The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, the long-awaited animated prequel film to Henry Cavill’s The Witcher is finally out on Netflix and most first impressions seem to be very positive. Not only does the film offer spectacular fight scenes and gorgeous vistas all along its 83 minutes, it also gives fans a much appreciated deeper look at the history of the witchers, mages and nobles of the Continent.
If you’re like us, watching Nightmare of the Wolf will likely leave you with a thirst for more and maybe a few questions as to how Vesemir’s tale relates to the greater lore of The Witcher. To answer some of those, we’ve gathered a few references you may have missed while watching. Obviously, there are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead. Do not read this if you’ve yet to see Nightmare of the Wolf!
A stacked cast and a few surprises
Before we dive into the more contextual references, let’s quickly bring some attention to the stellar voice acting that carries Nightmare of the Wolf. We’ve known for a while, that Theo James (Castlevania) will return following his brief line in The Witcher Season One, and he brings Vesemir to life as he once was: young, suave and wise-cracking.
Rounding up the main cast are Lara Pulver (Sherlock) as Tetra Gilcrest, Graham McTavish (Outlander, The Hobbit) as Deglan, and Mary McDonnell (Donnie Darko) as Lady Zerbst. Whether it’s the icy sorceress full of surpressed emotions, the aging witcher mentor, who sees his life’s work come crumbling down, or the quick-witted noblewoman, who rose to the top of the court – they all play their roles convincingly.
For many, one of the biggest surprises was the return of Tom Canton‘s Filavandrel, the elven king Geralt meets in Season One. In Nightmare of the Wolf, Canton delivers in showing us a younger version of Filavandrel, more subtle, caring and not yet as embittered.
In other prominent roles we have Jennifer Hale (Mass Effect) as Vesemir’s childhood companion Illyana, David Errigo Jr. (Ridley Jones) as Young Vesemir, Matthew Yang King (Love, Death & Robots) as the witcher Luka, Kari Wahlgren (Mortal Kombat) as Kitsu, Keith Ferguson (Final Fantasy XII) as Reidrich, and Adam Croasdell (Supernatural) as King Dagread of Kaedwen.
Last but not least, you will have noticed that we briefly see a young Geralt towards the end of the movie. If you haven’t read the credits yet, it may surprise you that he is voiced by Harry Hissrich, the son of The Witcher‘s own showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich.
The Kaer Morhen – Rissberg parallel
Early on in Nightmare of the Wolf, we learn that all is not well in the realm of Kaedwen, the mountainous kingdom that hosts the ancient Witcher fortress of Kaer Morhen. Our hero Vesemir sets on a path that sees him unravel a terrible secret, threatening the very foundations of everything he holds dear: Some witchers and mages (namely Deglan and Reidrich) have started to breed monsters of their own in an effort to forestall their extinction.
This is not done purely for coin but primarily out of concern for the witchers’ own survival. As Vesemir’s mentor Deglan (Graham McTavish) puts it:
The only thing keeping men from hunting us are the scarier beasts we keep away
If the idea of artificially created monsters seems familiar, it may be because you’ve read a similar story before. In Season of Storms, Andrzej Sapkowski’s tie-in novel, Geralt intrudes upon a team of renegade mages, involved in illegal experiments at Rissberg Castle. Overseen by Grandmaster Ortolan (a particularly ancient and catankerous sorcerer), the experiments result in the most horrid abominations imaginable, and inevitably a few of the specimen escape or so it seems.
Given the obvious parallel, we can’t help but thinking that Nighmare of the Wolf writer Beau DeMayo based the film’s biggest twist on the events of Season of Storms.
Both cases play heavily with the theme of prejudice and fear. In Season of Storms, the Brotherhood of Sorcerers worries that Ortolan’s doings could turn public opinion against them. In Nightmare of the Wolf, the witchers’ attempt at securing their survival ultimately proves to be their downfall when an angry mob assembles at the gates of Kaer Morhen.
