[Note: This contains spoilers for The Witcher Season 3, Part 2.]
It's fascinating how Henry Cavill scored one of his more impressive gigs by virtue of being a player of action RPGs. Wind back the clock to 2017, when Cavill, an avowed fan of The Witcher games, discovered that producer Lauren Hissrich was adapting a television series for Netflix based on the Andrzej Sapkowski Witcher novels — the source material for the video games he loved so much. Surely, Superman wouldn't have an issue securing this leading role — right? "He was very annoying," Hissrich jokingly told Vulture in 2019, recalling Cavill's zealous pursuit of the role. His persistence paid off, however, and soon he was starring in The Witcher as Geralt of Rivia, the eponymous gray-maned monster slayer of the books and games.
Flash-forward to 2023, and news surrounding Netflix's The Witcher is less enthusiastic. Its third season has been broken up into two parts (à la Stranger Things last year), and Netflix's strategy may have hurt viewership for one of the streamer's more popular shows. It could be that fans are waiting for the entire season to drop before immersing themselves into The Witcher's politically fraught, periodically monster-laden Continent. Some suggest another reason: Henry Cavill has dropped out of the show and will be replaced by Hunger Games star Liam Hemsworth beginning with Season 4.
That theory might hold some water. From The Witcher's earliest beginnings, Cavill's been the show's biggest draw. Its modestly well-received first season played around with Sapkowski's short stories, which largely centered on the traveling medieval exterminator as he pounded down magic potions and drew steel on well-designed computer-generated monsters. Cavill proved he could fill Geralt's iconic black leathers, and audiences embraced his performance. Hissrich's initial procedural approach also had potential, even if her series was already beginning to show a distressing lack of focus. It was early days, and besides, as readers of Sapkowski will tell you, monsters aren't the Continent's only concern.
The Witcher takes place during a perpetual state of political upheaval. Aretuza, home of the Brotherhood of Sorcerers and former school of Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra), is in turmoil thanks to an undermining conspiracy. Geralt's young, ashen-haired charge Ciri (Freya Allan) is the true-born daughter of Emhyr van Emreis (Bart Edwards), the Emperor of Nilfgaard, who mounts a war against the Northern Kingdoms. There are the hordes of schemers who exploit opportunities whenever the ensuing chaos allows it — like, as Geralt and Yennefer discover, the shady mage Vilgefortz (Mahesh Jadu), the traitor in Aretuza's midst.
Hissrich has said that Season 3 would serve as a "heroic send-off" for Henry Cavill, though it seems he's picked an awkward moment to leave. All these plots and betrayals amount to a convoluted tee-up for the presumably more exciting future seasons yet to come, with its most consequential installment set during its sixth episode, "Everybody Has a Plan 'til They Get Punched in the Face." Here, Cavill does battle with Jadu; Vilgefortz's true power has begun to take shape, and in rather spectacular fashion, he hands Geralt his ass. Cavill's final stretch as the Butcher of Blaviken sees him defeated, paralyzed from the waist down, and left for dead. He gets better (magic!), but that happens later.
In the meantime, The Witcher pulls Cavill even further from the proceedings. In Episode 7, "Out of the Fire, Into the Frying Pan," Ciri, the show's powerful human MacGuffin, is pursued by Vilgefortz when she's teleported to the Korath desert. With no food or water, Ciri grapples with her purpose in this cruel world where everyone wants to exploit her for political advantage, make use of her Elder Blood magic, or both. Her isolation is some of the strongest stuff in Season 3, though the length of this sequence, which eats up about three-quarters of the episode, seems calibrated to dull the ache of Cavill's impending exit.
When we finally return to Geralt, he has also been forced to reckon with his place in the world. In Cavill's final episode, "The Cost of Chaos," Geralt is in the care of the dryads of Brokilon, the same woodland creatures who took in Ciri during Season 1. Under their watch, Geralt considers a jeweled trinket that hearkens back to the events of "The End's Beginning" — he took it off a woman he once had romantic feelings for and ultimately killed. Here, Geralt ponders the random cruelty in the world and his neutrality that so often provokes it. "I've always tried to stay above the fray," he says. "And life always finds a way to force my hand."
For as long as the show has followed him, Geralt's witchery neutrality has been a part of his personality. It's a big sticking point for this character this season; everyone wants the witcher to pick a side. Vilgefortz wants to team up with Geralt in a weird Palpatine/Vader dichotomy; Dijkstra (Graham McTavish) holds his impartiality against him during his laughably pointless coup in Aretuza: "You should have picked a side," he says. So Geralt does, at last, pick a side: His own. It's Geralt versus the greater evil, and at this point in The Witcher, that's Nilfgaard.
This future conflict, which Hemsworth will take on next season, gets some hype during the last moments of "The Cost of Chaos." Geralt and Jaskier (Joey Batey) come upon a Nifgaardian outpost, where commoners are funneled through at the cost of their possessions. A surly guard, wearing Emhyr's colors, holds Geralt up for his trinket as payment. Sullenly, he hands it over and would have kept on his way were it not for the family behind him. Geralt turns to see this Nilfgaardian in all his knightly finery rob a young girl of her doll, only to then threaten to kill her parents and do worse for her in the bargain. So Cavill does what Cavill has done best for three rough seasons: He takes up his sword and carves up some monsters.
Even if it comes too late, the final battle scene of Season 3 is a bittersweet send-off for Henry Cavill. The actor's future remains uncertain now that he is not only done with Geralt but Superman, as well; whatever that future holds for him, Cavill's strengths as a lead show that he will be just fine without The Witcher. Time may prove otherwise — spare a thought for Hemsworth's imminent thankless task — but from this juncture, it sure looks like the new prevailing challenge for The Witcher will be filling the void he leaves behind. Charisma on the level of Cavill's, as the show is about to discover, is less common than you'd think.
The Witcher Season 3, Part 2 is now streaming on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Jarrod Jones is a freelance writer currently settled in Chicago. He reads lots (and lots) of comics and, as a result, is kind of a dunderhead.