I’ll be honest—I cackled my way through the first season of Netflix’s The Witcher. While it certainly had its serious moments, mostly I remember it, fondly, for its wild sword fights and muddy faux-medieval towns, its ridiculous bard groupies, gleefully gratuitous nudity and wacky magic that turned people into eels and hedgehogs, while Henry Cavill, as the eponymous Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, trudged grimly through it all with the most hilariously put-upon expression I’ve ever seen on a person. Geralt was 1,000% Done With These People, the entire season—and who could blame him? Although it was entertaining and somewhat silly, the show lacked any substance.
Season 2 was exactly what I expected. It’s not. It’s better, at least based on the first four episodes. These are just a few of the reasons.
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The show is taking its story more seriously—and telling it better
The new season has a gravity and heft—and sense—to it that the previous season lacked. The first season was a hectic, scattershot, often bewildering collision course of two (or arguably three) timelines, further muddied by two functionally immortal lead characters (Geralt and Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer of Vengerberg) whose lack of aging made it hard for the audience to grasp where we were in the timeline. The plot as well as the tone of the show were wildly inconsistent. It was entertaining, but it caused me occasional narrative whiplash.
This madness is resolved at the final shot of Season 1’s finale. Geralt (Freya Alan) and Princess Cirilla, the Child of Surprise, literally cross paths and meet their respective time-and plotlines. The tone changes almost instantly in Season 2 but Season 1 continues exactly where it left off. The frantic pace eases up and the show seems to settle down, as if the creators have figured out where they’re going with the story and the characters, and how to get there without resorting to strange time-jumping shenanigans. It’s refreshing.
The new season is also taking distinct advantage of the fact that its audience now has a grounding in this world—the characters, the setting, the basic rules, the stakes in play—and can get on with broadening and deepening those characters and their stories. This is what all second seasons should do, of course, but it’s remarkable how many choose to try and regurgitate the first season instead, trying to sustain their success by hewing to the original formula as closely as possible. The Witcher’s showrunners didn’t fall into that trap, and the show is much improved as a result.
The humor is still there, but it’s more restrained
Lest you think I am implying that the show is no longer funny, rest assured: it’s still funny. For example, the first episode features a comical character who uses magic to manifest the things he wants (including food and drinks) and drops them from the ceiling. It’s a hilarious episode. The new series has more humor than ever before. No matter the mood or scene, overall writing quality is smoother.
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Less sex is more—no, really
I feel certain that some will mourn the comparative lack of orgies at every turn in the new season (at least through the midway point), but honestly, while I certainly didn’t Remember repeatedly ogling a mostly-naked Cavill in the first season, along with many other pretty people, ultimately it just felt like the show was trying a little too hard to be edgy and—dare I say it—Game of Thrones-y. Even for viewers who aren’t particularly prudish, orgies, much like habanero peppers, are a spice best used sparingly.
Don’t get me wrong, I adored Geralt’s hyper-stoic “a grunt is worth a thousand lines of dialogue” character, and I know I wasn’t the only one. Even Netflix itself got in on the memes devoted to Geralt’s hilarious lack of verbosity in the first season, but that’s a gag that would have gotten old eventually, and fortunately the writers realized this. Although Geralt may not be a chatterbox in Season 2, he still has much to say and we are able to get a better understanding of his personality.
A large part of it has to do Why? he’s obliged to be more expressive, which that he is now, suddenly, a father, or the magical destiny Law of Surprise equivalent of one, and Geralt’s sense of duty and honor means he can’t allow himself to be bad at parenting any more than he can allow himself to be bad at monster-killing. Geralt takes communication seriously and good parenting is about having good communication.
Also, Cavill’s Geralt voice is Very, very deep. Growly. I’m just… putting that out there.
Actors are getting better along with the story
The acting seems to be in the same place as the writing. Cavill’s portrayal of Geralt was always a great one, but Cavill has exhibited a deeper range in emotion and dialogue. he’s afforded in the new season showcases his acting ability to great effect. I don’t love everything about the mainstreaming of science fiction and fantasy these days, but I definitely do love that it allows the casting of A-list talent to portray it, and his presence in this series is a prime example.
Freya Allan’s Ciri is inscrutable and vulnerable by turns, expertly walking the line of a character who is fey and potentially monstrous in power, but also a young girl facing down a frightening and hostile world with sheer mulish determination. Meanwhile, Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer continues to grow away from the one-note cipher she had occasionally threatened to be in Season 1, into a complex person who is questioning who and what she is and her place in the world.
It would be spoilerish to discuss other notable performances, but Season 1 viewers who want to learn more about certain events and people will find some great treats.
This show explores deeper themes
Most delightfully to my critic’s heart, the show is also interrogating its own premises, and questioning them in a way that’s maybe startlingly profound for a series about monsters. It is actually asking the following question: What does it take to be a monster, and what are its implications? Which aspects are necessary to qualify for this term? Are creatures, such as predators, that kill to survive by their natural environment, more evil than people who just want to do horrible things to one another? Are you a monster because of your ability to harm others? What makes Ciri such a monster? Geralt is it? Is Yennefer?
The episode begins with this dilemma, but it’s not the last. The WitcherLike many science fiction/fantasy stories, this is a story for the 21st Century: beautiful and ugly, delicate and crude, with a lot of irony, cynicism, wonder and the possibly foolish, but still unkillable belief, that there always are heroes. They need to take baths and have fewer friends that turn into murderous trees. (You’ll see.)
Look ahead at what’s next
Season 1 The Witcher It was excellent. Season 2 is already better and on its way to potentially being great. It comes down to this: There is only one goal any story should accomplish. The WitcherIt has been achieved. This show achieved the highest coveted audience status, according to me. These characters deserve my attention. And that’s the best any storyteller anywhere can hope for.
Leigh Butler, a blogger, writer and critic examines the effects of sociocultural factors on popular science fiction (and vice versa) For many years, she has been a columnist.Three series have been produced by her since 2009: A Read of Ice and Fire and The Wheel of Time Reread. New Orleans is her home.