the rats head

Who Are The Rats? Introducing The Witcher’s Newest and Most Controversial Characters

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The Witcher Season 3 has dropped its second Volume, which contains the season’s and Henry Cavill’s final three episodes. In the very last episode, Ciri (Freya Allan) comes across a rather colorful band of outlaws called The Rats. Their introduction serves as the beginning of a dark turn in Ciri’s story. The Rats may be look cool at first glance, but morally, they’re not the greatest. Seeing as the Rats have a promising first impression, we’re sure many fans are asking themselves who they are and why they call themselves rats.

We were going to write a detailed article about that, but then we thought no one could explain it better than Witcher author Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French. A passage from the book Time of Contempt will give viewers a good idea of where the Rats are coming from, and then we will discuss where they’re headed in their spinoff series and in Season 4.

SPOILER WARNING! Some mild spoilers for the season finale of Season 3 are included.

Before we start, we’ll cover the basics. The Rats are a group of teenage outlaws who were victims of Nilfgaard’s war to conquer the Continent, and their traumatic experiences numbed their empathy. Now they are running around, stealing and killing to their hearts’ desire.

In the books, the Rats are led by Giselher (Ben Radcliffe), and other members include Mistle (Christelle Elwin), Iskra (Aggy K. Adams), Kayleigh (Fabian McCallum), Reef (Juliette Alexandra), and Asse (Connor Crawford). The final member of the Rats is Ciri, who now calls herself Falka.

The Rats’ backstory from Time of Contempt, by Andrzej Sapkowski

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Kayleigh, portrayed by Fabian McCallum

They were outcasts. They were a strange, mixed bag created by war, misfortune and contempt. War, misfortune and contempt had brought them together and thrown them onto the bank, the way a river in flood throws and deposits drifting, black pieces of wood smoothed by stones onto its banks.

Kayleigh had woken up in smoke, fire and blood, in a plundered stronghold, lying among the corpses of his adoptive parents and siblings. Dragging himself across the corpse-strewn courtyard, he came across Reef.

Reef was a soldier from a punitive expedition, which Emperor Emhyr var Emreis had sent to crush the rebellion in Ebbing. He was one of the soldiers who had captured and plundered the stronghold after a two-day siege. Having captured it, Reef s comrades abandoned him, although Reef was still alive. Caring for the wounded was not a custom among the killers of the Nilfgaardian special squads.

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Reef, portrayed by Juliette Alexandra

At first, Kayleigh planned to finish Reef off. But Kayleigh didn’t want to be alone. And Reef, like Kayleigh, was only sixteen years old.

They licked their wounds together. Together they killed and robbed a tax collector, together they gorged themselves on beer in a tavern, and later, as they rode through the village on stolen horses, they scattered the rest of the stolen money all around them, laughing their heads off.

Together, they ran from the Nissirs and Nilfgaardian patrols.

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Giselher, portrayed by Ben Radcliffe

Giselher had deserted from the army. It was probably the army of the lord of Gheso who had allied himself with the insurgents from Ebbing. Probably. Giselher didn’t actually know where the press gang had dragged him to. He had been dead drunk at the time. When he sobered up and received his first thrashing from the drill sergeant, he ran away. At first, he wandered around by himself, but after the Nilfgaardians crushed the insurrectionary confederation the forests were awash with other deserters and fugitives. The fugitives quickly formed up into gangs. Giselher joined one of them.

The gang ransacked and burnt down villages, attacking convoys and transports, and then dwindled away in desperate escapes from the Nilfgaardian cavalry troops. During one of those flights, the gang happened upon some forest elves in a dense forest and met with destruction; met with invisible death, hissing down on them in the form of grey arrows flying from all sides. One of the arrows penetrated Giselher’s shoulder and pinned him to a tree. The next morning, the one who pulled the arrow and dressed his wound was Aenyeweddien.

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Iskra, portrayed by Aggy K. Addams

Giselher never found out why the elves had condemned Aenyeweddien to banishment, for what misdeed they had condemned her to death; since it was a death sentence for a free elf to be alone in the narrow strip of no-man’s-land dividing the free Elder Folk from the humans. The solitary elf was sure to perish should she fail to find a companion.

Aenyeweddien found a companion. Her name, meaning ‘Child of the Fire’ in loose translation, was too difficult and too poetic for Giselher. He called her Iskra.

