Netflix's The Witcher Season 2 creator interview: Making necessary changes
Netflix's The Witcher Season 2 creator interview: Making necessary changes
Note: This article was first published on 8 December 2021.
The Witcher Cinematic Universe needs a new name.
After two years of waiting, Netflix is finally releasing Season 2 of The Witcher later this month. This season will finally show us where Geralt and Ciri go after finally reuniting at the end of Season 1, but their journey won’t be an easy one. We’ll meet other witchers and monsters in Kaer Morhen, while Yennefer suffers the consequences of fighting at the Battle of Sodden. One of these witchers happens to be Vesemir, now older and wiser after his appearance in The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf. The bard Jaskier also returns, still raw after a painful breakup with his monster-slaying best friend.
Season 2 of The Witcher digs deeper into its main cast, adapting Andrzej Sapkowski’s Blood of Elves with a few changes that might surprise fans of the books. We recently talked to showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich about these changes, and how she feels about expanding The Witcher’s cinematic universe on Netflix.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Witcher’s female characters were already well-developed in the books, but play much bigger roles in the show. Was it important to you to put them front and center this season?
Lauren Schmidt Hissrich: I think we really got the inspiration for the strong women in the series from the books. As you said, Sapkowski developed these female characters in the same way that he developed his male characters. They're super layered. They are completely fallible, they make mistakes, they learn from their mistakes, they are the hero sometimes and the victims other times. It felt like really great representation to me.
The difference with the storytelling though, is I still felt like all of those characters were introduced through Geralt’s lens only. They only appeared in the story when Geralt needed them. This was one of the first things that I wanted to change in the series - I wanted to make sure that Ciri and Yennefer also had their own agendas and their own motivations and their own fully realized lives, before they intersected with Geralt’s. And to me, if they've each been living their own adventures in their own lives, when they align, it's going to be that much more interesting.
Season 1 had multiple time skips, but Season 2’s storytelling seems much more linear. What would you say are some of the other most striking differences between these seasons?
Lauren Schmidt Hissrich: I feel like we worked really hard last season to make sure that viewers understood what mages are, and all the different kingdoms, the politics of the Continent, the elves and where they came from… In Season 2, we don't have to do all of that heavy lifting anymore. We can really just dive into the story and characters. You get to go deeper with them. Not every scene is about propelling the story forward and getting to the next place. We actually get to sometimes just sit in scenes, and have characters talking and getting to know each other better and allowing the audience to get to know them better. Overall, the season just feels more personal and more intimate.
I noticed some parts of the books were expanded on in interesting ways, like Yen and Geralt’s ‘Dear Friend’ bit. What’s the thought process behind bigger changes like this, like Yennefer’s new storyline?
Lauren Schmidt Hissrich: The thought process behind any big changes that we make to the books is always about adaptation. I do feel like we've been trying to do a book a season. We did the short stories in Season 1, with a little flexibility. Obviously, we brought one of the short stories (A Grain of Truth) into Season 2 and added Ciri to that story. I've personally found Blood of Elves the most difficult book to adapt. As the first book in Sapkowski’s saga, honestly, not as much happens in it. It's really setting the stage for bigger political moves later on, and certainly bigger character moves later on. The Time of Contempt, which we'll be covering in Season 3, is when all these things we’re setting up really start to explode. So these changes are partly due to us simply making sure that we had enough story to tell.
Yennefer is a really good example, because she really doesn't appear in Blood of Elves until toward the end. I knew what a fan favourite she was from Season 1. I thought - what if we just didn't see Yen at all until Episode Five or Episode Six? I honestly thought our fans would riot a little bit. So instead of her disappearing after the Battle of Sodden, and reappearing when Geralt needs her to train Ciri, we tried to portray what she’d been doing between those events. She had a personal and intimate battle over what she lost at Sodden in the books. She obviously loses her eyesight, but we do things a little bit differently.
It's always just about how we propel the story forward, while still staying true to the tone of the books. That's the thing we never want to depart from.
How involved was the cast in providing input for their characters’ stories this season?
Lauren Schmidt Hissrich: I always want the actors to be involved in the process. In the process of writing these scripts, we first meet as a writers room. We spent about 20 weeks beating out the story and then writing the scripts, but that's just the beginning of the creative process. Once we finish, we invite our production crew in and sort out time constraints, budget constraints, where we can shoot or what sets we're going to build. We also bring the directors and actors in, for their creative point of view.
I have long conversations with Henry, Anya [Chalotra] and Freya [Allan] about their characters, and about the journeys of their characters, because they need to believe in them in the same way that I do. This season was really interesting, because we had all the scripts, we started shooting, and then we had to shut down for COVID. We took about a five-month shutdown, which had never happened before, so none of us knew what to expect. But that really gave me the time to go back through all eight episodes, to make sure that we were telling the very best stories and making every scene work for us. During that time, especially with Henry, I really dug even further in with him about what Geralt was experiencing this season. Normally, everything has to be done really quickly, but I think the show really benefits from that kind of reflection from myself and from the actors.
With a third season, a spin-off series, a kids’ TV show and another animated movie in the works, it seems like this universe is on the verge of exploding. How are you feeling about The Witcher slowly but surely becoming its own cinematic universe?
Lauren Schmidt Hissrich: It's interesting - I actually tweeted a couple of weeks ago because I saw the initials WCU online, and I was like, ‘What is that?’ I Googled it and found out it was the Witcher Cinematic Universe. That was a new concept to me, because I don't actually think of it like that. When I first sold The Witcher in August 2017, all I wanted to do was create one great show. I call it the Mothership.
I love the idea of bringing this universe to as many people as possible. I mean, in the United States, most people had no idea that The Witcher was based on books. If anything, they knew the games. And yet, the week after the show premiered, Sapkowski’s books entered the New York Times’ bestseller list. I feel like there's such an opportunity here to find new fans from an anime audience, for instance, or a kid's animated show, or even the spin-offs. But those shows can't exist if the Mothership is not strong, if we cannot keep telling the stories of the original books to the best of our ability. So my focus always comes back to the main season, and making sure that that is getting all of the attention it needs, and making sure that we're continuing to honour Sapkowski’s stories. I do feel excited that there could be a cinematic universe, but it's always about taking it back to the basics and making sure that we have a strong foundation.
Geralt has been running away from destiny for so long, and now he’s forced to face it head on, even if Ciri doesn’t make that easy for him. Where’s his head at this season?
Lauren Schmidt Hissrich: I love that question. In the books, there’s a time skip after Geralt meets Ciri in Brokilon. Several months have passed and they’ve established a rapport. One choice we made at the very beginning of Season 2 is to pick the story up a couple of days after their first meeting. That first episode has them tiptoe around each other, trying to figure out how they begin to have any sort of relationship at all. Geralt's headspace at the beginning is that this is his duty and responsibility. He made a promise to Calanthe that he would take care of Ciri. I don't even think he was considering the destiny factor. He’s a man of his word.
By the end of the season, his headspace has completely shifted, and he no longer sees Ciri as a person that he must take care of, but a person he actually cares for. I think that's when Destiny really comes into play for him, because he realizes that even if he hadn't made this promise, their paths would have still crossed, and he would have been back in the same place. So he has to understand that this is just a part of his life and where he's meant to be. I think there's a comfort there for him, and we see him ease into his role in a new way.
The Witcher Season 2 starts streaming on Netflix on 17 December, 2021.