Nearly two years after debuting to record numbers on Netflix, The Witcher will be returning for an eight-episode second season next month, picking up in the immediate aftermath of the gruesome Battle of Sodden Hill.
Based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s best-selling book series of the same name, the hit fantasy drama centers on Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), a solitary and magically enhanced monster hunter who struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more wicked than beasts. But when destiny hurtles him toward Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra), a powerful sorceress, and Princess Cirilla of Cintra (Freya Allan), a young royal with a dangerous secret, the three must learn to navigate the increasingly volatile Continent together.
The show’s first season followed the three characters at different points in time, exploring formative events in all of their lives before merging in a single timeline that culminated in the fateful battle with Geralt of Rivia and Princess Cirilla’s long-awaited first meeting.
In the second season, Geralt—who is convinced that Yennefer died in the Battle of Sodden—brings Princess Cirilla to the safest place he knows: his childhood home of Kaer Morhen. While the Continent’s kings, elves, humans and demons strive for supremacy outside its walls, Geralt must protect the girl from something far more dangerous: the mysterious power she possesses inside.
During the virtual TCA Summer Press Tour, Allan spoke exclusively with Observer about the experience of working opposite Cavill and Chalotra, the challenges that lie ahead for Cirilla and Geralt in the sophomore season, and the detailed fight sequences that she can’t wait to take on in future seasons. (The Witcher has already been renewed for a third season.)
Observer: You probably anticipated an intense fan response from the moment that you landed the role of Cirilla, but how surreal has it been to rise to fame in the last few years with this show?
Freya Allan: I’ll tell you what’s more surreal—It’s probably when we’re traveling the world on the press tour and getting to stay in so many different places and moving from one place to the next and the premieres. It’s so kind of otherworldly. But I would say I feel genuinely very detached from it in terms of its success. Obviously, I’m very happy, because it means I can continue working. But I don’t really get too freaked out by it, because it feels quite separate. It feels like you go, you do your job, you love it, and then you hope it’s going to be received well, and then it is, and then you’re glad about that. But then, other than that, I’m just a normal teenager. I’m in my mate’s uni accommodation right now, so I’m just normal. It hasn’t been too weird. [Editor’s note: Allan turned 20 in September, but this interview was conducted in August.]
We live in a consumer culture where spoilers are almost inevitable, but you and the cast have, at least thus far, managed to keep details of the second season under wraps. Has it gotten any easier for you to avoid spoilers, or do you still find yourself biting your tongue?
You know what? I thought I’d be terrible. I just thought I’d slip up, but I haven’t so far, and I don’t want to say I feel like I’m good at keeping spoilers away, because now I’ll inevitably reveal one. But I think I am pretty alright. I find it very funny watching the Tom Holland videos where he’s just messing up. I kind of secretly want to be, like, accidentally giving them, because I think it’s quite funny, but I’m sure Netflix doesn’t want that. (Laughs.)
Do you have a favorite moment from Season 1 that stayed with you when you read the script or watched the finished product?
I have to admit: It feels like such a long time ago, and I didn’t even properly watch the show. (Laughs.) We had to watch Episode 1 so many times because we were doing premieres, and we had to sit in there and watch it, so I don’t know if I’m the best person to ask. (Laughs.) I would say that I love Jaskier (Joey Batey) and Geralt’s relationship. I think that’s amazing. I always say it’s like Shrek and Donkey, and I love that. But oh my gosh, that seems like such a long time ago that I’ve seen any of it, to be honest, so I can’t even really remember.
How does the Ciri we meet in the pilot ultimately compare to the one that we see in the Season 1 finale, and how does she continue to evolve going into Season 2?
So [in] Season 1, her entire life just changes within one night. She is having to experience a world that she’s never experienced before; she’s had a very sheltered upbringing. And then she’s suddenly thrown out into this very brutal world, and she sees things she’s never seen. She’s been hidden from all of that kind of brutality, and now she’s suddenly being faced with it on her own. That’s obviously going to change her, and I think her trust in people is lost a little bit through her experience. She’s been holding on to the one thing that she’s been left with—she needs to find Geralt. So when she does finally find him at the end of Season 1, it’s a huge relief, because this could be her potential family and her protection.
[In] Season 2, it picks up not long after Geralt and Ciri have met, and they’re trying to navigate one another because Ciri lacks trust, so she’s keeping a lot from him, and Geralt wants to find out information from her. So it’s that kind of dynamic that continues and eventually, though, their relationship obviously evolves through that. And sometimes you have to go through knocking heads a little bit with someone in order to get closer with them, so you see all that happen.
What have you learned the most from working opposite a seasoned and accomplished actor like Henry Cavill?
