Production on season 2 of the Netflix fantasy hit The Witcher has officially started this week, with a litany of COVID-19 protocols in place to keep cast and crew safe. According to Screen Rant, the show, which was originally set meant to wrap filming this month prior to the onset of the pandemic, returned to film ahead of schedule.
Adapted from the popular Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy novels and video game series under the same name, The Witcher’s first season proved a huge success for Netflix. The second season was renewed prior to the show’s December 2019 arrival on the streaming service, via Screen Rant. According to The Wrap, the series “was watched by 76 million households in its first month after launching”, making it one of Netflix’s largest debuts to-date.
The Witcher was set to film its second season from January to August with a mid-to-late 2021 release, via Screen Rant. However, 6 weeks into filming in the United Kingdom, the production had to shut down entirely. “We were literally in the middle of a big sequence we had been preparing for months” said The Witcher showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich (The Witcher, The Umbrella Academy) in an interview with The Wrap back in June. Hissrich insisted that health and the ability to return home safely became the number one priority in managing an international crew during the early days of the pandemic.
Kristofer Hivju (Game of Thrones), who is set to join The Witcher‘s cast as Nivellen, a character from the Sapkowski book series, tested positive for the Corona-virus in March, via The Hollywood Reporter. This heightened the cast and crew’s serious commitment to health and safety as Hivju was reportedly asymptomatic while on set, via The Wrap. “We had to follow up with everyone who came into contact with him and let them know what they should do if they start feeling sick” Hissrich said, while commenting on Hivju’s diagnosis with The Wrap. Fortunately, Hivju has fully recovered and no other cases were reported from the set in the wake of his diagnosis.
After this wave of bad news, the international cast and crew of The Witcher returned to their respective homes to quarantine while awaiting news about when, and how, production would begin again. This downtime saw cast bonding in the form of “The Great Witcher Bakeoff” in which members of the production challenged each other to craft culinary delights to be shared, and subsequently judged, on Twitter, via Decider. Joey Batey (Knightfall, The Witcher), who portrays Jaskier, the bard and crooner of the show’s beloved tune “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher”, made his contribution to the challenge in the form of a comedic YouTube video.
Henry Cavill (Man of Steel, The Witcher), who stars as The Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, spent his time away from set building a personal computer from scratch, as seen in an Instagram video that took the internet by storm last month, via IGN. Cavill prefaced the video: “this kind of material isn’t for everyone…viewer discretion is advised” (Instagram).
Despite the creative antics The Witcher crew has been able to get up to in quarantine, the question of when they could get back to work on season 2 remained. When speaking to The Wrap, showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich commented on the value of a show like The Witcher during these isolating times: “fantasy television can perhaps fill this hole that people are looking for, which is a world outside their own.” However, returning to set would mean a coordinated effort by multiple governments, Netflix and, above all, the crew’s own safety requirements. Hissrich expanded on this last point by saying “the government may say it’s OK to do X or Y, but an actor may say they don’t feel comfortable doing that. And that’s always going to be our first concern” (The Wrap).
Taking everything into consideration, August 17 was solidified as the return date for The Witcher’s season 2 production, via Screen Rant. So, imagine the internet’s surprise when Stephen Surjik (The Umbrella Academy, Jessica Jones), the Canadian director set to direct the season’s first 2 episodes, began to post behind-the-scenes photos from the all-new, socially distanced set days prior to that anticipated date.
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It’s T minus 3 min to ignition and lift off for our second run at Witcher S2. Everyone is being cautious but spirits are high. You’re looking out new covid communication system, reducing close contact among crew. Thank you Matt, Kelly Lauren and Netflix. @netflix @lbuffers @mattotoole @romain.lacourbas @netflix @aliceswire @henrycavill @khivju @freyaallen @kellyluegen
The Witcher director, posted a photo of a new communication device, used to keep cast and crew distant, on Instagram with the caption: “you’re looking [at our] new covid communication system, reducing close contact among crew”. According to Screen Rant, tools such as this can help keep the different departments isolated on set.
Surjik did not stop the behind-the-scenes content with Instagram, on Twitter he posted a photo of himself and showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich, sporting masks and sitting at a social distance. “Learning to social distance with my show runner /Exec producer” read Surjik’s tweet, and Hissrich herself added “it’s our fourth show together, and the farthest we’ve ever sat apart”. Afterward, Hissrich tweeted another photo herself on set, decked out in personal protective equipment, making a joke that her son did not recognized her. Surjik and Hissrich appear determined, not only to get the show underway but, to show others how to make production work safely during a pandemic.
I answered a FaceTime call on set from my seven year old in this PPE.
He very politely said, “Hi, can I speak to Mommy please?” pic.twitter.com/nTygJZdg3H
— Lauren S. Hissrich (@LHissrich) August 6, 2020
The hiatus in season 2’s production may have changed more than just how The Witcher is filmed behind-the-scenes. When interviewed for The Wrap, Lauren S. Hissrich indicated “it’s going to impact story. It will have to. But one of the best things about being a writer on set is that I’m there to make those changes as we need them.” Hissrich emphasized the importance of keeping the character’s stories “grounded” despite the changes that may need to be made to the overall plot, via The Wrap.
Screen Rant speculates that this head start on season 2’s production, could possibly mean The Witcher will still see a mid-to-late 2021 release, as originally scheduled, provided there are no more shutdowns.
Image Credit: Raymond Flotat