Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

The Witcher Season 2 Belongs to the Women

Goddesses and a determined trio called all of the shots

Shiri Sondheimer

Happy Witcher Week! From Dec. 15 to Dec. 22, TV Guide and sister sites Gamespot and Metacritic are celebrating everything The Witcher. We have reviews, explainers, and everything you need to get ready for and break down The Witcher Season 2, which premiered Dec. 17 on Netflix. The following story is part of that celebration, and you can enjoy all of The Witcher content across sites right here

The Witcher  Season 1belongs to the men. Fair enough, the titular character, Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) is a man. Everything about him screams man: he's tall, his shoulders are extremely broad, he looks good when he is filthy and covered in blood, he knows how to swing a sword, and his voice is just… wow. He's stoic but it's clear from the occasional "slip" that he has carefully buried depths and  — though he'd deny it if you asked — he's chivalrous to a fault which makes him a crap witcher and earned him the sobriquet "The Butcher of Blaviken," neither of which seems to have beaten the white knight syndrome out of him. To be clear, while occasionally irritating, a helping hand where it isn't needed is preferable to the gleeful, gross misogyny displayed by every other man who oozes across the screen during the first eight episodes with the exception of Jaskier (Joey Batey) who, while a self-admitted dog, is at least a dog who asks for consent and knows no means no. 

Men having control of the first season's narrative doesn't mean the women aren't important. It doesn't diminish the fact they're complex and compelling. And yes, they absolutely play pivotal roles in both story arcs led by men and lead their own. But everything they are and everything they do exists in relation to, and within the context of, a patriarchy that wants nothing more than to see them fail. Think I'm exaggerating? Let's review:

Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) (I'm going to leave the matter of body-modification out of this entirely, that is a book of its own) is important enough both to Geralt's story and to the trunk story for us to be privy to her growth as a sorceress, her development as a politician, and her decision to strike out on her own. But take a second to think about how that narrative is structured. It's centered around her relationships with men; first Istredd (Royce Pierreson), then the kings who use her as an ornament to prove their own monarchic prowess, next those she uses as means to ends but who ultimately gain control of her by using their whisper network to label her as cheat and a whore, and last by Geralt who truly does love her but in an inflexible way; he expects her to change and refuses to meet her partway. He doesn't need to; it's his story and she's the villain if he says so. 

5 Times The Witcher Subverted Tried-and-True Fantasy Tropes

Yennefer isn't alone as a woman who demands her place in the narrative only to be measured by men who find her too powerful to be allowed autonomy. Stregabor (Lars Mikkleson) gives Renfri (Emma Appleton) two choices: death by mage or death by witcher. Survival is never on the table, not that we'd expect that option from a man who fears women with the self-possession to wear clothes, let alone those with magic more powerful than his own. Calanthe (Jodhi May) steps into a power vacuum and finds a minimally enlightened husband but her fellow monarchs are not boarding that ship. They indulge her battlefield antics and let her sign proclamations as long as it's convenient but only insofar as it makes their lives easier. When she gets too uppity, it's time for a lie, a rumor, or even a whispered truth because boobs doing politics without checks and balances? The utter audacity.  Then there's her daughter, Pavetta (Gaia Mondadori). Marry for love? Doesn't she know a princesses' job is popping out favorable alliances? Oh, she's contaminated, well, good thing the monster will have her then. She'll do someone some good and get Calanthe an heir, hopefully, a male one. 

Here's the thing: the women of The Witcher are strong. They're resilient. Those left standing at the end of Season 1 are in dire straits but challenges bring out the best in strong resilient people. They are, if you grab on and sink your claws in, opportunities to change not only your own circumstances but the very fabric of your cosmos. If Yennefer, Fringilla (Mimi Ndiweni), and newcomer Francesca (Mecia Simson) can harness the opportunities destiny and chaos are tossing them like coins to a witcher, they can seize the narrative of The Continent and transform it from one of braggadocio and measuring contests to honest, if sometimes ugly, revolution. None of them can do it on her own, though; kicking down the oak doors requires a team approach.

