The Witcher season 3 finale review: a wasted opportunity


In the finale of The Witcher’s third season — which also happens to be the final episode where Henry Cavill will play the lead role — our hero, Geralt of Rivia, spends most of his time in bed. This is not an exaggeration: after getting his ass thoroughly kicked in a previous episode, he’s stuck recuperating in a forest, trying his best to get healthy so he can continue his quest. It’s a bizarre choice that sidelines Geralt in what should, in theory, be an important moment for the series, the character, and the actor. Instead of sending Cavill out on a high note, the season just kind of… ends.

It didn’t have to be this way. When it debuted way back in 2019, Netflix’s adaption of The Witcher proved to be a surprisingly faithful version of the story, one that was dark and funny at the same time. Things got off track in season 2 when the show moved away from both the source material and its main cast of characters, putting much more focus on political squabbling and worldbuilding than the main trio of Geralt (Cavill), Ciri (Freya Allan), and Yenn (Anya Chalotra).

Season 3, which was split into two volumes, was a chance to fix things. The first five episodes seemed to be a good setup for what promised to be an exciting finale. Geralt was prepping for a huge showdown with the new big bad, Ciri was finally becoming independent, and Yenn had largely stopped making decisions that made absolutely no sense. Volume 2, which consists of only three episodes, squanders almost all of that potential.

The rest of this post includes major spoilers for the first three seasons of The Witcher.

Now, to be fair, there is an epic showdown as promised. The first new episode features a massive war at Aretuza, the home base of the mages, where the kingdom of Redania and a group of the last surviving elves appear to fight against the magic users for various reasons: Redania’s spymaster wants to purge disloyal mages from their ranks, while the elves are fighting on behalf of the rival nation of Nilfgaard. The politics are complex, but you don’t really need to understand them to follow this massive battle in which many people die, including one poor soul who literally explodes in bloody chunks.

More importantly, the conflict sets up the best part of the final episodes: the long-awaited fight between Geralt and a traitorous mage, Vilgefortz (Mahesh Jadu), who is revealed to have been pulling the strings all along. He’s also a badass fighter, with a magical staff that can warp between his hands at will. Their fight is not only a solid piece of action but also a rare chance to see Geralt actually lose to a much stronger foe. Like Wolverine, Geralt always seems to claw his way to victory no matter the odds, but not this time.

And that’s where everything goes downhill very quickly.

The aftermath of the battle leaves all of our main cast members adrift. Due to some magical teleportation caused by her uncontrollable powers, Ciri finds herself in a desert where she wanders alone with her thoughts before eventually being captured for the bounty on her head. This takes an entire episode. Geralt, meanwhile, was beaten so badly that he had to retreat to the forest home of the dryads for some magical healing. This takes almost an entire episode — the final one, I might add — in which he’s either lying in bed or struggling to stand up and hold a sword. Yenn is flittering away in the background, tying up loose ends with the few surviving mages from Aretuza. None of them are doing anything remotely interesting, which is a problem when they’re the narrative and emotional core of the entire show.

Along the way, there are a surprisingly large number of deaths, many of which feel sudden, as if the writers are pruning the cast for a somewhat fresh start in season 4. The two actual positive things the final volume does involve setting Ciri up for a much more active role in the future and introducing a new companion for Geralt named Milva (Meng’er Zhang), an archer who helps nurse him back to health and refuses to take any of his shit. While Geralt tries to push forward in his quest even though he can barely stand up, Milva constantly bests him, reminding him that if she were the enemy, “You’d be dead by now.”

And thus, like Geralt, the season just kind of limps to a conclusion. There are a few small revelations that will impact the future, but it’s startling how much these episodes get away from the strengths of the show. It’s not funny, the action is sparse, there are very few monsters, and the core cast is given little to do. This is particularly shocking for Geralt; even as the show continued its downward spiral, Cavill’s turn as the witcher remained a highlight. It seems that the show won’t be acknowledging the ceremonial passing of the white wig from Cavill to Liam Hemsworth, so we might end up with a Fresh Prince situation.

Maybe a fresh face will breathe some life into the show as it plods on for at least a few more seasons. But Cavill’s exit wasn’t only anticlimactic — it made me less interested than ever in following Geralt’s never-ending quest.

The full third season of The Witcher is streaming now on Netflix.

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