Netflix’s recent decision to split some of its biggest shows into two (or more) volumes hasn’t always paid off. For every Stranger Things season 4 hitting fever pitch, a handful of series have limped across the finish line after what felt like an arbitrary cut in a cohesive story.
The Witcher season 3’s second chapter falls somewhere in the middle. An incredibly frontloaded volume, the final three episodes’ short, sharp, and concentrated dose of magic and mayhem starts strongly before eventually fizzling out.
Where the first volume’s initial set-up felt glacial, the ferociously-paced beginning to the second volume picks up where the all-is-not-as-it-seems party left off – and proves there’s plenty of life left in the show, even as Henry Cavill bids farewell to Geralt. It’s here where The Witcher season 3 is at its best.
It’s difficult to downplay just how great the sixth episode is. All brutal sword swings and guttural roars, it’s an entry that sees longstanding plot threads tied up and major players removed from the board in shocking fashion. It’s damning it with faint praise, but the collision of several combustible, volatile elements feels ripped from a different – and altogether better – show entirely.
What was once muddied with politics is instead inhibited with an intense, seismic charge that raises expectations a little too high for what’s to come. Still, as Redania, Nilfgaard, and Aretuza’s conclave of mages navigate choppy political waters amid the search for Ciri, it’s a thundering reminder that The Witcher can wow with the best of them when it’s firing on all cylinders.
The trouble for much of the volume is that A) It never matches those heights again and B) It’s never Geralt’s story. While his frustrating neutrality wanes as the season wears on ("I don’t give a shit about Brotherhood politics," the White Wolf snaps in one scene), the Switzerland of The Continent is sidelined here, a mere bystander to Important People doing Important Things.
Cavill at least gets some emotionally-charged scenes that, knowing what we know now, could be read as goodbyes. But with the knowledge that he isn’t returning for season four heavy in the mind, it stings seeing how little he is given to do here.
That absence is especially felt in the middle chapter of the second volume as Ciri wanders aimlessly through a mysterious desert for much of the runtime.
The trope of internal monologues and ‘seeing’ dead characters to try and understand some obscured truth has long been the crutch of lazy, uninspired writing – and it’s the same again here. It halts any momentum The Witcher may have had with an odyssey of little consequence, save for its final reveal. Did it need to take up 90% of an episode? Probably not. As cynical as it may seem, you can really feel the budget stretching at this stage of the season.
On the plus side, it has cemented Freya Allan as a talent more than capable of carrying an episode – and a series. Liam Hemsworth will likely take centre stage in future seasons, but this all reads like an audition for more Ciri-centric stories down the line. It’s just unfortunate that it comes off the back of such a wild and wondrous assault on the senses.
While The Witcher season 3 doesn’t exactly roar home with its finale, it picks up pace again, neatly setting up story arcs with some of its major characters, while streamlining and cleaning house with others.
After the sound and fury that began the volume, it’s pleasing to see the flabby, rotund politics that plagued the season has been largely done away with. In its place, the series has now been reduced to a handful of power players, with defined conflicts, motivations, and end goals.
On this evidence, The Witcher season 4 could be the best yet thanks to how this season has steadily built up certain characters while disposing (unceremoniously, in more than one instance) of others. It’s a return to the basic, clean storytelling that marked The Witcher out as one to watch upon in its 2019 debut.
The Witcher season 3, volume 2, then, is a beneficiary of Netflix’s brave new world on streaming – but only up to a point. The three-episode run begins in a robust manner, then falters on the way to moving some pieces around The Continent’s mercifully smaller chessboard. It may not have been the goodbye many Witcher fans would hope for Henry Cavill, but the show – and his Geralt – is still in accomplished hands.
The Witcher season 3, volume 2 is now streaming on Netflix. For more from the streamer, check out the best Netflix movies and best Netflix shows you should be watching right now. Then get a taste of what's next with our guide to The Witcher season 4.