Everything You Need To Know Before Watching Netflix’s ‘The Witcher’
The Witcher comes to Netflix on December 20th. That's today! Hooray for topical content.
We've watched most of the eight-part series already, because that's the kind of thing we do around here. And you can read what we think about it on another page of this very website. One of our main takeaways from a preliminary viewing, however, is that it's a show that absolutely demands your full attention. Like: really, really listen. Do not watch with one eye, with the other on your phone.
There's a lot going on here, basically, and small but important details can get rather buried in the dialogue, or lost between high-intensity action sequences. To help you get off to the kind of start where some of the non-spoilery details are already in mind, here's a little list of things you really need to know before you settle down with episode one of The Witcher, 'The End's Beginning'.
Who is Geralt of Rivia?
Geralt of Rivia - who doesn't actually hail from the city of Rivia - is the witcher of the show's title, played by Henry Cavill. But he's not the witcher, which is to say that there are others like him, as readers of the books and players of the games will know (but newcomers to this show maybe won't).
Geralt is a monster-hunter for hire, who wanders the show's setting, The Continent (more on that, shortly), dispensing with troublesome beasts in exchange for coin. He was born human, but became a witcher after undergoing training and (painful, sometimes deadly) mutations at Kaer Morhen, the mountain fortress home of one witcher faction, the School of the Wolf. This is why he wears a wolf medallion around his neck.
As a witcher, Geralt is stronger than a normal human, with greater stamina and increased speed and agility. He can take more punishment, and heal quicker. His body is criss-crossed by scars from battles with various creatures. He uses potions to boost his natural abilities, and carries two swords with him (albeit not both strapped to his back, as seen in the games). One is steel, for men, and the other is silver, for monsters. He travels the land on his horse, a mare called Roach, the same name he's given all the horses he's ever owned.
Geralt is destined to meet Ciri, a princess of the region of Cintra who he has a special connection to - even when he doesn't really know it. To say more is to spoil what the first season of the show digs into - but if you've read the books and played the games, you'll be aware of the relationship between the pair and enjoy how they find their way to each other.
Who is Ciri?
Ciri - or Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon, who sometimes goes just by the name of Fiona - is a princess of the region of Cintra... Wait, I just said that. She's the granddaughter of Queen Calanthe, who we meet in episode one of the Netflix show (and, despite the fate that befalls her, we may well see her again later). Calanthe is known to her people as the Lioness of Cintra, which is why Ciri is sometimes referred to as Lion Cub.
Ciri's mother, Pavetta, plays but a small role in this Netflix adaptation, but it's worth knowing that she is (was) what is known as a Source - basically a person who is born with magical abilities, but whose powers can be incredibly difficult to control. It might be - might be - that Ciri exhibits some of these symptoms, too. Perhaps. (Again, book-readers and game-players, wink.)
In the Netflix show, Ciri is a young girl, much younger than how she appears in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt video game. For a while she travels with Dara, a new character created for the show. She's discovering herself and what she's capable of as much as she is the cruel world that she was, for a while, protected from, and is something of a vessel for the audience when it comes to understanding the threat of Nilfgaard. But, we'll get to those black ones, in just a bit.
Not in episode one, that's for sure. But don't worry, Yennefer stans - the sorceress from Vengerberg, in the region of Aedirn (there's several references to the region rather than the town in the show), is the dominant character of episode two, 'Four Marks'.
Her evolution from a shy, bullied hunchback to a powerful magic wielder, who absolutely uses her beauty to twist men around her sparkling fingers, is the main overarching narrative thread of the series' first four episodes. When the show's creators said that Yennefer - played here by Anya Chalotra - was a very central character, they weren't kidding. She might be largely absent in the video games, until the third entry, but Netflix is putting her front and centre of its action.
A little warning, however: if body horror isn't your thing, maybe keep your eyes closed during some of her close-ups in episode three.
Where's Triss for that matter?
