us are Covid cleared and bubbled ????????. We get tested twice a week up here in Kaer Morhen! #Witcher2 #CasuallyOpenRobe #CowboyBeard @RathoreJacqui @AilbheLemass
The caption reads: “All of us are COVID cleared and bubbled. We get tested twice a week up here in Kaer Morhen!”
Given the popularity of the show, Netflix won’t want to put too large a break between the first and second seasons, so finishing off work on the next episodes is likely to be a priority.
The Witcher season 2 cast
Unsurprisingly, Superman’s alter ego Henry Cavill will return as Geralt of Rivia, with Freya Allan as the prophesied Princess Ciri. Anya Chalotra will play sorceress and love interest Yennefer and Jodhi May will reappear as Queen Calanthe, with Joey Batey back as fan-favourite bard and sidekick Jaskier (sometimes called Dandelion in the novels).
It was announced by Deadline in February 2020 that Kim Bodnia would play experienced Golden Age Witcher (and Geralt’s father figure) Vesemir, hot off his role as Villanelle’s handler in Killing Eve.
Speaking of the casting, Hissrich said: “I am so thrilled to welcome Kim Bodnia to the cast of The Witcher. I have admired his unique talents in shows like Killing Eve and The Bridge, and cannot wait for him to bring strength, tenacity, and warmth to the character of Vesemir, who is such an integral part of our upcoming season.”
There are also a number of new cast members set to feature in the second series. They include: Yasen Atour (Young Wallander) as Coen, Agnes Bjorn (Monster) as Vereena, Paul Bullion (Peaky Blinders) as Lambert, Aisha Fabienne Ross (The Danish Girl) as Lydia and newcomer Mecia Simson, who will play Francesca.
Another recent addition to the cast is Game of Thrones star Kristofer Hivju, who tested positive for coronavirus after filming on The Witcher shut down, but has since made a full recovery.
Fast and Furious 9 star Thue Ersted Rasmussen was initially cast as Eskel and even began filming, but had to pull out due to scheduling conflicts after production was delayed due to COVID-19.
The Witcher’s fight choreographer Vladimír Furdík, who played the Night King in Game of Thrones, won’t return for season two.
And reports suggest that Dolitte star Carmel Laniado will be joining the cast for series 2, playing the supporting role of Violet.
Did coronavirus delay The Witcher on Netflix?
It had been assumed The Witcher would return in late 2020, roughly a year on from the season one premiere, but production has been delayed twice by the coronavirus pandemic.
The latest shutdown was caused by four crew testing positive for COVID-19 in early November and production was halted so all crew could be tested and safely cleared before filming resumed. The crew who are infected are currently in isolation.
Speaking to The Wrap before the latest shutdown, showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich explained: “We were shooting in the UK and were about six weeks into our season when we shut down. We were literally in the middle of a big sequence we had been preparing for months.
“But we have a very international crew and it wasn’t just about the health of our crew and our cast, but also getting them back home to their families. So that was at the forefront for us.”
While the suspension was originally intended to last for only two weeks, it ultimately stretched out across five full months – but filming is now back on. Hooray!
The Witcher team announced they would return to filming on the 17th August 2020, though Hissrich noted that it’s crucial the cast and crew feel personally comfortable with conditions on set.
I’m dusting off my lute and quill,
I have some news, some mead to spill:
After all the months we’ve been apart
It’s time for production to restart.
The Witcher and his bard – who’s flawless,
Will reunite on set 17 August.
— The Witcher (@witchernetflix) June 22, 2020
In addition, so long as social distancing measures are necessary to prevent the spread of the illness, certain scenes involving close proximity or large crowds are going to be difficult – or indeed impossible – to pull off safely.
Still, in early August (slightly earlier than originally announced) the crew apparently got back to work, with behind-the-scenes figures showing off the new filming processes on social media.
And later in August, Henry Cavill shared a sneak peak at the new season – posting a behind-the-scenes snap to his Instagram page that showed him getting made up for the role.
He wrote, “No bald cap this year. Just pounds of 2 types of medical tape and some glue…. Removal is a joy. Jacqui and Ailbhe here, though, have the deft touch of angels. Jacqui more so an Angel of Vengeance, but that’s all part of her charm.
“Oh and for those who may be worrying. All of us are Covid cleared and bubbled. We get tested twice a week up here in Kaer Morhen!”
In October 2020, Cavill shared another snap, revealing he was still training for the role.
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Witcher training focuses on three major aspects….speed, explosive power, and fitness. Which can hurt! I haven't had the opportunity to run for miles up hill since Gibralter many years ago! But there is no better place to get back into that groove than the Lake District here at home in the UK. This place has just stormed into my top 3 favourite places in the world! Absolutely love it. #LakeDistrict #Witcher2
However, the delay has claimed one casualty, with Fast and Furious 9 actor Thue Ersted Rasmussen pulling out of the role of Eskel (another Witcher character) due to scheduling conflicts.
Searching for a replacement could delay the Henry Cavill series even further – though that provides plenty of time to read The Witcher books in order or rewatch the first season.
If you’re worried about a long delay, you could listen to Netflix’s official The Witcher behind-the-scenes podcast, in which you can hear members of the cast and crew – including Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer – talk about what went down during filming and what could have been.
