THE sheer mass of information that came out of San Diego Comic Con still seems a little hard to digest, whether you’re new to the Witcher world or not. Not only were we treated to a feast of footage, but the interviews that followed also provided answers to riddles we’ve been trying to solve for a long time. At Redanian Intelligence, we’ve already broken up the show’s first trailer in a frame-by-frame analysis and pieced together Yennefer’s, Ciri’s, and Geralt’s arcs.
Now, we’re going to be looking at five themes that feature heavily in the trailer and will likely have a recurring presence in the show’s first season, if not longer. To add a bit of context, this post will feature speculation based on what we know about the filming of The Witcher and Andrzej Sapkowski’s books. There will be spoilers from leaks and interviews as well as for the short stories and novels, so watch out for those if you haven’t read them yet!
Destiny is pulling the strings in The Witcher like an invisible puppet master. Many of the more serious characters in the books don’t believe in its power but are eventually forced to acknowledge it. The one person who is perhaps most ready to accept destiny is a young girl who lacks the apparent wisdom of mages and experience of witchers. Of course, she is much more … but it’ll take some time for destiny to do its work before she and others realize it.
What do we see in the trailer?
The only mention of destiny in the trailer comes from the druid Mousesack (Adam Levy), who appears to be pressing a hesitant Geralt (Henry Cavill) on the matter, telling the Witcher that he can’t outrun destiny just because he’s afraid of it. Although this isn’t a quote from the books, it’s something Mousesack would say – being a generally learned, if sometimes awkwardly professorial, person. Geralt’s apparent skepticism is equally telling, as his worldliness makes him doubt something like the existence of destiny.
The scene takes place at a banquet held by Queen Calanthe of Cintra (Jodhi May) and features in the short story A Question of Price, which we will see in episode four. It’s a pivotal moment in The Witcher, setting the course for everything that is to come. Against better judgement, Geralt takes the side of a stranger, saving him from certain death. Offered a reward by the stranger, the Witcher calls upon the Law of Surprise, binding his life forever to that of an as-yet-unborn child.
You will give me that which you already have but do not know not. I’ll return to Cintra in six years to see if destiny has been kind to me.A Question of Price, chapter three
While we don’t get to hear these lines in the trailer, we can assume things will more or less play out like this in the show. Suffice to say, Geralt never really makes good on his promise to return and the child, Ciri (Freya Allan), grows up without knowing anything about her destiny.
What else can we expect to see in the show?
The show seems to place a great deal of emphasis on destiny as an element connecting the three main characters. The caption of The Witcher’s official logo reads: “People linked by Destiny will always find each other”.
Whether that means the three main characters will all meet in the first season – which would be a huge change from the novels – remains to be seen. It’s not impossible but raises questions about the future of the show and its adaption of the first novel, Blood of Elves, in particular.
Let’s put that aside for a moment and dig into a few puzzles of the first season’s plot. In The Sword of Destiny, Geralt’s actions finally catch up with him when he unexpectedly runs into the child he was once promised. Despite Ciri’s pleas to take her with him, he rejects that destiny and sends her back to the Cintran court. In Something More, Cintra has fallen to the Nilfgaardians, Queen Calanthe is dead, and so, he believes, is Ciri. In a strange twist of fate, Geralt and Ciri meet at the most unexpected moment and the Witcher finally accepts his child of surprise.
The show will adapt both The Sword of Destiny and Something More. However, it’s unlikely that we’ll see the story unfold as in the short stories, as some heavy changes may have been made to the chronology of Ciri’s arc. Her personal journey seems to have been expanded quite a bit. It looks like she will spend a far longer time on the run than in the books and she will be actively looking for Geralt of Rivia, as her dying grandmother told her to.
Unlike in the books, the events of The Sword of Destiny seem to take place after the fall of Cintra. There are a few bits of evidence pointing towards this, but the most conclusive is a piece of cloth. As Ciri is saying goodbye to her grandmother, there is a knight standing in the background holding a blue mantle: Sir Lazlo (Maciej Musiał), the man who is supposed to get the princess out of the burning city. While the young knight will likely find himself at the receiving end of a Nilfgaardian axe or sword, we know Ciri will make it. When we see her on the run and later in Brokilon Forest, she is wearing the same blue mantle.
