Geralt and Ciri’s Heartfelt Bond Anchors a Political Third Season of The WitcherPhoto Courtesy of Netflix TV Reviews The Witcher
Netflix’s The Witcher is truly so much better than it has any right to be. The tale of magically enhanced monster hunter Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) who slays a variety of horrifying creatures in a vaguely medieval-inspired kingdom and loves baths, the series—which is based on a series of popular novels that has already inspired a successful video game franchise—is loud and ridiculous, leaning into familiar fantasy tropes even as it gleefully subverts most of them, giving its female characters plenty of depth and agency alongside a hulking hero with a decidedly old soul.
Season 3 retains much of what makes The Witcher so enjoyable, mixing over half a dozen major characters, complicated relationships, and blockbuster storylines together to form something that’s simultaneously smart, self-aware, and loads of fun to watch. The show has always trusted its audience to come along for the ride, whether that means embracing significant changes from the source material, rolling with a non-linear narrative, or following an increasingly fractured and complicated plot that often doesn’t involve our titular hero in any direct way.
This latest season is far and away The Witcher’s most political outing yet, trading in gnarly monster fights for exposition-heavy negotiations, secretive plotting, and backroom dealing between a wide variety of elves, mages, and human kings, all with their own goals and agendas. (Though it must be said the show’s most disgusting monster yet does appear this season.) Betrayals and back-stabbing abound and there are moments where it feels utterly impossible to know who we, as viewers, should trust at any moment. But despite its occasional bursts of action, it’s a remarkably slow-moving season, and the connections between its various pieces aren’t entirely clear after five episodes. And thanks to an influx of unexpected external factors, it’s also difficult to know how to feel about Season 3 as a whole at this point.
We’re coming into this run of episodes already knowing that Henry Cavill will be departing the series after this season, with Liam Hemsworth replacing him for the already-greenlit fourth outing. (A choice that many viewers already worry is a somewhat questionable move, and which another reminder of how exceptional Cavill is in this role is unlikely to assuage.) And in a season that relies so much on the relationships between our three leads, the specter of Cavill’s impending absence hangs over every key moment, a ticking clock counting down to everything we’re about to lose. What’s worse, is that Netflix has made the rather baffling decision to split The Witcher’s third season into two (unequal!) parts.
The first five episodes of Season 3 premiere this week (and were made available to screen for critics), with the final three installments slated to arrive in July. But it’s glaringly apparent that this release schedule was made with more of an eye to business needs—primarily how such a popular series landing in two separate pieces might impact overall streaming numbers—than narrative necessity, and as a result, the overall execution is incredibly clunky. (Can you even call three episodes a second “volume”??) The split ultimately makes it feel as though Netflix simply decided to stop the story just as some of the season’s slow-burn narrative hints finally began to pay off.
The first half of Season 3 sees Geralt, Cirilla of Cintra (Freya Allan), and sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra) on the run, desperate to stay one step ahead of the many dangerous factions who are attempting to find and claim the Cintran princess for their own nefarious ends. (One of which is her own father, who was revealed to still be alive in the closing moments of Season 2.) Cozy found-family montages of our favorite trio simultaneously illustrate Yennefer’s attempts to both teach Ciri magic and earn her way back into Geralt’s good graces, alongside the younger woman’s growing frustration with her inability to consistently access or control the power she holds. But as increasingly dangerous enemies from Rience, the unstable fire mage to the Wild Hunt, stalk Ciri’s footsteps, the group realizes the only chance for her to truly unlock her powers is at the magical academy of Aretuza with the help of Yennefer’s old mentor, Tissaia de Vries (MyAnna Burning).
Elsewhere across the Continent, Elven leader Francesca Findabar (Mecia Simson) is determined to find Ciri, whose Elder Blood she believes will ultimately help lead her people to salvation. Emhyr (Bart Edwards), the infamous White Flame and leader of Nilfgaard, is eager to reclaim his missing daughter. And various factions in Redania, from King Vizimer (Ed Birch) to his younger brother Radovid (Hugh Skinner) and his spymaster Sigismund Dijkstra (Graham McTavish) have plans of their own for the girl and the power—both magical and otherwise—she represents.
Despite the danger they’re all constantly in, it’s a pure delight to finally see the series’ three leads sharing a screen together. And, to its credit, while The Witcher clearly delights in showcasing the charming found family bond between them that viewers have been so long to see, not everything between and among the group is hearts and flowers. The consequences of Yennefer’s actions last season are not glossed over and her relationship with Ciri has some particularly necessary growing pains. But it’s the slowly maturing and deepening bond between Geralt and his Child of Surprise that is the true highlight of the season, and it’s as satisfying to watch the two open up to one another as it is to (finally!) get to see them fight side by side. (Sidebar: The fight coordinators on this show truly deserve a raise.)
Freya Allan continues to shine in The Witcher’s most underappreciated role, imbuing Ciri with a potent mixture of heart and grit that makes her endlessly compelling to watch. While her Season 2 journey primarily focused on her learning to fight alongside the witchers of Kaer Mohren, Ciri’s Season 3 story is about her deciding what it is that she wants to fight for. This season wrestles with some big questions about leadership, fate, loyalty, the kind of person you’re willing to become in the name of your own survival, and whether anyone can—or should—stay neutral in the face of injustice. It’s just too bad we’ll have to wait another month to find out if any of them have real answers.
The Witcher Season 3 Volume 1 premieres Thursday, June 29 on Netflix.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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