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The first season of The Witcher, Netflix’s adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy book world of the same name, dazzled audiences when it premiered two years ago Primarily following the monster-hunting adventures of human-turned-witcher, Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), the drama also folded in the lives of sorcerers, mages, bards, elves, and even princesses destined to be in Geralt’s safekeeping as a reward for his good deeds.
Complicated, for sure, but The Witcher Season 1 was also funny, sometimes bawdy, and full of monsters of every variety duking it out with a very muscley Cavill sporting black eyes and a white hair. Of course it was a global hit. But, unwilling to just sit on their creative laurels and phone in a sophomore season full of the same stuff, series creator/showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and Cavill wanted to change up the tone to reflect the major disruptions in Geralt’s life, particularly becoming guardian and mentor to Princess Cirilla, or Ciri (Freya Allen), who has a myriad of things to learn about her own powers and potential.
Schmidt Hissrich tells SYFY WIRE that the more serious tone that permeates all of Season 2 came out of the pandemic, which delayed production for half a year. “We started writing the season before Season 1 aired,” she explains. “And we had already finished all the scripts of Season 2.”
The lockdown gave Schmidt Hissrich and her writers’ room an extended opportunity to revise the eight episodes of Season 2 and hone them into the best they could possibly be. “One of the things that we wanted to do this season was to dig into our characters a little bit more, and make sure that they became more three-dimensional by just peeling back the layers that we had set up in Season 1,” she says of their revisions. “Those stories then lent themselves to a slightly more serious tone. Like with Geralt's story, for instance, he has this child of destiny that he has to take care of. And he increasingly learns that the entire continent is after her, so that's a very serious job and a very serious responsibility that he has. In the meantime, he's also softening to her a slight bit. You're getting to see these new layers of him being a father figure.”
Schmidt Hissrich confirms that Season 2 is primarily adapted from Sapkowski’s Blood of Elves novel, which she admits was “very, very difficult” to break into a propulsive season. She says after reading the tome many, many times, it became clear that the action needed to become the story engine for a television series was a bit elusive to crack.
“Blood of Elves has these amazing character moments with Geralt and Ciri going to Kaer Morhen for instance, and Tris (Anna Shaffer) being called in to help train Ciri, and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) interacting with Ciri for the first time. Those are incredible moments in the books,” the showrunner explains. ”But, that being said, there wasn't a lot of forward propelling action, so that's something that we had to look at.”
The prospect of having to add moments and scenes to the Witcher story that weren’t in the beloved book series scared Scmidt Hissrich, she admits. She always has her eyes and ears attuned to The Witcher fandom around the world, and that fandom has been vocal with their feedback. “I knew that we were going to have to add more to this season than we probably had in the past,” she says of her initial anxiety. “But the good news is that I do think that this season sets the chessboard beautifully for the next season, which we're already writing.”
(And for those curious, Season 3 will be based on the fourth The Witcher novel, The Time of Contempt, which Schmidt Hissrich says, “is probably the most easily adaptable book.”)
Cavill, for his part, had his own ideas about how Geralt came across in Season 2. An avowed fan of The Witcher series well before he ever donned a white wig, Cavill tells SYFY WIRE that he wanted to make sure that Geralt’s depth described in the source material was more present in the second season. “I knew that they wanted to lean into the horror aspects, which was something they were excited about,” he recalls. “But for me personally, I wanted to be sure that we had a better representation of Geralt from the books. And while in Season 1, there is definitely a comedic value to the monosyllabic and f-bombing Geralt, I really wanted to show that there is a richer character there, a wonderful, three-dimensional character that Sapkowski wrote. I wanted to bring that in some more.”
Like Schmidt Hissrich, Cavill is aware of the risks of changing too much from the source materials, but he says his Season 2 depiction of Geralt is actually closer to the source material. “What I can do is I can represent Sapkowski's Geralt more accurately by just changing words here and there and adding some intellect to the character,” he says. “And yes, the character is often grumpy and petulant as well in the books. But I wanted to show that there was more to him than just that. And so it was something I campaigned very hard just to provide a richer, more intelligent Geralt.”
Season 2 pulls out a lot more hidden heart from the monster-hunter too, as Ciri becomes far more proactive about her place in the world — much to Geralt’s appreciation. His clear pride in her journey is something Cavill says is something that’s just been waiting to come out.
“The thing with Geralt is that he's always been a protector, that's always been in his nature,” the actor muses. “He's built up these walls around him, to a degree, because every time he doesn’t, he's put in an impossible scenario where he ends up doing something he didn't want to do. Look at Blaviken, for example. So when he has this opportunity to become Ciri's protector, it's more like a key to his gate rather than him developing his character or him changing.”
As to other major players with arcs of note in Season 2, Schmidt Hissrich is very excited about revealing how Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra), a powerful sorceress and Geralt’s lover, gets from the battlefield of Sodden Hill to where she ends up in the season finale.
“She doesn't have a huge [arc] in the books until she starts to train Ciri,” the showrunner explains. “So, I wanted to know that when she caught up with Ciri and Geralt [in the series] that she had an agenda of her own. She has been living a life and experiencing big struggles on her own outside of the two of them. so I'm really excited for people to see that.”
She also teases major adjustments from the book that will shake it up for all the viewers of the series, even the book readers. “It’s seeing Geralt and Ciri's journey to Kaer Morhen and how being in Geralt's childhood home changes both of them and brings them together in a completely new way. One of the choices that we made at the top of the top of the season is different from what's in Blood of Elves,” she shares. “We actually chose to pick Geralt and Ciri up only days after they first met. While in the books, it's been months. In the books, they already have an easy rapport and I didn't want audiences to miss out on them starting to get to know each other. I cannot wait for that because there's a lot of awkwardness and discomfort at first that leads to the most genuine and pure trust.”
Of course, everything leads to a season finale that Schmidt Hissric says is, “one of my favorite things that we've ever produced.” She says the visual storytelling takes the series to a new level.
“I believe that the finale is going to blow people's minds,” she teases. “I also think that Freya Allen delivers a particularly heart-wrenching and terrifying turn in that episode. Coming from a character that really was just running around in Season 1, I think her overall story arc this season is pretty incredible.”
Season 2 of The Witcher hits Netflix on Dec. 17.