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The Witcher Season 2, Episode 2 Review: “Kaer Morhen”

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

As we head into the second episode of Season 2, it’s worth talking briefly about the books. Netflix’s adaptation of The Witcher is ostensibly based on the novels rather than the games, but the first season caused a decent amount of consternation among book readers owing to the changes it made to the source material. Season 2 continues that trend in ways large and small, starting with the fate of Eskel, a fellow Witcher and one of Geralt’s best friends.

In so doing, it’s clearer than ever that The Witcher wishes to adapt Andrzej Sapkowski’s works — emphasis on “adapt.” My own position is that if Netflix’s version does enough to stand on its own, I’m willing to roll with it. And if nothing else, The Witcher has managed to remain entertaining on an episode-to-episode basis. But if book readers are frustrated because they feel the Netflix series is contrary to the spirit of the series — which marries Eastern European folklore with some of the richest worldbuilding in fantasy fiction — I can understand why as we delve further into The Witcher’s second season. Still, Episode 2, simply titled “Kaer Morhen,” keeps Season 2 on an upward trajectory, featuring major multiple developments for the main cast amidst another round of rousing monster battles.

The Witcher Season Two Images

It marks a momentous turn for The Witcher. After more than a season of buildup, this is the episode where Ciri finally arrives at Kaer Morhen to begin her training — something that fans of both the books and the games have looked forward to since the very first episode. Kaer Morhen — basically Witcher HQ — is Geralt’s home, and the last refuge for the nearly extinct line of Witchers. It’s portrayed as a starkly beautiful frat house, its all-male inhabitants alternating between telling bawdy jokes and hosting rowdy parties with employees from the local brothel (led by Danica, played by Imogen Daines, the sex worker last seen sleeping with Geralt in Season 1). It makes Ciri, who tried to keep her head down while awkwardly sipping her drink after first arriving, all the more conspicuous.

Geralt’s return to Kaer Morhen introduces us to more Witchers, including Vesemir (Kim Bodnia), a grizzled father figure whose horseshoe mustache makes him look like a trucker who slays monsters on the side. Lambert (Paul Bullion) is portrayed as a good-natured oaf nicknamed “Lambchop” by his brothers. Eskel (Basil Eidenbenz) arrives home after slaying a tree monster called a Leshy and is the first to notice Ciri, displaying open hostility toward Geralt’s ward.

As it turns out, Eskel is the zombie bite victim who never shares his condition with the rest of the party, as he is apparently turning into a Leshy himself. Tree Eskel mixes body horror with some serviceable special effects, continuing Season 2’s trend of entertaining monster battles and giving Geralt — and now Vesemir — an opportunity to use their Witcher powers and look cool while doing so. Ciri, meanwhile, takes refuge with the rest of Kaer Morhen’s guests, and is the only one who doesn’t end up fleeing, which winds up doing a lot of heavy lifting as the big moment that proves her determination to stay with Geralt and company.

If Ciri’s journey is meant to follow in the tradition of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, then Kaer Morhen would be the threshold she has to cross to enter Geralt’s world. There’s certainly plenty of encouragement for her to flee, whether in the form of monstrous Witchers or the rats living in her room (“Means it’s one of the good ones,” Geralt observes). It’s hard not to notice a misogynist streak in this episode as the other women flee and she stays, thus showing her apparent strength and earning her a place in the world of men.

The episode’s sympathies are firmly with Ciri.

“Look, Witchers fight. We run,” Danica says as she prepares to make her exit.

At the same time, the episode’s sympathies are firmly with Ciri, aware of how isolating trying to fit in a male-dominated environment can be. It makes it ever-so-slightly bittersweet when she visibly sheds the trappings of a princess to begin training with Geralt.

In the meantime, we return to Yennefer and Fringilla, last seen being captured by Francesca — an elven sorceress leading a band that includes Filavandrel, the elf who nearly killed Geralt and Jaskier in Season 1 (“The lying bard and his tunes,” Filavandrel grumbles at one point). Francesca is investigating the source of dreams she thinks can help her lead her people to the proverbial promised lands — visions she seemingly shares with Yennefer and Fringilla, which winds up taking the group to a witch living deep in the forest — The Witcher’s own Baba Yaga (indeed, the chant they use to summon her is straight from the fairy tale).

I’ll admit, I rolled my eyes at the opening dream sequence, as it recalled one of my least favorite ongoing storylines from Season 1: Yennefer’s quest to become a mother. I’m not going to unpack the entire debate in this review, but I’ll just say that I have some feelings about the notion of a woman somehow being inherently unfulfilled simply because she can’t have kids, even if it was also part of her character in the books.

Netflix Spotlight: December 2021

The end of last season seemed to resolve those storylines, as Yennefer ultimately went to battle at Sodden Hill and hadoukened Nilfgaard into oblivion with one stupendous fireball. But as this episode shows, there are consequences to her actions, which seem destined to linger for the rest of the season. It’s meant to be a complicated exploration of power and womanhood as Yennefer is broken down and steadily built back up. If Season 1 was one side of the equation, then Season 2 represents the other. Whether it ultimately works will depend a lot on where Yennefer goes from here, but I enjoy the notion of magic (or “Chaos”) as a finite resource and not just one big Win Button, as it tends to be other fantasy fiction.

For now, The Witcher is mostly concerned with setting up some of the show’s central conflicts for the season, introducing Francesca as a potentially powerful foe alongside Fringilla. In search of the meaning behind their individual visions, they delve into ancient elven ruins in search of the so-called Deathless Mother, who lives in a hut set on basilisk legs (it’s a cool moment when the house wakes and spins toward the party, its windows flashing like headlights). The climax cements the alliance between Francesca and Fringilla, and leaves Yennefer screaming into the wind.

It’s clear that this season of The Witcher has its own vision.

As with the first episode, it’s clear that this season of The Witcher has its own vision — one that’s more often than not tangential to the source material. But it’s once again apparent that The Witcher is a more confident show than it was in its first season, and that gives me hope as the story truly begins in earnest.

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