We’re back with episode four and five of The Witcher, and things are getting musical! …and also unnerving.
Episode Four—“Redanian Intelligence”
We open on Geralt and Ciri running some kind of training circuit—scaling a cliff face, sprinting through the woods, and so on, and I’m sorry I know I like just wrote about how applying real-world logic to epic fantasy TV is a fool’s errand, but HOW is my man this limber in pants that tight? I mean I’m not complaining because t̶͍͓̤͈̜̙̰́͆̚h̵̩̹̯̿̌͜ị̶̮̙̰̟͚̦͖̹͈̣̇͊̃̒̕ģ̴̬̺͖̱̣̱̏̎̄̃͊͒̀̊̓ḩ̶̘̖͖̖͇̄͗̑ͅs̵̱̺̈ oh my god.
Out of the woods comes Triss Merigold (Anna Shaffer), on her way to Kaer Morhen. (Sidebar: Triss Merigold you got a Redwall-ass name. You sound like the librarian in the town where everyone’s a woodland creature.) She meets Ciri, who’s initially on her guard, but when Geralt comes strolling out of the woods carrying a boar over his shoulders like he’s goddamn Fabio posing for the cover of a Cintran romance novel and greets Triss like an old friend (which, you’ll remember from season one, she is), everyone relaxes. There’s a warm welcome waiting for her back at Kaer Morhen as well—apparently since she saved Geralt in “Betrayer Moon,” she’s been a semi-regular guest of the witchers.
In Temeria, elves are being rounded up like enemy combatants, and their human captors are treating them with exceptional cruelty. A street crier is wandering through the scene, yelling about what I’ve started thinking of as Chekov’s Wild Hunt. Cahir and Yennefer are on the run through the town, hooded and cloaked (Yen in a very-much-conspicuous magenta cloak??) in a totally unsuspicious manner. Cahir wants to go to Cintra—Yen is understandably reluctant, but realizes she’s out of options and agrees.
In Redania, Vizimir, the king (who is, yes, a totally separate person from Vesemir) is talking to two advisers when one catches a knife through the throat mid-sentence. In strides Dijkstra, the king’s spymaster (Graham McTavish from Outlander! What an all-time great face). He makes the other adviser drink the wine that was about to be served to the king—the adviser, of course, dies immediately. Hell of an entrance, man. Dijkstra thinks Vizimir should set his sights on ultimately claiming Cintra as a Redanian territory rather than throwing his lot in with the other Northern kingdoms.
In the sewers, Yen and Cahir encounter two fugitive elves, Dermain (Jamal Ajala) and Ba’lian (Kevin Doyle), who’re suspicious until they realize our mage and warrior are wanted too. The elves are seeking the Sandpiper, a vigilante who helps elves find safe passage to Cintra. Begrudgingly, Ba’lian agrees to bring Yen and Cahir along. Yen asks Dermain what happened to his ears—it’s hard to tell in the low light (or, at least, on my janky laptop screen), but it looks like the tips were cut off. Dermain tells her it was a racially motivated attack by a group of townspeople. Just as he’s finishing a charming monologue about his hopes for a quiet life, a tentacled sewer monster grabs him and pulls him under. Ba’lian nopes out as Yen and Cahir try to rescue him, but it’s too late, and Yen is almost next.
Back aboveground, Yen has a meltdown about the pointlessness of it all. Cahir tells her she was incredible at Sodden, but from her reaction, picks up that her day-saving move with the fire magic is what made her lose her power. He echoes Triss from the previous episode, suggesting that Yen find another purpose in life. (I have to say, if I were Yen and people kept saying that “everything happens for a reason” shit to me, I’d be punching dicks by now.)
In the alleyway, they spot Ba’lian, and follow him to the back room of a tavern, where a group of elves wait for the Sandpiper, who “performs here every night.” Yen’s smile when she realizes who the Sandpiper is is as wide as mine, because THAT’S RIGHT, BABY, JASKIER’S BACK.
