[This review contains spoilers]

While many of us entered into the first season of The Witcher with trepidation, based on how successful an adaptation it could be of the Sapkowski book series and/or the beloved computer games, most of us were won over by the end. It may have taken one or two episodes to warm up, but as the first season developed, it revealed itself to have taken some bold risks that weren’t apparent at first.

The three timelines of season one were initially pretty confusing, but did ultimately unfold in a satisfying way. And there were some undoubted highlights; including the romance between Geralt (Henry Cavill) and Yenn (Anya Chalotra), the reluctant bromance between Geralt and Jaskier (Joey Batey) and episode 6’s fantastic dragon.

Season 2 is more conventionally structured, with a straightforward timeline, although frustratingly the main players are separated once again. By far the most successful strand follows Geralt and his adopted daughter via the law of surprise – Ciri (Freya Allan). They travel back to Geralt’s home of Kaer Morhen, a breeding-ground for witchers. Geralt gets to do some cool monster-hunting along the way, including of a bruxa (vampire), a leshy (forest monster) and a chernobog (a deity of darkness). I don’t remember season one being this scary! At Kaer Morhen, Ciri starts training as a witcher and with the help of Triss (Anna Shaffer), starts exploring some of her powers, while those around her try to work out exactly what she is and what kind of magic she possesses.

In season one, Ciri’s storyline was the weakest. In season two, it is Yennefer who gets the short end of the stick, as she is embroiled in the politics of a war involving the elves and the Nilfgaardians. It is not until she breaks free and meets up with another character who has been sorely missed, that things start to perk up, in terms of giving her an interesting storyline.

Henry Cavill has settled into Geralt’s skin (and wig) much more in season two, and although he does have Ciri (in a much more distracting wig) to bounce off, keeping him apart from both Jaskier and Yenn for so long feels like a mistake. Their contrasting energies make for a great dynamic with the gruff witcher, who only really works as a character when he has the upbeat Jaskier winding him up or when he’s being frustrated by strong-willed women (both Ciri and Yenn fulfill this, thankfully). Although, seeing Geralt interact with other witchers, including his mentor Vesemir (Kim Bodnia) and Eskel (Basil Eidenbenz), a ‘brother’ who becomes corrupted, means that we do see a different side to him.

Although it takes way too long for Jaskier to come back into play, he does get an amazing reintroduction, singing a break-up song called Burn Butcher Burn (Jaskier’s Version) about a certain silver-haired, tight-lipped companion. We then get some Yenn-and-Jaskier time, which is one of the highlights of season two. Another highlight is when Geralt meets up with Istredd (Royce Pierreson) to investigate the destruction of an apparently indestructible monolith which appears to be spewing monsters into the overworld.

Unfortunately, the exciting parts are interspersed with rather boring stretches, with Tissaia (MyAnna Buring) and the negotiations regarding the elves and the Nilfgaardians really bringing the pace to a screeching halt. Thankfully, episode 6 (which is the last episode that was screened in advance for critics) is one of the best, with the main characters starting to converge and we finally see some interesting production design, courtesy of the Temple School. Here, Nenneke (Adjoa Andoh) provides some much-needed rest and respite for the weary travellers. This episode also sees Istredd visit Codringher (Simon Callow) and Fenn (Liz Carr) in a lovely overstuffed bookshop, which is surely something everyone wants to see in a fantasy series?

It’s frustrating, because the highs of The Witcher are so good, but the insistence on constantly cutting away from the juicy stuff, or the scary or funny elements, to something as dull-as-dishwater really does it no favours. The elf scenes are just so lifeless, and my heart sank every time we diverted away from much more compelling characters. While the timeline may be more straight-forward, the editing can still frequently be jarring and many scenes need more room to breathe. We never really get to feel characters’ grief, resentment or sense of betrayal because the plot whips along too quickly or has to keep cutting between the many characters and threads.

My hope for the last two episodes of the season is that we get a LOT more Geralt and Yenn time and that Jaskier is in it more (hopefully with Geralt). My wider hope for season 3 and beyond is that showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich focuses much more on the central foursome of Geralt, Yenn, Ciri and Jaskier, stops splitting them up so much and stops cutting away to characters and issues that we don’t care about. We are presumably going to see a relationship develop between Yenn and Ciri and I’m keen to discover how that will pan out.

While there is a lot to like about season two of The Witcher, including some very cool monster moments, it’s a real mixed bag. The writers really need to work out the strengths of the characters and what we’re invested in (eg. Geralt and Yenn’s romance) and focus on those elements, because the politics of war are dry as dust, even if there are pointy ears involved.