Here’s a secret that isn’t so secret anymore: Henry Cavill is a great actor. As we draw ever closer to a Superman reboot, estimations of his stoic but defensively human Clark Kent continue to grow. But it’s in Geralt of Rivia that Henry Cavill found his perfect role. However, for one reason or another, Cavill is saying goodbye to the white wig of the Witcher at the conclusion of season 3, but not before he reminded us just how excellent he is in the part.
Evidence of Cavill’s greatness as Geralt is scattered all through The Witcher season 3, from the carefully protective body language he has around Ciri (Freya Allan) to the unspoken affection he has for Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) after their romantic reconnection. But the single best moment, both of his performance and of all of season 3 volume 1, comes when Geralt and Ciri reunite in episode 3.
In that brief instant, Cavill manages a miraculous little half smile that fills in so much more of Geralt’s warmth, kindness, and care for Ciri than the series’ dialogue manages to convey. The cold hardness of a monster killer melts instantly in a way that shows Geralt’s genuine love, but also the reluctance and genuine fear that this love opens up to him, now that he’s more concerned for Ciri than himself. It’s the entire character in miniature, a whole arc played out in a single expression, better and more carefully than the series has ever done.
This is both the blessing and the curse of Henry Cavill’s time as the Witcher. Cavill is so good as Geralt he actually tilts the axis of the show off center a little bit. Geralt’s defining feature in the original Witcher novels is that he was never supposed to be the center of attention or the deciding factor in saving the world. He’s a killer, a fighter, and good-hearted, but he’s not built for big choices. He’s most at home with diverting sarcasm and stoic, straight-faced care, and accidentally finding himself in the center of a family he wants to protect thrusts him closer to Ciri’s spotlight than he’d ever like to be on his own.
But instead of chasing that version of Geralt, the Netflix series decided to make him a hero, a focal point for action and decision, simply because it’s too much fun to deny Cavill the chance to do things, consequences to the show be damned.
Every single character is at their absolute best when they’re speaking to Geralt, which is what made the TV series’ monster-of-the-week origin so intensely appealing. Now, however, every scene just waits impatiently for Geralt to return. And while that probably isn’t what this series needed — as all the problems with season 3 point to — it is a credit to Cavill most of all that it remains watchable at all.
The Witcher, for the three seasons that Cavill was its star, was the rare case of fandom making an adaptation great. Cavill, himself a massive fan of the Witcher series, campaigned for the role of Geralt almost from the first moments that Netflix announced its adaptation. And while sometimes passionate love of a series can make for poor adaptations, Cavill’s proved he knew not just the source material but how to translate it to the screen in ways that worked. For all the problems of the rest of the series, and its struggles with other characters or overarching plots, Henry Cavill’s Geralt was always the thing it nailed.