A Comprehensive Guide to Netflix’s The Witcher

The Witcher is a drama series based on the originally Polish books by author Andrzej Sapkowski. The show adapted the first two books of the saga, The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny, and focuses mainly on Geralt of Rivia as well as a handful of other stable characters. For anyone who has not read about the show or has actually read the books, the plot and characters are, undoubtedly, beyond confusing. In case you decide that appreciating Henry Cavill in all his glory as rugged and silver-haired Geralt isn’t enough (although no body blames you if that’s all you do), let’s go over some key questions and details that will hopefully make your experience more straightforward.

So, what even is a Witcher?

Put simply, a Witcher is a monster hunter available for hire, with the term itself referring to both a person as well as a profession. Witchers are rare mutants, created through a combination of science and magic, who have improved healing, ability to see in the dark, and supernatural strength among their mutated characteristics. Because of their mutations, all Witchers are able to drink certain elixirs, too toxic for normal humans, which permit them special traits to fare better in combat.

As seen with Geralt, a Witcher has several trademark traits. First is their silver medallion, worn around the neck, which vibrates whenever there is a monster nearby or it senses the use of magic. Second, their ability to use simply magic spells, called Signs. And, lastly, their silver swords as silver is most harmful to monsters.

And how many are there?

A specific number is not stated, but it is discussed how Witchers are a dying breed.

Okay, but where is this set?

With some of the individual stories taking place in specific locations, like Blaviken or Cintra, a lot of the time the location is unknown, with a character wandering through a random village or forest. 

The overall setting is referred to as the Continent, a land filled with magical beings likes elves and dwarves, creatures like vampires and werewolves, and things from folktales like faeries. There are also things that came to be only in Sapkowski’s universe -- like a Witcher.

Who are the main characters and what do I have to know?

With a few minor characters playing reoccurring roles, there are many names and faces you need to keep track of. But the most important ones are the three who are at the center of each timeline present in the season: Geralt of Rivia, Yennefer of Vengerbeg, and Cirillia, princess of Cintra.

Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher but a unique one. In the process of his ‘transformation’, Geralt was exposed to additional testing which resulted in his having more abilities than any normal Witcher and also the turning of his hair to white. Geralt’s story line takes place over approximately 20 years, through which he is shown hunting various monsters and taking on multiple adventures.

Yennefer of Vengerbeg was born a hunchback and is quarter elf. She is a powerful sorceress who is trying to find a way to put an end to her sterility. Her timeline spans roughly 70 years, showing her become a sorceress and her life intertwine with Geralt’s.

Cirilia, or Ciri, is the granddaughter of Queen Calanthe and the heir to the kingdom of Cintra. Although a main character in the show, Ciri is only mentioned once in The Last Wish, as the unborn child to her mother Pavetta, becoming a character in The Sword of Destiny. Her story spans a mere 2 weeks and is the only one taking place completely in the present.

 

A CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF BIG EVENTS

Yennefer’s journey to become a sorceress is shown in episodes 2 and 3. She is bought from her abusive stepfather by Tissaia de Vries, who enrolls her in her magic school Aretuza. The series dedicates time to show how Yennefer learns, but soon jumps ahead to her physical transformation into a full-fledged sorceress** and her joining the royal court of Aedirn. 

Geralt’s origin is shown in the season finale and, although remaining brief, does offer up lots of missing parts of his story. Geralt was abandoned by his mother, the sorceress Visenna, and left in the care of the Witcher Vesemir.

We have a look into both Yennefer’s and Geralt’s lives in episode 1 through 3. Yennefer is shown abandoning her life in court and instead searching for a way to have children. While Geralt battles and defeats multiple monsters.

In one of his jobs, Geralt becomes entangled in the Law of Surprise. This is actually the short story from The Last Wish, in which Geralt attends a ball in Cinatra on Queen Calanthe’s request. Calanthe is trying to find a fitting suitor for her daughter Pavetta and does not reveal why Geralt was asked to attend. After a series of events in quick succession, Geralt is offered the Law of Surprise, from which the payment turns out to be Pavetta’s daughter, Ciri. 

Yennefer and Geralt meet when Geralt fishes out a djinn from a river, setting it loose and injuring Jaskier, his companion, in the process. Geralt tracks down Yennefer to have her help in saving Jaskier, a task which escalates to them two in battle with the djinn and Geralt’s last wish binding him to Yennefer in order to save her life.

The fall of Cintra is depicted step by step through episodes 1 to 7, beginning with Nilfgaard invading the Kingdom and resulting in the death of Queen Calanthe. Ciri is forced to flee and goes in search of Geralt at her grandmother’s request.

Ciri’s search for Geralt is shown throughout the entire season.

The Battle of Sodden Hill is in the final episode, as Yennefer and other powerful mages attempt to battle alongside humans to defeat Nilfgaard. After a series of devastating events, Yennefer unleashes her full power.

Geralt and Ciri meet at least in the final scene of episode 8.

KEY DETAILS THAT YOU (PROBABLY) MISSED

    Ciri inherited her mother’s powerful magic scream and every time she screams, there is an underlying sound of a lion’s roar. This is most likely because a lion is the family crest and, since her grandmother is the Lioness, Ciri is often referred to as the lion cub of Cintra.

    If you have read the books, you probably wondered how “Dandelion” turned into “Jaskier”. Actually, Jaskier is the original name of the character in Polish, so how did that turn into “Dandelion”?

    In every episode, there is a title card with a different symbol. The symbols are different in each episode and reveal quite a lot about the events about to take place. For instance, in the first episode, the symbol is of a solar eclipse and the main story features Renfri, who as born under a black sun. Like the symbol, the theme song, “Geralt of Rivia”, is different each time it is played, made to fit the events to follow.

    Elder speech is based on a variety of languages mixed together, including Irish, Welsh, English, German, and Latin.

    Henry Cavill did every one of his stunts as Geralt and also did not use any stand-ins for any of his scenes. And even when most extras carried fake swords, Cavill carried a real one which he helped to design and customize. 

    Season 2 is on the way! We know that Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri will return in addition to Jaskier (who will, finger’s crossed, give us some more catchy songs. Or any song really, as long as he sings). Some new characters, like the Witcher Vesemir and the monster Nivellen, who appears in one of the short stories in The Last Wish, will also be introduced. The season isn’t expected to return until 2021 but I’m looking forward to the further mind-boggling execution of events and Geralt’s conversations with Roach, that’s for sure. 

 

*Although both Geralt and Yennefer are depicted over the course of decades, neither Witchers nor sorceresses show physical signs of aging. As such, the easiest way to stay on top of the shifting timeline is by keeping note of whenever Cintra is mentioned because, as a general rule of thumb, the better Cintra is doing, the earlier we are in plot.

**All sorceresses who join the Brotherhood become beautiful and enchanting women at the expense of giving up their ability to have children.