The mythology behind Kitsu
The parallels between Nightmare of the Wolf and Season of Storms don’t end here. One of the movie’s biggest fight scenes sees Vesemir and Tetra paired with the monster Kitsu. They learn that Kitsu was once an elven girl that has been subjected to mutagenic experiments as part of the witchers’ scheme to create new monsters.
Now escaped, she can conjure up advanced magical illusions, control other creatures and gained the ability to transform into a fox at will.
This is eerily reminiscient of the Aguara appearing in Season of Storms. Like Kitsu, this supernatural female creature wields powerful ilusion magic and can take the form of a fox. It is notable for kidnapping young elven girls, becoming so attached to them that it will mercilessly chase down anyone who attempts to get them back. Given that Kitsu was kidnapped herself, this parallel is a bit subverted, but her story is definitely modelled on the Aguara.
Like many Andrzej Sapkwoski’s monster stories, this one is heavily based on real-life mythology. The Aguara is a figure appearing in the folklore of the indigenous Guaraní people of Latin America. However, similar stories have long existed in various other cultures. The most relevant to mention is the Kitsune from Japanese folklore, a fox with paranormal abilities that clearly serves as the inspiration for the name Kitsu.
This being an animated format, it’s more than likely that the creators see Kitsu as a nod to Japanese culture and mythology.
Tetra Gilcrest is perhaps the one character who remains an enigma, leaving us with more questions than answers. She is established as a sorceress harboring a deadly grudge against the witchers, often taking a stance against the more moderate Lady Zerbst in Kaedwen’s court. The reasons for her disdain are only partially explored at the end of the movie. While she has her mind set on vengeance, it’s left ambiguous whether there is more that drives her.
We know that she values her ancestry, as a direct descendants of one of the first human mages of the Continent? Who was that mage though and why is it important? We know that she embraces purity, but is that just a public front to serve her agenda or does she really believe that witchers are ‘true diabolic creations fit only for killing’
Speaking of which, the pamphlets signed and circulated by Tetra and her disciples are an abbreviated version of a passage from the book Monstrum, or Description of the Witcher. In the books, this work by an anonymous author is seen as instrumental in the downfall of Kaer Morhen, fanning the flames of anti-witcher propaganda and instigating a violent mob to march on Kaer Morhen.
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.
While the author behind Monstrum remained anonymous, it is believed to be the work of an unknown mage. Nightmare of the Wolf offers its own explanation and although it is never explicitly stated, we can safely assume that it was Tetra, who first wrote the infamous lines.
Lore bits and future implications
Last but not least, there are also many passing references that are easily missable on a first watch, but serve to enrich the universe and establish Nightmare of the Wolf against the backdrop of the greater history of The Witcher.
Would you have guessed that the moustache-twirling King Dagread of Kaedwen is a direct ancestor of Ciri’s? Dagread’s grandaughter Ellen married King Corbett of Cintra and together they had a son they named Dagorad, after his grandfather. Dagorad was eventually succeeded by his only child and heiress Calanthe and the rest is history. While Ciri has little in common with her notoriously absent-minded forebear, her full name is Cirilla Fiona Ellen Riannon, in honor of several illustrous ancestors, on of which hailed from Kaedwen.
We also get to see a few characters that will feature in the upcoming second season of The Witcher. Namely, the childhood versions of Geralt, Eskel, Lambert, and Remus (the witcher who died in episode three of Season One). This of course seamlessly blends into Season Two, where we’ll hopefully get to see much more of the now grown-up witchers, their aging father, and the bond they share.
Finally, many of you are probably curious if we’ll ever get to see the little elven girl Filavandrel rescued from Tetra again. Like Kitsu, she has been subjected to mutagenic experiments, but the consequences are left unclear. Does this story have a happy ending or will Vesemir eventually have to make good on his promise to hunt her down? What are the effects of her mutations? Is she perhaps someone we’ve already seen or are yet to see in The Witcher series?
Questions that need answering. For now, we may have to settle for a bit of speculating. At least until The Witcher Season Two drops on December 17!
How did you like The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf? Got any favorite theories? Tells us in the comments below or on twitter and stay tuned for more Witcher content!