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Mistle, portrayed by Christelle Elwin

Mistle came from a wealthy, noble family from the city of Thurn in North Maecht. Her father, a vassal of Duke Rudiger, joined the insurrectionary army, was defeated and vanished without trace. When the people of Thurn were escaping from the city at the news of an approaching punitive expedition by the notorious Pacifiers of Gemmera, Mistle’s family also fled, but Mistle got lost in the panic-stricken crowd. The elegantly dressed and delicate maiden, who had been carried in a sedan chair from early childhood, was unable to keep pace with the fugitives. After three days of solitary wandering, she fell into the hands of the manhunters who were following the Nilfgaardians. Girls younger than seventeen were in demand. As long as they were untouched. The manhunters didn’t touch Mistle, not once they’d checked she really was untouched. Mistle spent the entire night following the examination sobbing.

In the valley of the River Velda, the caravan of manhunters was routed and massacred by a gang of Nilfgaardian marauders. All the manhunters and male captives were killed. Only the girls were spared. The girls didn’t know why they had been spared. Their ignorance did not last long.

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Asse, portrayed by Connor Crawford

Mistle was the only one to survive. She was pulled out of the ditch where she had been thrown naked, covered in bruises, filth, mud and congealed blood, by Asse, the son of the village blacksmith, who had been hunting the Nilfgaardians for three days, insane with the desire for revenge for what the marauders had done to his father, mother and sisters, which he’d had to watch, hidden in a hemp field.

They all met one day during the celebrations of Lammas, the Festival of the Harvest, in one of the villages in Gheso. At the time, war and misery had not especially afflicted the lands on the upper Velda–the villages were celebrating the beginning of the Month of the Sickle traditionally, with a noisy party and dance.

They didn’t take long to find each other in the merry crowd. Too much distinguished them. They had too much in common. They were united by their love of gaudy, colourful, fanciful outfits, of stolen trinkets, beautiful horses, and of swords–which they didn’t even unfasten when they danced. They stood out because of their arrogance and conceit, overconfidence, mocking truculence and impetuousness.

And their contempt.

They were children of the time of contempt. And they had nothing but contempt for others. For them, only force mattered. Skill at wielding weapons, which they quickly acquired on the high roads. Resoluteness. Swift horses and sharp swords.

And companions. Comrades. Mates. Because the one who is alone will perish; from hunger, from the sword, from the arrow, from makeshift peasant clubs, from the noose, or in flames. The one who is alone will perish; stabbed, beaten or kicked to death, defiled, like a toy passed from hand to hand.

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The Rats, as drawn by Denis Gordeev

They met at the Festival of the Harvest. Grim, black-haired, lanky Giselher. Thin, long-haired Kayleigh, with his malevolent eyes and mouth set in a hateful grimace. Reef, who still spoke with a Nilfgaardian accent. Tall, long-legged Mistle, with cropped, straw-coloured hair sticking up like a brush. Big-eyed and colourful Iskra, lithe and ethereal in the dance, quick and lethal in a fight, with her narrow lips and small, elven teeth. Broad-shouldered Asse with fair, curly down on his chin.

Giselher became the leader. And they christened themselves the Rats. Someone had called them that and they took a liking to it.

They plundered and murdered, and their cruelty became legendary.

At first the Nilfgaardian prefects ignored them. They were certain that–following the example of other gangs–they would quickly fall victim to the massed ranks of furious peasantry, or that they would destroy or massacre each other themselves when the quantity of loot they collected would make cupidity triumph over criminal solidarity. The prefects were right with respect to other gangs, but were mistaken when it came to the Rats. Because the Rats, the children of contempt, scorned spoils. They attacked, robbed and killed for entertainment, and they handed out the horses, cattle, grain, forage, salt, wood tar and cloth stolen from military transports in the villages. They paid tailors and craftsmen handfuls of gold and silver for the things they loved most of all: weapons, costumes and ornaments. The recipients fed and watered them, put them up and hid them. Even when whipped raw by the Nilfgaardians and Nissirs, they did not betray the Rats’ hideouts or favoured routes.

The prefects offered a generous reward; and at the beginning, there were people who were tempted by Nilfgaardian gold. But at night, the informers’ cottages were set on fire, and the people escaping from the inferno died on the glittering blades of the spectral riders circling in the smoke. The Rats attacked like rats. Quietly, treacherously, cruelly. The Rats adored killing.

The prefects used methods which had been tried and tested against other gangs; several times they tried to install a traitor among the Rats. Unsuccessfully. The Rats didn’t accept anyone. The close-knit and loyal group of six created by the time of contempt didn’t want strangers. They despised them.

