Henry Cavill trades in his Superman cape and tights for a long white mane, weathered armor, and a giant broadsword in The Witcher, Netflix’s attempt a
Henry Cavill trades in his Superman cape and tights for a long white mane, weathered armor, and a giant broadsword in The Witcher, Netflix’s attempt at a Game of Thrones-style fantasy epic. Based on Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s book series (which has also spawned a trio of hit video games), the moody, violent, treachery-drenched series from Lauren Schmidt Hissrich revolves around Geralt of Rivia (Cavill), a famed monster hunter who becomes embroiled in a sprawling saga of magic, murder, and mystery. Does it deliver the swords-and-sorcery goods? Follow along with our binge-watch to get the grand, gory details.
Episode 1: “The End’s Beginning”
In a boggy swamp on the vast Continent, battle erupts between a giant spider-like creature known as a kikimora and Geralt of Rivia, who fells the beast by stabbing it through its chin. With the monster in tow, he travels on his trusty horse Roach to the town of Blaviken, where he receives a less-than-warm welcome from local tavern patrons. As a witcher — created by magic that grants him power but strips him of his emotions — Geralt is viewed as unholy. Nonetheless, a barroom brawl is averted thanks to the intervention of Renfri (Emma Appleton), who buys him a beer.
Geralt wants to sell his catch to the town’s alderman, but the man’s daughter Marilka (Mia McKenna-Bruce) — who dreams of being a witcher herself, despite women not being allowed to embark on that profession — sends him instead to sorcerer Master Irion. At the wizard’s residence, Geralt learns that Master Irion is dead; his name is now the alias of Stregobor (Lars Mikkelsen), a magic-man in hiding from a cursed woman he claims is the handmaiden of an ancient, apocalyptic demon goddess named Lilit. Stregobor wants Geralt to kill this fiend for him. Geralt isn’t very interested, stating that all evils (lesser, greater, middling) are the same, and that faced with choosing between them, he chooses none at all.
Meanwhile, in the royal palace of Cintra, Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May) humors her randy husband King Eist (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) and her granddaughter Princess Ciri (Freya Allan). At an evening gala, Queen Calanthe shrugs off her spouse’s warnings about coming war with rival Nilfgaard, only to discover that the enemy’s forces have arrived. Conflict is imminent, and when it comes, it’s gruesome and merciless, with Eist perishing and Calanthe retreating to the castle with mortal wounds. A protective barrier conjured by mage Mousesack (Adam Levy) can’t keep the invaders at bay, and before she plunges to her death — and orders the rest of those in the castle to kill themselves with poison, lest they be tortured by Nilfgaard’s forces — Calanthe sends Ciri away with the message, “Find Geralt of Rivia. He is your destiny.” The girl objects with a scream that rattles the room, underlining her own power.
At a stream in the woods, Geralt tells Renfri that she should forgo revenge against Stregobor (who once tried to have her killed); otherwise, she’ll become the very monster the sorcerer claims she is. Later that night beside his campfire, Geralt tells Roach about his maiden monster kill, which involved saving a woman from being sexually violated in front of her father — which the girl thanked him for by puking and passing out. Geralt is clearly a protector of women, and when Renfri arrives, she tells him that she’ll heed his advice and depart in the morning. Then, she seduces him.
As Ciri is spirited away — having heard, to her great shock, that Nilfgaard has besieged her home because they seek her — Geralt awakens from a dream and heeds its prophecy (spoken by Renfri) to return to the market. There, he’s met by the bullies from the bar. In an impressively staged single-shot sequence, Geralt slaughters his adversaries in nasty order. Renfri then appears and attacks, leading to a far more competitive fight that ends with Geralt killing her — albeit not before she can tell him “The girl in the woods will be with you always. She is your destiny.”
Fleeing her burning city on horseback, Ciri is abducted by a Nilfgaard soldier with a feather in his helmet. Her captivity doesn’t last long, though, as Ciri’s seismic screams cause a giant rock monolith to fall to the ground, creating a chasm her captor can’t cross.
