When the first season of The Witcher showed up a couple of years ago on Netflix, I was slow to watch it. From a distance, it looked too much like a Game of Thrones ripoff. But numerous recommendations eventually drove me to check it out, and I discovered a rich world with compelling characters, all based on a set of novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. I didn’t make that mistake with season 2. It dropped Friday and I pretty much binged through it Friday evening and yesterday.
The world of The Witcher is Tolkieneque in many ways, including elves, dwarves, dragons, and a human civilization roughly equivalent to a high medieval society. But this world is far darker and grittier than Tolkien’s. Here, the elves are a subjugated class and actively persecuted. It’s not clear the other races fare much better. It’s a world dominated by humans, with all the ills humans tend to bring in.
The origins of this situation appear to be tied up in an ancient event called “the Conjunction of the Spheres”, where multiple realities collided with each other, resulting in humans and the other races and entities being thrown together on “the Continent”. The Conjunction also appears to have let in a large variety of monsters which prey on humans and the others.
At one point, facing extinction, humans created a class of mutated warriors called witchers. The mission of the witchers is to find and destroy these monsters. However, it’s not like the witchers work selflessly. Needing to eat, they demand payment for their services. But the witchers have come on hard times, having lost the raw ingredients needed to create new witchers. Despite living long lives, they are dying out.
As the title suggests, the show is about one witcher in particular, Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is just trying to do his own thing, but gets tangled up in the politics of the Continent when he accidentally becomes the godfather for princess Cirilla of Cintra, a responsibility he is forced to rise to when Cintra is taken over by an invading army. Matters are complicated by the fact that Ciri (Cirilla) appears to have powers and to be a child of destiny sought by many players on the Continent.
Season 2 carries the story forward. Ciri, who appeared to need protection in the first season, starts to grow in her own in this season, and seems to be in the process of becoming a formidable character in her own right, albeit not without a significant amount of grief. The series appears to be developing in a direction where Geralt and his lover and mage Yennefer will guide her in her journey.
These stories often explore the battle between good and evil that exist in every person, sometimes showing a character giving in to fear and selfishness in one scene, only to rally in a later scene and sacrifice themselves to save others. But these aren’t happy and light tales, so it sometimes goes in the other direction.
It also appears that the persecution of the elves is going to be a major plot element in the series. In this season, the situation begins to escalate in a pretty horrible fashion, adding fuel to an already growing fire of troubles on the Continent.
Obviously there’s a lot going on in this series, and this only scratches the surface. I’m enjoying it a great deal and highly recommend it if fantasy is your cup of tea and you don’t mind a fair amount of sex and violence mixed in.
Hopefully the two years between the first and second season was COVID related and we’ll see the third season next year. But it appears there’s going to be a good amount of spin off material to watch. Last year a prequel animated series: The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf came out, which I enjoyed, albeit not as much as the main show. And there’s another live action prequel series, this one set centuries before the main series, coming next year: The Witcher: Blood Origin. There are also rumors of more coming out, so this is turning into a major franchise. Hope they can keep the quality up throughout all of it.
Have you seen the show? If so, what did you think about it?
26 thoughts on “The Witcher season 2”
Loved the first series and about to binge on the second. Personally I find it very lightweight compared to Tolkien but perhaps I am just an intellectual snob and I was after all an undergraduate at Tolkein’s university. So I might be forgiven for favouring that wise old don.
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Certainly the world isn’t nearly as developed as Tolkien’s. But Tolkien spent decades working out the mythology of his world. It seems like everyone else’s world is going to be lightweight compared to his. And Sapkowski obviously took a lot of ideas from Tolkien, but then a lot of Tolkien’s ideas come from Norse mythology.
I’ve only read a few pages of Sapkowski, but one thing I did immediately notice is how his magic system seems more developed. Of course, he probably got a lot of that from D&D, which itself got a lot from Jack Vance. There’s nothing new under the sun.