Geralt and Triss are putting their heads together back at Kaer Morhen. Geralt wants Triss to help guide Ciri with her nascent powers. He fills her in on the Law of Surprise and Pavetta’s powers, Ciri’s visions and her strange connection to monsters. Triss starts talking about Sodden Hill and the aftermath (I have to say, Anna Shaffer does great work showing Triss’ grief and trauma here), but when she starts reciting the names of the mages who died there by way of remembrance, Geralt stops her. (Meanwhile I’m SCREAMING at my screen “SOMEONE PLEASE JUST SAY YENNEFER’S NAME SO GERALT CAN FIND OUT SHE’S STILL ALIVE.”)
Dijkstra is drunk, shirtless, and talking to his… owl (whomst up pondering they owl, amirite). He decides he needs an elf to get into Cintra and pulls one from the dungeon. It’s Dara (Wilson Mbomio), Ciri’s savior and companion from season one.
Ciri is eager to get started on training with Triss. At breakfast, Coën (Yasan Atour) and Lambert (Paul Bullion) are being dicks yet again about Ciri’s decision to present even slightly feminine, and before Geralt can stare angrily at them, Triss takes them both to task. “You should be ashamed of yourselves. You dress her in rags. Keep her bruised as an apple… Does she even have a chemise? Or soap? Or cloth for when she gets her blood?… You say you’re mutants. That’s why you don’t understand what people feel. But the truth is, you’re choosing to be ignorant arseholes, aren’t you?” ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR TRISS MERIGOLD, FOLKS.
Triss has been running an experiment to determine whether or not the monster that chased Ciri down in the previous episode was the result of mutagenic alchemy (read: made by magic). She doesn’t find any evidence of mage interference but does find something else: stellacite, the residual dust from one of the monoliths dotting the landscape of the Continent. The leshy also had traces of stellacite on it. Ciri, upon touching the dust, has a terrifying vision about being the Daughter of Chaos. When she wakes, she admits to Geralt and Triss that it was her scream that toppled the monolith at the fall of Cintra. She apologizes, thinking the monsters are her fault. Geralt isn’t having that. He tells her he’ll fix it and sets off to see the monolith himself.
In the tavern, Jaskier is singing a desperately bitter song about Geralt (last season, you’ll remember, Geralt took his frustration at losing Yen out on Jaskier, and Jaskier is definitely being very normal about it). He’s also wearing a truly awful wig, so bad that I had to pause the show to marvel at it. Whither his cute little shaggy pixie cut from season one?! Is this part of his artistic process?? They simply did not have to do Joey Batey so dirty, my lord.
i demand to know who saw Jaskier last season and was like hmm this guy looks like he knows what texting his, let's give him just *The Worst* wig
— The Empty Them ⛄ (@krneely) December 18, 2021
You’ll also remember that in season one’s “Rare Species,” Yen and Jaskier didn’t exactly get along, so when Yen greets Jaskier with a hug in the tavern, he’s stunned. They’re lobbing insults at each other, but in the manner of two people living through hell who’re secretly relieved to see a familiar face. They bond a bit over both having their hearts broken by Geralt. Yen tells him she knows he’s the Sandpiper, and he’s genuinely, earnestly distraught when he talks about the way elves are being subjugated and imprisoned. We love one (1) antifascist bard!!!!
As Geralt is preparing to leave Kaer Morhen for Cintra, Triss brings him a fresh set of elixirs, and they have a lovely, emotionally mature conversation about why he turned down her romantic overture the previous night. It’s SO refreshing to see these characters behaving like adults and talking through their misunderstandings. Geralt tells her she’s important to him, and always will be. Triss offers to portal Geralt to her “friend who studies monoliths” and obviously it’s (ugh) Istredd.