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Falka, the new Ciri, portrayed by Freya Allan

Until the day a pale-haired, taciturn girl, as agile as an acrobat, appeared. A girl about whom the Rats knew nothing.

Aside from the fact that she was as they had once been; like each one of them. Lonely and full of bitterness, bitterness for what the time of contempt had taken from her.

And in times of contempt anyone who is alone must perish.

Giselher, Kayleigh, Reef, Iskra, Mistle, Asse and Falka. The prefect of Amarillo was inordinately astonished when he learnt that the Rats were now operating as a gang of seven.

Andrzej Sapkowski’s passage above about the Rats’ backstory is a promising one, but it follows a rather disturbing sequence in which not one but two Rats sexually assault Ciri. This sequence alone makes most book readers hate the Rats, even before reading how they morally corrupt Ciri later in the novels.

But in this, as with many other things, we are sure the show will be heading in a different direction from the novels. The Season 3 finale has shown the Rats to be morally corrupt, and they will surely be a toxic influence on Ciri as in the books, but we don’t expect their sexual assault of Ciri to occur in the show. Instead, they may be a far more likable group of teenage brigands. And, in fact, Netflix is counting on this, because they have already been cooking up a spinoff focused entirely on the Rats.

The Rats will next appear in their very own spinoff prequel

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The Rats spinoff, with the no-brainer working title The Rats, will be a prequel series set before Ciri meets the Rats in Season 3. The length and structure of this spinoff are yet unknown.

At first, we heard it would be a six or eight episode series, but that was before The Witcher: Blood Origin released with a rather poor reception. Afterwards, it seems the project was reworked into something much shorter, as filming only took two months for the project. This may end up being a feature film, or alternatively three or four short episodes.

What about the story? The main villain of the Rats spinoff appears to be a witcher called Brehen, who will be portrayed by Rocky star Dolph Lundgren.

In the books, Brehen is a witcher of the School of the Cat who was erratic and violent. He was responsible for a massacre of many civilians in the town of Iello, after which he was cast out from the order. Later, Brehen became a mercenary, working as a sword for hire – against the witcher code. This is how he will most likely come across the Rats, as a mercenary hired by the boss of a crime ring.

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The official description of the project is as follows:

“Six teenage thieves must rely on their criminal skills as they plan the biggest heist of their careers against the most dangerous crime ring in the kingdom.”

It seems that the Rats will be undertaking some big heist in this prequel. We have a pretty good idea who they will be stealing from, a character who has already been mentioned in The Witcher Season 3: Dominik Bombastus Houvenaghel. Houvenaghel will likely hire Brehen to dispatch the Rats.

Houvenaghel has already been established as a big mafia boss in the show, and his goon was seen selling a young dwarf or halfling to slavery early in Season 3. When Ciri frees this slave, the goon says, “You have no idea who you have just crossed!” and tries to kill Ciri but Yennefer kills him instead. Then, the sorceress Keira says: “What have you done? That was one of Houvenaghel’s men. If you don’t wan to end up decapitated, I suggest you run, too.

Afterwards, Yennefer tells Ciri it was a mistake to free the slave: “Dominik Houvenaghel will send his cousin Leo Bonhart here to recuperate his losses with money or with blood.

The Rats will take Ciri down a dark road that ends with Leo Bonhart

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The Rats will be a very bad influence on Ciri. In the books, Ciri becomes a willing member, committing various crimes with the Rats, including theft, vandalism, and murder. This is Ciri’s “dark side” phase in the novels, and for that reason, many book readers don’t like it. Fortunately, it doesn’t last too long. The Rats arc ends with Leo Bonhart.

Just a few days ago, we were able to uncover the first major casting news of The Witcher Season 4: Sharlto Copely (District 9, Elysium) will portray the violent mercenary Bonhart in the Rats spinoff and in Season 4.

In the spinoff, it will probably be a little cameo as Copley wasn’t too heavily involved, we heard. Our guess is that he will have an encounter with Brehen, after Brehen fails Houvenaghel.

For Season 4, we are assuming Copley’s Bonhart will be chasing after the Rats as a direct result of the events in the spinoff. Then, his iconic scene from the books will happen, and Ciri’s storyline will take another surprising turn which we will not spoil here.

The Witcher Season 3 is available on Netflix with The Rats prequel in post-production and The Witcher: Sirens of the Deep anime by Studio Mir is far in production. Stay tuned to Redanian Intelligence and do pop into our Discord server to join in on The Witcher conversation.

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