It’s been a long wait, but just like the time of the sword and ax, Season 2 of Netflix’s The Witcher is nigh. Since Season 1’s release two years ago, audiences have had plenty of time to delve into Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels and CD Projekt Red’s video games, which brought The Witcher into the mainstream. For Netflix’s The Witcher, it means there are that many more who might scrutinize Geralt of Rivia’s story. The trouble is, it doesn’t always hold up.
The Witcher gives Season 2 a strong start in its telling of Andrzej Sapkowski’s short story “A Grain of Truth” from The Last Wish. It reintroduces audiences to the wit and clever dialogue they saw in Season 1. Fans of the novels might appreciate this retelling, which reimagines the tale and treats heavier elements with the respect it sorely needed. Adding to this first episode are strong performances from returning stars Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia and guest star Kristofer Hivju as the cursed creature Nivellen, bringing a wild charisma to the character. Even Ciri, who wasn’t present in the novels, is given purpose and meaning in this reimagining.
The Witcher Season 2 also showcases a larger budget with grander set pieces and vastly improved visual effects. Battlefields look tragically war-torn, and monsters are genuinely creepy. Then there is the variety of exciting-looking locations, like Kaer Morhen, Oxenfurt, and Gors Velen. For the most part, these locations feel alive and fleshed out. When it comes to the characters populating these places, there are a few odd design choices — like Ciri, who wears a thin-looking gown through the wilderness and in the halls of Kaer Morhen in the middle of winter.
Aesthetics aside, Geralt and Ciri’s journey — traveling through the wilderness of the Northern Kingdoms, Kaer Morhen, then to the Temple of Melitele and beyond — is Season 2’s strongest storyline. Cavill gives his all in his performance as the cynical and pensive witcher. Thankfully, he’s given much more to say this time around. Actor Freya Allan seems far more comfortable as Ciri than in The Witcher Season 1, and there’s wonderful chemistry between her and Cavill. Although the budding relationship between the White Wolf and the princess of Cintra slowly develops, it’s a joy to watch it unfold.
Audiences are sure to have the most fun with the show when it explores Kaer Morhen and the handful of witchers left from the School of the Wolf. Characters like Lambert, Eskel, Coën, and Vesemir are wonderfully acted by Paul Bullion, Basil Eidenbenz, Yasen Atour, and Kim Bodnia, respectively. They each have a unique dynamic with Geralt and Ciri that feels natural. These are some of the most long-lived, cynical warriors on the Continent and that becomes very clear, very quickly.
When Season 2 delves into political intrigue and magical mysteries, the show’s flaws and uncertainty in adapting Sapkowski’s work become clear. In a lot of ways, the show is faithful to the events and details of the novels — particularly Blood of Elves, which inspires the bulk of the season. However, fans of the novels will likely find that the deeper, more complex meanings at the core of characters or events have either been watered down or lost completely in the television adaptation. Certain events are reimagined and twisted so much that they can feel like a confusing mess. Notably, the political intrigue between the Northern Kingdoms, Nilfgaard, and the elves is affected.
Audiences will still want to stick with it, though, if only for Anya Chalotra, who once again brings passion to Yennefer of Vengerberg, and MyAnna Buring, who returns as a traumatized Tissaia de Vries. But even their stellar performances can’t stop the dull story surrounding them. Not when over-acting keeps the elves of the Scoia’tael from becoming the captivating force the show seems to think it is. It’s also difficult to ignore that a lot of the show’s lore is inconsistent, down to the pronunciation of “Ithlinne,” which no one says the same way. But that’s a minuscule issue compared to the show’s depiction of Vesemir and his choices, considering the horror that the anime tie-in, The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, depicted.
When the show touches on issues like race and cultural identity, it’s ill-equipped to properly explore them. The Witcher’s Season 2 emphasizes the persecution that the elves of the Northern Kingdom face, but their struggle never gets any more complex than victimhood. Even the Scoia’tael, known in the novels for their barbarism, are solely depicted as the oppressed.
Of course, what some audiences really want to know is whether or not The Witcher Season 2 will offer music-lovers anything better, or at least similar, to the bard’s “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher.” Singer and actor Joey Batey returns as the bard Jaskier, showing off both his singing and acting talents with a brand new song, “Burn,” and some intensely emotional scenes. Batey is still undeniably charismatic — a pleasure to watch and listen to — but the songs he is given are nowhere near as memorable or catchy as the Season 1 hit.
All in all, Season 2 of The Witcher is a beautiful expansion of Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer’s story, with all the witty dialogue and monster-hunting action that fans expect. The show continues to exhibit huge potential, but it’s held back by uncertainty in its writing and inconsistencies in Netflix’s world-building. Thankfully, solid performances from some of the show’s stars, as well as a plethora of hideous and interesting monsters, keep the series enjoyable enough for fans to look forward to The Witcher Season 3.