After a yearlong wait, Netflix’s second season of The Witcher was highly anticipated. Created by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and adapted from Andrzej Sapowski’s eponymous novel series, the show starred Henry Cavill, Freya Allen and Anya Chalotra in prominent roles in the first season. With a huge and dedicated fanbase, most of whom have read the books and played the famous CD Projekt Red games, the show made a bombastic return this December. With its prequel series and another third season on the way besides other spin-offs, the Witcher-verse is continuously expanding.
The second season was a huge step-up from the first in terms of visual aesthetics. Better cinematography, well-choreographed fight sequences, brilliant colours and costumes as well as incredible sets made up for the flimsier ones in the first season. The locations of Cintra, Oxenfurt and Kaer Morhen looked lively and enchanting and sprang to life. The characters had better hairdos, better makeup and somehow looked more energetic and believable. While fans were divided over the season, many masking their disappointment at being let down by the lack of similarity between the show and the original source text, it is important to acknowledge the creative liberty of Hissrich and her team.
Despite various misgivings, Hissrich managed to concoct a riveting season out of the elements at hand. However, the concoction was majorly flawed due to the lack of time and the rushed nature of things that hindered the proper development of the season. At times, it was almost hilariously unbelievable. Since it felt rushed and underdeveloped, many have drawn a parallel between The Witcher season two and Game of Thrones season seven; the latter was vehemently criticised for viciously destroying the wonderful narrative that had been woven for six seasons. The characters in the second season of The Witcher are all driven by their individual motivations but somehow do not appear very compelling. Their actions are confusing, and their responses are extremely paltry and unimpressive.
Yennefer, for instance, is portrayed in a negative light in the show. After she promises Ciri to the Deathless Mother in exchange for her powers of the Chaos being restored, she is unaware of Ciri’s identity. Later, when she finds out about Geralt being a father figure to Ciri, given yen’s love for the man, she would never endanger the child. Nevertheless, she ends up doing the same moments after reuniting with Geralt, which seems pretty hard to believe. Fringella’s intentions are murky as well, and the Elven queen Francesca’s refusal to keep her oath after giving birth to a pure-blood elf baby seems pretty foolish. Surely a marginalised group would not want to incur the wrath of the bloodthirsty Nilfgaardian empire?
The monsters in the second season are not very appealing either. Except for the Leshy scene, the other monsters cannot rival those in season one. The Leshy is lifelike, bearing similarities to the description in the book and Hissrich and her team’s idea of turning Geralt’s dearest comrade-in-arms into one was brilliant and heart-wrenching. Although fans have criticised such early disposal of such an important character, Hissrich has argued that Eskel’s death at the hands of Geralt to save their mentor, aka Vesemir, portrayed by Kim Bodnia, adds further urgency to the situation and compels Geralt to train Ciri more seriously.
Although the entire season feels rushed and clumsy, with everyone arriving at the same conclusion of Princess Cirri being the pawn, deserving to be pursued, the best episode remains the first one in the season, titled ‘A Grain of Truth’. The episode resonates with the true spirit of the series and the games where one has to uncover the meaning of a real monster where real monsters are more human than we think- an idea pervading fantasy, sci-fi and mythical genres.
In the first episode, Geralt and Ciri seek shelter in Geralt’s old friend Nivellen’s lonesome mansion. Nivellen, played by Kristofer Hivju, is a half-man half-boar and despite his courteous reception, we cannot help but be wary of him. He is hiding something and Geralt gets a whiff of it early on. Nivellen has the best dialogues in the entire series after Geralt, despite making a brief appearance in only the first episode. Beneath this gruff exterior, there lies a man hungry for love, waiting to be freed from the curse of the priestess. When he talks about how he feels the man within himself still stay alive, we cannot help but empathise with him. Even after Geralt kills a vicious and vampiric bruxa residing in his mansion as she threatens Cirri, we feel sorry for the man as he says he loved her and let her feed on him in exchange.
However, it is ultimately revealed that Nivellen is indeed a monster when he confesses his crime of raping the priestess. His confession leads to a loss of sympathy as we ponder over how two monsters- a literal and another metaphorical- bonded over their shared misery and anguish. Nivellen’s confession is a pivotal point in the series as Cirri learns the grim reality and the dark nature of the world around her and agrees to pay more heed to Geralt’s instructions. The beautiful arc the first episode builds is quickly destroyed by the stereotypical witchers being rough barbarians, drinking away and engaging in debauchery.
Throughout the season, the first episode will always be the most human and meaningful. The introduction of other characters to accelerate Ciri’s journey is cluttered and clumsy, making the season appear a little amateurish. However, you would be glad to know that Geralt is no longer the dark, brooding Witcher. Sure, he is a black sheep even in his home but he says a lot more than a few disgruntled four-lettered words, unlike the first season.
Pro-tip, do not forget to turn your brightness up to the highest level, lest you miss out on the well-stylised fight sequences that attempt to pathetically cover up for the lack of understanding of time, space and dimension in the series! Also, do not go looking for an ultimate bop like “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher” from the first season – amidst the confused musical scores, you will not find any.