The Witcher Serves Up Politics and a Good Old-Fashioned Hazing in “Kaer Morhen” and “What is Lost”

While “A Grain of Truth” was a fun, splashy reentry into the world of the Continent, the next two episodes do a lot of legwork to set up what will be the main story arcs for the season: Cirilla’s mysterious power, new and worrisome monster behavior, Yennefer’s lost magic, the uneasy alliance between the elves and Nilfgaard, and Istredd being a little shit (some things never change). We also get a nice long look at witcher history both on a macro and micro scale, and a good bit of time with the softer, gentler side of Geralt, both with his father figure and his adopted daughter.

Neither of these episodes are a fun romp, exactly, but showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and her team have an awful lot of plot to get through, and only eight episodes to do it, and the show’s moving at a good clip so far this season.

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Episode Two—“Kaer Morhen”

We open on Yennefer and Geralt in what’s clearly a dream sequence—Yen is heavily pregnant and Geralt is a loving husband (lol) who’s been selling the vegetables from Yen’s garden (lollllll) at the market. He tells her he can’t wait to grow old with her and their baby (LOLLLLLLLLLLL). Cut to: baby in bassinet, FULLY ON FIRE. Cut to: a red cloaked figure holding the baby, whose ears mark her as an elf. Yen wakes up bound in a wagon next to Fringilla, who’s clearly also having a nightmare. They’ve been taken captive by a group of elves, led by Filavandrel (Tom Canton; remember him from season one’s “Four Marks”?).

Witcher, season 2, Kaer Morhen

Screenshot: Netflix

Filavandrel and company are taking them to an elven encampment around the ruins of an ancient temple. It seems Filavandrel is no longer calling the shots—he brings the mages in to see the Elder in Chief, whose name (I had to rewind this three times because I was SURE I wasn’t hearing it right) is Francesca. Elven naming is, apparently, a land of contrasts. Yen speaks to Francesca (Mecia Simson) in Elder, claiming to be kin, but Francesca is not having it.

Geralt and Ciri arrive at Kaer Morhen, where everyone is happy to see him and more than a little puzzled by her. Geralt has… friends?? What???? And we meet Vesemir at long last—as previously discussed, I haven’t played the games, but goddamn if Kim Bodnia doesn’t look like they fully just cut-and-pasted Vesemir from the games into real life. The witchers all retire to Kaer Morhen every winter to rest and trade war stories–it’s a delightfully collegial atmosphere, more so than I would’ve expected given Geralt’s whole vibe.

One of the other witchers we’re introduced to here is Eskel (Basil Eidenbenz), who just came back from battling a lethy (read: tree monster). Eskel wants to know who the hell this little girl is and Ciri, bless her, hits him straight up with “Princess Cirilla of Cintra.” Good for you, kiddo.

Witcher, season 2, Kaer Morhen

Screenshot: Netflix

Outside, Vesemir talks with Geralt about Ciri—neither of them know at this point that she’s got powerful magic, but Geralt notes that she lied when he asked how she survived after Cintra. Vesemir wonders why he didn’t press her on it, and Geralt says “Witchers watch for answers,” which is a nice mantra but perhaps a questionable parenting strategy.

At the elf camp, it seems dreams of mysterious robed figures are contagious, as Yen dreamt of one in red, Fringilla of one in black, and Francesca of one in white. Francesca, who’s driven by the prospect of a new dawn for the persecuted elves, is sure her white-robed figure is Ithlinne, a prophet. Fringilla clumsily attempts to convince Francesca and Filavandrel (say that five times fast) that Emhyr, the Nilfgaardian ruler, will be a friend to the elves–she’s awfully bad at this for someone who was trained by the Brotherhood to feed suggestions to powerful figureheads, isn’t she? I mean I know she’s had a rough week but an IOTA of subtlety, ma’am, please!

Back in Kaer Morhen, Ciri tells Geralt she wants to learn to fight so she can kill “the man with the black winged helmet” (Cahir, who, as you’ll remember, was the rider who killed Lazlo and carried her out of Cintra). Geralt reminds her that they don’t kill out of fear, they kill to save lives. I would remind Geralt that, in the words of a wiser woman with better hair, those without swords can still die upon them.

Witcher, season 2, Kaer Morhen

Screenshot: Netflix

Downstairs, the witchers are having a rager with some sex workers, one of whom, Danica (Imogen Daines) remembers Geralt from season one’s “Betrayer Moon,” when she washed wyvern blood out of his hair (ah, so it does get washed sometimes!). Eskel, whose steadily escalating sketchiness somehow doesn’t appear to be setting off any alarm bells for his fellow witchers, takes a swing at Geralt, which Geralt nimbly neutralizes.

The elves have found subterranean ruins beneath the temple, with elaborately painted frescoes showing the Conjunction of the Spheres. On an altar, there’s a three-headed effigy that’s possibly an actual mummy, and I know they don’t have movies on the Continent so it’s not like these women have ever watched a horror movie, but do NONE of you people have any self-preservation instincts??? Apparently not, because next thing we know Francesca is reading an inscription carved beneath the three-headed figure (something about the “deathless mother nesting in dreams”), a trapdoor opens, and a whispering voice is summoning the three down into the darkness.

