The Witcher finally hits its stride with fantastic third season

Ciri (Freya Allan), Geralt (Henry Cavill), and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) in The Witcher season 3.
Ciri (Freya Allan), Geralt (Henry Cavill), and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) in The Witcher season 3. /

After a rocky first couple of seasons and spinoffs, Netflix’s The Witcher has finally found its footing.

As one of those annoying fans who was into The Witcher video games and books for years before the TV series existed, I’ve been notoriously hard on the Netflix show. Often my criticisms have had to do with how the show stands in conversation with those other iterations, especially when it veered from the source material in ways that clashed with its spirit. I still have beef with how the The Nightmare of the Wolf animated movie justified the pogrom against Kaer Morhen, and the less said about The Witcher: Blood Origin, the better (though it does make a great drinking game).

I’d been let down too many times to hope that the mothership show might recover. But I watched The Witcher season 3 volume 1 last night, and it was…kind of amazing? These first five episodes of the season are so good that it almost feels like a different show.

For all the fans worried about season 3 dropping the ball, or dispirited that Henry Cavill is leaving the series, or who watched The Witcher: Blood Origin in resigned horror, I’m here to tell you to rest easy. It’s safe to say that season 3 volume 1 is easily the best that The Witcher on Netflix has ever been.

Ciri (Freya Allan), Geralt (Henry Cavill), and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) in The Witcher season 3.
Ciri (Freya Allan), Geralt (Henry Cavill), and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) in The Witcher season 3. /

The Witcher is a more confident and competent show in season 3

The cast and crew of The Witcher have been making the show for years now, and that experience has made it stronger and more confident. It’s cinematic, with stunningly gorgeous on-location scenes and jaw-dropping sets, like the elven ruins of Shaerrawedd or the Aretuza ballroom. The writing is much sharper, both in terms of the dialogue as well as the pacing. The costuming, while inconsistent, is improved. The monsters are better-crafted, and in some cases downright terrifying. The sound design is viscerally engaging, and the music is mostly spectacular. Even Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri’s colored contact lenses look better.

From a pure production standpoint, The Witcher season 3 is a vast and undeniable improvement over everything that came before.

Leading up to season 3, we heard all sorts of claims from producers that it would be more faithful to The Witcher books by Andrzej Sapkowski. I often rolled my eyes at those claims; after all, past seasons and spinoffs deviated so wildly it felt like the producers wished they didn’t have to bother with source material at all.

Season 3 rectifies that issue in a huge way. Not only does it stick relatively closely to the events laid out in Sapkowski’s novel The Time of Contempt, it also stays closer to the spirit and themes of the books. This is something The Witcher has consistently struggled with, so it’s hard to understate how pleasantly surprised I was by how much love this season shows the book series.

Nowhere is this more evident than in “Shaerrawedd,” the season premiere. Many of the circumstances in the episode are slightly different than in the books, but rather than spin off the rails, The Witcher brings multiple important book events — namely the Shaerrawedd battle and the Beltane festivities — into the episode to create an hour of television that is both unique to the TV series as well as very faithful to the heart of the books.

In the past, it’s felt like The Witcher couldn’t wait to distance itself from Sapkowski’s stories; to give us “something more” than the books. In season 3, it feels like the team went out of its way to work in abundant references and lovingly crafted nods to the source material. It breathes a lot of new life into things, especially if you’re a fan of the books and games.

The Witcher season 3 – Netflix
The Witcher season 3 – Netflix /

Henry Cavill remains a highlight in The Witcher season 3…but he’s far from the only one

Much ado has been made about the fact that season 3 is the last time we’ll see Henry Cavill play Geralt of Rivia on The Witcher before Liam Hemsworth takes up the mantle in season 4. During the show’s rougher patches, Cavill’s nuanced performance as Geralt remained one of the few universally praised aspects of the series. Many thought Cavill carried the series on his shoulders and it was hard to argue with them. Even when The Witcher wasn’t at its best, Cavill helped elevate it with his understanding and love of the character he was playing.

Cavill’s turn as Geralt remains a highlight of season 3, but now he’s only one highlight among many. The show has always had a talented cast, but this season they’re actually given the opportunity to shine. From Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer to Freya Allan’s Ciri, Joey Batey as Jaskier, MyAnna Buring as the sorceress Tissaia and more, virtually every major cast member gets moments to show off their acting chops.

Graham McTavish, who plays the Redanian spymaster Dijkstra, is a perfect example of how this improves the series. McTavish joined The Witcher in season 2, and despite turning in a good performance, we’d seen the actor in enough other roles — he’s in shows like Outlander and House of the Dragonto know he was capable of more. The Witcher season 3 gives it to him and to his frequent scene partner Cassie Clare (Philippa Eilheart). The show does a much better job this time around of spreading its attention between the members of its ensemble, all of whom earn their place in the spotlight.

Dijkstra (Graham McTavish) and Phillipa (Cassie Clare) in The Witcher season 3.
Dijkstra (Graham McTavish) and Phillipa (Cassie Clare) in The Witcher season 3. /

The Witcher season 3 isn’t perfect, but its virtues outweigh its flaws

The series does still have its quirks. Its use of slow motion can be a little cheesy, and some music choices feel too modern for the milieu, although any cringeworthiness is mollified somewhat by the fact that Geralt and Ciri cringe right along with viewers. The distinctly American Hollywood flavor of the production can still chafe awkwardly at times against the eastern European folkloric roots of the series.

But for the first time in The Witcher’s run, those problems are the exception rather than the rule. The good far outweighs the bad, and the problems are all small and easily to forgive. It actually feels worth it to have gone through the ups and downs of the series in order to reach season 3. No matter where The Witcher goes from here, the first five episodes of season 3 are the best it’s ever been, and nothing can take that away.

The Witcher books and video games also had rocky journeys to greatness. While the first two Witcher video games by CD Projekt Red were good in their own right, it wasn’t until The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt that the game series really blew up. The first proper Witcher novel, Blood of Elves, is a somewhat rougher read as Andrzej Sapkowski adjusted from short stories to full-length novels, and women characters are often objectified in a groan-worthy fashion throughout the saga.

No matter the medium, The Witcher remains a story about messy, imperfect people doing their best. In season 3 of the television show, it finally finds its sweet spot. After hits and misses, The Witcher series has hit its stride in the same way that the books and games did; wherever it goes from here, season 3 will remain a high point of its run.

The Witcher season 3 volume 1 is streaming now on Netflix. Volume 2, which contains the final three episodes of the season, is due out on July 27.

Next. 5 storylines to remember before The Witcher season 3. dark

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