Geralt’s absence from the Brokilon scenes shown in the trailer left fans wondering as to when he will first meet Ciri in the show. Will he be with her during her encounter with the dryads? We certainly hope so. After all, it’s their shared history, the horror this young girl has been through, and the guilt that plagues Geralt for letting her down that make their unexpected reunion in Something More such a powerful moment.
Related Article: Here’s How We Think The Witcher Will Adapt Ciri’s Story
What role does destiny play in The Witcher’s world?
In A Question of Price, it is perhaps the mention of the Law of Surprise, that breaks Geralt’s usual shell of indifference and cynicism and causes him to take sides with a stranger. This ancient custom is one of many mysterious mechanisms through which destiny works in the books and is a tradition respected by witchers.
Due to the perils of the Trial of the Grasses – which sees about three boys in 10 survive – and the prospect of being torn apart by some creature, the job of being a witcher is not one of the most sought after, to put it mildly. To ensure their survival, the monster-hunters have always chosen their apprentices from the lowest of the low: young rascals living in the gutter, abandonded by their parents, not expecting anything from life. Every once in a while, some witcher also invokes the Law of Surprise demanding a gift from an unsuspecting stranger he just rescued. And sometimes, he takes home a child.
Witchers aren’t the only ones who make use of the Law of Surprise. Most importantly, this is also how the marriage between Ciri’s parents Duny (Bart Edwards) and Pavetta (Gaia Mondadori) came to pass. Their fateful and tragic union serves as a reminder that people bound by destiny don’t necessarily live happily ever after. Death comes for everyone, making no difference between ordinary people and those chosen by fate.
Perhaps this is a lesson Geralt remembers and later applies to the bond he shares with Ciri. In the novels, we often see him contemplating the possibility of death, that something terrible might happen to the girl he’s sworn to protect … and not without reason. For Ciri, death seems to follow in the path of destiny, constantly hovering over her and sometimes striking at the most unexpected moment.
As most of our readers will know, monsters in The Witcher’s world are inspired by real-life mythology. The books feature a variety of strange creatures: Slavic forest-spirits, cursed beings found in European fairytales, demons first mentioned in ancient Jewish and Arabian texts, and so on. The civilized world sees them as mindless animals at best and bloodthirsty fiends at worst, but witchers know better: there are more than a few monsters out there rivaling humans in dexterity, ingenuity, or intelligence.
What do we see in the trailer?:
We get a couple of views at different angles of the striga Geralt fights in the abandoned halls and crypts of the old palace of Wyzim. This man-eating beast is more than an ordinary challenge, not least because it isn’t a beast at all but actually Princess Adda of Temeria, suffering from a terrible curse. To defeat the monster, Geralt has to resort to a bit of trickery as cutting it down the usual way could be his own death sentence.
We also get a shot of the man calling himself the Urcheon of Erlenwald, a cursed being who turns into a monster resembling a hedgehog when it’s daytime. He appears in A Question of Price as a surprise guest and suitor for Princess Pavetta’s hand. Naturally, her mother Queen Calanthe is not impressed by this would-be candidate for being her future son-in-law.
The teaser concludes by treating us to a scene featuring a giant spider. Book readers will recognize it as the kikimore from The Lesser Evil, rising out of the swamp as Geralt stands there cool as a cucumber, patiently waiting for the ugly thing to attack. As The Lesser Evil will be adapted in the first episode, we could see this as the cold opening of the show, introducing the audience to monsters and the deadliness of witchers.
What else can we expect to see in the show?:
It’s to the show’s benefit that the first season will adapt the short stories as they really show Geralt in his natural habitat, whereas in the novels monsters often take a backseat in favor of more pressing concerns. Interviewed by Entertainment Weekly showrunner Lauren S Hissrich said it’s the monsters that really make The Witcher stand out from other fantasy shows:
I think people are going to be surprised by how many monsters we were able to do and how integral they are to the story. It really feels like the monster stories become analogs for bigger things happening in the world right now in different political phenomenons.
For an overview of the monsters appearing in the short stories (and possibly in the show), see this great post from Witcherflix.