Witcher, season 2, Kaer Morhen

Screenshot: Netflix

Eskel’s soothing his wounded pride (among other things) with one of the ladies and, uh, something wooden and vinelike is growing out of a wound on his back. The witchers sense something amiss and snap into action like a well-oiled machine, which is fun to watch–these men who’ve grown up and gone through hell together know what they’re doing when it comes to defending the keep.

Below the temple, inside an impossible Baba Yaga-esque hut, Yen, Fringilla, and Francesca have visions of their respective dream figures, who are all aspects of the Deathless Mother. She insinuates to both Francesca and Fringilla that Nilfgaard and the elves must join forces against the northern kingdoms, though she offers a slightly different bargain to each woman. Yen, however, is on her guard—she doesn’t want to play this game, but the Deathless Mother forces her to confront what she hasn’t wanted to admit to herself: that since Sodden, she’s lost her magic (god, this woman cannot catch a break).

Witcher, season 2, Kaer Morhen

Screenshot: Netflix

Stalking the halls of the keep, Geralt finds that Eskel has transformed into a lethy and has grown THROUGH the poor woman who was with him (that’s some Hannibal shit). The Eskelethy attacks, and Geralt and Vesemir take him on. Geralt puts his burning sword through Eskel’s heart to save Vesemir’s life, but the death of another witcher, even a monstrous one, weighs heavily on both of them.

In the woods, Yen finally faces the fact that she’s lost her access to chaos–sobbing in the woods, she tries and fails again and again to open a portal.

Witcher, season 2, Kaer Morhen

Screenshot: Netflix

Geralt gives Ciri some straight talk about learning to defend herself, to find power and purpose, and to never become complacent—and then he hands her a sword and starts training her. [weep]

 

Spare Change:

  • Geralt grime check: Not awful, honestly? Did my man find the time to bathe somewhere between Nivellen’s house and Kaer Morhen?
  • Deeply inauspicious caption of the day: [chittering and squelching]
Witcher, season 2, Kaer Morhen

Screenshot: Netflix

  • On the approach to Kaer Morhen, Geralt tells Ciri there are twenty witchers left at most, which makes the loss of Eskel hit that much harder.
  • Vesemir and Ciri have a nice little scene where they level with each other, and he tells her the story of an ancient demon who used to lure witchers into her woods and kill them—sounds an awful lot like the Deathless Mother.
  • The affection on Geralt’s face when he looks at Vesemir as they talk about how you’re never really ready for parenthood? SO sweet.
Witcher, season 2, Kaer Morhen

Screenshot: Netflix

  • Okay, like. Listen. It’s a lot of tits in this show. Not, like, Game of Thrones level tits, but still a lot! And I’m not complaining! I’m just saying I could use some balance. Food for thought. I’m just saying.

 

Episode Three—“What is Lost”

In Aretuza, the Brotherhood of Sorcerers is regrouping after the Battle of Sodden Hill. Artorius (Terence Maynard) and Stregobor (Lars Mikkelsen) are questioning Istredd (Royce Pierreson) about his time doing research in Nilfgaard, and whether he witnessed anything that could’ve helped predict Nilfgaard’s aggression or intent. Vilgefortz points out that the northern kings are coming for a memorial and they’ll need answers. Tissaia’s torture of Cahir hasn’t borne any info—she says he has some kind of magical psychic defense.

Witcher, season 2, What is Lost

Screenshot: Netflix

This meeting (which could have been an email) is devolving into a bureaucratic nightmare, with Istredd, who has never read a room in his life, yelling about monoliths, and Stregobor pushing his fascist agenda about elven untrustworthiness. Someone is yelling about the fourteen dead mages of Sodden Hill when Yennefer, the messiest bitch on the Continent who absolutely fucking LIVES for drama, sweeps into the room and says, simply, “Thirteen.”

Later, a relieved Tissaia tells Yennefer that she’s a hero, but that they need to let Vilgefortz take the glory for the Sodden Hill victory for now. Yen, ever perceptive, guesses correctly that this is because Tissaia and Vilgefortz are making a play for Stregobor and Artorius’ places as leaders of the council. I’m sure that’ll go over well for everyone.

Vesemir and Geralt have taken Eskelethy’s corpse to a stone plinth in the forest to lay him to rest. They continue to muse on how it’s possible Eskel could’ve mutated. Vesemir is very clearly distraught—he considers the remaining witchers his children.

At the keep, Coen and Lambert are goading Ciri as she practices, telling her Geralt is wasting her time making her tilt at straw dummies. They take her out of Kaer Morhen to a training ground, with what looks like a deadlier version of the obstacle course from Ninja Warrior. Ciri IMMEDIATELY gets knocked off the beam and it becomes apparent that the witchers are hazing her.

