Warning: Contains SPOILERS for The Witcher season 2
The Witcher had consistently failed in its disabled representation with poor portrayals of disability, and season 2 was no exception. The Henry Cavill-led series drew negative attention in season 1 for its narrative revolving around Yennefer of Vengerberg, who was played by non-disabled actor Anya Chalotra. Though season 2 made some steps in the right direction, the series still had a long way to go in terms of crafting authentic portrayals of the disabled community.
The Witcher season 1 introduced Yennefer of Vengerberg, a disabled peasant woman with kyphosis. Much of the first half of the season saw Yennefer experiencing extreme prejudice, as characters such as Tissaia de Vries referred to her as "piglet". Eventually, Yennefer was able to transform herself, with the help of a mage named Giltine, seeing her metamorphize through magic into a non-disabled body. The narrative around Yennefer was a highly problematic part of The Witcher season 1. The casting of a non-disabled actor in the role only further marginalized the already excluded disabled community, as Netflix gave one of the few roles they might be expected to play to a non-disabled person. Of course, Yennefer then transformed into a non-disabled person, but the audience could've suspended their disbelief if Netflix had cast a disabled person as pre-transformation Yen and non-disabled actor Anya Chalotra after episode 3. However, this still wouldn't have fixed the problematic narrative around Yennefer only being able to achieve success after she lost her disabilities.
Season 2 only compounded The Witcher's disabled representation problem by introducing Rience, a renegade mage. During a confrontation with Yennefer, the sadistic wizard was severely burned. From then on, he was ridiculed by Yennefer and Geralt for his subsequent facial scarring. The decision to give one of the main antagonists, and a nasty one at that, a facial disability was problematic. It inherently reaffirmed that people with facial disabilities were to be feared or ridiculed, something the James Bond series had previously been criticized for perpetuating. This was only compounded during the final episode when it was revealed that Rience's comrade Lydia was also facially scarred following a magic accident. Both characters were portrayed by non-disabled actors, adding insult to injury.
However, The Witcher season 2 did take some steps in the right direction. The series cast well-known disabled actor Liz Carr as Fenn, a character who helped Istredd uncover vital plot information. Fenn was crucially not defined by her disability, nor was she marginalized because of it: she simply existed alongside her non-disabled counterparts, and Carr was a welcome addition to the cast. Yet, The Witcher season 2 also introduced a deaf character in the form of the elf Dermain, played by actor Jamal Ajala. While this was great on the surface, the episode was notable for almost immediately killing Dermain, whilst his non-disabled counterpart survived and went on to play a more prominent role in the next episode. It would've been less problematic to reverse these roles, given the lack of substantial roles offered to deaf actors.
The Witcher failed in its mission to properly represent the disabled community in three ways: it recycled tired stereotypes about people with facial scarring, it cast non-disabled people as disabled characters, and it quickly disposed of the authentic deaf character it did introduce. However, its introduction of Liz Carr to the cast was a welcome step in the right direction for authentic representation and diversity. Yet, despite this, The Witcher was far from perfect, proving that there is still a long way to go.
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The Witcher seasons 1 and 2 are available on Netflix