Stregobor is happy to see that Geralt has fulfilled his duty. However, when Geralt refuses to let the sorcerer take Renfri for an autopsy (to see what mutation caused her to be the way she was), Stregobor determines that Geralt fell under Renfri’s spell and that as a result, “You made a choice. And you’ll never know if it was the right one.” He then riles up the crowd against Geralt, who stone him and force him to retreat — all as Ciri flees into the woods, as Renfri predicted.
- Geralt’s armor looks formidable, but in Blaviken it’s twice mocked for being shabby. New threads may be in his future.
- Geralt uses a “force push”-style bit of magic during his marketplace skirmish, demonstrating his own supernatural skill set.
- Renfri’s claim that Stregobor’s minion raped and robbed her — thus stripping her of her royal lineage — is part and parcel of the debut’s fixation on male-on-female violence, which Geralt can’t stand.
- There may be many fantastical beasts on this Continent, but according to Geralt’s conversation with Marilka, a she-wolf is not one of them.
Episode 2: “Four Marks”
In a rural barn, a crooked-backed girl named Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) escapes persecution from a local couple by transporting herself to the Tower of the Gull — a power she didn’t know she possessed. There, she meets Istredd (Royce Pierreson), a dashing young sorcerer who warns her that the portal she used will draw the attention of a witch. Upon returning home, Yennefer is visited by Tissaia de Vries (MyAnna Buring), who purchases her from her cruel father for a paltry four marks and takes her to Aretuza, an academy for female mages. Alongside four other girls, Yennefer is taught how to organize and control chaos, which is the true secret to magic — which always demands a sacrifice of some sort.
Everything has a cost, a lesson in balance that Geralt also learns upon visiting the town of Posada, where he’s recognized by a bard named Jaskier (Joey Batey) and sent on a mission to dispatch a devil stealing the people’s grain. With Jaskier as his unwanted sidekick (who wants to restore the witcher’s reputation through a song about his heroics), Geralt finds the horned creature. Before he can kill him, however, Geralt and his companion are captured by Filavandrel (Tom Canton), the former king of the elves. Through a contentious conversation, we learn that the elves once ruled the land but were massacred by the humans in the Great Cleansing, and those that survived now live in exile.
Powerful humans’ oppression of the weak is also witnessed by Princess Ciri, who with the help of a mute boy, arrives at a Cintran refugee camp. A mother badmouths Ciri’s deceased grandmother, Queen Calanthe, and treats her little-person servant horribly. Meanwhile, Yennefer — having tried to kill herself on her first night in Tissaia’s castle — strives to prove her magical worth, only to repeatedly fail in various trials. Nonetheless, she’s buoyed by the attention of Istredd, whom she surreptitiously visits, striking up a romantic relationship. Providing even more details about the Continent’s bloody history, Istredd informs Yennefer that after the Big Bang-ish “Conjunction of Spheres,” elven mages taught the first humans how to turn chaos into magic, only to have the humans slaughter them so they could claim magic for themselves.
The power of stories and songs to write, and rewrite, history is a guiding thread throughout this episode, which culminates with Yennefer confessing to Istredd that her birth father was an elf. She receives a rare weed from her beau and gives it to Tissaia, thereby revealing that her time with Istredd was part of a trial she’s now passed. For her reward, she watches as three of her classmates are turned into slugs that she sweeps into a pool (apparently, they’re sacrifices for Tissaia’s, and Aretuza’s, power). Istredd is more than just an easy mark, though; he too has been acquiring intel on Yennefer for his superior, Stregobor.