Witcher, season 2, What is Lost

Screenshot: Netflix

In Cintra (Xin’trea, in the original Elder), elves are flooding into the kingdom. Filavandrel is still suspicious of the alliance with Nilfgaard, but Francesca claims this move is ordained by Ithlinne. (I’m sorry but I still cannot get over what a WILD jump it is from Filavandrel to Francesca, name-wise.) Francesca admits to Fringilla (okay, this is getting ridiculous) that she knows the vision of the Deathless Mother in the cave wasn’t Ithlinne, and that the Deathless Mother told her to come to Cintra to find Dol Blathanna (which, I gather, is the elven Promised Land?), while Fringilla was told Deathless Mother-as-Emhyr to bring the elves to Cintra to fight the people who’ve wronged them both.

Yennefer, wearing a ridiculous off-the-shoulder beaded dress that I would kill for, visits Cahir (Eamon Farren) in the dungeons. She tells him the mages won’t kill him—death must serve a purpose. As she leaves, Stregobor accosts her and interrogates her about her loyalty and what happened after Sodden, calling her a “quarter blood.” He uses the same torture technique Tissaia did with Cahir to peer into her memories. Tissaia intervenes, and goes to the council, accusing Stregobor of treason against one of their own. Stregobor counters that he’s jUsT aSkInG qUeStIoNs, okay??

Witcher, season 2, What is Lost

Screenshot: Netflix

The council decides that in order to prove she’s not a spy for the elves, Yennefer must execute Cahir. Yen balks, and Tissaia says the only other option is to tell them the truth—she’s not a threat because she’s lost her magic. Yen admits to Tissaia that she’s devastated, that she spent the past month wandering the Continent looking for ways to regain her power, to no avail.

The other witchers have gathered to cheer Ciri on at the obstacle course—Vesemir and Geralt return and watch her complete the course (even if she doesn’t quite stick the landing). All Geralt says is “so close.” Ciri, prickly, tells Geralt she can dress her own training-incurred wounds. “You can do anything,” he replies. “Doesn’t mean you have to.” He’s so patient with her, telling her she can’t take the same risks witchers do because she doesn’t have the same healing ability. She’s wildly impatient in the way of all teenagers, desperate to skip straight to being good at something (deeply relatable, honestly), but Geralt, of course, knows you can’t skip putting in the work.

Witcher, season 2, What is Lost

Screenshot: Netflix

Yen is attempting to leave Aretuza under cover of night, but Istredd stops her, warning her that Stregobor has posted guards. He admits he lied to the council about what he learned of Nilfgaard’s citizens, and that he’s leaving for Cintra in order to help the elves. Stregobor’s bigotry seems to have finally pushed him over the edge.

Geralt takes Ciri into the woods—something is calling to her, and he wants to find it. He tells her about Pavetta’s magical outburst and that he suspects Ciri’s inherited her mother’s power. Following her instincts, Ciri leads them directly to the lethy that infected Eskel. Before Geralt can really go to town on it, an even larger monster that looks like a centipede with a ram’s head emerges from the woods, kills the lethy, knocks Geralt on his ass, and goes after Ciri. As it corners her, Geralt, ever reliable, beheads it. Something is drawing monsters to Ciri, and Geralt’s not happy about it.

The mages gather with the northern kings for Cahir’s execution at a ruined castle. Foltest (Shaun Dooley) and Vizimir (Ed Birch) muse about Yen and the overall trustworthiness of mages. The mages announce they’ll kill Cahir and send his head to Cintra as a message. As Vilgefortz hands Yen the ax, she hears the Deathless Mother’s voice again, telling her all she has to do is ask and she can reclaim her power. Yen raises the ax and uses it to break Cahir’s chains, and then they run.

Witcher, season 2, What is Lost

Screenshot: Netflix

“Why save me?” Cahir asks as Yen pulls him up onto her horse. “Don’t flatter yourself,” Yen replies, “I’m saving me.” [cue Roger Daltrey’s YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH]

 

Spare Change:

  • Geralt grime check: Looking pretty good, honestly! Kaer Morhen is clearly good for him. I mean, this man never gets CLEAN clean, but clean-ish, I’ll take. And the pants? TIGHT.
Witcher, season 2, What is Lost

Screenshot: Netflix

  • Deeply inauspicious caption of the day: [high-pitched bleating roar]
  • As a Hannibal superfan, I was delighted to realize that the actor who plays Stregobor (Lars Mikkelsen) is Mads Mikkelsen’s brother.
  • Tissaia: “And Stregobor is—” Yen: “A fuckhead.” Correct!
  • The political machinations here are not my favorite part of this show, admittedly, but kudos to the writers for making the stakes and players and factions here pretty easily legible.

Check back in for review of episodes 4-5 next!

Emily Hughes wants to talk to you about scary books. As the site editor for TorNightfire.com, she’s dedicated to bringing the good word about horror to the masses. You can find her writing at Tor.com, Electric Lit, Thrillist, and Brooklyn Magazine. Formerly the editor of Unbound Worlds, she now writes an occasional newsletter about horror fiction and tweets bad puns @emilyhughes.

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