The sprawling tale picks up moments after the dramatic ending to season one, which saw the forces of Nilfgaard clash with the Northern Kingdoms and the Brotherhood of Mages at the Battle of Sodden Hill. It was a crippling defeat for the black and gold baddies, but Yennefer’s (Anya Chalotra) apparent death has left her allies in disarray while Geralt is understandably devastated over her loss.
Sure, the steely swordsman might look (and act) like he’s dead inside but he’s still got a heart underneath all that armour. Still, this loss actually makes Geralt’s character much more open in his dynamic with Ciri (Freya Allan) who he’s sworn to protect.
Cavill has much more to play with this season as he touches on what makes Geralt tick and what his life was like training under elder monster-hunter Vesemir (Kim Bodnia) at the Witcher stronghold, Kaer Morhen. So although he’s still a grumpy brawler, our lead is refreshingly chatty this time around. In fact it’s a joy to see him relax when he reunites with Vesemir and the other Witchers.
He’s not the only one with a deeper character arc, with Freya Allan's Ciri getting much of the spotlight over the six episodes made available to critics. Her whole arc is incredibly empowering, and the Lone Wolf and Cub dynamic she has with Geralt makes for a great story. However, despite a few training montages she doesn’t really get in on the action, which is disappointing since the show constantly makes a point of explaining how much potential she has.
Yet whenever the monster hits the fan she’s constantly sidelined by Geralt who just tells her to run and hide. Frankly, it feels incredibly reductive. Of course, she’s not a skilled fighter like the Witcher himself - but on-screen it just leans into the safety of a 1v1 match as Geralt battles some snarling beastie yet again.
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Thankfully, the monster battles are uniquely thrilling and Geralt goes up against some incredibly inventive threats – and it’s here that The Witcher really pushes into the horror genre. The first episode introduces Geralt’s old friend, Nivellen (Kristofer Hivju), and while he’s extremely charismatic he harbours a few dark secrets. It plays out like a haunted house feature, as tragedy and exciting creepiness go hand-in-hand.
Episode two, meanwhile, features another stand-out creature which leans into body-horror territory in a fascinating way. The show puts an intellectual spin on all the monster madness early on, suggesting that although the creatures kill people, "humans do bad things to everybody." Well, true.
The series also makes a point that everyone in the Continent is dealing with some kind of trauma following the explosive events on Sodden Hill, but they still push on. The balance between managing trauma and duty is a key theme for most characters, but it also extends into the main plot. Without getting into spoilers the Northern Kingdoms make a heel turn and start committing heinous atrocities, using their self-righteous nature to defend what is essentially an apartheid.
It’s an intense part of the season, which could have plenty of potential for depth and social relevance. But unfortunately, once the racial divide is established the show doesn’t seem to know what to do with it (although it’s worth noting that critics were only given six episodes out of eight, so it’s possible this could get deeper in the final two episodes).
Instead, much of the focus is given to Yennefer, and Anya Chalotra flourishes alongside some surprising scene partners. Her side of the story drags at first, but once a magical mystery comes to light it ties into the wider mythology of the Continent.
In fact, there’s a sense of doom hanging across The Witcher season two. Whether it’s prophetic visions of the apocalypse, a monster ripping its way out of the ground, or a band of weary enemy soldiers huddling around a campfire while something screeches in the distance, you can't shake the feeling that the end is nigh.
It’s not all grim and dark though. If you’re wondering whether Jaskier also makes a comeback, we can confirm that Joey Batey is on top form as the magnetic bard. He doesn’t have as catchy a tune as 'Toss a Coin to your Witcher' this time around, but he’s got a lot more heart - and even adds a surprising new role to his list of achievements. Batey’s performance always excels when he’s partnered with Geralt, or someone equally as grumpy, so it’s hugely enjoyable to see him verbally spar with Yennefer again after so long.
Overall, yes, The Witcher season two has a few missteps along the way with some questionable decisions and meandering storylines. But if you’re looking for more horrific monsters, riveting fights, and magical mysteries, then there's plenty to love.