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The Witcher Season 2 review – a more confident emotional follow-up

December 16, 2021

This The Witcher Season 2 review is spoiler-free.

The success of The Witcher was not a surprise. Despite the historical tendency of video game adaptations to be dismal, the series, like the games, drew on Andrzej Sapkowski’s sprawling novels and short stories about the mutated monster hunter Geralt of Rivia. So, he had a rich vein of Polish folklore to fathom, not to mention the endless amounts of Netflix cash to spend, and the handsome face of proud Herculean uber-nerd Henry Cavill to sell it. That and a legion of fans of the books and games meant that the first season of The witcher was almost guaranteed to succeed.

It’s a surprise, however, that it tastes as good as it ended up being; a great fantasy adventure with terrific effects, action, and characters, even though it was choked with dense thickets of mythology and made unnecessarily complex by several different timelines and a half-too-intelligent structure that made it impossible to put them together until near the end. The good news about The witcher Season 2, or at least the six (of eight) episodes that were provided to critics, is that it eliminates most of these more pernicious issues. It picks up right after the explosive climax of the Battle of Sodden and stays on mostly narrow tracks from there, keeping the narrative arc clear while fleshing out details and characters that had already been introduced rather than stack new ones just to check boxes.

Make no mistake, it’s still complicated. There is always some detective work to be done when returning to a complex show, even if you’re someone like me who knows the property fairly well. A brief introduction, then: After the Battle of Sodden, Geralt (Cavill) transports Ciri (Freya Allen) to the relative safety of Kaer Morhen, the former dungeon where Witchers – monster hunter mutants with cat eyes, prowess minor magics, and elite fighting skills by a series of cocktails – hang out in the winter. He hopes to train her while he determines what to do with her, as she is obviously important to the fate of the world in a still undefined and nebulous way. In the meantime, Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) finds herself in the company of Fringilla (Mimî M. Khayisa) and later of Jaskier (Joey Batey), while she faces another existential crisis. In terms of the big world-building stuff, there’s a power struggle within the Council of Mages, the Northern Kingdoms are still at war with Nilfgaard, and the Elves are making their own moves, and pretty much every side character that we met in the first season coming back for another outing, with varying degrees of importance.

There’s some left manybut this time around it’s arranged with much more confidence and meaning, with high-level mythological underpinnings – the Conjunction of the Spheres, for example, is of major importance – explained in relatively simple terms, often through visuals and actions, rather than being patronizing simplicity or an overwhelming majority. Characters and subplots develop and intersect in mostly logical ways. The series makes sure to give its main actors time to bond, develop, and question themselves rather than the plot. There’s less time spent on indulgent sex, nudity, and comedic relief. It feels like he knows where he’s going, how to get there and when to take a break along the way.

None of this is to say that the second season is humorless. Geralt is a source of daddy jokes, Dandelion has another hit song – this time a soft-rock breakup hymn – and there’s plenty of banter among the three generations of Witchers crammed into the cold halls of Kaer Morhen. But as the stakes rise, the characters seem to mellow, becoming more aware of what they have to lose and what they still have to preserve. Family dynamics – between Vesemir (Kim Bodnia) and his wizards, especially Geralt; between Geralt and Ciri; between Yennefer and Tissaia (MyAnna Buring); and so on, and so on – are what brings it all together, showing a softer side to what is often a dark, brutal universe filled with monsters of all kinds.

These monsters, made costly in impressive visual effects, are still there in abundance, but the Monster of the Week format that justified their inclusion in the first season is gone. This results in a more naturalistic adventure that still manages to provide a whole menagerie of terrible beasts, although the worst remain, as always, the ones that are most like us. Fortunately, the show is light on contemporary social commentary and analogues, unless you’re looking for it. The feeling of pestilence and ruin that befalls everything could quite easily be considered relatable in a world beset with more fear and uncertainty than ever before, but this is only a coincidence. And the Elves, who strive to reclaim a future taken from them while enduring the endless hostility of the world built on their own ruins, are a classic of the fantasy genre, even if the metaphor is clear. This positions The witcher Season 2, I think, is the kind of escape that we need, but not the kind that has completely forgotten the reality that we are trying to escape. So much the better, then, that it is a constant reminder of what is worth preserving.

You can stream Season 2 of The Witcher exclusively on Netflix.

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