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Geralt stands on a beach with a bloody nose and his sword held at his side in The Witcher season 3 Photo: Susie Allnutt/Netflix

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The Witcher season 3 saved the good stuff for the very end

Finally, the show has some fun

Having had even more time to think about it and (like a Christopher Nolan protagonist) do a considerable amount of science on the subject, it pains me to say that part 1 of The Witcher season 3 was in fact Pretty Lousy. This isn’t all that different from what I thought at the time. I’m just even more sure of it now, as the final three episodes arrive on Netflix — which are actually a lot of fun! They don’t magically make season 3 any better, and in fact, might even highlight its shortcomings even further. But it’s got a ton of wizards shooting lasers at each other and some cool sword fights, and that’s not nothing.

Part 2 will do little to change any minds about season 3, mainly because there isn’t much left for the show to do. The gunpowder has been (messily) cast about all over the show’s characters and subplots; the final three episodes merely ignite it.

The fireworks that result are tremendous fun, resulting in the biggest and most ambitious fantasy battle The Witcher has attempted thus far, even if the character motivations make zero sense and the show has never really explained how magic really works in its fiction. And given the thinness in characterization in part 1, the devastation that’s wrought in part 2 doesn’t really land on anything more than a superficial level.

This is a little more troublesome, because after its explosive start, most of part 2’s run time is denouement. Characters are scattered to the wind, lick their wounds, go on walkabouts, and meet people that only book readers will have a good handle on. Ultimately, this results in a downbeat ending that seems like it’s meant to feel like The Empire Strikes Back, but instead serves something more like Fast X: leaving viewers with a different status quo and little reason to care about it.

Geralt wields a sword and axe as soldiers attack him on each side in a fight scene from The Witcher season 3 Photo: Susan Allnutt/Netflix

The decision to divide The Witcher season 3 into two uneven parts is baffling in retrospect, one that highlights a structural flaw present from the very beginning of the season. The Witcher season 3 is constructed to obscure the identity of the master manipulator at the heart of the conflict that explodes in Part 2, and the narrative contorts to accommodate the writers’ desire to deliver a surprise. As a result, the characters suffer — never feeling like they have agency as they are pushed along the Continent to be where they need to be for the fireworks.

What might have served the season better is a little bit of Hitchcockian suspense, showing the viewers the threat (which book readers knew was coming all along) from the very start, and watching as its characters were ensnared in a trap they were oblivious to. Instead, we end up with a show that jumbles motivations, locations, and conflicts for the sake of a reveal that makes a second viewing worse instead of enhancing it.

As the credits roll on season 3, it’s difficult to articulate what kind of show The Witcher is anymore. It’s a show trapped in narrative inertia, still capable of delivering fantasy fun — Ciri (Freya Allan) finally gets the spotlight after spending most of the season in hiding, and part 2’s better moments focus on what she’s up to — but there seems to be an unwillingness from the show’s creative team to change its approach, as one episode after another continues to cram tangles of knotty plotting into too few episodes. The Witcher is suffocating itself, and it doesn’t have to.

In season 4 Geralt will get a new face thanks to the magic of television recasting, as Henry Cavill steps away and makes way for Liam Hemsworth to replace him. It’s a good opportunity for The Witcher to reset. It needs to — because it’s also a good opportunity for viewers to leave.

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