As a college student, there are many things I constantly want to avoid: homework, tests, quizzes and drama. And for me, there is no better escape than jumping into a fantasy realm full of mythical creatures and twisted magic. When the first season of The Witcher came out on Netflix in 2019, I was hooked. I had never heard of the books or the computer games, but monsters, witches, princesses and Henry Cavill… I mean come on, how could I resist?
By the end of the first season, our protagonists, Ciri (Freya Allan) and Geralt (Henry Cavill) had finally found each other, while Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) was supposedly burned to a crisp after her spectacular eruption of chaos at the Battle of Sodden Hill - spoiler alert!
I will rightfully admit, the three timelines of season one were somewhat confusing. I felt like the real story had only just begun when the series ended. Finally, all the characters that I had grown to love were on the same page. Admittedly, there was so much to love about season one – the romance between Geralt and Yennefer, the epic monster fights and political intrigue, the dragon, everyone's favorite bard, Jaskier (Joey Bately) – that I may have just been upset it had come to an end. Either way, I was chomping at the bit for season two.
Luckily for us Witcher lovers, Netflix released season two and it picks up exactly where season one left us. The series follows Geralt and Ciri as they travel back to Kaer Morhen, Geralt’s home and the Witcher keep, for the winter. Other story lines include Yennefer’s misadventures after losing her power in the Battle of Sodden Hill, and Fringilla Vigo’s attempt to stay in the White Flame of Nilfgaard’s good graces. This season may have had a far more conventional timeline, but it failed to focus on what viewers so desperately wanted to see – case and point: Jaskier didn’t come on screen until well into the season.
While audiences raved about the first season, season two had far more negative reviews. Critics on Rotten Tomatoes rated the latest season 94%, in stark contrast with the 68% rating of season one. Yet audiences had the exact opposite reaction: season one’s 90% turned to a withering 60% for season two. I personally don't think season two deserved most of the slander it received -- I'd rate it at a solid 90% -- but the first season set the bar high.
The discrepancy comes from the audiences’ knowledge and loyalty to the characters from the games and books. While the actors were commended on their talented and accurate portrayals of the main characters, the character arcs of beloved side characters and the story itself were highly criticized. Many audience members asserted the second season was so far-flung from the books and games that it was less of an adaptation and closer to fan fiction. To many audience members, the philosophical questions and political intrigue was weak, the world building was nonexistent, and popular side characters like Vesimir (Kim Bodnia), Eskel (Basil Eidenbenz), and Lambert (Paul Bullion) deserved way more attention than given.
However, there were many viewers who had previously read the books or played the games and still enjoyed the second season immensely. Some highlights included seeing Geralt interact with his brothers and take on a more protective, father figure role to Ciri, Jaskier’s new song, Burn Butcher Burn (Jaskier’s edition) and the Yennefer/Jaskier relationship dynamic. The monster designs were impressive too, with new monsters including a leshy (tree-like monster), bruxa (vampire), and a chernobog (a deity of darkness) - and let's not forget about the incredible fight scenes that had me on the edge of my seat. My biggest critique, though, would have to be the pacing of this season.
Don't get me wrong, the season is definitely worth the watch. And while there were several highlights, the storyline with the negotiations between the Nilfgaardians and the elves (namely, Fringilla’s storyline) was rather dull, bordering on obnoxious – especially when you are so eager to get back to Geralt and Ciri or Yennefer or Jaskier. The episode would come to a screeching halt whenever Fringilla’s scenes popped up. To put it simply, there was no stimulation or real conflict in this storyline. The characters were two dimensional and predictable, and I felt no investment in what happened to them.
Hopefully, we will see more from the relationships we love in season three. No spoilers here, but the ending of season two definitely implied we’d be seeing a lot more Yennefer-Ciri-Geralt content where they’re all in one place (for once). That said, we can only hope and pray that Jaskier is just as prominent. Well, there you have it - my unfiltered and honest review of the lasted season of The Witcher. If you have yet to watch season one, give it a try! You won't regret it.