When the Nilfgaard army attacks the camp, Ciri flees. In the forest, she reunites with the mute boy, who’s an elf named Dara (Wilson Radjou-Pujalte). Geralt convinces Filavandrel that murdering him — and then engaging in battle with the humans — won’t get him the happy life he desires; he must choose the “lesser evil” and find a way to coexist with the humans or move on to a new home. Freed from bondage, Geralt must listen to Jaskier’s ditty about their exploits, which is full of fictional embellishments — something to which Geralt objects, but Jaskier explains is necessary, since “respect doesn’t make history.”
- Geralt’s clothes aren’t just ratty-looking — they also smell, as evidenced by the Bard mocking the witcher for reeking of onions.
- Geralt’s escape from captivity is abrupt but clearly aided by his convincing argument that, like the maligned elves, he’s not human — and therefore shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions.
Episode 3: “Betrayer Moon”
On his deathbed in the town of Temeria, a young boy suffering from claw-like chest gashes tells his father and an unidentified witcher about his killer: a vukodlak, born on a full moon in the womb of a dead maiden. After receiving upfront payment, the witcher goes in search of this monster and is promptly slain by it.
Geralt hears of this while finishing up a three-day stint in a prostitute’s bed and travels to Temeria. He comes upon miners furious over King Foltest’s (Shaun Dooley) disinterest in the fact that they’re being murdered by a demonic creature — yet another instance of the Continent’s roiling class tensions. Geralt offers to rid them of their trouble for a fraction of the price they paid his predecessor (whom they think ran off with their coin), but he’s stopped from carrying out his mission by the King’s guard. Or so he thinks; on a snowy path, he’s greeted by sorceress Triss (Anna Shaffer), who explains that she wants the monster captured.
Upon inspecting the creature’s victims, Geralt deduces that the fiend isn’t a vukodlak; it’s a rare striga, which is the cursed daughter of King Foltest’s dead sister Adda. After Renfri, it’s another would-be monstrous princess for Geralt to handle.
In Aretuza, Yennefer and Istredd are getting along great (they have sex in front of conjured, applauding crowds). The Brotherhood of Sorcerers is an organizations tasked with providing kingdoms with mages, and Yennefer longs to be assigned to a regal post in Aedirn. Receiving such an honor would also entail being remade in her ideal physical form by Tissaia’s artistic right-hand man, which Yennefer desperately wants. Alas, that position isn’t to be, since Stregobor reveals to the sorcerer council that Yennefer comes from an elven bloodline, which wouldn’t sit well in Aedirn. Tissaia is thus reluctantly forced to designate Yennefer for a dreaded Nilfgaard post.
Realizing her elven lineage was leaked by Istredd, Yennefer rejects him, stating that she craves beauty and the power that comes from the court. The affair, it’s clear, is over.
Geralt suspects Foltest incestuously fathered Adda’s baby and then cursed it. For this accusation, Geralt is banished, but that doesn’t stop him from sneaking into Adda’s old bedroom with Triss, where they confirm the siblings’ romance. Moreover, Geralt smells on Adda’s sheets the stench of Foltest’s army commander, who under interrogation admits that he loved Adda, and was so angry at Foltest for impregnating his sister that he cursed the kid.
With Foltest’s permission, Geralt battles the striga, which he can save so long as he keeps it from entering its tomb before dawn. Thus an all-night fight ensues, with Geralt getting tossed around like a rag doll, using his magic powers to send both he and the striga through a rock floor, and ultimately shoulder-checking the creature out of the way so he can lock himself in the tomb. Though Geralt suffers a seemingly fatal wound, he’s healed by Triss.
Director Alex Garcia Lopez cross-cuts between Geralt’s showdown with the shrieking striga and Yennefer undergoing the torturous procedure to transform her appearance. This involves, among other painful business, the removal of her uterus, which is set on fire. It’s a success, and she triumphantly emerges as her new self at the Aretuza Initiation Ball, where she quickly catches the eye of Aedirn’s King Vengerberg.