It looks like the show will also maintain a recurring motif of the books in that the worst monsters aren’t out there waiting for us in the wilderness but live among and even inside us. We can expect this to be introduced as early as the first episode when Geralt’s arrival in the town of Blaviken triggers a chain of events that will lead to him becoming known as the Butcher of Blaviken.
Related article: The Witcher or the story of Geralt of Rivia in Season One
What role do monsters play in The Witcher’s world?
The books are full of tales about men or women who went beyond ordinary evil and became monstrous themselves in the eyes of many. From the wizard Alzur, who used his considerable magical prowess to create horrible abominations, to old King Abrad “Jack-up-the-Skirt” who wouldn’t fall asleep unless he had someone tortured every night, to bloody Falka, a princess who rose against her own father, slaughtering him, her half-brothers and thousands of others.
While these actions often prove more deadly than even the most vicious of animals, real monsters – as in, supernatural man-eating beasts – do exist. Like humans, they aren’t native to the world of The Witcher but were trapped there by the so-called “Conjunction of the Spheres”, a cataclysm that saw different worlds collide more than a thousand years ago. As witchers are wont to say, monsters don’t occupy their own ecological niche, which means they can be killed without disturbing the natural balance of things.
Witchers were created during a time when post-conjunction creatures were still populating the world in great numbers. The ghouls who stalk the battlefields and graveyards at night, the werewolf who lies in waiting on the roadside, the griffin who roams the highway … they have since become rare, and the witchers’ reputation has suffered as their prey stopped being a serious problem for the civilized world.
Verily, there is nothing so hideous as the monsters, so contrary to nature, known as witchers for they are the offspring of foul sorcery and devilry. They are rogues without virtue, conscience or scruple, true diabolic creations, fit only for killing. There is no place amidst honest men for such as they.Anonymous, Monstrum or Description of the Witcher
Not all monsters need killing, which is why witchers are still being called upon by kings and queens to solve problems that require more than a sharp sword and quick reflexes.
Magic is a mysterious force, so much so that even the few chosen ones who can control it don’t fully understand it. Thanks to the powers it grants them, mages stand at the very top of society. Revered, feared, and sometimes hated, they determine the fate of the world without bothering to ask kings or queens for their opinion. But magic also demands sacrifices not everyone is prepared to make.
What do we see in the trailer?:
Most of what we learn of the show’s approach to magic comes courtesy of Tissaia de Vries (MyAnna Buring), the stern rector of Aretuza Academy who becomes a mentor-figure to a young Yennefer (Anya Chalotra). In a lecture, we see Tissaia demonstrating levitation magic with a stone placed to her right and a flower in her left hand. If you look closely, you can see that as the stone rises, the flower withers. She uses the life energy of the flower to lift up the stone.
The purpose here is to show that magic can’t just be conjured out of thin air. It is something that exists in nature, a force only the gifted can draw from, and it comes at a price!
Tissaia goes on to warn her students of the dangers of magic and we even get a shot of her casting a spell.
Chaos is the most dangerous thing in this world. (…) But without control, chaos will kill you.
Magic is an incredible gift if you can control it, but take one step in the wrong direction and it will destroy you. It’s something every magician must learn and who better than Tissaia to teach it? She’s a person who abhors chaos to the point that she can’t stand even the slightest asymmetry and spends a great deal of time rearranging her surroundings.
Although any mage or sorceress would sneer at the audacity of calling it magic, witchers are capable of using the force to a limited degree. For a split second, we see Geralt doing just that by casting a sign during the fight against Renfri’s (Emma Appleton) thugs.
What else can we expect to see in the show?:
There is so much potential for magic to be shown in the first season, especially with Yennefer’s arc being expanded. We can expect to see the whole journey, including her getting introduced to magic at Aretuza, struggling with her role and appearance, and awakening her powers to the fullest potential. There will be many lessons, showing the physical aspects of magic and perhaps some quieter but no less important ones on what it really means to be a sorceress.
Yennefer’s transformation arguably features among the season’s most anticipated scenes. Other than a few shots we’ve seen in the trailer, there isn’t much to go on, but we can assume it will be unpleasant and involve some extremely complicated magic, even for an archmistress like Tissaia de Vries.
