The Witcher is heading in a new direction. Where once Geralt (Henry Cavill) rode solo, he now has a new charge thanks to the Law of Surprise: Ciri, the Lion Cub of Cintra (Freya Allan). Their destination? The witchers’ home base of Kaer Morhen – and among Geralt’s fellow band of brothers.
Where the first season was set across several decades and encompassed multiple viewpoints and main characters, The Witcher season 2 has instead zeroed in on Geralt and Ciri’s burgeoning dynamic.
"You get to see more of his paternal side now [with Ciri] and you also see his fraternal side because you see him with his witcher colleagues. You see how he interacts with them and you see a contrast in how he behaves with the outside world," Cavill tells GamesRadar+ while discussing Geralt’s development this season. "We see Geralt having – to use completely the wrong word – human interaction."
A new side to Ciri
For Allan – who once joked that her character Ciri spent half of the first season running through the woods – it was also a chance to present a far more introspective and deeper version of the princess plagued by mysterious powers.
"This season we really explore what’s going on inside [Ciri] in terms of the demons she’s having to face with the power that she possesses – and the fact she’s very fearful of that. She’s got her guard up to everyone as a result of it," she says. "We also see she’s got this determination to become a great fighter and to become a witcher. She’s in the process of training and is very driven. In her mind, that’s the thing that’s going to resolve her past, because it gives that purpose. You get to see a major change from season one; you get to delve far more into her character."
It’s the f-word – fighter – that may prick up the ears of many fans, especially knowing what may be coming down the road. Geralt is understandably reticent at the thought of Ciri swinging a sword, but it’s an opportunity that she, and Allan herself, jumped at.
"It was a lot of fun. It was a month before filming started. I’d go into the stunt department and learn the basic skill and technique of sword fighting, which [then] allows you to do more complex choreography," Allan recalls of her preparation for a more physical role in the second season. "I loved it all. I’d stay there for hours practicing. Just like Ciri, I’m completely obsessed with it. The stunt co-ordinator was like, ‘Are you ever going to leave here? You literally might as well stay the night."
Geralt and Ciri’s relationship, however, is sometimes a frayed and strenuous one. Allan points to the fact that the upcoming season will "see glimmers of moments where they’re building that trust, but there’s also moments where they’re sort of knocking heads in terms of doubts… It’s sort of that dynamic of a push and pull."
"They have these moments that ultimately make their relationship stronger and more real. They build a really, really nice trust in the end, which is nice," she teases of an emerging bond between Geralt and Ciri.
On the development of the season’s key pairing, showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich adds, "[Geralt] starts taking care of [Ciri] not because he has to, but because he wants to. Watching that character progression between the two of them is one of the more impactful parts of the season," while also noting that Geralt speaks more in the second season, partly because "this relationship gave him that opportunity."
But it’s not just Geralt and Ciri cooped up together at Kaer Morhen with the likes of fellow witchers Lambert, Eskel, and Coen, however. Watching over all amid the backing soundtrack of tall tales and boisterous behavior at the homestead is Geralt’s father figure Vesemir, played by Kim Bodnia.
While the books and games frequently saw Geralt and Vesemir at loggerheads, Cavill was keen to dull some of the duo’s edges in the Netflix series.
"Kim and I really wanted to make the relationship softer than how it was written," the Man of Steel actor says. "It was written with quite a lot of conflict."
"We thought we want to be close… we want to bring some of ourselves to these characters, also do faith from the characters from the books and, indeed, the games – and especially show the sides of men which isn’t often shown in TV shows and media. There is a softness and a gentleness, as well as these witchers being incredibly talented in the art of death."
The Witcher sees several other new arrivals this season, from firebrand Rience, to the monstrous Nivellen, and the devilishly resourceful spymaster Dijkstra. Hissrich, though, thinks it’s Bodnia’s witcher that will resonate most with fans.
"Vesemir is probably the one I’m most excited for people to see, because we have the time on screen to really develop his character," Hissrich explains. "He’s not just a cameo who steps in and has a story purpose. He comes in and we realize he’s mourning that the Continent is changing and the witchers are changing."
