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The Witcher season 2 ‘looks so much different’ than what showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich had planned

A growing franchise and lengthy hiatus forced The Witcher to evolve — for the better

Ciri in a fur coat and Geralt look at the arm of a dead monster in The Witcher season 2 Photo: Kevin Baker/Netflix
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

If The Witcher season 1 lays out a chessboard, season 2 is when the chess match begins. Also, Netflix’s new season sets up dominos that will fall across spinoffs like Blood Origin, future anime, and the previously greenlighted Witcher season 3. There’s probably a solitaire metaphor to be made somewhere, but The Witcher showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich doesn’t want you to peg her for a mundane-game-enthusiast-turned-TV-titan. She’s just very excited to bring her Witcher dreams to life.

“The thing that I never counted on when I started the show,” Hissrich tells Polygon, “is the fact that we would start building out a universe. That was not the original intention. I did not come into this thinking like, ‘I want the Witcher to take over the world!’ But there are so many stories that we haven’t been able to get to in what we call the ‘mothership’ that feel like they’re best explored either in another format [...] And I feel like it could last a long time. There are a lot of stories to tell.”

The Witcher premiered in December 2019 to strong reception, offering welcome pulpy relief from Game of Thrones’ political machinations (not to mention the HBO series’ polarizing ending). In season 2, stories collide and a bigger picture comes into focus: Geralt (Henry Cavill) and Ciri (Freya Allan), princess of Cintra, are off Kaer Morhen to train, Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) is on the run from a number of factions as she heeds a greater cause, and the power balance of The Continent continues to shift as Nilfgaardian and elvish forces rise up.

Hissrich never imagined overseeing multiple series in a Witcher Netflix Universe, which now includes the core show, the 2021 anime spinoff Nightmare of the Wolf, the 2022 prequel miniseries, Blood Origins, and even more hush-hush projects including a series aimed at the younger crowd. But the second season, which swaps nonlinear storytelling for parallel action, is breeding ground for all of the ideas that have spawned the spinoffs. Hissrich says season 2 is especially pivotal for Blood Origins, along with the inevitable pre-planned direction for season 3.

An elvish woman holds a bowl and pitcher in The Witcher season 2 Photo: Kevin Baker/Netflix

“Viewers will notice we concentrate a lot on the elven storyline in season 2, which is not as prominent in [the main novel being adapted], Blood of Elves. And yet, I know that in season 3, we’re introducing the Scoia’tael, this army of elves that’s fighting on behalf of Nilfgaard. And they don’t come off so great. It’s a pretty sort of harsh, dark storyline. So I want to make sure that we understood and humanized their part of the battle. Where are they coming from? What are they fighting for? Even if they lose their way along the way. what is sort of their backdrop? So we’re constantly looking at the Witcher as a whole.”

The Witcher season 2 ramped up production in February 2020. Then, three weeks in, COVID-19 forced Netflix to shut down production. Whatever momentum there was for bringing a flagship fantasy property back to life was stifled. Hissrich felt defeated.

“That part was horrible,” she says, “because we’d got the gang back together, and it’s all working, and then you’re like, ‘Go home.’”

If there was a silver lining to the worst-case scenario, it was the chance to go back and scrutinize the scripts for season 2, and pound it into the best possible Witcher saga imaginable. “I got to revisit all of the scripts,” Hissrich says, “and more importantly, I got to read them as an eight-hour movie and make sure that we were telling the right stories at the right time, make sure that we were taking every opportunity that we could.” So the showrunner revised and added to Geralt’s dialogue, fulfilling Cavill’s request for a little more verbal expression in the season. Yennefer’s storyline, a source of “pure creation and invention” for the staff, was threaded into the plot of Witcher novelist Andrzej Sapkowski’s story with even more care. And smaller characters, like Ciri’s elven refugee pal Dara (Wilson Radjou-Pujalte), was elevated from a more casual background player to a provocative player in the grand scheme of the drama. “It’s not that Dara has a huge story in season 2,” Hissrich says, “it’s just that the handful of scenes he’s in mean that much more now.”

Yennefer puts her hand out to cast a magic spell in The Witcher season 2 Photo: Kevin Baker/Netflix

Hissrich says season 2 “looks so much different” than she could have expected, and, well, that’s a global pandemic for you. But flexibility became instrumental in adapting Witcher in the form of the main series and now its many spinoffs.

“There are stories that we think are going to take a long time and they don’t,” she says. “Or we think that this is a story that we can just dip in and out of. But in fact, we need a lot more screen time to tell it. That’s why we have never just stuck to a single book a season. That’s sort of our goal. But any viewer who knows the books will will see that we are constantly sort of moving stuff back and forth between seasons as well. Because we want to make sure that we have the space and time to tell the more important stories.”

And perhaps the most important stories this time around aren’t the grand gestures of world-building and lore-spinning. They’re the nooks and crannies a season 2 can offer to a character-obsessed creator like Hissrich, who really just wants to see her faves be human.

“We get to delve deeper into our favorite characters in season 2. And I don’t just mean revealing more about who they are or peeling back layers. That’s really important, but we actually took the time this season to have scenes with people that weren’t necessarily about forwarding plot. We get to just sit down and spend time with them, where they get to know each other, and we get to know them better. That’s the biggest shift in season 2.”

Imagine if the bishops, rooks, queens, and pawns got to take a break from knocking each other over and just hang. That’s The Witcher season 2. But when the game does pick up, how long can fans expect it to last?

“I don’t think that the stories of the mothership, the main Witcher show, should extend beyond Sapkowski’s novels,” Hissirch says. “I just feel like he expected the stories to end in a specific place and I want to honor that.”

But as the showrunner notes, “Andrzej is continually writing new books. So we’re like, OK, let’s readjust. Let’s figure that out again.”

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