If you’re hoping for more action-oriented scenes, you won’t be dissapointed. Yennefer’s arc holds plenty of the explosive kind of magic as well. If our speculation is correct, she will be trying to defend the recently revealed Queen Kalis of Lyria (Isobel Laidler) and her baby from an unknown mage (Marcin Czarnik), all while teleporting from one location to another.
Don’t forget that there’s a plethora of material left from the books. In The Last Wish, which will be adapted in episode five, Yennefer tries to subjugate a Djinn laying waste to the town of Rinde. It’s a crucial point in Yennefer’s life, not only because her path crosses Geralt’s for the first time, but in how it shows the extent to which she will go in pursuit of getting what she wants.
Last but not least, we have good reason to believe that The Witcher’s season finale will culminate in the Battle of Sodden. This event was only described in the books, but if the survivors’ tales are anything to go by, we’re in for a real spectacle … in a horrifying kind of way. Whether we really get to see an all-out battle or just a few glimpses, it will be magic at its most destructive!
Related Article: Here’s How The Witcher Will Adapt Yennefer’s Story in Season One
What role does magic play in The Witcher’s world?
In the books, magic is a concept that is both well-conceived and difficult to grasp. Yennefer makes this clear when she takes young Ciri under her wing in Blood of Elves:
Magic is chaos, art and science. It is a curse, a blessing and progress. It all depends on who uses magic, how they use it, and to what purpose.Blood of Elves, chapter seven
What we see in the trailer is a fairly accurate depiction of how magic works in Sapkowski’s world. It’s a force that can be drawn from earth, water, fire and air. It bestows great powers on those who master it, such as psychokinesis, teleportation, or the ability to change one’s appearance. Magical powers can rise to the point of near invincibility when infused with those of an elemental genie, something few mages have ever accomplished since these spirits are notoriously difficult to tame.
On the downside, magic almost always takes a toll on the user. Most mages and sorceresses are left unable to sire or conceive children. Some bear it well, others not so much. The few who are fertile sometimes pass on a chunk of their abilities. More often, their children turn out to be poor souls, driven mad by the force within them they can’t control, condemned to living their lives as oracles, miracle-workers, and other charlatans. This is why the most totalitarian voices call for drastic measures:
No one is born a wizard. And no one should be born one! Conscious of the gravity of what I write I answer the question posed at the Congress in Cidaris. I answer most empathically: each one of us must decide what she wants to be – a wizard or a mother.
I demand all apprentices be sterilized. Without exception.Tissaia de Vries, The Poisoned Source
The most powerful magicians are called sources. Not much is known about them – at least not to humans – but they are exceptionally rare and born with an innate receptivity for the force.
4. Politics and War
Yes, The Witcher is much more a story about the private journeys of its main characters than Game of Thrones. However, that is not to say it doesn’t come with its own intricate microcosm of fascinating politics, court intrigues, and power plays, as the mighty Empire of Nilfgaard casts an eye on the Northern Kingdoms … and on one kingdom in particular.
What do we see in the trailer?:
The trailer did not reveal much about any politics, secret cabals or backstabbing courtiers. We did, however, get to see this jewel:
The above scene shows what appears to be a gathering of mages and sorceresses forming a circle around a fire. It is difficult to say what exactly we are looking at, but if we were to wager a guess, it’s likely a meeting of the Brotherhood of Sorcerers, the northern mages’ ruling body at the time of the first season. As to who might be present, we only have a few concrete leads. Bear in mind that some of these people are most likely being played by extras and might not get so much as a mention in the show. Have a look at the pictures below – cropped, turned, and zoomed-in for clarity – and tell us what you think.
Of all the northern kingdoms, Cintra has gotten the most exposure by far. We’ve had a decent look at the Cintran nobility and guards. The trailer also gave us a view of the beautiful Cintran throneroom with knights in silver armor and a man kneeling before Queen Calanthe, her husband Eist Tuirseach (Björn Hlynur Haraldson), and granddaughter Ciri.
As for battles, there are several shots of Nilfgaardians fighting the Cintran army on an open field in what looks like the show’s version of the Battle of Marnadal. We see footsoldiers hacking at each other and the Lioness of Cintra looking mighty shocked as the Nilfgaardian reserve comes charging. This might well be the moment she realizes the battle is lost. As we know, she will make it into the temporary safety of the city, but wounded and at the cost of many lives.
