I was fortunate enough to get early access to the premiere of The Witcher’s second season and as such, felt the need to share my experience with you. The show has had a bit of an uphill battle for the production of the second season, from the pandemic to lead Henry Cavill tearing his hamstring, to delivering a season of television that didn’t get mixed reviews. So, with the added time Netflix got for the production of season two thanks to the delays, did the show find that spark to deliver something great? While time will tell for that question, I can certainly say that the season two premiere was definitely better than anything that was in season one.
The season opens up right after the ending of the first season and unites Geralt (Henry Cavill) and Ciri (Freya Allen) at long last. Kept apart for the duration of season one, A Grain of Truth keeps the duo together for a large part of their runtime. As a result, the tone of the show feels immediately different. Geralt is much more chatty in this episode than he was in the last season, something Henry Cavill insisted upon for the sophomore season. You won’t find Geralt uttering a single grunt in this episode and instead offers plenty of feedback and council to Ciri. As Geralt tells his horse, Roach, Ciri is stubborn and doesn’t listen to him, which is understandable. She’s confused, scared and angry and Allen feels much more certain of her acting abilities in this episode than at any point in the previous season.
After the Battle of Sodden Hill, Geralt and Ciri decide to make way to Kaer Morhen, the Witcher stronghold but end up making a pit stop at a manor along the way. The manor belongs to Geralt’s friend Nivellen (Kristofer Hivju), who is now a monstrous creature. Geralt deduces that his friend is cursed and the show (and source material) doesn’t hide the fact that this storyline is heavily influenced by Beauty and the Beast. Elsewhere, the narrative follows Tissaia (MyAnna Buring) and her colleagues in the aftermath of Sodden Hill back at Aretuza as well as Yennefer’s (Anya Chalotra) current predicament as a prison to the invading Nilfgaardian army. We don’t get too much information out of these stories and they did derail the momentum from Geralt and Ciri’s narrative a bit, but those arcs will presumably pay off in later episodes.
The show abandons the convoluted fractured timeline that dominated season one in favour of a linear timeline and the show is all the better for it. While the timeline concept was interesting in theory, it proved to be needlessly convoluted and didn’t benefit the show in the long run. By keeping things linear, the show feels so much more focused and direct. While the second season promises to adapt Blood of Elves, the first novel in The Witcher saga, the opening episode of the second season is fairly standalone as it’s adapted from the short story of the same name. But there are still enough character beats and set up to make the episode feel like it’s planting seeds narratively for future episodes, making it feel great as a one-off while being part of a whole.
The episode has great set design, with Nivellen’s manor and surrounding courtyard, in particular, being very impressive. The snowy backdrop against the haunting fairy tale of the manor’s exterior setting worked very well with the seemingly cozy interior. Visual effects and creature design are also noticeably improved upon, especially for Nivellen, who is cursed to look like a hideous beast. The show achieved this look through a combination of practical effects bolstered by digital effects. Even Cavill’s Geralt seems more authentic, thanks to a more convincing wig. That said, a noticeable flaw of the show appeared to be the music in this episode. The show has hired a new composer for the show, Blood and Bone’s Joseph Trapanese, and I found the absence of Slavic music was jarring, especially when the music felt like it was trying to be playful. We’ll see how the music fares for the rest of the season, the Kar Morhen track reminds me of The Witcher 3, but nothing in this episode stood out to me as inspired.
There are plenty of goodies for fans too, such as references to Nightmare of the Wolf, the Witcher anime from earlier this year, to plenty of potions and signs ripped straight from the source material. I felt Geralt (and thus the writers) didn’t take full advantage of Geralt’s powers in the first season, which often made him appear as nothing more than an expert swordsman for most of the season, so seeing Quen and Axii being used in this episode, as well as a silver sword felt much more fantastical and reminded me a lot of The Witcher 3 at times.
The dialogue felt much more crucial in this episode and the back and forth between the stoic Geralt and the flashy Nivellen felt more organic and informative than the often stilted conversations we’ve seen before. Geralt still comes off as world-weary, but as one who has gained a lot of experience from his many years, as opposed to the silent but deadly approach they took in season one, which was far removed from the depiction in the novels. The theme of the episode returns to the debate of what defines a monster in this world inhabited by monstrous creatures but tackles the question much more eloquently than any attempt made previously.
In the end, I can say that I was very entertained and impressed with the improvement on show in the season two premiere. Tighter writing, more layered and interesting characters and great visual effects made this episode more engaging and interesting than season one as a whole. Time will tell if the season can maintain this momentum or if it will benefit from moving away from the episodic approach from last season, but as a singular episode, A Grain of Truth definitely showcased a big improvement.
As this was a special event, I won’t be reviewing each episode of The Witcher season 2 and since I’m watching The Expanse, Hawkeye and The Wheel of Time (just to name a few), my review of the season as a whole may not show up for a few weeks.