The first episode of The Witcher season 3 begins with a lengthy recap of the previous two seasons: flashes of Henry Cavill in that initial, questionable Geralt wig, Freya Allen as a much-younger, more eyebrow-less Ciri, everyone’s shittier eye contacts, sword fights, magic, and a bit of sex. While watching, I was viscerally reminded of how much ground the series has covered since its 2019 debut—how much better the makeup and styling got, how impressively legible the sword fights are, the undeniable sexiness of most of the cast, and how utterly perfect Cavill is as the eponymous witcher, Geralt of Rivia.
Netflix’s The Witcher pulls from Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy novel series of the same name (which inspired CD Projekt Red’s game franchise), though there are many creative liberties taken with the twisting, turning, time-traveling books. The show can sometimes be a bit of a mess when it comes to plot, getting mired in the political goings-on instead of laser-focusing on the core trio of Geralt, Ciri, and mage Yennefer, but it shines whenever it gives those three center stage. It’s then that you remember: Cavill was made to play Geralt.
With Cavill leaving after this season and The Hunger Games’ Liam Hemsworth set to take his place (the reason is still unclear, though rumors relating to Cavill’s frustration with the show’s writers and his potential other filming commitments have been swirling for months), it’s hard to watch the current season and not wonder: How will The Witcher go on in Cavill’s absence?
Cavill’s physicality and familiarity with Sapkowski’s universe shine in every moment he’s on screen—he perfectly captures the quiet kindness and probing philosophical mind that Geralt displays so often in the books. Geralt can kill you with his bare hands, but he can also have a riveting debate with you about war and race relations, and Cavill embodies that perfectly. I don’t know if I’d call Cavill an excellent actor, but he is an excellent Geralt.
There’s also a special kind of physicality that Cavill brings to the role that’s largely rooted in his ability to do many of his own stunts. While watching this season, I found myself wondering: “Did Cavill take notes from Tom Cruise while on the set of Mission Impossible: Fallout?” Cruise famously does almost all of his own stunts, continuously pushing the limits of what a Hollywood actor can pull off on-screen, and the payoff is obvious: the Mission Impossible films are the best modern action movies by a country mile.
Cavill has been working with stunt coordinator Wolfgang Stegemann since Fallout—the two worked together to choreograph the iconic one-shot fight scene from The Witcher season 1, so the connection isn’t all that far-fetched. And Stegemann told GamesRadar that “it’s beautiful to see an actor who’s doing all the stunts themselves. I have a great stunt team but I don’t need a stunt double for him. [This means] I’m able to shoot special camera positions that I would never be able to do without him.”
Will Hemsworth have that kind of dedication to his role? The Witcher series often falters in plot progression and occasionally in character development, but whenever Cavill is fighting in a scene, you can’t look away. And in Season 3, he gets fight scenes and emotionally deep moments in spades, reminding us time and time again that he’s an excellent Geralt of Rivia.
Bizarrely, even Netflix seems determined to reassure viewers that yes, Cavill is still in this season of The Witcher. A recent marketing campaign projected the words “Yes, he’s still Geralt in season 3 of The Witcher” on buildings and cliff faces around the world. Sadly he won’t be Geralt in season 4 of The Witcher, and that’s what I’m most worried about.
The Witcher season 3 is split into two parts with the second set of episodes coming later this month. The first set of episodes ended on a cliffhanger, making the wait for those new episodes feel just a bit longer. Spoilers below for the books, but the second half of the season will likely kick off with the Thanedd coup, an infamous battle that horrifically injures Geralt. He carries that injury with him for the rest of the series, and the aftermath of the coup has major reverberations throughout the entire continent: It dissolves the mages’ Brotherhood, it separates Ciri from Geralt, it crowns an elven queen, it imprisons Yennefer.
The Thanedd coup will drastically shift the series’ pace—expect it to move rapidly, expect the stakes to be upped tenfold, expect your heart to be broken over and over again. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Cavill shouldering the exciting future of The Witcher, but I’ll keep an open mind. Maybe Hemsworth has got the chops, and his Geralt of Rivia will be one for the ages. The Witcher showrunners have promised a “flawless” and “meta” transition from Cavill to Hemsworth, so I’m at least looking forward to seeing how they pull that one off.
The Witcher season 3 volume 1 is streaming now on Netflix; Volume 2 is due out on July 27.