Tom's Guide Verdict
The Witcher season 3 part 1 will sate your need for monster hunting and brooding, but it will also leave you frustrated as another (shorter) wait begins for the final three episodes of the season, and Henry Cavill's last as Geralt of Rivia.
Cavill and the core cast thrill
Excellent monsters to kill
Jaskier's love delights
Moments outside of the main cast slow the pace
Split-season release frustrates
The Wild Hunt barely show up
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
I had a chance to watch The Witcher season 3 part 1 early, including all five episodes that are part of the season. Yes, you get five episodes now (released June 29th), and you'll wait until the end of July for the next three. It's the same thing Netflix did for Stranger Things, down to the lop-sided breakdown of the big first half and smaller back-half.
All that said, I'm happy that The Witcher is back, if only so I could spend more time with monster hunter Geralt (Henry Cavill), mage Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), aspiring Witcher and current hunted princess Ciri (Freya Allan) and comical bard Jaskier (Joey Batey).
My biggest gripe is tied to how only fans of the series who has committed its chess board of characters to memory will truly be able to savor it. The secondary cast of characters, and their ominous meetings, practically require a refresher video. Still, knowing the core issue — Ciri is powerful and must be protected — will be enough to get you through. Oh, and don't worry about spoilers, there's none of those to worry about. I wouldn't dare ruin any reveals for this latest season of one of the best Netflix shows.
The Witcher season 3 part 1 review: What I loved
The core four of The Witcher — Henry Cavill's Geralt, Freya Allan's Ciri, Anya Chalotra's Yennefer and Joey Batey's Jaskier — still have the presence and charisma (and plot) to make The Witcher bewitching. The series picks up with the first three of those reunited, but it doesn't feel so good.
After her betrayal last season, Geralt's a bit distant from Yen, and this gives Cavill moments to brood and Chalotra time to pine. Meanwhile, Ciri's feeling like the anchor around everyone's necks, and Allan is especially capable at radiating her inner conflict.
The big thrust of The Witcher season 3 part 1 is that our heroes have only one goal: "keep Ciri safe." Unfortunately, the princess with Elder blood isn't always great at protecting herself. When a moment arises for her to either help someone else or keep herself hidden, she bucks her given goal and does the right thing. This all works, though, because Allan delivers a heroism and intent, throwing out any ideas of Ciri's childish past.
And speaking of heroism, The Witcher season 3 sprinkles in just enough action and beasts to keep you from wondering if our monster hunter has already vanquished all the other monsters. At least one of The Witcher's beasts is utterly unnerving, in a way that had me gulp.
As for Jaskier? Not only does he get a little love this season, in a moment that had me pump a fist in the air, but we meet his rivals in The Witcher's musical scene. These other performers make for decent comedy, and I'll keep it at that.
Lastly, it feels like Cavill's savoring each and every moment of this season, his finale with the series before Liam Hemsworth shows up as the new Geralt next season.
The Witcher season 3 part 1 review: What needs fixing
If you haven't recently rewatched the previous seasons, or done a Wikipedia deep dive on the secondary characters, I have a hunch you may struggle a bit. The Witcher season 3 doesn't really give a great job of providing context, and the screeners I was provided would have benefitted from a "previously on" segment prior to the start of each episode.
At the same time, the bigger trouble lies in scenes without the core four. Both in the civil war brewing among elves, and the politicking between Nilfgaard and Redania's, I found myself wishing there was a way to see what the rest of the characters were doing. This is in no fault of the actors such as Graham McTavish (Dijkstra) and Cassie Clare (Philippa), but more the material they were given to work with.
Watching Redania's aloof king Vizimir II (Ed Birch), a pawn on others' boards, you get a faint whiff of Game of Thrones-style chess. He's a part of a class of characters with repercussions for the whole series, but I often felt like Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan on the moon, tired of these people and their troubles. Those scenes, thankfully, are mostly contained in the second episode. Once I made it to episode 3, I felt like a spell of boredom had expired.
My only other big gripe? This season only teases the terrifying Wild Hunt, who reminded me of the Nazgûl/Ringwraiths from Lord of the Rings. Our heroes may want none of them, but I desperately wanted more.
The Witcher season 3 part 1 review: outlook
A lot of expectations built up during the year and a half since Geralt, Ciri and Yen left us, and this first half feels like too much of a tease. Yes, it's fun to reconnect with the trio and their bard, as this The Witcher season 3 part 1 review explained. The parts without them, though, were lacking.
But to get hit with another cliffhanger upon finishing this first batch (and have this partial run feel especially incomplete) feels like a rebuke of Netflix's split-season model. Another month may just be a nuisance to those who want to finish it now, but it would have been nothing for those who hadn't watched these five episodes. It all reeks of "we want you paying for two separate months."
Considering how much Netflix's The Witcher: Blood Origin disappointed, and how scenes without Cavill and the main crew frustrated, I can't help but worry about what comes after 'part 2.'
Maybe this extended gap is an accidental good idea, to stop people from finishing it to quickly, like my colleague who finished The Bear too quickly. Weekly releases for each chapter of The Witcher season 3 part 1 would have made much more sense, then. Which is why I envy those who can watch The Witcher on their own schedule.
The Witcher season 3 part 1, though, is definitely a success, as I do look forward to seeing how The Witcher's Cavill era wraps up.
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Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.