The Witcher season 2 spoilers and plot
Season one was based on a set of short stories set before the Witcher saga, The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny, with the next series set to mine more from that material as well as the first mainline instalment, Blood of Elves.
“A lot of what we’ve set up in season one will come into play in season two,” Hissrich told RadioTimes.com. “We will get into some stuff from Blood of Elves. But I also think there are things that we wanted to adapt from The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny that we didn’t have time to do.
“So to be blessed with a season two, and to know that we can go back and revisit some of those things, is really exciting. There will be a big mix of things.”
Blood of Elves sees Geralt take on the protection and training of Freya Allan’s Ciri, but given that some of Ciri’s storyline has already been depicted in season one, it’s unlikely to be a direct adaptation of those events.
She gave tearful goodbyes
on a most violent night.
Now this child of surprise
is preparing to fight. pic.twitter.com/qVP2wDCQXl
— The Witcher (@witchernetflix) October 6, 2020
However, new story details have suggested that Ciri will head to Witcher stronghold Kaer Morhen where she may (based on new images, above) take on Witcher-type training, as in the books.
One thing we do know is that the series will introduce more Witchers alongside Henry Cavill’s Geralt, including book and game fan-favourites Vesemir, Coen and Lambert.
“Really, in season one, we got to know Geralt and he’s our prime example of a Witcher,” Hissrich said. “And then there is one other Witcher, Remus, who we meet in Episode 103, who quickly dies.
“So it was, for us really, about getting Geralt back to his roots and sort of learning where he came from and what his story is and what his sense of family is.”
Hissrich went on to explain that the ongoing coronavirus crisis may demand changes to the story they had initially planned, due to restrictions placed on television production as a result of the pandemic.
“It’s going to impact story,” she said. “It will have to. But one of the best things about being a writer on set is that I’m there to make those changes as we need them.
“Really, in terms of writing, we just been honing a lot over the last eight weeks. Really digging back into scripts, making some big shifts, especially in the emotional journeys of our characters and making sure that everything we’re writing feels really grounded and true.”
Whatever the case, expect some Witcher monsters, sword-fighting, more on the war with Nilgaard and the elvish insurgence, as well as a likely focus on the prophecies and powers of Princess Ciri.
“In Season 2, we’re really digging in with her character and we’re going to understand her a lot more,” Hissrich told TV Guide. “And yes, that growth that you’re describing, where she starts training, where she actually becomes the character that we know from the books and later from the video games, we will see her become that person. But she doesn’t change on a dime. What we don’t want to do is forget where she came from.
“What’s really fun about Season 2 is that in the books, [after] Geralt and Ciri meet in that moment in Sodden … when we come back in the next book, we’ve actually skipped a lot of time. … Well, we found in writing the show that we didn’t actually want to skip over those first months of them getting to know each other.”
Hissrich has also spoken to Collider about where the series could go beyond the second season, including where it might end.
“It’s a delicate dance because you have to be able to have a conceit of where you’re going,” she said. “Your stories need an end point. They need a direction to aim towards.
“I’m sure, at some point, that I said I could write seven seasons but I’m also sure that I said I could write 20 seasons. I will continue writing this series as long as it makes sense to write this series. That means taking, organically, from the books and allowing story to flow, but then also allowing the story to end when it needs to end.”
So, provided season two sees similar levels of success as the first, there could be a lot more adventures in store for Geralt and his crew. (Click here to read more about the Witcher book to TV differences.)
Will there be another Witcher timeline in season 2?
Notably, The Witcher will ditch its controversial time-jumping narrative structure in season two, which proved to be confusing to some viewers who were not familiar with the books.
Hissrich told The Wrap: “What we’ll see in season two is that all of our characters are existing on the same timeline. What that allows us to do story-wise though is to play with time in slightly different ways.
“We get to do flashbacks, we get to do flash-forwards, we get to actually integrate time in a completely different way that we weren’t able to do in season one.
“So I think it will be a lot easier for the audience follow and understand, especially a new audience coming in. But there are still going to be some fun challenges with time.
In reference to the criticism of season one, she added: “I do hear that there was an audience out there that was a little like, ‘What the hell is going on? Why don’t I understand this?'”
“I think for those people, season two will be a lot easier to follow. I think Season 2 aligns all of our characters on a similar timeline. We’re playing with time a little bit still, but in a different way, an easier, I think, to swallow away.”
Will the Witcher season 2 reference the video games?
Apparently so! After a subtle nod in season one (via Geralt in a bath tub), Hissrich has hinted that we haven’t seen the last of the videogame Easter Eggs.
“We love the games,” Hissrich told TV Guide.
“Obviously what we wanted to do is go back to the source material, not to do an adaptation of an adaptation. But it doesn’t mean that we’re not fans of the games ourselves, that we don’t play them ourselves, and that we know that a huge part of our audience has only heard of The Witcher because of the video games.
So we do want to pay homage to it, to them as often as possible. And also I’ve been to CD Projekt Red. I’ve met all of all of those really talented people there. And what they do is amazing. So, if we can offer them a wink and a nod whenever we can, we will.”
We can hardly wait to see what they’ve got in store. Anyone for Gwent?