One blemish I think in Tolkien’s work is the idea of evil races, like the orcs and trolls. Sapkowski skirts with that notion with many of the monsters, but we often see that the monsters are as much victims as everyone else, and don’t always have free will. One monster this season warns someone not to run, because if they do, she won’t be able to control her impulse to attack. But this show really calls the idea of evil races into question, by showing that many humans regard elves as an evil race, despite the fact that the they are clearly just trying to survive.
“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.”
Indeed not. One of my favourite quotations.
You are right about the binary nature of good versus evil in Tolkien’s world but of course that is how traditionally we have wanted our morality and folk tales served up to us.
In practical and realistic terms there are no saints and no sinners. We are all a mixture of both, some veering more to one side, some to anther.
And that of course is to ignore the question of free will. With out which any talk of blame or fault is a nonsense.
Personally I tend to “act” and think as if I have free will or rather act in the belief that I have it. Which may of course turn out to be tautologous nonsense
On the whole I try to think, speak and act in a way that I believe to be right or kind or decent. I am all too well aware of so many times in my life when I have failed to live up to this objective.
Stories have an important part to play in our lives. They can teach and guide us in good directions or bad. Assuming you will agree for these purposes that the words “good” and “bad” have any meaning in the context of human behaviour.
Ecclesiastes is a strange book to be in the Bible. It seems more philosophical, almost existentialist, than reverent. I have to wonder about the story behind its canonicity.
It’s interesting that Tolkien shows humans have an internal struggle between good and evil. We see it play out in Boromir, Faramir, and Denethor. But most of the other races tend to be either good or evil.
If you read the Silmarillion, it’s implied that orcs were bred from captured elves, altered by the satanic Melkor to be evil, maybe in a way that took away their free will. But no one in LotR seems to think of them as victims, including those who should know, like Gandalf or the elf lords. (I think Frodo comes the closest in a conversation with Sam.)
In many ways though, I think the elves, dwarves, hobbits, and orcs end up being stand ins for different classes of humanity. The elves represent those in touch with nature, dwarves industriousness, albeit in a way that often gets carried away, hobbits the good common hard working English citizen, and orcs with their machines and attitudes equating with the worst of modernity in Tolkien’s eyes.
Of course, Tolkien was opposed to allegory, so all of this is likely more subconscious than intentional.
I am finding Season 2 more coherent than Season 1. There is still too much of “that can’t happen, followed by the thing happening, and an explanation for why it happened” but all in all it is good. But Netflix’s love of mood setting music, even when characters are talking, plus the voices developed for the characters ahs led me to turning on Close Captioning, which is distracting but helpful.
It is also now becoming clear how they can drop so many “movies” after just a one year wait. There are so many threads going, that don’t require all of the actors, that I am sure multiple production teams are filming simultaneously. The scenes then get stitched together in postproduction.
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Yeah, the first season had a lot of non-linear storytelling going on, with some events happening as much as a century before others shown back to back without any explanation. It forced us to mentally assemble it ourselves afterward. That’s tricky to pull off, and I think it turned many viewers off. Although given all the backstory they had to cover, I can understand why they did it. Thankfully, it’s all linear this time.
On the captions, I actually ended up doing the same thing. I could make out most of it, but every few minutes I would miss a word or phrase, and it got annoying enough that I finally turned on the captions. It’s not just Netflix. It’s happening in a lot of movies and TV shows, and getting really annoying. There was an article about it recently: https://www.slashfilm.com/673162/heres-why-movie-dialogue-has-gotten-more-difficult-to-understand-and-three-ways-to-fix-it/
Oh, to strike it rich with a franchise fortune.
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The dream. I hope Sapkowski is getting his share. Too often the author gets screwed, particularly foreign ones.
