DISCLAIMER: This The Witcher recap contains more SPOILERS than Geralt’s kill count. Continue reading with caution: you have been warned!
It’s appropriate that we begin this The Witcher series about a monster-hunter with Geralt…well, monster-hunting. In a gloomy swamp, our titular witcher hacks and slashes at an insectoid kikimora. For a while, the monster seems to have Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) pinned underwater without his sword, but the witcher manages to get back on his feet and end the fight with a stab to the monster’s head. As Geralt trudges to shore, he sees a deer…badly wounded on its side by the kikimora. “Today’s not your day,” he apologizes, and the screen goes black as we hear a sword slash.
Geralt rides out of the swamp and into a town. As he steps inside a busy tavern at breakfast-time, the noise and bustle immediately comes to a stop as everyone stares at him. Geralt asks the barmaid where to find the alderman, but the innkeeper and a local band of thugs tell Geralt he’s not welcome and threaten the mutant. At first, the scene seems to be shaping up to Geralt’s bloody introduction in The Last Wish, but the hostile townsfolk are called off by a beautiful woman named Renfri (Emma Appleton). She apologizes for her friends, and shares a couple beers.
Their conversation is friendly (dare I say, flirtatious?), yet cautious, as she asks what brought Geralt to their town: Blaviken? (Yes, fans of the books and games: THAT Blaviken…but we’ll get to that later.) Geralt avoids the question.
Before the conversation can go further, a girl wanders up to Geralt and asks how much for the kikimora head tied to his horse’s saddle? Geralt leaves with the girl, who brags that she killed a rat this morning with her breakfast fork. This adorable sociopath-in-training is Marilka (Mia McKenna-Bruce), the alderman’s daughter. Marilka informs Geralt that her father won’t pay for the kikimora: the alderman had assumed the monster in the swamp was a graveir. Marilka claims that kikimoras are useful (“Population control,” she says.).
Marilka offers to show Geralt to Master Irion (the town’s wizard), who will likely pay Geralt for the kikimora remains. As they walk, Marilka interviews Geralt about his career as a witcher, as she wishes a girl like her could become a witcher and leave boring old Blaviken and its boring old market.
As Geralt approaches the door to Master Irion’s tower, we hear the humming of his witcher’s medallion: magic is near. Geralt’s hand passes right through the door with a chiming sound, proving the door to be nothing more than an illusory enchantment. As Geralt passes through, we are greeted with a bizarre sight. A courtyard filled with naked women, picking and eating fruits. Compared to the cloudy exterior of Blaviken, the courtyard is bright and sunny…with an enormous tree with pink leaves floating in the center.
An elderly, well-dressed man with a staff greets Geralt and introduces himself as a sorcerer named Master Stregobor (Lars Mikkelsen). Irion created the tower, but he has been dead for two centuries and Stregobor has taken Irion’s name to honor him. Geralt calls out Stregobor for his lie: Stregobor is obviously in hiding, using an alias. Marilka works for Stregobor from time-to-time, and she brought Geralt because Stregobor needs a “monster” killed: Renfri.
The scene then cuts to the capital city of Cintra, where some street urchins are gambling with knucklebones for a loaf of bread. A girl pauses before taking her turn: is someone watching her? That’s when Cintran horsemen ride up, and all but the girl run away.
Cut to the girl cleaned up, in a dress, and standing next to the Queen of Cintra. This is Princess Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon (Freya Allan): heir to the throne and the “Lion Cub” of Cintra. With “Ciri” are her grandparents: Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May) and her second husband, King Eist Tuirseach of Skellige (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson). As Queen Calanthe bestows military commendations, Eist mutters some dirty jokes (I agree with Ciri: “Gross.”) and Ciri blames the Cintran guards for losing at knucklebones. Queen Calanthe shushes them both, as Ciri and her grandfather smirk at each other.
