While The Witcher Season 1 was criticized by some for its narrative form, it was lauded universally for the world-building it accomplished, and The Witcher Season 2 Episode 1 uses that foundation to begin fleshing out the action.
The premiere manages to pick up immediately after the climactic ending of the first season, despite the two years that have elapsed in real-time. The North collects its dead on the Sodden Hill battlefield, while Nilfgaard licks its wounds.
But, almost immediately, Geralt and Ciri have a side-adventure that sets in place what may prove a recurring theme for the season: Who are the real monsters?
The sojourn at Nivellan's estate borrows heavily on the fairy tale tropes of "Beauty and the Beast" but flips enough to make it innovative.
Nivellan's enchanted home is never satisfactorily explained. Is his ability to conjure things up (to drop from the ceiling) part of his curse? Or is it a magical ability that he's learned in his isolation? Or is it something Vereena brings to the table?
Vereena is the Beauty to Nivellan's transformed Beast, but she is, by nature, a monster herself, a bruxa. As Nivellan tells it, she loves him as much as he loves her. Furthermore, she is gentle and curious with Ciri.
Vereena: Are you a monster because you are different?
Ciri: Monsters do bad things to people.
Vereena: Humans do bad things to everybody.
The question of monstrousness is broached by Nivellan.
Is Vereena more monstrous because her nature drives her to kill and feed on people and beasts?
Or is Nivellan more of a monster for raping the Priestess of the Lionhead Spider, an act of choice, not nature?
Are monsters those who show no remorse for the damage they inflict on others or are monsters those who believe themselves to be monstrous?
Nivellan shows remorse, but he truly believes himself to be a monster.
Ciri: You don't seem like a monster to me.
Nivellen: I appreciate that, my dear. Monsters are more than just horrid looks and claws and teeth. Monsters are born of deeds done. Unforgivable ones.
Vereena hints that Ciri has the potential to be a monster which feeds on Ciri's fears that there's something wrong with her.
There's also a hint at Ciri's backstory in her affinity to Nivellan's lantern-lit tale of the elven warrior who falls in love with the mage.
You'll recall from Season 1, Geralt's bond with Ciri formed when he saved her father from her grandmother and accepted the Law of Surprise as his reward.
Her father, Duny, was a knight who had been enchanted into a hedgehog of sorts. Her mother, Pavetta, was a princess of Cintra who exhibited supernatural powers when Duny was in danger.
While the gender roles are flipped, there are strong similarities to Nivellan's folktale.
Geralt's battle with Vereena is more involved than I remember the Witcher elixir-fueled fights from Season 1 being.
Mind you, the visual effects team has had two years of COVID delay to really show what they can do, and it's an undeniably spectacular final product showcased here.
Equally impressive is the exposition slipped into Geralt's chats with Nivellan.
Something has changed, Geralt. The world's acting of its own strange accord these days. For outside the reach of kings and men.Nivellen
If Season 1 served the purpose of laying out the pasts of our three protagonists, Season 2 is gearing up for future conflicts and potential obstacles.
Nivellen: I'm simply saying, the North and South at war, monsters roaming when they should be hibernating, pestilence sweeping the land... Maybe it's the end of days.
Geralt: I've lived through a whole dark age and three supposed end of days. It's all horseshit.
It'll be interesting to see if Nivellan recurs later in the season. Or if the Lionhead Spider priestess -- or the Lionhead Spider itself -- shows up. I'd like to see that, myself.
Keeping in mind that "The Witcher" was a series of literary texts before becoming the immensely popular video game, there are a lot of adventures and adversaries who only get passing mention. Will Season 2 take a page from that playbook and continue to name-drop?
Yennefer and Tissaia get to share the B-plot of the premiere, the plot concerned with the aftermath of the battle between Nilfgaard and the kingdoms of the North.
When Tissaia can't detect Yennefer's power, it's odd that she never suspects that her mage student could've been captured and her power blocked.
Instead, when Geralt comes looking, she is convinced that Yennefer is dead and tells him as much.
Tissaia: We won. Because of her. She bought us time until the armies arrived.
Geralt: Was it worth it?
I'm curious that neither of them was at all interested in finding out more about the other.
Understandably, Tissaia goes to a dark place once she's resigned to Yennefer's death. Her use of magic to interrogate Cahir is brutal and deliberately so.
Not that I don't think Cahir deserves a little mind-digging. It's just hard to see Tissaia become as cruel as him in the process.
It is not in my nature to be cruel, but you have taken someone from me. Someone I care about deeply. So now I will take your knowledge, your memories, your very being, and leave you cold and helpless, trapped in the eternal darkness of your own mind.Tissaia
Yes, it's a different plot thread, but the question of monsters making monsters remains pertinent.
War is a known monster-creator, as well. And Nilfgaard's White Flame has stirred up feelings of fanaticism that have historically -- at least in our history -- led to acts of horrendous violence.
Meanwhile, Yennefer's dealing with some fall-out for her decision to shaft Fringilla back at Aretuza for a lush position.
While she's as smart-mouthed as ever, Fringilla's own training mirrors her own, so her attempts to get a rise out of her old schoolmate are met with disdain.
Yennefer: You're on the run. We won.
Fringilla: A battle. The war's just begun.
Yennefer: The refrain of the defeated. How sad.
The attack on the Nilfgaardian forces is a classic frying-pan-into-the-fire scenario. Will she fare better with the unknown enemy than with her old rival?
With Geralt and Ciri on their way to Kaer Morhen and Yennefer captured by who knows what force, it would appear that we're destined to a split narrative once again this season
Although they're now, at least, all in the same timeline, it'll be a heavy lift to carry two separate adventures without the whimsical nature of the Season 1 time twistiness.
How did this premiere land for you? Are you more invested in the Continent's potential end-of-days or the Nilfgaardian invasion?
Will Ciri thrive under Geralt's protection? Will he learn something new in caring for her?
Yennefer's bound to land on her feet. The question is, who'll break her landing?
What monsters will we face next?
Hit the comments with your best predictions!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.