“A fitting end huh, Roach?”
After eight episodes, the first season of The Witcher is at an end. Along the way it became the biggest show in the world, something I’m not sure anyone anticipated. But how did it wrap it all up? Was it a satisfying conclusion? I’d argue that by illuminating some of the details missing from the books, and because of that touching final scene, it was a huge success.
The sacking of Cintra was a huge loss of life, and brought all manner of monsters out of the woodwork – human and inhuman alike. But there’s also good people left, like the man Geralt meets on the road out of Cintra, who he intially identifies as a grave robber. The man is in fact burying the bodies, out of respect for the lives lost. Geralt is unsurprisingly sneering about this and leaves the man in the woods, after warning him about the dangers that a mass grave brings. And, being a Witcher, he’s 100% correct and the man is attacked by necrophages. But Geralt isn’t the emotionless husk people think, as we’ve come to suspect over the past seven episodes, and returns and saves the man. What ensues is a mad melee as Geralt attempts to fend off the monsters. He’s successful, but not before taking a nasty bite on his thigh, a fatal wound. He collapses in the camp.
Obviously he’s not dead. He’s the Witcher of the title, they won’t finish him off in the first season. But after a season of inhuman skills and talents that have shown him to be near invincible, it’s worth reminding the audience that he definitely isn’t. He’s tough, but not that tough. Luckily, another theme of the show is that people aren’t all bad and in keeping with this, the man loads Geralt into his cart and saves his life. As he’s coming in and out of consciousness, Geralt has a few flashbacks about his childhood, a hazy time from before he undertook The Trial of the Grasses and became a Witcher. The key thing to note is that his mum is a sorceress – people who are usually infertile. And she seemingly gave him up to be a Witcher, stranding him in the woods like Tod in The Fox and the Hound.
As Geralt is having his dark night of the soul, Yennefer is fighting for her life on Sodden Hill, with the few mages who were willing to help. In the story this episode is based on, the Battle for Sodden Hill is mentioned as something that’s already taken place, as Geralt goes to the site of the battle to see if Yennefer fell. But here it’s a top-notch fantasy battle, as we get the best look yet at the magic of the world. The Brotherhood is already on the backfoot, as Nilfgaard are willing to use the dodgy magic that others aren’t. They put up a good fight at first, but Nilfgaard whittle them down to the last few mages with some really nasty tricks (like worms in the ear).
It comes down to Yen, naturally. Tissaia encourages her to release her inner chaos. We’ve been told over the past seven hours that Yennefer is unnaturally powerful and gifted but we haven’t really seen it yet. But this is it, the payoff, as Yen wipes the floor with thousands of Nilfgaardians with an incredibly powerful flame spell, sending plumes of fire from her hands and burning the surrounding area into a desolate waste. It’s unclear where she went or what happened to her as a result of this. The idea of the chaos magic on the show is that you have to give something to conjure something, meaning magic weakens the user. After a spell like that, Yennefer must have lost something huge.
I’m not sure what Vilgefortz is up to. The charismatic warrior mage is initially very cool, as he uses the confusion of the battle to take on Cahir directly in a really cool sword fight. Sadly he loses. It feels almost like he’s not good enough to be a proper mage, but also not good enough to be a warrior – despite his armour (that other mages criticised him for last episode). It’s that, or he relies too much on the old “Bound Sword” spell. But more important than the fight, or his especially nasty looking tumble down the hill, is that he isn’t strictly a good guy. In the aftermath of the battle, we see him bludgeoning one of his allies to death. Whether this is him being a double agent, or perhaps he just has serious issues or his own nefarious agenda, is yet to be seen. Maybe he wants Ciri for himself? But Mahesh Jadu is a good presence as Vilgefortz so I’m open to seeing where his story goes.
After her breakdown last episode, Ciri absolutely destroyed her attackers, impaling more than a couple and sending the others flying. It’s clear that her power is dangerous, possibly even more so than her mother’s. Luckily, in a parallel to Geralt’s story, people aren’t all bad, and Zola from the previous episode (Anna-Louise Plowman) comes along and takes her home. At first it seems that Ciri might almost fit in with this family. It’s nothing special, but she’d have a roof over her head, a bed, and food. But destiny gets in the way, as always. Her and Geralt are destined to be together, and there’s nothing she can do to escape it. As she’s sleeping, she hear’s Geralt calling for Yennefer in one of his hallucinations. The two are linked and he’s close.
In fact, Geralt’s guardian angel is the husband of Zola, the woman that saved Ciri. Destiny is funny like that. As Geralt arrives at their home, he overhears the couple discussing the young refugee that Zola had taken in. Sensing Ciri, he runs into the woods. She comes running to him and they hug. In the story, there was a lot of talking here, about destiny etc. But here it’s shown entirely through the acting. Henry Cavill’s face when he sees Ciri and holds her is wonderful. Here’s a man for who emotions are basically a foreign language, almost brought to tears by his child of surprise, after everything that’s happened. It’s a lovely scene – and a great idea to end it there.
Overall, a fitting ending to a great first season. It’s not perfect – the dialogue can be a bit exposition-heavy sometimes, some good scenes are lost from the original stories, and I’m not denying that it might be difficult to follow. But I think it’s so original, so unlike any other fantasy show, that I can completely understand why it’s taken off as it has. And as an adaptation, it’s staggering. The original stories are barely connected, acting as standalone adventures except for a few recurring characters. To make a show out of these stories, and ensure that it feels connected and that the characters learn and grow throughout, is a testament to the hard work behind the scenes.
Now, if only 2021 would hurry up. Until then, good luck on The Path.
Reviewed by Jack