Back in Blaviken, Stregobor tells Geralt about the Curse of the Black Sun. According to a prophecy, Lilit (a demon goddess of the night) would destroy the human race. The signs for the goddess’s arrival would be a full solar eclipse and 60 women wearing gold crowns. Geralt sarcastically claims it can’t be true because it doesn’t rhyme: all accurate predictions rhyme. According to Stregobor, 60 princesses were born during this “Black Sun” eclipse, each with horrible internal mutations.
Stregobor had them locked in towers as he tried to cure them, but inevitably the girls all had to be killed. When Geralt asks about the *internal* mutations, Stregobor casually states that he autopsied the corpses afterward to confirm his suspicions. Geralt responds that innocent women are dead…but not Renfri.
Stregobor cites Princess Renfri’s childhood torture and murder of animals and servants as proof. Fearing for Renfri’s siblings, Stregobor and Renfri’s stepmother ordered a man to follow Renfri into the woods and kill her. The man was found in the brush…with a royal brooch jammed into his ear. Two years later, Renfri reappeared as a highwayman: robbing and murdering merchants on the roads of the dwarven kingdom Mahakam. Renfri’s skill with a sword is such that it’s said that no man can defy her.
When Geralt asks why Stregobor hasn’t killed Renfri himself, Stregobor claims that Renfri’s mutation makes her resistant to magic. Renfri has been tracking Stregobor for years to claim her revenge, and now she has finally found him in Blaviken.
Though Stregobor offers to pay Geralt anything, Geralt refuses. Stregobor insists that Renfri is indeed a monster and killing the “Last of Lilit’s Women” is the lesser evil. Geralt replies, “Evil is evil, Stregobor. Lesser, greater, middling: it’s all the same…If it is a choice between one evil or another, I prefer not to choose at all.”
Back in Cintra, the royal family hosts a banquet. But Calanthe and Eist are in no mood to celebrate. Eist worries that the Nilfgaardian Empire intends to invade Cintra, but Calanthe brushes off his concern. For over two decades, the Northern Realms have been at war with Nilfgaard, but the south has not expanded further north than Nazair in all that time. If Nilfgaard did expand northward, taking Sodden would be more advantageous for them, and Cintra has more knights and Eist’s 50 Skelliger ships.
Calanthe tries to silence any further talk of war due to Ciri’s youth, but does advise Ciri to keep her sword close and to keep moving. After forcing an uncooperative Ciri to dance with an admiring young guest, Queen Calanthe is informed by a soldier that Nilfgaard is indeed on its way to Cintra.
In Blaviken, Geralt gathers herbs outside town for his potion-making. Renfri arrives and asks if the girl from earlier that morning took Geralt to see Stregobor? Renfri admits that she wants to kill Stregobor. We then get to hear Renfri’s side of the story. Yes, a thug was sent into the woods to kill Renfri, and Renfri killed him…but not before the man raped and robbed Renfri. The man had actually let Renfri go, but Renfri pursued and murdered him. Renfri is indeed a thief and a killer, but only to survive.
Geralt realizes that Renfri wants him to kill Stregobor for her, and Renfri realizes that Stregobor asked Geralt to kill her too. Geralt asks if Renfri is the monster that Stregobor claims. Renfri asks Geralt why he doesn’t kill the people who attack Geralt for being a mutant “monster”. Geralt insists that would make him the monster they claim he is.
Geralt says that refusing to forgive Stregobor or to renounce her revenge would make Renfri a monster, but she has options. Renfri can stay in Blaviken and seek her revenge, or she can leave Blaviken and start a new life.
Calanthe decided not to inform Ciri about the Nilfgaardian invasion, and she and Eist march the Cintran army to the Marnadal Stairs at Cintra’s southern borders. Ciri waits in her room in the capital for two days…completely unaware of the war her grandparents are fighting.
The Battle of Marnadal is a disaster for Cintra. The battle is truly lost when more Nilfgaardian reinforcements arrive. When Calanthe is informed that the 50 ships were caught in a storm and the Skelligers will not arrive at the battle, Calanthe refuses to surrender. Eist agrees, but he is suddenly struck through the eye by an arrow fired by a Nilfgaardian commander. The grieving Calanthe rushes toward the Black Knight.