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I’ve never watched it. Heard good things about it, though. Fantasy isn’t my favorite form of fiction, and Medieval Fantasy especially. I read so much sword-and-sorcerer stuff when I was younger, that it takes something pretty usual. (There is also that, in fantasy, I lean towards comedies and the more tongue-in-cheek stuff. This sounds very serious and grim.)
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It is pretty serious and grim, but it does have humor. Geralt’s no nonsense reaction to a lot of situations, particularly when the parties involved are taking themselves very seriously, can sometimes be pretty funny. And there’s a bard character who always seems able to lighten the situation up. But it’s mostly gallows humor, and my guess would be that it’s not enough to make it work for you.
Yeah, it probably doesn’t make the cut when there is so much decent not-grim stuff around. I do like stories that are, at least a little, light-hearted.
Ironic example: I didn’t care much for Once Upon a Time, the ABC fairy-tales-are-real show because it took itself so seriously, but I did like the NBC version, Grimm, because it didn’t.
Can’t say I ever got into either of those. I think I watched a few minutes of Once Upon a Time and was so turned off by the fairy tale aspect that I avoided the rest. And I don’t think I saw even that much of Grimm. But urban fantasy, for reasons I can’t really articulate, are a tough sell for me. Maybe it’s just a preference for the escapism of a completely different world.
Do you like ghost stories or other supernatural horror? Ju-on, The Ring, etc?
Ghost and horror stories rarely interest me unless they’re part of some broader story. A lot of fantasy and science fiction I like have elements of those things, but only as part of some overall mystery, action, or adventure tale.
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Once Upon a Time is interesting because it was supposed to be based on a series of graphic novels called Fables but something fell apart in the negotiations and it went its own way. I gather it deteriorated as it continued because they didn’t really have much of a game plan.
Fables is great though, in my view. It’s based on fairy tales so you may not like it, but it tells a pretty grown up story nevertheless.
I’ve never seen Fables. The fairy tale aspect could work for me, if it’s executed well. But something about the portion of one episode of Once Upon a Time that I saw really turned me off. The whole thing just seemed too clean, too pat. That might have still worked if it hadn’t been so serious. And as I noted to Wyrd, when it’s set in contemporary times, I lose a lot of interest, an impulse I can’t really explain.
Fables is a series of graphic novels, not a TV series.
It sounds like you would not like it because it’s about fairy tale characters in the modern world. But, theme aside, it’s great. It’s serious at times, silly at times. It’s very much for adults despite the fairy tale theme.
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Just finished watching the whole second season it was woohoo good I really enjoyed both seasons hope they start season 3 soon everyone is patiently waiting right guys whose with me…season 3……season 3…….season 3!!!!
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Haha! Hopefully we won’t have to call for it too long.
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A few episodes into the second season and it’s good so far. I’m definitely feeling the pull to binge more, but I wonder how much of it is just my enduring affection for the characters and the world of one of my favourite games of all time, The Witcher III.
I mean, I think for anyone unfamiliar with the world it might appear to be a relatively poor attempt to cash in on the success of Game of Thrones. I find the elf stuff and the mage stuff a bit cringey in particular.
The elves because there doesn’t seem to be enough to differentiate them from humans. As far as I can see they’re just humans with pointy ears, which means there’s no real reason to have them as elves. They could just be any ordinary ethnic group being discriminated against and rebelling. Having them as an allegory for ordinary racism and nationalism just seems a bit juvenile compared to simply portraying ordinary racism and nationalism without needing to dress it up in fantasy tropes by calling them elves. Tolkien elves work a bit better for me because even though they are a bit self-serious and arch, at least they’re sufficiently different from humans to motivate having them as a separate fantasy race.
People have called Tolkien a little racist because of his reliance on “good” races and “evil” races, and perhaps with some justification. But for me a lot of the appeal of fantasy has always been imagining completely different ways of being. Fantasy races should be interestingly alien or it’s just superficial nonsense like pointy ears. As a teenager I was interested in writing my own fantasy novel about the question of what to do with all the orcs in the aftermath of the defeat of some generic dark lord. I wanted to give a sense that maybe they had a right to exist but without just turning them into generic people. Keep them horrible and violent, but then try to tell a story from their point of view where they’re fighting for survival with the rest of the world set to wipe them out completely.