Jaskier, Cahir, Yen, and the elves are on their way to the ship to Cintra after nightfall. Jaskier almost gets caught when a watchman demands his papers, but sings his way out of it—the watchman is a fan. There’s a delightful, winky bit of dialogue where the watchman criticizes “Burn Butcher Burn” on the same grounds many viewers criticized the show’s first season, saying “It took me to the fourth verse to understand there were different timelines… I spotted the dragon reveal a mile away.” Jaskier, ever chaotic, can’t resist picking a fight and rattles off an impressive list of elaborate insults. Ba’lian, apparently atoning for abandoning Dermain earlier in the episode, comes out of the shadows to provide a distraction and allow the rest of the group to board the ship, yelling “Fuck the North,” and a group of dockhands beat him horribly.
Vesemir finds flowers growing along the Trail and brings one to Triss—she tells him it’s feainnewedd, which only grows where Elder blood has been spilled, and he tells her it’s growing everywhere Ciri bled during her training. Ciri’s blood may be the key to restoring the witcher mutagen and creating new witchers, something that hasn’t happened since the sacking of Kaer Morhen.
Aboard the ship, Dara joins the group of elven refugees (uh oh). Yen admits to Jaskier that she’s lost her magic. He tells her he fears losing his muse too, “because who are we when we can no longer do the one thing we were put on this Continent to do?” Yen, who has apparently internalized the greeting card nonsense people keep repeating to her, says they must find a new purpose—a better one. They bid each other farewell, but as Jaskier leaves the ship, he’s abducted, leaving only a smashed lute.
- We get the full version of “Burn Butcher Burn” over the credits–it’s no “Toss a Coin” but as sophomore efforts go, it’s pretty great.
- Geralt grime check: You know, I think this is the best he’s looked in the entire show? He’s relatively clean and looks like he’s familiar with the concept of conditioner, if not the execution.
- I gotta say, as far as fictional racial slurs go, “pointies” is a real half-assed entry.
- Is Triss Merigold the Deanna Troi of this show? Discuss.
- Ciri grills Triss a little bit about how she knows Geralt, which is an adorable interaction and smacks of the classic “daughter interrogates dad’s new girlfriend” trope.
- Yen to Cahir: “The most important thing they teach you at Aretuza isn’t magic! It’s to make people in power believe anything you want them to. Do anything you want them to. Fringilla’s a political animal trained by the best.” Okay but like… show your work? As previously discussed, I really don’t think Fringilla’s actually very good at this!
- Jaskier: “I’m gonna do what I do best.” Cahir: “And what’s that?” Jaskier: “Oh, I never really know. That’s why I’m so good at it.” RELATABLE TBH.
Episode Five—“Turn Your Back”
We open on a man alone in a cell. A woman named Lydia tells him some things he presumably already knows by way of exposition: he crossed Calanthe ten years back and has been imprisoned in a dimeritium cell ever since. But Calanthe is dead, and Lydia tells him she needs him to help her track down Ciri in exchange for his freedom. His name is Reince (Chris Fulton), and he promptly posts up in the corner of the tavern where Jaskier’s been playing.
We join Istredd just before Geralt does and learn that Istredd is helping Fringilla get elves into Cintra. Geralt tells Istredd that Triss sent him, and that new subspecies of monster are coming out of the broken monolith outside Cintra. Istredd waves him off, calling him “Mr. Rivia” (I’m screaming). Geralt unveils the monster head, and that finally gets Istredd’s attention. They leave together to travel to the monolith, which Istredd doesn’t believe is actually broken, since the sheer force necessary shouldn’t be possible. (Wait until you hear about Ciri, my good bitch!)
On the docks, Yen is off the ship, looking for Jaskier, but the ship is departing, and she has a choice to make. Jaskier, for his part, has been captured by Reince, who’s using fire magic awfully cavalierly, no? Jaskier’s been tortured but won’t talk about Geralt and insists he doesn’t know anything about Ciri, given that he’s never met her. Yen shows up pretending to be Jaskier’s drunk wife (Anya Chalotra really makes a meal out of this scene—she’s extremely fun to watch). She takes a mouthful of booze, spits Reince’s fire back in his face, and gets Jaskier the hell out of there, I LOVE HER SO MUCH OKAY.
