When news broke that Liam Hemsworth would be replacing Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher after Season 3, fans were understandably skeptical. Netflix’s fantasy series might be an ensemble, but Cavill, with his DC bona fides and his instantly recognizable growl, has always been its selling point.
The first volume of the show’s third season was a solid reminder of exactly what makes Cavill so undeniable in the role: In fight scenes, his every move seems to land with swift, bone-shattering force; in slower moments, his natural magnetism and droll delivery make us hang on his every mundane word. And then there’s the heart-melting affection (and protectiveness) he displays toward those he loves. For much of Season 3, Volume 2, however, he’s stuck on his back, healing in the woods after an ill-fated battle with one of our new primary antagonists, the mage Vilgefortz of Roggeveen.
Those who expected Cavill to go out in a final blaze of glory will be sorely disappointed. Although there is something elegant about the way Cavill goes out (and he also makes a meal out of his forced bedrest in the woods) the actor’s exit feels like a whimper next to the gonzo legacy he’s built on this gripping, often delightfully weird fantasy series. Can Liam Hemsworth really fill these boots?
The first half of this season gave us us some fun family time for Geralt and his chosen family—the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra) and Princess Cirilla of Cintra (Freya Allan)—all of whom normally spend way too much time on the road apart, looking for one another. Sadly, Volume 2 steeps all of them back in desperation.
In a devastating conspiracy, Ciri’s father, the ruthless Emperor Emhyr var Emreis of Nilfgaard (who is obsessed with capturing his daughter so that he can marry and impregnate her) takes over the continent. This leads to even more instability for the newly conquered Redania, which faces yet one more devastating blow when its king, Vizimir, is assassinated. His caddish brother, Radovid (Hugh Skinner) succeeds him, even though two minutes before, he was trying to leave palace life behind. God save the tax-paying citizens of Redania!
Ciri, whose Elder blood has long made her a precious bounty for a number of different groups, now faces a trip through the desert—literally and metaphorically. She warped there during the coup, and it’s there that she meets the unicorn Ihuarraquax—who will become a very important friend. In spite of Yennefer’s order that she never use Force magic, Ciri breaks her orders to heal the unicorn after it becomes poisoned. Betrayal after betrayal has left Ciri raw, and as she contemplates her fate, she also finds herself wondering just how much she needs people at all.
It’s a central question of the season: What is trust worth in this world? Vilgefortz, a powerful mage, betrays Tissaia and sells out the magical Aretuza academy, leaving the future of the discipline in shambles. Radovid tried to kidnap Ciri from under the bard Jaskier’s (Joey Batey) nose, even though he and Jaskier are clearly falling for one another. This world has always been morally grey, but these days, the bonds tying everyone together feel more tenuous than ever.
The fall of Aretuza is particularly devastating to Yennefer, who grew up under Trissaia’s tutelage and returns to fight at her side until the end— even in spite of her plans to leave the island with Geralt and Ciri. With Cavill leaving, it’s a good thing we still have Chalotra. Particularly in this season’s second half, Yennefer often serves as The Witcher’s emotional core, shouldering its burdens but never relinquishing her sense of duty to others.
There is no grand exit for Cavill. The season hums along until the very end, betraying barely a wink that its star will soon be gone. If you didn’t know it was coming, you almost certainly wouldn’t realize it from what unfolds on screen—that is, unless you’re a fan of the books.
Executive producer Tomek Baginski has said the transition from Cavill to Hemsworth will draw on the Witcher novels—particularly the fifth installment. “It’s very lore accurate,” Baginski told Yahoo! Entertainment. “It’s very close to what was set out in the books and I think this change will be quite flawless.”
Given Ciri’s trajectory in these final episodes, including her encounter with the unicorn, it appears we’re headed into the Witcher multi-verse—which, given Baginski’s comment, seems likely to explain Cavill and Hemsworth’s upcoming switcheroo. Among its other benefits, Ciri’s Elder blood allows her to travel across different dimensions through portals. From a plot standpoint, this could easily explain Cavill’s departure, but the real question is whether audiences will actually go for it, or if instead they’ll feel cheated once he’s gone.
That said, our beloved Geralt does at least go out with a fitting fight scene. During the final episode of the season, he’s thinking about Renfri—whom he killed in Season 1, when it became clear that she was willing to kill innocents for even a chance at revenge against the corrupt wizard Stregobor. “I’ve always tried to stay above the fray, to shut everything out,” he says. “And life always finds a way to force my hand.”
As the finale comes to a close, Geralt is about to cross the border into the continent with Jaskier to rescue Ciri. Then, he sees one of Emhyr’s guards taunting a little girl and her family at the border. True to form, he decides to take a minute and kill the patrols and give the kid back her doll. More than one last armor-smashing spectacle for Cavill, the scene is also a perfect distillation of his character—who, in spite of his tough exterior, still has a profound soft spot for innocents.
In a tragic bit of dramatic irony, Yennefer and Geralt’s final in-person goodbye also foreshadows Cavill’s exit. When she finds him in the forest, Yennefer pleads, “Tell me this isn’t the last time I’ll see you—say it. I need you, Geralt.” In context, his response—“I need you, too, Yen”—is all the more painful knowing that, at least in this form, they never will see one another again.
There is, at least, a hint of good news: Although Netflix has yet to confirm the rumored Witcher prequel series centered on the criminal organization the Rats, we do get to hang out with them toward the end of Season 3, when Ciri finds herself captive with one of them. (For those who’ve seen Netflix’s Shadow and Bone, the group is not unlike that show’s Crows of Ketterdam, who are also getting a spin-off.)
We’ll see how Hemsworth does when he steps into the White Wolf’s armor (and wig) in Season 4. If nothing else, this season, which has placed so much emphasis on the loving relationships between its core three characters, has distilled what made Cavill so wonderful for the role. When you first meet him, you might get stuck on the hardened exterior. But for those of us who’ve stuck around longer, it’s the tenderness underneath that might be the hardest to replace once he’s gone.