The Witcher Season 3 Volume 1 Review: The Quiet Before The Storm

RATING : 7 / 10
  • Wonderful chemistry among Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri
  • Great finale set piece
  • Embarrassing monster CGI
  • Repetitive central narrative arc

For fans of "The Witcher," Season 3 Volume 1 signals the beginning of the end of an era. Before this season premiered, it was announced that it would be Henry Cavill's last –- in Season 4, he will be replaced by Liam Hemsworth. But viewers need not fret: They still have both parts of Season 3 to look forward to, and it's some of Cavill's most engaging work in this role that he's been so passionate about bringing to life. There's a lot to like about this latest "The Witcher" outing, especially the quieter moments that take place among Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri as their bond strengthens, and the tremendously well-executed set piece that dominates the mid-season finale. If it's occasionally let down by a repetitive central arc and some unusually dodgy CGI, it still manages to be an exciting and engaging entry into the beloved fantasy series.

We last left our heroes in pretty much the same quandary they've been in for the past season and a half: Everyone wants to get Ciri. Equally determined to protect their young ward, Geralt and Yennefer put aside their differences (as you may recall, in Season 2, Yennefer almost delivered Ciri into the hands of a manipulative demon called the Deathless Mother, before having a last-minute change of heart) to ensure that Ciri is not just safe, but that she has the magical and fighting skills to defend herself. For a while, they're able to create the warm and comforting family atmosphere that all three secretly (or not-so-secretly) crave. But as different forces from around the continent, each with their own unique agenda, begin to close in on the young Ciri, Geralt and Yennefer are forced to go to new lengths to keep her from harm.

A found family

This makeshift family's brief domestic moments are precious, as they find themselves settling into a familiar and loving routine even while on the run. It's nice that they get a few minutes of peace before what will undoubtedly be a rough season for all. The slow rebuilding of Geralt (Henry Cavill) and Yennefer's (Anya Chalotra) relationship is gracefully done –- it's clear that Geralt trusts Yennefer enough with Ciri (Freya Allan), but is reluctant to allow himself to become emotionally attached just yet. They dance uneasily around each other, intimate but not quite what they once were. 

Ciri's character continues to develop in interesting ways, as she chafes against the restrictions and teachings of her guardians. Now much more confident in her ability to see visions of the future, she occasionally disregards Yennefer's instructions to lay low in favor of righting moral wrongs, even though the larger consequences of her actions may cause more harm than good. "The Witcher" is at its best when these three are all together and on the same side –- even when they have their occasional tiffs -– and we get plenty of these small character moments especially early on in the season.

As far as the larger narrative goes, the highlight of Volume 1 is undoubtedly its finale, as "The Witcher" leans into the political intrigue that Geralt himself is usually eager to keep at an arm's length. Aretuza, command central for the mage community, is a den of manipulation and conflicting agendas under the best of circumstances, but with the continent at war and kingdoms torn asunder, it's become a veritable powder keg. How do they know who to trust? Who is acting in good faith and who is out for everything they can get? Who will have Ciri's best interests at heart, aside from Geralt and Yennefer? It's no wonder that Geralt prefers the quiet life on the road, with only monsters and crabby villagers to contend with.

Goofy monsters

The monsters, unfortunately, come with their own strings attached. If this season of "The Witcher" has a weakness, it's that it features some really noticeably poor CGI at times. There's a set piece in the middle of the season that has a group of grotesquely animated heads that are reminiscent of the climax of first "Harry Potter" film, when Quirrell reveals Lord Voldemort's head on the back of his skull — CGI that looked dated even when it was released over 20 years ago. Admittedly, this is a television show, and audiences shouldn't be expecting James Cameron-level special effects. But there are sequences in this season with monsters whose rendering is distractingly bad.

It's also increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that for almost three full seasons, the main narrative holding everything together has been "everyone's trying to get Ciri," and its repetitive nature can get a little tiring at times. There's a lot of potential to delve into with the growing unrest between the elves and the humans, the in-fighting among the mages, and even Jaskier's love life. But each of these storylines always has to be viewed through the lens of its connection to the one central theme, which gives the show's subplots less room to breathe.

But despite these minor quibbles, "The Witcher" Season 3 Volume 1 promises more of what has drawn fantasy fans to the series for the past few years. Geralt and Yennefer get plenty of emotional scenes as they repair their fractured relationship, and Geralt in particular is almost unrecognizable from his monosyllabic loner persona from the first season, having been surrounded by other people for so long now. The three leads have wonderful chemistry together, and we never doubt how deeply they are connected to each other. There's sure to be chaos down the line for them all in the as-yet-unreleased second half of the third season, but for now, we're more than happy to enjoy the quieter moments before the true tumult begins.

All five episodes of "The Witcher" Season 3 Volume 1 are now streaming on Netflix.