I think the main thing that was clear to me is that you have a voice on set and that if you feel passionately about something that you don’t think is quite right, just say it. And I, as Freya, have always been like that anyway, because I voice what my opinion is. Otherwise, there’s no point in doing my job. I think working opposite someone who is also wanting to discuss things and wanting to make sure that it feels right to them is great, and the showrunner and the directors were all so open to talking as well, so it just felt like a team. Because there were some big emotional scenes where you could take it in so many different directions, it was nice for us to get to chat, and TV works a bit quicker than film as well, so it was good that we were able to do that. I think that’s one of the main things that I’ve learned.
In the Season 2 premiere, Ciri tells Geralt, “Everywhere I go, people die,” which makes her afraid that she only does more harm than good wherever she goes. How would you describe the journey that she goes on this season as she trains to become a witcher and comes to terms with this mysterious power that she has?
I think, when she gets to Kaer Morhen, she meets all the witchers and they become like her brothers. There is an element of wanting to be like your older siblings, which is kind of the relationship she has with them. That’s the environment she’s in though. They’ve all trained to be witchers, so why wouldn’t you, therefore, think, God, I want to be that as well? And she’s always had that element in her when you see in Season 1. She can tell that she likes hanging out with the boys on the street; she doesn’t want to be all the time like a princess. She also wants to get dirty. So she becomes very determined, very passionate about becoming a witcher, and that’s actually one of the problems that she has with Geralt.
Geralt is not quite letting her reach the potential that she wants to reach, and that’s very frustrating for her. Because from where he stands, he needs to protect this girl—and her trying to become a witcher is not the way to do that, because it is a very dangerous process. Obviously, training in general could be dangerous, as you’ll see and find out. But also, there’s a whole process that you have to go through—people can end up just dying from that. So it’s not an ideal situation with Geralt, but Ciri is very determined and she says she wants to be a great fighter, and that’s just her aim.
And also, I think she sees it as an escape. I think she’s trying to find something that can solve. Essentially, the trauma that she feels from her past and finding out so many lies that her family had fed her—or not lies, but just things that haven’t been told to her. I think all that has really affected her, and she sees becoming a witcher as a way of escaping that and shoving it aside. She sees it as her solution, so it means a lot to her.
When you did press interviews for the first season, you did a lot of them with Anya, but you two didn’t share any scenes together. Now that you’ve finished filming the second season, what has it been like to work opposite her?
Yeah, we both kept saying on the press tour, “God, it’s going to be so weird when we work together, because we’ve known each other before acting with each other.” Often, when you meet someone for a show, you act with them before, and you get to know them through that. But we were both excited about it.
I thought I’d just burst out into laughter, but I think one of our first scenes was quite serious, so we weren’t really doing that. But we always have a lot of fun together, so it is great fun when we film. We are silly, but at the same time, she, as we all do, cares so much about finding the truth in the scene, so it was amazing. And I really enjoyed bouncing off of her, because she was obviously incredible in Season 1, so it was a lot of fun. And as a young actor who hasn’t done the drama school route, getting to work with different actors is my drama school, and it’s not necessarily that people are giving me advice literally, but you are just absorbing from everybody. And that’s really exciting for me, personally, as an actor.
How would you describe Ciri’s relationship with Yennefer?
I would say that Ciri knows that Yennefer is an incredible mage, and she’s been very terrified about the thought of using her power, because she’s only seen it do things that aren’t necessarily good. She’s accidentally killed people, so for her, it’s very frightening. But she’s faced with this sort of evidence of how you can use it and you can use it to become something quite beautiful. She’s not entirely convinced, because for her, it’s just terrifying. But that’s what Yennefer provides her with: the space to actually try and use it. I think that is the main aspect that we get to see.
It’s no secret that the production value for a show like this is absolutely out of this world, and the stunt work has to be world-class. What was it like to return to that world and really try your hand at learning all of the intricate fight sequences?
It was so exciting. Before we started filming, I was just really enthusiastic to be honest. I just love it, so I just wanted to learn. They taught me the basics of swordwork, which just enabled me to pick up choreography so much better and make it look better. The stunt department was incredible. I really got on with them as well; I had so much fun with them. It was exciting because [in] Season 1, I did a lot of running through woods, and this time, you get to see [me] doing some action sequences.
Obviously, though, [Cirilla] is not necessarily going to be out there fighting everyone yet, because we need more for potentially other seasons if that happened and we can’t do it all right now, as much as I would like to. I remember thinking, God, can’t I just fight that dude?! (Laughs.) I was like, “Guys, come on. Let me fight him!” And they were like, “Freya, there’s a reality to the situation. It takes a long, long time to become a great fighter.” But yeah, you definitely get to see her training process that she goes on. Episode 3 is great.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The second season of The Witcher will premiere December 17.