Vesemir renews the discussion of using Ciri’s blood to try to recreate the witcher mutagen, but Triss is insistent that they only do it if Ciri wants to—it has to be her decision. Vesemir tells Ciri (and us) the backstory of how, centuries ago, mages created monsters, which predictably went horribly wrong, and resulted in mages creating witchers to erase their mistakes. He also explains to her why there have been no new witchers. He shows her the feainnewedd, which has been blooming all over the training grounds, and waits for her to connect the dots (which she does quickly—she’s a smart kid). He asks Ciri for a vial of her blood and she agrees—on the condition that he use it to turn her into a witcher. Absolutely not, says Vesemir, telling her about the mortality rate for the witcher boys and stating that he won’t take that risk with her: “Because I’m a girl?” “Because you’re Geralt’s child.” (Which, for the record, is the correct response!)
Jaskier, recovering, tells Yen that Reince was after Geralt. (These two actors are having such fun together, I would happily watch an entire spinoff series of Yen and Jaskier insulting each other.) A few men accost the two of them, and they split up, Jaskier providing a distraction (“Many men have wanted to punch me in the face—now is your chance!”) But Yen is promptly captured.
Istredd and Geralt venture into the crevasse left by the monolith’s fall. Istredd is being a real fuckin nerd about it, but Geralt is singlemindedly looking for evidence of the monsters that have been pursuing Ciri, of which there is a stunning lack of evidence. Istredd says that historians think that monoliths are leftover points of impact from the Conjunction (Geralt, absentmindedly: “Yes, I’ve read books before.”), but Istredd theorizes the monoliths were actually conduits for the energy needed for the Conjunction and okay this storyline is losing me a little bit.
Triss and Vesemir try to recreate the witcher mutagen with Ciri’s blood, and it works—Ciri tells them she needs a moment to prepare, and Vesemir tells Triss that Ciri’s choice was to become the first new witcher. Triss is, rightfully, pissed.
Triss finds Ciri in her room and urges her not to take the mutagen. Ciri tells her she’s tired of feeling lost and needs to find her truth. Triss suggests an alternative: a Dol Durza (“Valley of the Soul”), basically a Vulcan mind meld for genetic memories to figure out where Ciri comes from.
Inside the shared vision of the Dol Durza, they see the witchers, Dara, Calanthe, and then Cahir. Ciri panics, but Triss reassures her nothing can hurt her here. But the deeper they go into Ciri’s subconscious, the darker and weirder things get. There’s a brief scene of Duny (Bart Edwards) and Pavetta (Gaia Mondadori) with baby Ciri where Duny alludes to a prophecy—one that would cause people to kill Ciri if they knew.
Istredd, the guy you wish you hadn’t started a conversation with at a party, is holding forth about monoliths again. He suspects the monoliths are connected to each other, and that the Conjunction of the Spheres wasn’t what they thought—that the other spheres still exist, and that the monoliths are gateways to them. FINALLY getting off the topic of monoliths, Istredd admits he came to Cintra because he hoped a woman might be there—Yen, of course. He says her name and Geralt stills (Henry Cavill’s FACE here oh my heart).
Deeper in Ciri’s memory, a wounded elf woman is cradling her baby, telling a version of the same story Nivellen told Ciri in the premiere. The elf woman seizes Triss by the throat (guess she spoke too soon about this all just being in Ciri’s head) and starts delivering a prophecy about how Ciri will destroy humans and usher in a new age of the elf—”a seed that bursts into flame.” The Wild Hunt appears in the clouds. Ciri cries out for Geralt and Geralt, impossibly, hears her—but her cry has triggered something else as well, as fragments of the broken monolith fly past, and then a dragonlike monster made of the stellacite fragments emerges.