Fate has already announced herself to be in their favor by bringing them together and remember, Yennefer and Fringilla already have some experience working in tandem. Chalotra reminded TV Guide, "[Yennefer and Fringilla] already have quite a bond. They already connect in terms of their experience, quite a traumatic one. They really do understand each other at the core." 

Ndiweni added, "There's a lot that Fringilla isn't comfortable seeing in Yennefer because of how she sees herself, and the gap between who she is and who she wants to be. That influences her choices later on." The duo then, is strong but rough and potentially fragile. How best to build bridges and strengthen ties? Slavic mythology, writer Icy Sedgwick would recommend expanding the duo to a trio. And lucky sorceresses, not only is Francesca ready to step in during Season 2, there just happens to be a divine trio lurking around the edges of  Season 2 willing to model "kick ass and take names" primordial feminism as Yennefer, Fringilla, and Francesca lock and load even if what the supernatural ladies want isn't always in line with what the humans and elf do.  

Anya Chalotra, Anna Shaffer, and Therica Wilson-Read, The Witcher

Anya Chalotra, Anna Shaffer, and Therica Wilson-Read, The Witcher

Katalin Vermes

The Witch in the Woods

One of the main story drivers in The Witcher Season 2 is a witch in the woods who starts to whisper in the aforementioned trio's dreams. She is based on the mythic Baba Yaga, who may have started her existence as a goddess, a demon, or a combination of the two; lack of original sources and interference from Christian missionaries makes it impossible to know for sure. Jesus definitely tried to demote her, but no man puts Baba Yaga in a mortar and pestle; the creepy old lady with a penchant for cannibalizing children and property markers made of bones and skulls survived as a pivotal figure in Russian and Eastern European folktales. Should you decide to go looking for her, which is generally a terrible idea, you'll find her chicken-legged hut in the woods. The door will appear only if she deigns to admit you. Like many figures from Slavic mythology, Baba Yaga has a dual nature; her favorite snack is wandering children but she may decide to do you a kindness simply because she feels like it. She's also been known to make deals; be sure to read the fine print very carefully.  

Geralt of Rivia Is Actually a Terrible Witcher According to The Witcher Rules

If you remember nothing else about Baba Yaga, remember this: She spits on your society and if you try to force her to conform, she'll laugh while she roasts you for dinner. She's staked out her space in the universe and no one, and definitely no man, is going to take it from her. "When you have power like this," Yennefer says to Ciri (Freya Allan) of the girl's abilities, "never apologize." Baba Yaga would certainly agree.. 

Are Baba's methods always pretty? Absolutely not. But taking control of your story may create casualties and if you're intent on driving the narrative, you'll have to accept that. Look at what The Witch in the Woods had to say to our trio in Season 2, the mess it caused when they disobeyed her, and the lessons they take away from her hut on basilisk legs.

The Faceless Goddess is Giving Geralt Side-Eye

She is. Trust me. She doesn't actually need eyes to throw shade. 

Recent discoveries at dig sites in France suggest that, contrary to the opinions of 19th and early 20th century archeologists, Paleolithic artists were absolutely, positively capable of, and did, carve realistic human faces and bodies. Why then, are the famous, extra voluptuous, highly detailed figurines such as the Venus of Willendorf, the Venus of Doní Vêstonice, and the Venus of Hohle Fels faceless and their Neolithic sisters completely headless? 

The scholarly explanation is that these gorgeous works of art are meant to represent something Paleo- and Neolithic people felt was too powerful, too primal, too sacred to be humbled by human features: creation. To give the mother of all a face was to demean her, to suggest a degree of hubris from her worshippers too horrific to contemplate. The divine mother only gained a face when society shifted to a conquest and acquisition model wherein the male half of the population decided they had the right to assert dominance over women. Giving Her features allowed for stories in which male deities counted goddesses among their conquests and meant mortal men could exert control over even divine women by bargaining with them, moving them around at a whim, and even destroying them at will. 

