In Henry Cavill’s Final Episodes, The Witcher Season 3 Belongs to Its Women

TV Reviews The Witcher
In Henry Cavill’s Final Episodes, The Witcher Season 3 Belongs to Its Women

No matter how you feel about The Witcher’s third season on Netflix, watching its final three episodes is a bittersweet experience. After all, it’s the end of an era—star Henry Cavill, who’s always seemed so perfectly cast as Geralt of Rivia, the hulking monster hunter with a surprisingly old soul, exits the series at the conclusion of this run. He’ll be replaced by Liam Hemsworth when the show returns for Season 4, and almost everything about the series will change. Whether or not those changes will be for better or worse, we can’t yet know, but it’s hard not to feel a bit apprehensive about pushing play on this final group of episodes.

Particularly when a lot of viewers are likely already confused by Netflix’s decision to premiere The Witcher Season 3 in two separate parts, dropping each “volume” on the service a month apart. The split serves no real purpose beyond giving the streamer two separate launch dates to tout and, in several ways, it actually harms the momentum and narrative weight of the story the show is telling. With just three episodes in this second batch—one in which the bulk of the series’ main cast does not appear—there’s very little sense of narrative flow or pacing, and Volume 2 often feels strangely disconnected from what came before. (It’s very apparent that the season wasn’t conceived with this pause in mind, and viewers who arrive late enough to binge the whole thing are better off.) Plus if you can still remember the complex minutiae surrounding who precisely was aligned with whom or who had betrayed whom during the heavily political first volume after spending the past month watching other things, well, you’re a better person than I am.

That the circumstances surrounding this volume’s release do it no favors is doubly disappointing because these three episodes are far and away the best of the season, paying off several of the story’s larger themes involving family, neutrality, and justice in ways that likely would have landed much more strongly had we been able to watch all eight episodes of Season 3 at once. There are several huge action set pieces, shocking deaths, and the sort of big character moments that fans have undoubtably been anxiously waiting to see. These installments also (thankfully) feature much less political maneuvering than their predecessors, largely due to the fact that many of the primary schemers are either dead or sidelined. As a result, the story’s stakes coalesce into something much more clear and straightforward, as Geralt, sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra), and Cintran princess Ciri (Freya Allan) are once again set on distinct paths that will test the core of each character. 

But for all that these are Cavill’s final episodes as the show’s titular monster hunter, Geralt generally takes a back seat to those around him as Season 3 barrels toward its close. In his place, this volume ends by focusing on that which has always been key to this series’ success:  Its women. The female characters of The Witcher Season 3 are the driving force behind almost every aspect of its story, from the literal battle for control of Aretuza to a metaphorical fight for the fate of a young girl’s soul. 

Yennefer, having spent most of the first two seasons obsessed with chasing her own fertility and power, has found herself becoming both a mother and a mentor in an unexpected but deeply satisfying fashion, and her layered, multi-faceted relationship with Ciri has developed into a highlight of the season (and the show itself). As for the Cintran princess, the Lion Cub is forced to learn to stand—and fight—on her own, using both her magic and her intelligence to survive a brutal landscape after she travels through a portal that strands her in the Korath Desert. 

The season’s penultimate episode is an almost exclusively Ciri-focused hour in which she must not only navigate brutal physical conditions, but wrestle with the cruel voices in her own head that insist she’ll never be strong enough to survive a world where so many people want to control her fate. Fans of both Andrzej Sapkowsk‘s novels and the video game franchise they inspired already know that although this show is called The Witcher, its future lies with Ciri, and Allan has repeatedly proven herself more than capable of carrying the weight of this franchise on her shoulders, but perhaps never more so than here. 

Yennefer and Ciri aren’t the only female characters given the chance to shine as Season 3 comes to a close. The sorceress’s return to her former home of Aretuza allows her to reconnect with many of her magical sisters, several of which have key roles to play in the season’s broader endgame including Triss (Anna Shafer), Sabrina (Therica Wilson-Read), and Keira (Safiyya Ingar). Her complex relationship with her former teacher Tissaia (MyAnna Burning) is given new depth and shading thanks to Yennefer’s bond with Ciri, which places them both on a more even emotional footing, perhaps allowing the two women to truly understand one another for the first time.  Burning does some of her best work yet as Tissaia, as the Continent’s most powerful mage finally gets to show off exactly what that moniker means during an epic battle sequence, and the introduction of Meng’er Zhang as the talented archer Milva hints at exciting things to come in future installments. 

Cavill remains as perfectly cast as ever, but outside of a handful of brutal fight sequences, Geralt is given little to do on his own. Another separation from Ciri—and the escalation of the threat against her from both Emhyr and Nilfgaard—forces him to confront his long-held conviction to hold himself apart from the Continent’s larger human squabbles, and his belief that neutrality is the only position he can safely hold. One of the most compelling aspects of Cavill’s performance has always been his Peak Dad Energy when it comes to his Child of Surprise, and his ferocious determination to protect her leads to some surprisingly emotional moments. A worthy legacy for his turn as the White Wolf, but viewers will likely wish we’d gotten to spend more time with him before the end. 

The Witcher Season 3 Volume 2 premieres July 27th 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.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV

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