More important still — during an earlier scene at the Initiation Ball, Tissaia greets the mother of Foltest and Adda, who are only kids. It’s a brief moment, but one with significant ramifications, because it indicates that the Yennefer/Tissaia storyline is set decades before the one featuring Geralt. We’re in Westworld-ish territory now, apparently.
Geralt tells Triss that life is just about “monsters and money,” but she says something greater is waiting for him. Ciri awakens in a snowy field and, as if in a trance, heads toward voices whispering her name. Dara follows her across a battlefield littered with skeletons, but he’s struck by an arrow and can’t stop her from entering the beckoning forest.
- A disagreeable sort of antihero, Geralt loves to pepper his heroism with resigned grunts (“hm”) and, when things turn sour in battle, an exasperated f-bomb.
- After three installments, The Witcher’s Geralt-centric action has so far resembled video game missions, in which the hero arrives at a location and must complete a mini-quest.
- If we’re operating on two different timelines, it stands to reason that a third also exists — namely, the one involving Ciri.
Episode 4: “Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials”
Ciri approaches a glowing light in the forest she’s entered and is surrounded by a native tribe of Dryads, who are also in possession of Dara. Ciri and Dara are told that all newcomers must drink the forest’s water, which will determine whether they’re pure of heart and can stay.
Drinking is also the order of the day for Geralt. By killing an enormous selkiemore — he allows it to swallow him, which leaves him reeking — Geralt once again lives up to the legendary “White Wolf” hype of Jaskier’s popular hero’s song. In return for this fame, Geralt begrudgingly agrees to accompany Jaskier to the wedding of Queen Calanthe’s daughter Pavetta (Gaia Mondadori); the bard needs Geralt as a bodyguard because he fears being murdered by one of the many noblemen he’s cuckolded.
This turn of events further elucidates The Witcher’s trifurcated chronology: Yennefer’s storyline comes first, followed by Geralt’s, and then Ciri’s.
That said, our subsequent view of Yennefer takes place three decades into her court service, and she’s found it none too satisfying (calling herself “a glorified royal ass wiper”). Riding with her queen and the newborn princess in a carriage, they’re beset by a magic-wielding assassin and his giant scorpion-like beast. Yennefer deduces that they’ve been sent by the king, who’s ready to get rid of his wife for failing to produce a male heir.
Fleeing through portals to no avail, Yennefer eventually leaves the queen to perish but returns to save the infant. Alas, in doing so, she’s wounded and the baby winds up dead anyway. On a beach, she tells the deceased child that it’s lucky to have escaped a world in which women are “still just vessels for them [men] to take and take until we’re empty and alone.” She buries the infant in the sand.
At the wedding, Geralt’s presence is made public by Calanthe, who hates all this traditional male-authored pomp and circumstance (she’d rather be out on the battlefield), and views Geralt as a kindred spirit who cares little for the patriarchal rules that govern society (they both understand the “simplicity in killing monsters”). A litany of suitors arrive requesting Pavetta’s hand in marriage. Though Geralt tries to stay out of the affairs of men, he again interferes when a porcupine-faced knight named Lord Urcheon (Bart Edwards) arrives and claims that, in return for saving Calanthe’s father years ago, he has earned the Law of Surprise – meaning he can claim whatever the king already had but did not know. Meaning, Pavetta.
The queen objects, leading to a fight. Geralt comes to Urcheon’s aid, and after much clashing of swords, Calanthe attempts to assassinate him treacherously — a maneuver stymied by Pavetta, who gives out a sonic scream that blasts everyone to the floor. Calanthe subsequently becomes convinced that destiny — which she’d previously dismissed — has blessed this union. She marries them (as well as weds Eist herself), and in doing so, lifts Urcheon’s curse, turning him back into a man. As a means of thanking Geralt for saving his life, Urcheon agrees to give the witcher the Law of Surprise, at which point Pavetta pukes — indicating that Geralt is now bound to her future offspring, which we know to be Ciri.
