Netflix’s The Witcher is ostensibly the story of Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), a magically enhanced monster hunter who slays a variety of horrifying creatures. It exists in the sort of medieval-inspired kingdom whose hulking warriors and near-constant violence often stereotypically preclude the telling of specifically female (or feminist) stories. But one of the best things about this show has been how it quietly deploys one of the fantasy genre’s most genuinely progressive visions when it comes to its women, which has been an utter delight to watch unfold. Its long-awaited second season goes even further, not just putting more female characters front and center, but giving each the sort of complex motivations and agendas they’re so rarely granted in this particular narrative space.
Because for all that Geralt is the titular Witcher around which the show revolves, his character doesn’t get much in the way of an arc in Season 2. Yes, he does his fair share of brooding and dramatically slaying dark creatures, and his quiet realization of what it means to truly be responsible for another person sees him emerge as one of television’s most adorably overprotective dads. But Geralt is cast in a decidedly supporting role in Season 2, and The Witcher itself is confident enough in its own vision to allow a different character to step forward: Princess Cirilla of Cintra (Freya Allan), who finally gets the focus and depth that fans of both the popular video game franchise and the original series of Andrzej Sapowski novels have been waiting to see. The result is both narratively rich and emotionally compelling: Season 2 simply belongs to Ciri, from start to finish.
On the surface, Ciri’s story likely feels familiar to viewers who have consumed any sort of fantasy-based media: A pretty blonde girl with a sheltered upbringing and a famous pedigree has a capital-D destiny, but it’s not necessarily one where she’ll get to make very many choices for herself. When we first meet her, she’s a victim of circumstance: Her family is murdered, her home burned to the ground, and she’s forced to flee from everything she’s ever known. But even before her life is turned upside down, it’s equally clear that it was never truly her own. If things had stayed as they were, Ciri would likely have been married off to a man she didn’t want or love in the name of cementing Cintra’s power and continuing her family’s royal line.
But that isn’t the sort of story The Witcher is interested in telling.
Instead, Ciri’s Season 2 journey is one in which she gradually learns to both understand and embrace her own agency. Part of that is indeed thanks to Geralt, who gives her the time and trust to figure out what she herself wants from her life. But perhaps more importantly, Ciri herself realizes that she is allowed to want things from her life, and to feel angry about what was stolen from it. Part of her is deeply, righteously angry: at the Black Knight, at fate, at her grandmother for keeping secrets, at the luck of birth that seems to have laid every possible difficulty of lineage and power (magical or otherwise) at her feet. And it’s just so satisfying to watch this type of character—so often stereotyped as passive, uninteresting, or simply too overtly feminine—truly come into her own at last.
Like many young women in fantasy, Ciri is frequently targeted, objectified, and judged by the men around her. Many want to claim her for the fact of her birth, with plans to use her heritage to cement their own dreams of power. Others desire to possess the unique magic she wields, or see her as a symbol with which to promote their pet causes. Yet still more simply assume she is, as all women must be, weak and incapable of surviving in a world that is built by and catered to the whims of men. None of them think to ask Ciri what she wants, and most don’t care.
As a result, most of Ciri’s early journey involves her being forced to react to external forces beyond her control. She spends the bulk of The Witcher’s first season living in varying states of fear, forced to constantly run for her life from a variety of increasing (and, honestly, legitimate!) threats. In its second, she finally gets the opportunity not just to stop running, but to find her voice and be heard as she never has before. The result is downright magical, and Ciri is finally allowed to truly take her place on The Witcher’s canvas, not just as a fully realized character in her own right, but as a heroine worth rooting for.
So much of The Witcher Season 2’s plot revolves around which various faction (elves, Nilfgaardians, mages, random strangers) feels they have a better “claim” to Ciri for whatever reason (Elder blood, Chaos magic, Cintrian heritage, vague prophecies); it’s refreshing that the heart of its story is about a young girl finally realizing her claim on herself. Yes, she’s still struggling to understand how the many disparate pieces of who she is fit together—from naive princess and trauma survivor to prophesied savior who has also (willingly or not) taken lives—and Allan deserves so much praise for her nuanced performance as a girl trying to finally exert some kind of agency of her own. But in Season 2, Ciri is no longer willing to simply react to things happening to her.
Instead, she’s actively seeking out answers, questioning the wisdom and intent of those around her, judging their answers, and simply making the sort of choices that will ultimately help determine her place in the world. It is Ciri who wants to learn how to fight back; it is Ciri who pushes Geralt and the other Witchers to take her desire to train seriously; and it is Ciri who gets back up every time she’s knocked down, no matter how bruised and bloody she might be. True, all her choices aren’t great ones (we can only imagine what might have happened had she actually undertaken the Trial of the Grasses that turns a handful of people into Witchers and kills the rest who attempt it), but they do all come from an extremely understandable place: She doesn’t want to be a passive observer in her own life anymore.
In George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, Sansa Stark—another daughter of privilege who sees her assumptions of peace and safety violently stripped from her—describes her emotional journey as turning from porcelain to ivory to steel, and Ciri goes through a similar transformation. Mercifully, she doesn’t have to endure nearly as much physical or sexual violence to come into her own, though she is both kidnapped and possessed over the course of the season. But like Sansa before her, Ciri ultimately refuses to be defined by the worst thing that has ever happened to her, ultimately choosing the new family she’s forged with Geralt and the home she’s made in Kaer Morhen rather than pretty but insubstantial dreams of the life she once had.
That is, after all, part of what it means to grow up—to put away childish things and decide what sort of person you will actually become. For Ciri, part of that growth means deliberately choosing to move forward, rather than looking back in either anger or regret at the things she can’t change. It also means embracing that same power that has frightened her for so long, and learning to use both her magic and her inner steel to protect herself as well as, eventually, those around her. The Ciri who bravely steps into an unknown future with Geralt and Yennefer at her side at the end of Season 2 is very different from the frightened, mistrustful young woman who began it, it’s true. But her remarkable evolution is so satisfying to watch precisely because it is so hard-earned and, as we look toward The Witcher Season 3, her future feels wide open, no matter how many prophecies of potential doom might be involved.
Lacy Baugher Milas is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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