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‘The Witcher’ swings into Henry Cavill’s final season with a tighter focus

<i>Susie Allnutt/Netflix</i><br/>Henry Cavill
Susie Allnutt/Netflix
Henry Cavill

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — The off-screen attention regarding Henry Cavill’s exit can’t help but bleed into the new season of “The Witcher,” which will mark the “Man of Steel” star’s last with the Netflix show. Based on the initial episodes, Cavill could leave on a relatively high note, thanks to a tighter, more focused third season, at least initially, than the second offered.

The books-turned-game-turned-series fantasy has become a significant franchise for Netflix, which explains why the streaming service will employ a “Stranger Things”-like approach by splicing the season into two parts, with the first five episodes dropping now and the remaining three on July 27.

Frankly, fan enthusiasm for “The Witcher” has always felt a trifle overdone, which hasn’t stopped Netflix from mining that passion, including a limited-series prequel, “The Witcher: Blood Origin,” and an animated movie to help kill the time between seasons.

The new episodes benefit from a simpler framework, as Cavill’s Witcher, the warrior Geralt of Rivia, is keeping the princess Ciri (Freya Allan) safely in hiding, while Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) trains her and seeks to explore and test the limits of her magical powers.

That set-up provides Geralt and Yennefer an opportunity to flirt and bond – even enjoying a few quieter moments together – while enhancing Cavill’s role beyond just dismembering monsters and looking perpetually grim, which has generally served as a description of the character’s past contours.

There’s obviously a lot more going on than that, but the underlying premise of a princess with a larger destiny and her stoic protector has always served as the show’s most accessible point of entry, fueled by Cavill’s superheroic pedigree. While Geralt is hardly a match for Kal-El, that still leaves the actor slated to replace him in the fourth season, Liam Hemsworth, with sizable shoes to fill.

When the show premiered in 2019, it seemed to arrive at a moment when everybody was launching similarly themed fare – amid the introduction of several new streaming services – in an effort to carve out their version of “Game of Thrones,” producing a lot of expensive casualties in the process, and high-profile gambles like “The Lord of the Rings” series and “House of the Dragon” from Amazon and HBO, respectively.

Having graduated to the point where the show has inspired its own nonalcoholic beer tie-in, credit “The Witcher” with being a survivor. The question now is how well it will weather the loss of its leading man.

“The Witcher” begins its third season June 29 on Netflix.

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