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The Witcher Season 2, Episode 5 Review: “Turn Your Back”

The following contains full spoilers for The Witcher Season 2, Episode 5. For a refresher, see our review of the fourth episode, or check out our spoiler-free review of the first six episodes of Season 2.

A key Witcher characteristic — one that’s established quite early in the show — is that they can’t feel emotions. Or at least, that’s what people believe. It’s quite obvious that Geralt has some deep emotions, even if he keeps them buried most of the time. Watching with me last season, a friend of mine suggested that this is a metaphor for toxic masculinity, and that part of Geralt’s growth may be in surfacing the feelings he’s repressed for so long.

So when Ciri tries to become a Witcher herself to try and escape what I can only assume is her survivor’s guilt over the events in Cintra, it makes sense that Geralt would be the one to finally get through to her after Triss and Vesemir fail. It leads to one of the most affecting exchanges in the series so far.

The Witcher Season Two Images

“You are already enough, Cirilla,” Geralt says. “You are extraordinary.”

Geralt’s connection with Ciri has been one of The Witcher’s biggest strengths in its second season, and their familial chemistry is once again on display in this episode. It’s yet another example of Geralt’s outsized influence outstripping his actual screentime. It’s a credit to Henry Cavill that he consistently nails the handful of opportunities that Geralt has to show real emotional range, lending texture to a character who might otherwise be a two-dimensional Medieval Batman.

Geralt’s reassurance is one of several major developments in the fifth episode of Season 2, which occasionally totters under the weight of all the lore it has to support. Ciri and Yennefer dominate once again, as they have all season, and indeed have for the bulk of the show. Geralt, meanwhile, pairs with Istredd to investigate the mystery of the monoliths, which began to take center stage in the previous episode. Also making an appearance are Fringilla and a very pregnant Francesca, who continue to flirt relentlessly, but otherwise do very little outside of connect with Cahir, who is now in Xin’trea (née Cintra) after parting ways with Yennefer.

The opening moments introduce a mysterious mage who is destined to play a major role in the final three episodes of Witcher Season 2 — Rience, a psychopathic mage who enjoys playing with fire, as portrayed by Chris Fulton (better-known as Max from Succession). After being freed from prison, Rience goes on the hunt for Ciri, leading him to Jaskier. In an uncharacteristic bit of sympathy, Yennefer goes after Jaskier, eventually rescuing him after turning Rience’s love of fire against him in a painful bit of improvisation for Rience.

The Witcher has an issue with tonal whiplash whenever Jaskier appears.

I mentioned in the previous episode that The Witcher has an issue with tonal whiplash whenever Jaskier appears on the scene, and that’s one again the case here. While Ciri wrestles with becoming a Witcher and Geralt and Istredd delve deep into the Witcherverse’s lore, Yennefer and Jaskier embark on a brief comic caper, which includes Jaskier telling Yen, “You don’t get to be the damsel in distress. That’s my job.” (I’ll admit, I laughed).

The key turning point comes when Yen is captured, and with seemingly no way out, gives in to the temptations of The Deathless Mother from the second episode. The Deathless Mother says she can help Yennefer get her power back, and lo and behold, she points to Ciri as the key.

As plot contrivances go, I guess the Deathless Mother could be worse. While she’s an original creation by the show’s writers, she’s based at least partly on the Slavic legend of Baba Yaga, which makes her feel true to the setting. And Baba Yaga is an interesting and enigmatic character in her own right, capable of providing guidance one moment, then devouring you the next. The Witcher, of course, already has its own version of Baba Yaga, making her inclusion in this story… an interesting choice by the showrunners. But there’s at least some dramatic potential in Yennefer having to outwit the Deathless Mother to get her powers back, even if she’s done a pretty poor job of it to this point.

Istredd is likewise taking an increasingly prominent role this season, despite his sole defining characteristics being that he’s a researcher and that he’s still carrying a torch for Yennefer. In this episode, he investigates a monolith with Geralt, and also lets Geralt know that Yennefer is in fact alive. His best moment comes when helps Geralt take out a pair of Nilfgaardian soldiers, then quips to the audience, “See? I’m helpful.”

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Istredd’s presence is necessary because this is an extremely lore-heavy episode, delving into everything from the Conjunction of the Spheres — the Witcherverse’s equivalent of the Big Bang — to Ciri’s bloodline. It’s emblematic of The Witcher’s occasional pacing issues, as it’s apparent that this episode has a lot to cram in, from the introduction of Rience to revelations of Ciri’s true heritage to Vesemir’s attempts to revive the Witcher line.

On the other hand, it’s also a reminder that The Witcher faces an immense task in adapting Andrzej Sapkowski’s books, which so deftly incorporates Eastern European folklore, feudal politics, and century-spanning prophecies across its own broad canvas. The writers deserve at least some credit for being able to boil it all down into such a condensed format.

This season’s stakes are rapidly coming into focus.

One way or another, this season’s stakes are rapidly coming into focus. With a fire mage on the loose, Yennefer having a clear path to getting her powers back, and the Wild Hunt looming on the horizon, it feels like a lot can happen in the final three episodes of The Witcher Season 2.

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