The mage stuff is cringey because the rules aren’t very clear. It’s just a lot of magic words and waving hands and stuff happens. Feels like it’s driven by the demands of the plot rather than any internal logic. Witcher magic feels less silly because he only has a handful of spells he uses pretty consistently.
One thing that may be slightly irritating but is also slightly cool from an Irish perspective is that a lot of the “old language” stuff (not all of it) is based on Irish. That in itself would be cool. But it’s just the spelling. The pronunciation, unfortunately, is that of an English speaker naively reading Irish words without any idea how to. Imagine a fantasy language where the word for a driver was “chauffeur” but it was pronounced “chowff-your” and you might get some idea why it’s a bit grating.
A good example is “Dol Blathanna”. This is supposed to mean “Valley of Flowers”. I don’t know where “Dol” comes from, but the Irish for flowers is “bláthanna”, only it’s pronounced something like you might read BLAW-hanna, not as it’s pronounced in The Witcher (blath-ANN-a).
This is not a serious problem for me, it’s just something most people might not be aware of so thought it might be interesting to note.
On the positives, I like Henry Cavill a great deal. I think he fits the role of Geralt really well. The voice he puts on is a bit silly (too gruff to be believable), but then so was the voice Doug Cockle used in the game, so it’s actually a positive point for me in that he feels all the more like the character I know.
The special effects and action choreography are top notch. I expect I’ll binge the remaining episodes in short order!
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I think in the discussion on my review of the first season, I admitted this show was something of a guilty pleasure, something I liked but couldn’t really justify why I liked it, since as you noted, it’s derivative in many ways. But it doesn’t feel derivative, at least not to me, and I’ve imbibed my share of fantasy over the years. And this time I noticed the more complex character development, something lacking in a lot of the cheap knock-off shows.
I’m not sure the elves are only different because of the ears. Don’t know if you’ve gotten there yet, but there’s this whole thing about a baby elf being born. It’s presented like something that hadn’t happened in a long time. So maybe, like Tolkien’s elves, they’re immortal? Or at least long lived? Otherwise it seems like they would have died off. Although they don’t seem to have the wisdom of Tolkien’s elves, so who knows.
One of the benefits of showing things like discrimination in stories like these is exactly the fact that it takes it out of our specific contemporary examples. If you use contemporary examples, people’s political guard goes up, and they reflexively reject the implications that don’t accord with their politics. But put it in terms of a completely different society with different factions, as you said “interestingly alien”, and they’re usually more open to it, at least as long as it isn’t too heavy handed.
I totally didn’t catch the Irish stuff. Is that when they’re speaking in the elder language? I wondered if someone had invented a language for that, or if they were just using some existing language for it.
I haven’t seen other portrayals of Geralt, so I don’t have anything to compare Cavill’s to. But I agree he really makes the role work. Also completely agree about the special effects and fight scenes.
Yeah, the guilty pleasure thing rings true with me too.
I’ve seen some stuff about the baby elf. So, yeah, I gather they’re long-lived and largely infertile. But I would expect such long-lived people of a different species to be a bit more alien than they are.
To be honest this bothers me a little bit with the LOTR movies also. I feel like elves should almost be CG characters, or at least have some more elaborate makeup, not be just human actors with pointy ears. You should be able to identify an elf by the face alone. It seems implausible that this other species should be completely physically indistinguishable apart from having pointy ears.
I’m not saying they should have used contemporary examples. They could have made up a fictional human ethnic group, as they did with Temerians and Redanians and Kaedwenians and Nilfgaardians. The role of the elves could have been performed by a fictional ethnicity without a land of their own to control, a bit like Kurds or gypsies or Tibetans or or Uyghurs or Jews (before Israel).