What else can we expect to see in the show?:
Expect more sorcerers, more kings, more armies, and quite possibly more battles!
In April, the production went to Ogrodzieniec Castle in Poland. A polish Witcher fan shared a video on YouTube showing another mysterious gathering of mages, though this time it was filmed on battlements and in the courtyard of a ruin. What these mages were up to is anybody’s guess, but it all looked rather clandestine, as if they were trying to avoid being seen by an enemy.
As Geralt travels the continent looking for new monsters to kill, he crosses paths with several royal personnages and their entourages. Aside from Calanthe, he will be meeting King Foltest of Temeria (Shaun Dooley) as well as his servants Lord Ostrit (Jason Thorpe) and Captain Segelin (Sam Marks). Curiously enough, King Virfuril of Aedirn (Ben Lambert), father of King Demavend, also appears in the show. Since he belongs to an older generations of kings, we think he may be involved in Yennefer’s arc.
As mentioned, The Witcher’s season finale will likely adapt the Battle of Sodden, the decisive confrontation of the first war against Nilfgaard. You can read everything we know about it here. Thanks to GoTlike Locations, we were also able to obtain exclusive footage from a night shoot of a Nilfgaardian war camp, which may or may not be the site of the Siege of Cintra. Most conspicuously, the scene features a group of Nilfgaardian mages, likely including Fringilla Vigo (Mimi Ndiweni), standing around a large trebuchet.
Nilfgaard isn’t the only power contemplating power plays. The northern armies are on the march too. The blog FatZebra shared some interesting information about filming at Austria’s Castle Kreutzenstein in January, including a good look at what appears to be Temerian armor.
Finally, in June, GoTlike Locations visited what we believed to be an abandonded logging camp. A video released by IGN shows the same camp with several soldiers around. Their armors look notably different from the Cintran and Temerian designs we’ve seen before, although that could just be because they’re foot soldiers. There’s a chance that these are Redanian infantrymen on the road to Sodden. After all, in the books, it was their King Vizimir who led the coalition against Nilfgaard during the first war.
What role do politics play in The Witcher’s world?:
Sapkowski has been called the “anti-worldbuilder” for his unorthodox style of writing politics, often conveying details about the world via scattered tidbits, sudden changes in perspective, or stories within a story. For instance, Time of Contempt includes a masterfully written plot told from the perspective of a courier travelling between the courts of different kingdoms on the brink of war. In The Lady of the Lake, Sapkowski pulled off the feat of writing a complete battle from the point of view of multiple tertiary characters and making us truly care for them. While not all of these devices will work as well on the screen as they did on paper, we hope to eventually see a few of them in the show.
The struggle between the invading Nilfgaardians and the Northern Realms serves as the backdrop of the saga. At the time of the short stories, the northern monarchs are largely oblivious to the danger closing in on them on their southern borders, despite Nilfgaard having annexed several other countries in just a few decades.
In the North, the kings and queens may call themselves sovereign, but it’s the sorcerers who truly rule. Some of them have obtained important positions as royal advisors, effectively governing their countries while the monarchs play at politics and war. Through the Brotherhood of Sorcerers, the mages keep a watchful eye on the future of the Continent, but their unity is put to the test as the southern invaders move on Cintra.
Cintra is the first cornerstone in Nilfgaard’s plan of conquest. It’s a gateway to the North, occupying a strategic position on the southern bank of the Yaruga River … but there’s more to it than just that.
Fans of CDPR’s The Witcher games will have come across the occasional zealots yelling insults or directing violence at non-humans. The short stories and even more so the novels also explore the chasms of ignorance, superstition, and fanaticism which take a turn for the worse as the Continent is ripped apart by war, famine, and pestilence. While the books tell the story of human expansion, racism is never presented as a one-sided affair or exclusive to the human race. There is contempt, malice, and great cruelty on all sides.
What do we see in the trailer?:
Our first hint at the strained relations between humans and elves, or Aen Seidhe, as they are called in Elder Speech, comes from the sorcerer Istredd (Royce Pierreson):
Elves are the original sorcerers of the continent. When humans and monsters arrived, elves taught the humans how to turn chaos into magic. And then, the humans slaughtered them.