Back in the land of the conscious, Triss is NOT handling things well—she freaks out on Ciri, telling her she’ll destroy them all. Ciri runs to Vesemir, insisting he give her the witcher mutagen right away. He straps her down to a bed and is moments away from giving the injection when Geralt steps out of a portal (okay, maybe Istredd is occasionally useful) and puts a stop to it. “Did you not think of the consequences?” he says to Cirilla, and she replies “All I ever think about are consequences.” He tells her to go get her things. He doesn’t say anything more to Vesemir, who has the look of a man who knows he’s fucked up badly.
It wasn’t just Geralt who heard Ciri’s voice in the canyon, though. Back in his library, Istredd takes a close look at the Cintran royal family tree (of course he’s a genealogy nerd too). He sees something that doesn’t make sense, but it’s beyond me.
In Cintra, Fringilla and Francesca are discussing how there are fewer and fewer elves arriving. Fringilla appears to be genuinely trying to be a good partner to Francesca, and both women reflect on what a nice change that is. Visiting the entrance to the city, however, they find Cahir, and Fringilla’s demeanor immediately changes. There’s some charged history there.
The Deathless Mother is still tormenting Yen even as she’s imprisoned. She finally caves and says the incantation from the forest, and is transported back to the hut from “Kaer Morhen.” The Deathless Mother tells Yen that Ciri is the key to regaining her access to chaos—all Yen has to do is deliver her to the right lock: the shattered monolith outside Cintra.
I’ve been pretty pleased with the writing this season up until now, but this episode’s Vesemir plotline doesn’t work for me at all—it just doesn’t track with what we know about his character so far (stoic, pragmatic, paternal) that he’d rush ahead with administering the mutagen to Ciri without at least waiting for Geralt to get back. Doing something at worst deadly and at best fundamentally life-changing and painful to someone else’s child without their permission or even their knowledge? That’s a line you don’t cross, and Vesemir, who’s been a father to so many, should know that. I suppose maybe he thinks Geralt will turn him down if he asks for permission, but then the writers should show us that calculus.
I also have to confess I do not super care about the Conjunction of the Spheres storyline—it’s a little too in the weeds and my eyes started to glaze over, but it’s entirely possible that’s a subjective problem rather than an objective one. It seems like we’re headed toward the reveal of something like a multiverse, which is one of my least favorite speculative fiction tropes. Nevertheless, I’ll power through.
On the plus side, though, Geralt’s exchange with Ciri after he stops her from taking the mutagen is more lovely work from Henry Cavill. He’s livid, but he still loves her, telling her “You are already enough, Cirilla. You are extraordinary.” He understands why she thinks she wants to be a witcher, and meets her where she is. What a good dad, man.
- Reince’s ominous finger snaps could easily have skewed goofy, but the actor pulls them off with aplomb. Unfortunately, Reince is still named Reince.
- Geralt grime check: Still pretty good! He hasn’t had much of a chance to get grimy again since last episode—portals may be “no fun,” as he says, but they’re unquestionably better for the hygiene.
- We get an incredible cheesecake slow pan of Reince’s torso as he’s bathing and dressing, which, great, but I can’t help but notice Geralt has not removed his shirt once so far this season, and I would like to lodge a formal complaint.
- The barmaid has a nice little eyeroll moment about having to listen to Jaskier’s songs over and over that will be immediately relatable to anyone who’s ever worked retail, especially around Christmas.
- Every time someone uses the phrase “child surprise” in this show I momentarily think they’re talking about, like, one of Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies from Sweeney Todd.
- I talk a lot of shit about Istredd being a nerdy little shit AND am a monolith skeptic, but there’s a good amount of resonance between the monolith situation and N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, and that got me really excited, so I do have to eat my hat here a bit and admit that I, too, am a nerdy little shit.
- There’s a funny little unspoken moment between Istredd and Geralt when they’re talking about Yen that’s definitely the shared realization that they’ve both slept with the same person.
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.