As for Ciri, she reveals her true identity to Dara, which doesn’t please him, since Ciri’s mom had his people brutally slaughtered. He drinks the forest water to forget. Ciri does too, directly from the “source” — a giant tree. She’s then magically transported to a desert where a glowing tree asks her, “What are you, child?”
- Geralt tells Calanthe that, since the “sacking of Kaer Morhen,” it’s no longer possible to create witchers.
- Building off its predecessors, “Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials” emphasizes the unbalanced gender dynamics at the heart of the Continent, and the rage it inspires in women of all social standings. A feminist revolution doesn’t seem far off.
- The feather-capped Nilfgaard soldier hunting for Ciri deduces her location after one mage eats some of dead Calanthe’s flesh, and then another guts the mage and places her hand over his innards. Which is, well, bizarre and gross in equal measure.
- As it currently stands, Geralt’s story is still behind Ciri’s — but if Yennefer is now 30 years older than before, she’s likely “caught up” to Ciri’s timeline. A convergence point is drawing near…
Episode 5: “Bottled Appetites”
To find Ciri, the feather-helmeted Nilfgaard soldier, whose name is Cahir (Eamon Farren), hires a doppler — a shapeshifter who becomes Mousesack, memories and all. He then sets out in search of the princess, whose presence in Brokilon Forest is the subject of heated debate between the Dryad generals.
Jaskier finds Geralt after years apart — suggesting that Geralt’s timeline has now caught up with Ciri’s. The bard discovers that the witcher is intent on catching a djinn (i.e. a genie) in order to cure his sleeplessness. After Geralt fishes the djinn’s magically sealed bottle out of the river, Jaskier tries to steal the djinn for himself (he makes two frivolous wishes), and for his trouble, he’s magically injured. Geralt takes him to the nearby town of Rinde, where he’s informed by an elf doctor named Chireadan (Lucas Englander) that there’s a local mage who can help. That would be Yennefer, who’s gone into business for herself, and has now become the prized possession of the mayor.
Upon visiting the mayor’s home, Geralt learns that the mayor is actually under the spell of Yennefer, who’s staging flamboyant orgies and generally doing as she pleases. As we’ve learned from an earlier chat between Yennefer and Tissaia (who dropped by for a brief visit), the former is endeavoring to reverse her enchantment (which left her sans uterus) and have a baby — a seemingly impossible task that consumes her. When Geralt arrives, she’s intrigued and attempts to seduce him in a bath — they bond over the fact that both had rough childhoods that changed them in fundamental ways — and agrees to help Jaskier.
Unsurprisingly, the payment she wants for her services is possession of the djinn, which she plans to imprison in her own womb — making herself the genie’s new vessel — so she can wield its power, presumably in order to give birth. Awakening in a cell to hear that he was used as Yennefer’s pawn against her enemies, Geralt stops the mage’s painful transformation-via-djinn by using the final djinn wish to free her — thereby revealing that he was the creature’s true master all along.
Though Yennefer didn’t want her fate once again decided by a man, she repays Geralt with sex and, post-coitus, he finally gets the slumber he craved. In Brokilon Forest, Ciri thanks the Dryads for their care but departs with the newly arrived Mousesack (she has no clue he’s an evil imposter leading her to Nilfgaard) and also Dara, whom she calls her family. “The burden of power can be painful. Be vigilant,” Ciri is told by the Dryad elder, but if the princess has destiny in her hands — and thus female agency — it doesn’t mean she’s out of trouble.
- Cavill’s performance has really settled in at this point; his gruff man-of-few-words stoicism is both imposing and humorous, aided by effects that enhance the grave timbre of his voice.
- Yennefer is the latest to remark upon Geralt’s odor — which is what leads him to bathe.
- Jaskier’s “O Valley of Plenty” is such a Continent hit, Geralt’s reputation precedes him wherever he goes, as proven by the fact that Yennefer has heard a lot about the “White Wolf.”