When the Child of Surprise steps through the doors of Kaer Morhen, a change washes over him: "When Geralt and Ciri enter his story, he is in a place of wondering what’s next,” Hissrich says. “We give him this potential to start to grow and see how his world would be changing over these episodes."
The Witcher season 2 also features the two most important people in Geralt’s life, Yennefer and Ciri – sorry, Triss – crossing paths. For Allan, this moment marks an important sea change for her character.
"Yennefer provides an example of a fierce woman who faces her fears. That’s really important for Ciri in the position that she’s in this season," Allan notes. "She’s got this power that she doesn’t want; it’s not something that she sees in a positive way. Yennefer is part of her journey and realizing that maybe it’s not something to be scared of and it can be something quite beautiful. That’s where Yennefer plays an important part in her journey."
From Yennefer’s point-of-view, Anya Chalotra sees their relationship (which she describes as one of the "hardest" things she’s had to bring to life on the show) as close to that of mother and daughter. Like with Ciri, it’s a bond that significantly changes the Aretuza graduate, particularly in reference to Yennefer’s own internal struggles in the series so far.
"It’s kind of a mother-child relationship, which I think a lot of mothers might relate to: your child changes you," Chalotra observes. "That’s the first real shift in her life that Yennefer feels with Ciri. She does something selfless, and that’s never the case with Yennefer."
Geralt vs. Reddit
As well as bringing together fan favorites, The Witcher has another, more unique challenge to contend with: Season 2 combines an audience that includes fans of the books, the games, and now those who have only experienced the series on Netflix.
Each sub-section, invariably, comes with their own opinions, hopes, and criticisms. To put it plainly, some things in the first season worked, and some didn’t. Progressing the show from there, while taking into account the franchise’s vocal fanbases, is an unenviable tightrope act – one that Hissrich has dared to walk. To begin with, Hissrich – and Cavill – tiptoed their way through social media for some brutally honest feedback.
"I love to interact with fans," Hissrich says. "After the season launch, I spent a lot of time on Twitter, I even went to Reddit, which terrified me at first, just to hear what fans were saying," adding that she heard "loud and clear" that the controversial timelines were "too confusing."
But, for Hissrich, there has to be a delicate balance: "I want to hear feedback, but I have to always take it with a grain of salt because there's a point where you can't make everyone happy," she says. "I tried to read into that and see if there was something that most fans felt, as opposed to taking one piece of feedback and running with it. Because then, I think, the show starts to lose its voice and its compass."
Cavill, for his part, did his own research – including jumping on to Reddit and canvassing the most diehard Witcher fans ahead of the second season. "A lot of fan reaction is a great meter, especially when you come to diehard book fans," he says. "I am also [a book fan], but there are fans who have read the books 10 times, watched the series 10 times, and discuss it on a daily basis."
"To listen to them is really important to me, and also to listen to the people who aren’t necessarily book fans, because there are fans of the show who offer great insight about wonderful things. I know that’s a small pocket of the viewership, but it’s a pocket that – certainly on the Wiedzmin [sub-reddit] – has huge knowledge. It’s really interesting to me to read what those guys and girls have to say."
Despite juggling newcomers, The Witcher community, and several fresh dynamics this season, the throughline when speaking to The Witcher cast and its lead creatives is undoubtedly the fact they all exude far more confidence this time around.
"Season one had such a big job to do in terms of setting the chessboard for the world…Going into season two, it’s just a relief not having to worry about that as much," Hissrich says. While Cavill adds that he now has "a greater understanding of Geralt and also the confidence to just push more for my way of doing it."
Chalotra, too, mirrors that liberating feeling. Compared to last season, she is coming to the role with "experience [and] confidence."
"I’m less of a perfectionist now because it’s all out on screen for everyone to see. The whole emotional journey is there for everyone to see and have their opinions on. That’s helped me care less, in a good way," Chalotra explains.
Ultimately, that mindset has sculpted a show that’s now more comfortable in its own skin – even if the winds of change are howling throughout its upcoming story. Hissirch hopes, by the season’s end, the care and attention lavished on the show’s main characters means each will come out the other side all the better for it.
"To me, that is the biggest shift in this season: you can watch all eight episodes and, by the end, you can know Geralt, Yen, and Ciri in completely different ways."
The Witcher season 2 premieres globally on Netflix on December 17.