Cast your mind back to The Witcher season 1. As Cintra is being burned to the ground by relentless Nilfgaardian invaders, Freya Allan’s Ciri is forced to go on the run, setting her on the path to… well, anything but tangible character development.

Throughout the seven episodes that follow, the sole princess of Cintra is thrown from one group to the next – be it Eithné and the druids, the doppler Adonis and his Mousesack-shaped illusion, Cahir and his bloodthirsty Nilfgaardian gang – always an object for characters to make their own, a MacGuffin cheaply deployed to push others’ stories forward.

Even Geralt, in the final moments of season 1, unites with Ciri in a way that feels reminiscent to Indiana Jones discovering a crystal skull, or Thor taking back Mjölnir – the Child Surprise helps to bring a sense of purpose to the lead character, but doesn't feel like a fleshed-out character in her own right.

There’s barely a line of significant dialogue for Allan to dive into in the debut season, rarely a meaningful moment for her to properly flex her acting muscles as she largely stands at the side of the frame, forced to watch others nab the spotlight.

Season 2 improves things a little, but not enough. Sure, we get to see Ciri in training at Kaer Morhen, which is undoubtedly cool, and she’s happy to challenge some of the more established witchers in the room.

She also starts to learn more about her mystical powers, under the tutelage of Adjoa Andoh’s Nenneke, gaining slightly more control over her supposedly extensive skills.

Yet, at the same time, she’s still largely one-note. Identity-wise, Allan’s character is given little depth beyond ‘coming to terms with not being a princess any more’, and when the stakes are raised, she’s treated as little more than a helpless child that needs protecting by those around her.

Almost all of her interactions come through the filter of Geralt, or Vesemir, or whoever else is acting as the designated babysitter in that moment.

Everything is about keeping her safe and out of trouble, and as a result, the audience rarely gets the chance to connect with her – if we’re not given a personality to relate to, how can we really care about the character?

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Freya Allan in The Witcher season 3, with her hood up
Freya Allan in The Witcher season 3. Netflix

Consequently, the show’s decision to pin a vast amount of the emotional stakes on her wellbeing, to predominantly build the narrative tension around her potential fate, becomes undermined.

This time out, however, things have changed – we’re getting a Ciri that has more depth, and the layered, borderline convoluted story feels more impactful because of it.

Admittedly, on the surface, season 3 looks like more of the same. That is, it feels like every character under the Continent’s sun is hunting Ciri down for one reason or another – marrying her into the family for political reasons, siphoning her blood to become more powerful. You know, the classics.

Barely a conversation passes without the mention of her name, and the key focus of the season seems to be what will happen to the princess, rather than what the aspiring witcher will do herself – so, yes, there is reason to believe that this is business as usual. The MacGuffin continues to MacGuff.

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Yet, digging deeper, you can see real progress here. Rather than merely being a witness to the action, a pretty powerless victim of the drama, Ciri is beginning to dictate her own narrative, make her own decisions, shape her own destiny.

Refusing to sit around and follow the demands of others, the 'Ugly One' is now carving her own path in the world, assured in her ability to defend herself and thrive outside of the watchful eye of her seniors.

This is seen in episode 3, where, after heading out to a nearby village show, Ciri exposes the fraudulent behaviours of a local entertainer, who claims to have taken a basilisk captive – when he’s actually taken a wyvern captive (an important distinction for… reasons).

Then, admittedly in rather savage fashion, she executes the beast in cold blood once it escapes.

Ciri’s growth in confidence as a witcher has seen her start to grow as a leader, too. In episode 4, for pretty much the first time, she is the one who crafts a plan for herself and Geralt, deciding how they should dispatch a pesky aeschna that’s threatening their ship - and actually ends up protecting the White Wolf, rather than vice-versa.

After countless episodes of the reverse dynamic, there’s something distinctly refreshing about Ciri becoming the one to take matters into her own hands, after being left to run from previous fights and rely on the skills and strength of others to survive.

Freya Allan in The Witcher, with her arms outstretched
Ciri using her powers in The Witcher. Netflix

And now we are even seeing the Cintran princess properly challenge the beliefs and ideologies of those around her, showcasing an intelligence and clarity of thought that has been absent for too long.

It is true that even since episode 1 of season 1, Ciri has been known to openly say how she’s feeling, but now we are seeing her deliver thoughtful, measured dialogue that gets even the most accomplished characters around her thinking – rather than churning out the generic complaints of a slightly spoiled heir to the throne.

This is most evident in episode 3, as Ciri goes toe-to-toe with Yennefer over the mage’s willingness to bend to the seemingly arbitrary and backward rules of Aretuza, having a complex, challenging back-and-forth that leaves Yennefer visibly questioning her own point of view.

All of this gives Freya Allan the chance to more vividly demonstrate her abilities as a performer, enabling her to reach new levels as the season progresses.

Sure, there is still fear ingrained in the character - but that isn’t all that defines Ciri now, and that isn’t the only shade that Allan gets to work with.

Read more: The Witcher season 3 volume 1 review: The calm before the storm

Ciri is becoming bolder and braver, allowing Allan to deliver a more powerful portrayal. She’s developing a slick sense of humour, allowing Allan to engage in entertaining jibes with Joey Batey’s Jaskier. And she is getting more involved in the action, allowing Allan to show that she can more than hold her own physically in a series packed with seasoned blockbuster stars.

Heading into part 2, of course, this hard work could be undone. Ciri could once again be relegated to little more than a plot point – and, considering she doesn’t even feature in episode 5, these concerns could well be valid.

Yet, for the majority of part 1, the Lion Cub of Cintra seems to be shedding that ‘Cub’ moniker. Ciri is finally coming into her own. And The Witcher is all the better for it.

The Witcher season 3 volume 1 is now available to stream on Netflix. You can sign up for Netflix from £4.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.

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