‘The Witcher’: Henry Cavill Flexes His Fantasy Muscles in a Broader Season 2
Netflix’s “The Witcher” returns on time for a moment where viewers are particularly hungry to escape. One of the essentials in many classic fantasies is the journey, that sense of following characters traversing some vast magical world. Among the growing roster of new fantasy shows being produced by nearly every streamer, “The Witcher” feels like it isn’t consciously trying to copy “Game of Thrones.” It’s a full throttle fantasy made for fans of the genre, those who memorize terms like “mind melds” and entire maps of exotically named cities. Still looking plucked from a Frank Frazetta painting, Henry Cavill is also allowed to deepen his character this season. The loner has to become more of a teacher this time around.
Last season ended, as if there was any other way, with a big battle that left the fate of the main characters in question. Season two opens with a skillful recap and catching up with everyone. Witcher Geralt (Cavill) is now on the road with Ciri (Freya Allan), the princess who fled her destroyed home last season who is actually the demon hunter’s daughter. Meanwhile Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) is the prisoner of Fringilla (Mimi Ndiweni), who underwent a transformation last season into a Nilfgaardian ice queen and wiped out a whole armada of soldiers. Wandering the scorched spot where the Battle of Sodden took place is Tissaia (MyAnna Buring). She manages to capture nemesis Cahir (Eamon Farren) and carry out a brutal mind meld. She has also misled Geralt into thinking Yennefer died. As various forces reconstitute for another showdown, Geralt begins to introduce Ciri to his world and work, which means she will also begin training in the ways of slaying monsters.
This second season of “The Witcher” expands its world while never losing its tone. The source material for the scripts remains the books by Andrzej Sapkowski, in particular the short stories which help give the series its travelog feel. Episodes are still formatted in a “monster of the week” style except now they flow into a bigger story centered on the Battle of Sodden and its aftershocks. As we follow Geralt and Ciri on new adventures, episodes also return to events involving the rest of the big roster. This is yet another show where if you missed out on the first season you’ll be lost in this one, or at least take good notes. Luckily the narrative is not treated in a crammed way. The first episode sets the general mood nicely by adapting one of Sapkowski’s short stories into a gothic tale where Geralt and Ciri find themselves staying in the grand home of Nivellen (Kristofer Hivju), a beast who was once human. Years ago Nivellan was a young man, but when he desecrated a sacred temple a priestess punished him by turning him into a beast. Unlike the fairy tale you can already guess inspired this story, the key to making Nivellan isn’t finding romance. The plot culminates in Geralt and Cici facing off against some demonic forces they thoroughly slay.
As entertainment, “The Witcher” sells its material well because it also has a genuine sense of fun and humor. Other fantasy series are too somber and are convinced their schlocky scripts belong next to “The Iliad.” Fans of the series surely connect with the stories, yet even Cavill looks like he’s having genuine fun putting on a straight face when Nivellan agrees to a drinking game involving knife throws. Later on Geralt brings Ciri to Kaer Morhen (again, taking notes is essential if you don’t know), the main base of the witchers. They all look more like refugees from a Viking flick like “Beowulf” or “The 13th Warrior,” pounding mugs and holding on to wenches. A late night orgy is not out of the question in this place. Their leader is Vesemir (Kim Bodnia), imagined with a shaggy macho presence. Despite coming back to his home, Geralt is not the same sword-wielding warrior. He can still slice and dice a demon in midair, but now he is a father and Cavill also evokes well throughout the season the changes that occur inside. Of course being a parent also means having to deal with the fact that your offspring is an autonomous person. Ciri is stubborn (she was raised as a princess after all) which gives poor Geralt endless headaches.
Geralt’s growth as a new father is contrasted well with the journeys the other characters endure. Tissaia and Yennefer are also forced to change and adapt in their own ways. By episode three Yennefer has lost her powers, a development which not only throws her into a void of self-doubt, but poses a challenge for Tissaia, who has been a mother figure to Yennefer since last season. Inevitably, Yennefer will get so desperate she will try to get help from a particularly dangerous character. Each storyline is given proper space during the season’s eight episodes. What season two is missing, and slightly missed from last season, is more inclusion of small details like folk ballads, such as “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher,” crooned by the doomed troubadour of last season. These are missed indulgences, however. For fans of this show and newcomers, “The Witcher” still delivers enough escapist fun.“
The Witcher” season two begins streaming Dec. 17 on Netflix.