Yennefer of Vengerberg was first introduced in Andrzej Sapowski’s novels as a sharp, manipulative and sexy sorceress, who very quickly had the short stories’ main character under her spell. But it isn’t long before Geralt of Rivia notices that Yennefer’s harsh exterior contains a woman who has suffered immense trauma, and those years of suffering molded her into the powerful woman she has become. Beneath that hard shell, there is only one thing Yennefer truly wants: unconditional love.
Spoiler warning! This article refers to events from the stories that the show is adapting and also gathers information from leaks, interviews and other sources. Read at your own discretion…
One of the first creative decisions that showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich and her team decided on was the elaboration of Yennefer and Ciri’s journeys: “The thing that I think we have frankly changed the most is that anyone will tell you that The Witcher is about Geralt, the Monster Hunter,” Hissrich said in an interview with Den of Geek. “And it is, but the thing that was really important to me was carving out Yennefer and Ciri in this story, especially bringing them to the forefront and providing them backstories, so that they weren’t introduced to the world only through Geralt.”
A choice was made to show Yennefer’s entire story, not just the Yennefer we know and love from the books but also the young woman she used to be. Yennefer’s journey and her transformation from a hunchbacked fourteen-year-old into a powerful and manipulative sorceress will be central to the show’s first season. It appears, however, that the show will tell Yennefer’s story chronologically, rather than through flashbacks.
“The books were written with a ton of flashbacks,” Lauren said, in an interview with 411mania. “What we tried to do as much as we could is we tried to take those flashbacks and make it present-day storytelling. We will rarely flash back to things that happen in the past. What we will do is make it so that the audience is on the journey with the characters.”
So it appears that Yennefer’s journey will be told chronologically.
A young, hunchback Yennefer discovers her powers
In an interview with The Beat, Anya Chalotra addressed Yennefer’s arc for the season: “In our version of The Witcher, we explore Yennefer’s backstory. We explore from her at 14 years old to when she’s 77. So there’s that huge turning point for her when she discovers her power and the purpose that that gives her, and also the transformation, and the journey of self-discovery she goes on from then on.”
In the books, Yennefer (then “Jenny”) is born a hunchback girl to an abusive family. She had a challenging life and did not hold much hope for her own future. That is, until Jenny discovers her innate magical abilities. This discovery eventually leads her to Aretuza, the magical school of sorceresses. Below is a scene from the books which describes the tragic abuse Yennefer suffered from her parents.
Father: Take this hunchbacked monstrosity away from me! I do not want to look at it!The Tower of the Swallow, Chapter 9
Mother: She is your daughter as much as she is mine.
Father: Indeed? The children I have sired are normal.
Mother: How dare you… How dare you suggest…
Father: It was in your elven family that there were witches. It was you who aborted your first pregnancy. It was because of that. You have tainted elven blood and a tainted womb, woman. That’s why you give birth to monsters.
Mother: It is an ill-fated child… Such was the will of the gods! She is your daughter, as much as she is mine! What was I to do? Smother her? Not tie the birth cord? What am I to do now? Take her to the forest and leave her? What do you want from me, by the gods?
Yennefer: Daddy! Mummy!
Father: Get away, you freak.
Mother: How dare you! How dare you to strike a child! Stop! Where are you going? Where? To her, are you? To her!
Father: Yes, woman. I’m a man. I’m free to sate my lust where and when I want, as is my natural right. And I loathe you. You and the fruit of your degenerate womb. Do not wait for supper. I won’t be back tonight.
Yennefer: Mummy… Why are you weeping? Why are you beating me and pushing me away? I was good, wasn’t I? Mummy! Dear Mummy!
Though cast members portraying Yennefer’s parents have not been uncovered, it does seem like an element too important to ignore. Especially given the mention of her “discovering her powers”. These events may well be covered in the show’s first two episodes, as we have known for a while that Anya shot hunchback scenes set in Aretuza with director Alex Garcia Lopez, who was in charge of episodes 3 and 4.
Aretuza, School of Sorceresses
Yennefer spends a few years in Aretuza where she learns the laws of magic under her teacher and mentor Tissaia de Vries, played by MyAnna Buring in the show. Other notable sorceresses who will be studying alongside her include Sabrina Glevissig (played by Therica Wilson-Read) and apparently Fringilla Vigo (played by Mimi Ndiweni). When Fringilla’s casting was first announced, she and Sabrina were both described as “novice sorceresses”.
Though Yennefer is sure to have a hard time studying alongside other young sorceresses (especially Sabrina), there is one mage with whom she’ll take solace in the show: Istredd, as played by Royce Pierreson. The sorcerer befriends Yennefer and later becomes her lover. Though in the books Istredd’s presence at Aretuza during Yennefer’s studies is not mentioned, the show has expanded his role to further develop their connection.
During her studies, Tissaia notices Yennefer’s inner strength, and then decides to transform Yennefer and free her of her hunched back and other deformities.
