“I’m going to save you both a lot of hurt with a little pain now.”
In the best episode yet, Geralt is recruited by a mysterious but charming figure to accompany him on a dragon hunt. Initially wary of the idea, he quickly changes his mind when he discovers Yennefer will be going on the hunt too. Elsewhere in time, Ciri confronts the doppler and things get out of hand for Cahir.
One thing that you have to wrap your head around with this show is the way episodes are presented. In most shows, one episode follows straight on from the previous one. Here, a lot of story happens between episodes. So you have to pay attention to keep up. After all, this first series is adapting two short story collections that are barely connected at best. In this episode, time has passed between Geralt and Yen’s tumultuous first meeting from the previous episode. The two have gone their separate ways since the incident with the djinn and this episode sees them reconnecting. Maybe the show is asking too much of people, but I don’t think so. As long as you listen to what the characters are saying, it’s not tricky – just different.
More or less straight away we’re introduced to the strange man who goes by the name Borch Three Jackdaws (Ron Cook). He’s an older guy, perpetually accompanied by two fiercely loyal Zerrikanian warriors, who enlists Geralt’s help in hunting a dragon. He explains how a green dragon was spotted by locals, who proceeded to chase it for its treasure horde, but succeeded only in wounding it. Now, four teams have been assembled to hunt it down, with a great reward promised to the victor. It’s like The Great Race but they’re hunting a dragon. It’s a hell of a plot, but Geralt flat-out refuses. He doesn’t hunt dragons. But that all changes when he finds out that Yennefer is part of an opposing dragon-hunting team.
From this point onwards, the episode follows the short story “The Bounds of Reason” pretty closely. The teams; Geralt and friends; Yennefer and her knight; a group of rowdy dwarfs; and a pretty nasty group of hunters called “The Reavers” all make their way up the mountain to the dragon’s lair. I think the decision to decrease the size of this group (and force them off horseback) was a great change from the original story. It just about works there, but even then I struggled to keep track of everyone. But here it’s much clearer, and the characters are fun, if typical, fantasy archetypes. But it’s the only thing about this episode that is typical, because the rest of it is batshit insane – but we’ll get to that.
The episode acts as a very effective device to further the Yen and Geralt relationship, and the scenes between the two are top notch. We get the idea that these two are drawn to one another, and are drawn to hurt one another too. But their bond is strengthened throughout the episode, and the two have some real chemistry. They’re both in the same boat; monsters against their will. Sadly, Geralt’s wish from the previous episode is also revealed. As I mentioned in the last episode, his wish is unclear but he has linked himself to Yen in some way, he’s tied together their fates or destinies. He claims it was to save her life, which is true. But that doesn’t change the fact that it definitely wasn’t entirely consensual – so Yennefer’s reaction of leaving him is 100% justified in my opinion.
There are just a number of really solid character interactions throughout this episode, that both deepen our understanding of the characters and aid in a bit of world-building. The best one sees our heroes around a campfire, just talking. They discuss the dragons, their history and rarity (green are common, black isn’t, gold is the rarest – but are more likely just a myth), and the upcoming war with Nilfgaard. It all places the story we’re watching into the wider context of the world, helping to bridge the gap between all the disparate timelines we’ve been watching too. I also find myself smiling whenever Jaskier speaks. I don’t think he’s had a dud line yet. He’s the perfect mix of likeable and annoying; as in he is an annoying presence to Geralt, but he’s hilarious to watch.
The craziness really takes place at the end, in a twist which will divide people. After falling to his death on a perilous mountain path, Borch returns. Only he is a dragon, a golden one in fact. I honestly thought they’d leave this bit out, because it felt wacky in the original – but I’m so glad they didn’t. The gold, telepathic dragon with the voice of Parker from Thunderbirds shouldn’t exist. But it does and I’m here for it. This is the show in a nutshell. It’s dark, gritty fantasy, but it doesn’t skimp on the fantasy – something most shows dial down. I want giant spiders, dragons, dopplers, witches, etc. This sort of thing can be serious and dramatic and fun – and The Witcher proves it.
I think the design is really cool for the dragons too. They have a skinnier appearance, almost chicken-like, like something from an old book of folklore that Dwight Schrute would have a copy of. But I will honestly lose my mind if I have to read one more essay on Reddit about the difference between wyverns and dragons. No one cares, guys. I’m also a big fan of the final fight in this episode, another aspect I’ve seen complaints about. Sure, Yen should probably use more magic but she’s had years to get good with a sword, so that’s hardly a surprising element of her character. The combined Aard/kiss was really cool too, as the two embraced and turned Geralt’s Witcher-y signs up to 11.
I’ve really only skimmed Ciri’s sections of the episodes in past reviews. That’s mainly because her story moves a lot slower than Geralt so there’s less to say. But with this one, I’m just a tad confused. She escapes doppler Mousesack with a silver dagger (showing her willingness to kill too, something Geralt might not appreciate) and runs away. Only we then see that Ciri was caught, only it’s not Ciri it’s the doppler, but wait now the doppler is Cahir fighting with himself, and Ciri has been captured. It’s tricky to keep up with, or I guess my problem is more that the doppler’s motivations are unclear. Why bother going to Cahir? Why not just take Ciri if that’s what he wanted?
But I will say that I love the appearance of the doppler when it’s revealed, it looks very cool. The fight with Cahir vs Cahir is also really good. Eamon Farren continues to demonstrate that he is far and away the weirdest dude on TV. And I do like how, when presented with an inn full of potential dopplers, Cahir massacres them all. Says a lot about the guy. And despite this, I’m getting the impression that there’s a lot more to Nilfgaard than just being bad guys in black.
Overall, despite the confusion around Ciri’s scenes, she’s heading in the right direction towards Geralt now and I appreciate the forward momentum with her plotline. For my money, the bulk of episode in which Geralt and company hunt the dragon is the best we’ve seen of the show. It’s weird. It’s very different. And it’s fun! Whatever your complaints with the show, you can’t argue that it’s not original.
Reviewed by Jack