Or else make the elves more alien.
The Irish stuff — it’s only some words. I’m only really aware of it because I played the games enough to see the Elder speech written down plenty. Too many words which seemed obviously Irish to ignore, so I checked it out and sure enough there’s loads of it. But also words from Welsh, Scots Gaelic (which is very similar to Irish anyway, to the extent that I can kinda read it even if I haven’t a hope of understanding it spoken), romance languages and German. That almost makes it worse, though, because to me it looks like the hodgepodge it really is — some words look obviously Welsh and some words look obviously Irish. They don’t seem to belong together. But then I guess English is a hodgepodge too, so I guess it’s not that unbelievable. The problem is really only that they use Irish words but pronounce them like an American with no familiarity with the language might given only the spelling. Imagine if a Polish writer wrote about a fantasy city called Baton-rouge and in the Netflix series it was pronounced “Batton Rowjee”. Although, I guess this isn’t too far from reality, in that I can imagine that French people might find it irritating how Anglophones pronounce New Orleans!
You can get an idea of it here: https://witcher.fandom.com/wiki/Elder_Speech
Because of how the pronunciation is mangled, there’s little chance of me noticing any Irish words when it’s spoken in a stream. Only really in subtitles or when there’s one or two words spoken alone where the meaning is clear.
“Alien” is a good word for it. And you’re right, the elves in The Witcher don’t seem as alien as they should be if they’re long lived. Of course, this is a show where many of the characters are long lived, so maybe at this point the aliens would be regular mortals.
Did you watch Game of Thrones? The Children of the Forest, Martin’s version of elves, were pretty alien. They were also an oppressed species, and fought back, with devastating consequences both for humans and themselves.
But I noted to someone else above that I think, intentional or not, elves, dwarves, hobbits, orcs, etc, are stand-ins for different attitudes among humanity. Making them somewhat of an other helps to obfuscate that to a degree, but if they’re made too alien, the audience might have trouble connecting with them. I think it’s the same reason actual aliens in a lot of sci-fi aren’t actually all that alien. Vulcans, Klingons, and Romulans play a similar role in Star Trek.
Interesting on the elder speech. It’s a better strategy than old movies used, simply using some obscure but real language for an alien one. Jumbling it up makes it less likely they’ll get called out on it. I wonder if, when it’s dubbed in other languages, they switch up the languages used for elder so it stays obscure for those other markets.
I did watch GoT, and liked it up until the last season, which felt rushed. I have no major qualms with where the story went, but I don’t think it did it convincingly.
The children of the forest are more like it, yes.
I’m slightly more forgiving of Star Trek aliens because these are supposed to have originated on different worlds — there’s little choice but to have them as different species. I’d still like to have them even more differentiated than they are. The Vulcans are not a bad attempt at this, but there’s an implication that this is all cultural rather than genetic because the Romulans are basically the same species but completely different. And also because the emotionless Vulcan veneer cracks from time to time.
They’d never dub the Witcher into Irish, Welsh or Scots because these are minority languages and there’s basically nobody who can speak them who doesn’t also speak English. They presumably do dub it into Romance languages and German, but I doubt it’s a problem there because the frequency of such words isn’t that high and they’re less likely to be irritatingly mispronounced in any case.
I mean, the fire spell Geralt uses (in the games at least, can’t recall if it’s in the TV show) is called Igni, which is obviously cognate with the English word “Ignite”, but not in an annoying way.
I see the Star Trek aliens as more symbolic than anything. Some of it comes from the realities of 1960s and 1980s TV production capabilities. But some of it, like the idea of cross species children, are so obviously metaphors for race, nationality, and other aspects of human relations that it’s impossible to see it as any serious attempt at extraterrestrial biology. Of course, Trek does have that from time to time (the Horta, etc), but the recurring species seem all too human.