“Imagine the most powerful woman in the world. Do you have what it takes?”
In the books, Tissaia transforms Yennefer after the young girl slit her own wrists in a failed suicide attempt. Here is the scene, as described in the tailend of Lady of the Lake.
“You didn’t succeed,” repeated Tissaia de Vries. “But not because you didn’t try hard. You cut well and deep. That’s why I’m here with you. Had it only been silly games, had it been a foolish, irresponsible demonstration, I would have nothing but contempt for you. But you cut deeply. Purposefully.”
Yennefer looked at the ceilling, vacantly.
“I shall take care of you, girl. Because I believe it’s worth it. And it will take a great deal of work, oh, but it will. I’ll not only have to straighten your spine and shoulder-blade, but also heal your hands. When you slit your wrists, you severed the tendons. And a sorceress’s hands are important instruments, Yennefer.”Lady of the Lake, Chapter 12
Yennefer’s transformation is likely to happen in the show’s third episode, as by episode 4 she’s already off on a different adventure. Much of this scene is shown in the teaser, and we believe it speaks for itself.
Yennefer and the baby
During The Witcher‘s Comic-Con panel, three clips were shown. One of them was a dramatic scene where Yennefer eulogizes a dead baby, a scene that is supposedly an important one in Yennefer’s arc and is original to the show. Thankfully, cross referencing leaked images from the Canary Islands, shots from the trailer, interviews, and a description of the clip in question may give us a better idea of what is actually happening.
This storyline will be covered in the show’s fourth episode, as proven by a clapperboard found on location (pictured later). Yennefer wears the same costume in the picture below as in other parts of this sequence, plus we have our first look at Isobel Laidler‘s character with the aforementioned baby in her arms. They are surrounded by a company of dead soldiers with Lyrian shields. Could Isobel’s character be a Lyrian lady?
It looks like Yennefer is tasked with defending her and her baby from the mage pursuing them, played by Marcin Czarnik. Escaping on a carriage with a whole company of soldiers, Yennefer and her escortees are then attacked. All the soldiers die except for one (seen in the back of the carriage). Yennefer then teleports herself, the soldier, the Lyrian lady and her baby very far away to the sandy dunes seen below.
We don’t quite know what happens there, but we do know that they end up teleporting at least two more times before reaching the spot that gave us our first leaked images of the show’s actors during filming. This location, Roque Nublo, is also seen in the trailer. Fans who have been following the show’s filming will remember the scene where Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer confronts Czarnik’s mage from the leaked image below. This is the same scene we see in the trailer.
Rehearsals for this scene were witnessed by one fan, who described it on Reddit as such: “The girl in the red dress [Isobel’s character] was holding a baby. The girl with the dark long hair [Yennefer] needed more water on her face before the take could continue. Director shouted: ‘she just came out of a MUDPOOL’. They both fell down. Girl in the red dress screamed and called the other one a bitch, as if the one with the dark hair did the other one a lot of harm.”
So, it appears that after teleporting from the “mudpool” (likely the town where Yennefer screams “Hurry!” in the teaser), Yennefer and the other mage clash. During their fight, Isobel Laider’s character and the baby both die. After failing her mission, Yennefer teleports with the baby to a nearby beach, and the clip from the panel at Comic-Con begins. Here is a description of the scene, via Gamespot.
A third clip showed off one of Yennefer’s scenes–and a disturbing one at that. The sorceress sat on a beach talking to a dead baby. “I’m sorry you didn’t have a life, but truth be told, you’re not missing much,” she says. She seems extremely bitter, discussing in a very one-sided monologue how parents, friends, and everything else about life is basically pointless, especially for girls and women. “Even when we’re told we’re special, as I was–as you would have been–we’re still just vessels for them to take and take until we’re empty and alone.”Gamespot’s article
“So count yourself lucky,” Yennefer finishes. “You’ve cheated the game and won without even knowing it.” She buries the corpse in the sand.
To summarize this sequence of events, what we have is an extensive chase scene that heavily features Yennefer’s teleportation powers. Yennefer is trying to protect what appears to be a Lyrian lady and her child (who she calls “special”) from another mage. Eventually, Yennefer fails and the baby dies along with her mother. She then takes the baby to the beach and buries her. Why would the mage-in-black be chasing them in the first place? One good fan theory suggests the baby suffers the alleged Curse of the Black Sun, but at this point, it’s anyone’s guess.
Speaking to 411mania, Chalotra discusses the eulogy scene’s importance to her seasonal arc: “I was playing from [the age of] 14 to like 77, so with like — I had like prosthetics and dealing with her transformation, we see her at 45 and then 77. And then, that journey, I could only do through breath because I didn’t have any — I wasn’t aging. So that was something which I focused on more, and the points in her — I looked at all life experiences up until that point, which informed the decision I made within that scene.”
We believe the teleportation chase sequence featured in episode 4 is Yennefer at the age of 45 and that, the next time we’ll see her, a lot of time will have passed.