Back in the capital, Ciri hears the nobles worry about the approaching Nilfgaardians. When she hears her grandmother, Ciri rushes to Calanthe’s bedchamber. A wounded Calanthe informs Ciri that Cintra is under attack, and Nilfgaard has begun to attack the city. As Nilfgaard rushes at the castle gates, the court druid Mousesack (Adam Levy) casts a protective barrier around it.
Outside Blaviken, Renfri reveals to Geralt that she agrees with his ultimatum: tomorrow, she will leave Blaviken for good. Geralt and Renfri spend the night together. It is a passionate and hypnotic scene, making one wonder who exactly is doing the hypnotizing?
In Cintra, the Nilfgaardians have constantly bombarded the castle with arrows and succeed in breaching Mousesack’s barrier. Mousesack reminds Calanthe that “he” is still at the gate-keep and “destiny might still side with us”. Calanthe tells Mousesack it’s time, and he leaves. Calanthe explains to Ciri that Nilfgaard takes no prisoners in war: everyone in Cintra is being killed. The “Slaughter of Cintra” is aptly named.
Mousesack returns and says “he” has left. Calanthe tells Mousesack to take Ciri and get out of the city. Ciri refuses to leave her grandmother, and her scream shakes the room. However, eventually Ciri relents and is told by Calanthe to find her “destiny”: Geralt of Rivia. The Cintran soldiers begin distributing poison to the banquet guests, as Ciri flees the city. Mousesack tries to discuss what Ciri did, but Calanthe is aware of Ciri’s power and claims it is why Nilfgaard has invaded.
Mousesack stays behind to buy Ciri more time to escape, but Ciri’s guard is killed by the Black Knight and she is captured. Queen Calanthe, the Lioness of Cintra, staggers to the window, looks out at her kingdom one last time, and then falls to her death.
The next morning, Geralt wakes up alone and rushes to the market. There, he is greeted by Renfri’s gang. Renfri has gone ahead to Stregobor, and her men give Geralt a message: “You have to choose the lesser evil.” As they raise their weapons, Geralt realizes a fight is coming.
In the books and the games, one of Geralt’s more infamous titles is the “Butcher of Blaviken”. Finally…I understand why he truly deserves that title. What transpires is an elegant dance of death (or at least some of the best fight choreography in film and television). I had to time it to be sure, but the ballads did not lie: the first five men died in just ten seconds. Less than thirty seconds later, the other four men are dead as well.
It is then that Renfri arrives, with a sword at Marilka’s throat. Renfri declares that Geralt has chosen, and that she will kill everyone in Blaviken until Stregobor comes out of his tower. Geralt tries to use the Axii spell to convince Renfri to leave Blaviken, to which Renfri replies that magic doesn’t work on her…but silver does. Geralt states that silver is only for monsters and tries to warn Renfri for the last time, but Renfri is intent on killing Geralt.
Stregobor didn’t lie. Renfri is very good with a sword…which is why she lasts for a full minute against Geralt. When Geralt successfully disarms her and tries to walk away, Renfri lunges with her dagger and Geralt is forced to kill her in self-defense. As Renfri dies, she mutters a prophecy to Geralt: “The girl in the woods will be with you always. She is your destiny.”
As the Black Knight rides away from the Cintran capital, Ciri screams at seeing the city burn. The sound pains the Nilfgaardian and his horse, and Ciri manages to roll away. When the Black Knight attempts to pursue, Ciri screams more…so loudly that a chasm opens in the earth. The Black Knight shouts in shock and frustration as Ciri runs away.
In Blaviken, Stregobor later arrives to confirm Renfri is dead. He tells Marilka to fetch a cart so Stregobor can perform an autopsy, but Geralt draws a sword and tells him not to touch the body. Before Geralt can kill Stregobor, the sorcerer manages to incite the crowd against the witcher. As the crowd throws stones at Geralt, Marilka coldly tells the witcher to leave.
As Geralt leaves Blaviken, a V-O repeats Renfri’s words…as the scene cuts to Ciri, running through the woods.
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