The below contains full spoilers for Season 2, Episode 8 of The Witcher. For more a refresher, see our review of the previous episode, or check out our spoiler-free review of the first six episodes of Season 2.
I embarked on The Witcher’s second season with a fair amount of optimism. My expectation was that dispensing with the anthology structure would be good for the show, a more straightforward approach giving its hidden strengths a chance to come to the surface. What I got was a show that remains disjointed but promising, one that continues to be carried by its likable cast and (usually) strong setpieces.
As Season 2 draws to a close, it feels in some ways like we’ve finally reached the starting line. If Season 1 was our introduction to the characters via a series of short stories, then Season 2 was about getting them together so their story could truly begin in earnest. I’ve criticized The Witcher’s characterization, pacing, and worldbuilding throughout this season, but I’ll grant that the board is now set.
The Witcher Season Two Images
To that end, the final episode of Season 2 is split into two parts: dispensing with the Deathless Mother, and previewing Season 3. The former is handled through a large battle at Kaer Morhen, juxtaposed against a dream sequence in which Ciri is forced to confront her painful relationship with Calanthe, her racist and genocidal grandmother, as well as her lingering survivor’s guilt from Cintra. The latter broadly canvasses Nilfgaard, Redania, and the rest of the Witcher’s world, all of whom now have their own designs for Ciri.
Oh yes, and Yennefer gets her powers back, which even the show treats with a shrug.
It makes me wonder if I might be thinking too hard about The Witcher, a show that makes broad gestures toward intrigue and emotional complexity, but is more content being a pulp fantasy series with magic and monster fights. It’s reflected again in this episode, which sees a possessed Ciri unleash a clutch of basilisks within Kaer Morhen, forcing the Witcher into a bloody battle while she wanders through her dream world. Yes, there’s some pretty heavy subtext about Ciri emotionally leaving her biological family behind to join her found family in Geralt and Yennefer. But also, a CG basilisk chews a Witcher’s head off in Kaer Morhen. Cool, right?
I’ve reflected more than once that I would probably have been kinder to this season if I had just been watching it casually, probably while playing Animal Crossing or something. When you pay too much attention, the seams in the storytelling start to become apparent. One of the reasons I think The Witcher has proven so popular is that it goes down easy – that Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer are likable characters who show just enough complexity to avoid being one-dimensional, but otherwise don’t have to be considered too deeply.
Anyway, suffice it to say that Voleth Meir is eventually defeated, Yennefer is somewhat redeemed (Geralt says he still doesn’t forgive her; I hope he doesn’t), and the fragile bonds of family are formed. Voleth Meir turns out to be a literal embodiment of pain and trauma, which also connects back to the Conjunction of the Spheres, and to Ciri blowing up the Monolith way back in Season 1 – still a sideshow, but I appreciate The Witcher’s attempts to tie her meaningfully into Ciri’s story. We also get a glimpse of the Wild Hunt, an apocalyptic group of villains who will undoubtedly play a greater role in the season to come.
Speaking of next season, the last quarter or so of the finale is basically one long trailer for next year. We see all of the kingdoms scheming to make use of Ciri for their own ends; we see Rience and Lydia, the latter who now resembles Two-Face after her accident with the Witcher serum, and we get a glimpse of the true form of Philippa Eilhart, the owl who has been hanging out with Djikstra and Dara for much of the season.
Francesca, who has fully given up on trusting humanity, is out murdering babies in Redania, in a scene that seems intended to be evocative of a dark fantasy version of Passover. That would make the elves a catch-all for basically every single persecuted minority throughout history. I have more thoughts on this, which I articulated back in my review of Episode 4. The short version is that I think it’s kind of tacky for The Witcher to tackle subject matter like this when it doesn’t seem equipped to handle it, even if it’s (mostly) adapting the original books. Either way, the elves are out for revenge now, which is yet one more thread for Season 3 to pick up.
The episode’s final scene finally gives us a glimpse of Nilfgaardian Emperor Emhyr, the White Flame, who has been teased and hinted at for the bulk of the show’s run. Fringilla and Cahir make a feeble attempt to claim that they were responsible for Francesca’s child’s death, but Emhyr laughs them off and tells them that he was the one who did the dastardly deed. Turns out that Emhyr is actually Ciri’s father, meaning that he was actually Duny the cursed hedgehog from Season 1. Dun dun dun.
Netflix Spotlight: December 2021
Okay, this was all in the books, so the show is beholden to its source material here, but it’s a pretty funny twist on the face of it. Positively Star Wars-ian.
And that’s it for The Witcher Season 2 (make sure to stick around for the post-credits scene). I can’t say that I hated it, but it’s been a difficult series to review. It feels like the fans and the various stakeholders around the series all want it to be genuine prestige TV, the true successor to Game of Thrones, but I’m not sure even the showrunners are taking it that seriously.
Still, there are plenty of intriguing elements in place for Season 3 after all this year’s painstaking setup. Uneven as it was, this season was a small but vital step forward for The Witcher, laying the groundwork for what will hopefully be another improvement next year. Heck, I’m even kind of interested to see what Fringilla and Cahir get up to next season. In an era where shows like The Wheel of Time and Foundation are jockeying to fill the gap left by Game of Thrones with deadly serious takes on genre television, The Witcher has found a sort of joyful middle ground.
After two full seasons, I’m still not convinced it deserves to be analyzed all that deeply. But for all my criticism, I’ll just come out and say it: I’m looking forward to Season 3. Hopefully this is where the show truly begins.