Yennefer’s quest for motherhood
The teaser released at San Diego Comic-Con features very few scenes beyond the show’s fourth episode. The image above, for instance, may just be Yennefer at Aretuza after her transformation (in the third episode). However, cast listings do give us an idea where the story takes her in the second half of this eight-episodes season: to Henry Cavill‘s solitary witcher Geralt of Rivia.
Several cast members who portray book characters from the short story “The Last Wish” are listed under the show’s fifth episode. This short story details Yennefer and Geralt’s first meeting, as well as their fight against an unbottled Djinn. Yennefer attempts to capture this demonic spirit in order to attain a power that would allow her to move mountains… but she has something much more specific in mind. Yennefer desires the ability to bear children.
Most girls who choose to become sorceresses end up barren in the process, as the magic transforms their womb and prevents them from having children. There are, however, exceptions to this rule (such as Geralt’s own mother, Visenna, one of the lucky few sorceresses to give birth). Yennefer is determined to become one of them.
Throughout her childhood, Yennefer was abused by the world around her and even by her own parents. As such, she has never truly felt unconditional love. Though she is quite bitter and angry about the circumstances of her life, Yennefer is also hopeful. She believes that only she herself can create the love she is looking for, in the form of a child. However, Yennefer is unsuccessful in curing her infertility.
In the interview with 411mania, Chalotra also addresses the importance of Yennefer’s maternal ambitions: “That was my main drive. Yeah. With that, I remember being in the — I remember the conversation I had with Lauren when I got this job. And I phone called with her and Alik [Sakharov], and we discussed that part of Yennefer’s journey so intensely because it’s just so important.”
Yennefer’s attempt at capturing the Djinn does not reverse her infertility, but it does take her one step closer to becoming a mother. After being bound by destiny to Geralt, Yennefer becomes part of the unlikeliest of families and, not long after, an adoptive mother to Freya Allan’s Ciri.
The power couple
Yennefer and Geralt’s relationship is one of the franchise’s most famous elements. From their meeting over a glass of apple juice, to an invisible shower, to a hunt for a golden dragon, they share many iconic scenes.
IMDb listings reveal that the show’s sixth episode will adapt the short story “The Bounds of Reason”, where Geralt meets Yennefer after a period of separation (one that begin with him escaping her bedroom and leaving behind an apologetic note as an excuse). Naturally, Yennefer is furious with him. In “Bounds”, with the help of a certain Borch, Three Jackdaws, Yennefer is able to find forgiveness.
What follows in the books is the short story “A Shard of Ice”. This short story covers Yennefer’s prominent love triangle and her impossible choice between Geralt and Istredd. Though she is ready to choose Geralt, he’s too much of a meathead to say “I love you”, so Yen decides to ditch them both. Though Istredd has indeed been cast, one quote by showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich implies we will only see “A Shard of Ice” in the show’s second season.
There are a few other things we won’t be seeing in the first season, but Hissrich hinted they could arrive in the second season should the series get one. She wouldn’t go into detail, as she doesn’t want to spoil things, but she did note how Istredd, one of Yennefer’s many lovers, is being introduced in the first season. He’s only in one of the original stories, but his early, more teasing presence in the first season hints at something bigger later on. Hissrich said it’s all about laying the groundwork for a larger story, instead of overloading the first season with too many characters or references.Gizmodo’s article
“There is so much that I intended to put in this season, but I’m actually a really big believer in not cramming in story just for the sake of cramming in story,” Hissrich said. “It’s about letting these characters breathe and grow, so there’s definitely things that we didn’t get to.”
The next time Yennefer meets Geralt is during the festivities of Bellteyn. This is a flashback from the final short story called “Something More”. Though they’ve agreed it’s not a good idea as their relationship is tumultuous, Yennefer and Geralt spend the night together and make love. The picture above appears to be the show’s rendition of that scene (and it seems properly dreamlike). Bellteyn is the last time they meet before Yennefer goes to war with Nilfgaard.
The Battle of Sodden
The first season’s final episode will feature an important moment that was only described in passing in Sapkowski’s novels. The Battle of Sodden is the deciding skirmish of the First Nilfgaardian War. The show’s sorceresses, alongside the enigmatic mage Vilgefortz of Roggeveen (played by Mahesh Jadu) will take center stage and fight to the bitter end. Though they do achieve victory, it comes at a great cost.
Aside from the fourteen (or, rather, thirteen) mages who die in this battle, Yennefer herself is dealt a serious injury that renders her temporarily blind. This close brush with death is sure to be an important moment in Yennefer’s journey. For more on the show’s adaption of the Battle of Sodden, make sure to read our breakdown of everything we know so far.
That covers our analysis of Yennefer’s arc for the season! This is sure to be an exciting journey to witness on screen, and Anya Chalotra will have to do the heavy lifting to ensure it pays off. Coming soon are two similar posts for Geralt and Ciri’s storylines, plus a general analysis of the show’s themes. Stay tuned!