One of the most curious things about Netflix’s latest fantasy hit The Witcher, starring Henry Cavill, is the show’s overarching structure. Following three central characters whose stories play out in different frames of time, season one of the monster slaying drama left fans confused and enthralled in equal measure. Showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich has a unique relationship with the fandom, especially with the subreddit dedicated to the show. In her newest Reddit post, the showrunner revealed her original pitch to Netflix and explains why the different timelines were chosen to tell the story.
“Over two years ago,” Hissrich explains. “I sat in a Netflix conference room and pitched them what would eventually become the pilot of The Witcher. I’d been grappling for a few months about how to best tell the stories of Geralt, Yen, and Ciri, and then I had a (controversial) idea: tell them in three separate timelines over the first season. That was November 29, 2017. I’m attaching the initial document I wrote up for that pitch.”
We’ve rounded up everything below. Keep in mind that there are big spoilers for season one if you have not yet watched the show.
About the structure of season one
I want to track three separate stories for the first season: Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri. In the simplest of terms, I want to tell the origin story of each character. In order to make that work, we’ll be working in at least two different frameworks of time (and sometimes even three). The nonlinear storytelling in the short stories and saga are one of the franchise’s most appealing elements to me, and I think TV audiences are savvy enough to follow along.
The idea is that the three stories will run parallel to each other, each covering different ground and different periods of time. Over the season, the stories will start to weave together: Geralt’s story and Yennefer’s story will connect first, midway through the season, and Ciri’s story will weave into theirs in either the penultimate or final episode of the season.
Ciri’s storyline as the “drumbeat” of the series
We’ve always talked about Ciri as the drumbeat of our series. In season one, I want to track her story from the point at which the Nilfgaardian forces invade Cintra (the pilot) until Geralt rescues her (the finale). This will cover a fairly short time period in comparison to our other two stories First of all, I want to dig deep into the trauma of this young girl’s life-her character is forged through multiple tragedies, all in immediate succession.
Her story in season one will be intense and vivid (which will visually drive how we shoot it); I want to be with her as her circumstances break, but her spirit doesn’t. Secondly, using this condensed timeline is a great opportunity to cast a strong, stubborn, kickass twelve-year-old girl, and literally watch her come of age in the series. Most of all: it allows us to carve out Ciri’s existence while it is still TOTALLY separate from Geralt and Yennefer, so that she’s a fully independent character.
Though Ciri was originally supposed to be a twelve-year old girl as in the books, Netflix decided to age her up to alleviate various restrictions (more on that later) and eventually decided on the then-seventeen-year-old Freya Allan for the role. Ciri’s age in the show is not directly specified.
Does the pitch for Yennefer’s storyline reveal the character’s fate?
I feel the same way about Yennefer: I want to meet her and live with her as an independent character, for at least four episodes BEFORE she is introduced to Geralt. I am playing around with tracking her story from Aretuza, when she is trying to kill herself (the pilot) to the Battle of Sodden Hill, where she is blinded (the finale). Unlike Ciri’s story, Yennefer’s will cover a more sweeping arc of time – although, of course, we won’t have to track this time as carefully because we won’t see the aging process (short of the transformation from hunchback to her current form, likely in the pilot).
Yennefer’s life, pre-Geralt, is the most fuzzy to me, and perhaps where I need the most help. I’d like to start gathering anything that’s ever been said about her childhood, her time at the academy, and (most importantly), her early days of practicing sorcery. I have a feeling there will be some creation of new story here (which is fun!) but I will also use the existing material to plant her affair with Istredd, and her journey to cure her infertility.
The note about Yennefer being blinded at Sodden Hill is quite interesting. In the books, the Nilfgaardian sorceress Fringilla Vigo blinded Yennefer in the battle, but we have yet to see that happen in the show. In fact, season one ended with Yennefer’s fate up in the air. After unbottling her chaos and launching a wave of fire at the Nilfgaardian army, Yennefer has seemingly disappeared. Where has she gone to? Was she taken captive? We’ll have to wait for season two to find out, but it now seems likely that Yennefer will meet a similar fate than the one she has in the books.
Geralt’s storyline was going to include more short stories
And finally, Geralt. He’s the most tricky in some ways, and the most exciting in others, because the source material is so rich and multi-faceted. That said, it’s my plan to track his journey from the Blaviken Massacre and the killing of Renfri (the pilot) to his rescue of Ciri (the finale). I’ve chosen “The Lesser Evil” as the opening tale for a few reasons: one, I think it sets up Geralt’s moral dilemma for the entire series in a clear and understandable way; and two, I think there are amazing parallels to be drawn between young Renfri (being driven from her home, racially profiled, left for dead) and young Ciri. I want Geralt’s relationship with Renfri will foreshadow his future protection of Ciri.
Over the first season, Geralt’s story arc will be the most serialized and episodic, simply because there’s a lot of ground to cover before we get into the saga (although it’s helpful, like Yennefer, that because there is no aging process, we won’t have to track time as carefully). The stories I want to highlight are the feast of Cintra, Nivellen, the sylvan, the djinn/Last Wish, the hunt for the dragon, and the striga. These are unspooled in a very specific order in the books, although I will play with this in our series-because I really want the feast at Cintra to be one of the earlier episodes.
Geralt’s destiny and the child surprise should be a weight on his shoulders and mind throughout all of the other stories. When Geralt meets Ciri in the finale, it should be a fun and impactful reveal that she is the 12-year-old child we’ve been watching all along.
It’s interesting to see that season one was, at one point, going to adapt the short story A Grain of Truth, especially now that we know it will be included in the show’s second season.
RELATED ARTICLE: Season 2 spoiler report: The Witcher to adapt more short stories
Hissrich explains what changed between that pitch and the final scripts of the series
Providing some context to the pitch, Hissrich explains that many details changed before the show began production. But, as we know, the overall structure of the show is quite similar to her original plan.
“Some things have changed,” Hissrich explained on Reddit. “For instance, after searching all over the world for a 12-year-old Ciri — and then realizing that a lot of her scenes were at night, for which filming is highly restricted for minors — we aged that character up. Yennefer, too, was originally written into the pilot — until I realized I’d written a feature-length film, not an hour-long show. The biggest shift was that originally, I’d intended to keep it a secret that Ciri was the child Geralt was destined to be with, for at least a few episodes — we even shot the pilot that way! But in editorial, we realized that the timelines were enough of a mystery, we didn’t need to keep adding more and more veils. I fought against the change for a while, but in retrospect, it was a good decision.”
“But a lot hasn’t changed. Most importantly, the heart of the show. It’s so interesting to go back and see that we were passionate about interweaving of Geralt’s, Yennefer’s, and Ciri’s stories since the very beginning, and that we managed to keep it alive.”
If you’re interested to hear more about the process from The Witcher‘s showrunner, you can scroll through her Reddit user history.