In Eastern Europe, only the goddesses of death and regeneration, Marzanna, or Morana depending on where one is from, and Vesna remained faceless possibly due to the fact that birth and death were two life events over which women retain authority and control. So powerful is Marzanna that her faceless effigies, or those wearing featureless masks, are still burned or drowned on the spring equinox to ensure Vesna's return. 

The faceless goddess in Season 2 of The Witcher, eventually labeled as the demon Voleth Meir, is also a guardian of pivotal moments in the life cycle and a reminder to all men, and to Geralt specifically, that as much as he would like to believe he's the master of his own destiny, as much as he wishes his word was bond, there are much more powerful forces at play and those forces are female, deep, primal, and unforgiving. Just look at the trailer of witcher bodies Voleth possesed Ciri left in her wake in the Season 2 finale.

Lada is No God's Wife

Mecia Simpson and Tom Clanton, The Witcher

Mecia Simpson and Tom Clanton, The Witcher


In reconstructed versions of the Slavic creation myth, Rod hatches himself from a golden egg floating in unbalanced primordial darkness, both answering an eternal question and freeing himself to craft an orderly, balanced cosmos. Then, he looks at his tidy, tripartite universe and thinks, "I should put some stuff in here." Rod, realizing he's more of a "big idea" guy than a details man, decides he needs a partner, an equal but opposite, to determine what the proper mass and volume of stuff is and so, creates the goddess Lada. It's important to note that Rod doesn't make himself a wife or divine incubator as is the case in many other mythologies; he makes himself a balance. Rod and Lada are balanced in every sense of the word: they have the same degree of power, the same degree of authority, they can both come and go as they please, and every act of creation requires consent from both. 

Why are we talking about Slavic Gods though? Well, take a look at Francesca and Filavandrel (Tom Canton) in The Witcher Season 2. Compare their tactics and think about why she's been able to do more in a few years what he's been unable to do in hundreds, and then skim Lada's biography again. Ponder the fact that he insisted on remaining a lone hero, taking not only all of the credit but also all of the responsibility, while she acknowledges the importance of a team approach, including the advantages of duality.  Observe the ways in which her strategy pushes events forward where previously they had stagnated and how that progress shifts control of the present and the future into her hands. 

The Witcher Season 2 Monster Guide

The map then, is there and our trio has only to follow it if they want to claim their power and command of not only their own stories but that of The Witcher universe. The female forces that be, the deep, primal, eternal ones have taken up their cause, are nudging them in the right direction with "accidents" of geography, shared visions, and displays of power men are afraid to comment on let alone attempt to stifle. There are prices to be paid but then, there always are and Yennefer, Fringilla, and Francesca will have to accept that being not only one's own woman, but the hero of one's own story sometimes means letting go of the past, of old dreams, of old loves, of everything except what's to come. That molding one's own destiny is about as pretty and graceful as literary Geralt attempting to dismount from Roach during a chance while wearing buckle boots but damn, it's worth it when your life becomes your own. 

The men of The Continent relied on their privilege to keep them in command of its future and they've been left holding their swords. I'd like to think that the women, especially these three women together, along with the goddesses watching over them, won't make the same mistakes. 

That doesn't mean they don't have breaking points. Everyone does and what fun would a high fantasy story be without masses of betrayal? The fact they make decisions that drive them apart and  the reconfiguration of teams, doesn't mean they cast aside the lessons they learned together, that their time as a trio was wasted, nor does it mean they suddenly lose the understanding of their right to make their own choices. To refuse to accept there are molds they're required to fit, places to which men think they should constrain themselves, or, as Fringilla so perfectly lays it out for Cahir in Episode 8, limits women should accept in, "taking hold of what they've earned." 

And I, for one, can't wait to see what they decide to do next. 

The Witcher Season 2 is streaming on Netflix.