For those wondering, Istredd is a character from the short story A Shard of Ice. Yennefer grew close to him in the past and took him as a lover at various points in her life. As mentioned, we will be seeing quite a bit of that past in the show. We don’t know the context of the scene, but since they are standing in front of a wall of skulls, it’s possible we’re looking at dead elves who fell victim to a purge a long time ago.
Now, on to another scene that has caused some confusion online. As Istredd says his line about the elves, the scene changes to a thick rainforest and a group of Amazon-like figures surrounding Ciri. Some have taken that as an indication that these are the show’s version of elves. Readers of the books will know that we’re looking at the dryads of Brokilon, a secluded nature-loving society of women who appear in The Sword of Destiny.
The dryads have a long history of feuding with the humans living on the edge of their forest, but they’re now on their last legs. Brokilon is all that is left to them and they defend it with the ferocity of a wounded tiger. Of late, the rulers of the neighbouring kingdoms have even begun to pay hefty sums for dryad scalps, which has not particularly endeared the protectors of the forest to humans entering their territory uninvited. The dryads have good reason to be wary as they are literally being hunted to extinction.
What else can we expect to see in the show?:
As we know from the casting of certain characters, the show will adapt the short story The Edge of the World.
The story follows Geralt and Jaskier (Joey Batey) to the valley of Dol Blathanna where they run afoul of a sylvan named Torque (Amit Shah) and end up facing death at the hands of an elven squad led by Filavandrel (Tom Canton). The elves are starving, having never learned how to make use of agriculture techniques, and are thus further filled with animosity. Things are looking pretty grim for our heroes until they are saved by the sudden appearance of a mysterious deity. The Edge of the World offers a great view into the elven psyche, and it’s also during these events that Jaskier gets his elven lute from Toruviel (Natasha Culzac).
In our recent interview with Lucas Englander, who plays the elf Chireadan, the actor shared his personal feelings about what it means to portray an elf on The Witcher. While he didn’t convey any clues as to the plot, you don’t have to read between the lines to ascertain that racism will be shown as affecting non-humans living in a city just as much as those that haven’t been brought to heel.
Related article: RI interview: The Witcher’s Lucas Englander on playing Chireadan
What role does racism play in Witcher world?:
When humans first washed up on the shores of the Continent, they found a world already settled by elves, dwarves, gnomes, and a variety of other sentient beings. Relations were peaceful at first, but as the first human kingdoms grew more ambitious, so too did their desire to dominate the elder races. While dwarves and gnomes mostly assimilated, the elves were pushed back to the boundaries of the world. There were some advocating for peaceful coexistence, but their voices were soon drowned by a chorus of the sanguinary.
They although so resembling us, were alien. So very alien that, for a long time, we could find no words for their strangeness.Hen Gedymdeith, Elves and Humans
A good elf is a dead elf.Marshal Milan Raupenneck
To an extent, what was to follow mirrors the elves’ own conquests and – as some would say – their equally ruthless treatment of the other races thousands of years prior to the arrival of humans. But the tides had turned. One by one, the elves abandoned their palaces to the humans, who built their own cities on the foundations. Then, 200 years before the setting of the novels, they made a desperate last stand. United under the leadership of the young Aelirenn aep Aevenien, they rose up against the invaders and lost. The ruins of the glorious Shaerrawedd, the last of their palaces, remain as a memory of Aelirenn’s sacrifice.
At the time of the books, dwarves and gnomes live a largely independent life in their mountainous home of Mahakam, but their cousins in the ghettos of the human cities fare much worse, living with the constant fear of falling victim to a pogrom. Free elves still roam the Blue Mountains but their numbers are dwindling. The dryads of Brokilon keep the borders of their forest kingdom shut, killing everyone who comes within arrow range.
Nilfgaard promises tolerance and equality among the races, and the old war-cries can be heard once again as elven youths take up arms to free themselves of the human yoke.
Thank you for bearing with us on this rather lengthy discussion of themes from the trailer! If you’re wondering about friendship, love, desire, betrayal, prophecy, religion, poetry, and a myriad of other important topics we know from Sapkowski’s books, that’s understandable. This should just be the beginning of a very long journey (if we’re lucky), and there will be more themes to explore as the series progresses!