The other best-known sorceress in the Witcher series is entirely absent through the first couple of episodes, but plays a vital role in the events of the third, 'Betrayer Moon'. This is where Netflix gives us our first glimpse of both Triss Merigold, advisor to King Folest of Temeria, and of a striga, a deadly being that is actually a young woman cursed before her birth.
In Witcher lore, there's only one substantial account of a striga encounter, and it's this same one depicted in the show. And it's here that Triss helps Geralt understand that not all monsters are there to be slain - but his battle with it is a highlight of the show's combat-focused sequences.
What's The Continent?
You know how Lord of the Rings has Middle-earth and Game of Thrones has Westeros (and Essos)? Well, the Witcher franchise has The Continent. That's it, that's its name: The Continent. It's a relatively narrow-looking strip of land, divided into a multitude of regions, each of which is ruled by its own king or queen. To the east, the mountains of Haakland, the mysterious realm of Zerrikania and the Korath Desert. To the west, the Great Sea and the Isles of Skellige.
For watchers of the show, it's maybe helpful to know that Cintra - a major location in episode one - is located south-east of Skellige, around halfway up (or down, I guess) The Continent. To its north is Brokilon Forest, also known as the Forest of Death, an area that Ciri will soon enough be called towards. Beyond that is Temeria, where King Folest rules (and that striga hunts). To its south is the huge Nilfgaardian Empire, the most powerful single force on The Continent, which frequently pushes north to conquer its neighbours. Episode one sees Nilfgaardians and Cintrans clash in pretty epic style.
There's no official map of The Continent available, but plenty of fan-made versions are available online. Gamers will know a few of its key cities well - Novigrad, a huge port settlement between Temeria and Redania, is a major location in The Witcher 3, while Flotsam, Vergen and Loc Muinne are all featured in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, and located on the Pontar river that effectively acts as the border between Temeria and Redania. The Temerian capital city of Vizima and the lake it gives its name to are chapter settings for the very first Witcher game.
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So, what's with all the magic?
Very, very briefly: it's sort of all down to the Conjunction of the Spheres. This brought together several dimensions, leading to certain creatures crossing between them into other worlds. In the world of the Witcher, the Conjunction occurs some 1,500 years before the books begin, and it's because of this particular cataclysm that humans entered the realm of the elves. Yep, despite their persecution - outlined as early as episode two of the Netflix show - elves are the original inhabitants of The Continent.
The Conjunction also brought magic into the world - but not a magic than can be used by anyone. Those wishing to master it must study hard, and learn to tame the chaos that exists at its heart - and the Netflix show doesn't shy away from showing how this can go wrong. As well as sorceresses and mages, witchers can learn to use some magic - which they call signs. Geralt uses one of these signs, a telekinetic blast called Aard, in the first episode, to push away adversaries; and later, in episode three, to smash through a floor.
What is Nilfgaard?
The baddies - sort of. Nilfgaard is an imperialist state which seemingly will stop at nothing to make all of The Continent its own. This means it's started a whole heap of wars, and the Netflix show details its approach to... negotiating with Cintra. Inevitably, pretty much everyone north of Nilfgaard hates the place.
At the centre of Nilfgaard is its capital, also called Nilfgaard - and it's from here, the city of golden towers as its residents call it, that the region's rulers command their well-trained troops. Foremost amongst these rulers is the Emreis family - players of The Witcher 3 will immediately think of Emhyr var Emreis, played by Charles Dance, who claims to be Ciri's father. Aaaaand to say anything more there, in regard to the TV show, is wading into mega spoiler territory. Something, something, an Australian term for a toilet, something.
What's the history of these warring factions?
When it comes to the books, and the Netflix show, episode one depicts the start of the first Northern War, between Nilfgaard and the kingdoms to its north. The Nilfgaardians are merciless, but again, to say much more means spoilers. From Cintra they move onto Sodden Hill - where this first war rather hits the skids, as Nilfgaard is forced to retreat, albeit after absolutely wasting the city of Sodden itself.
The second Northern War was/is rather different. Here, the north itself decided to take action against Nilfgaard, at the same time as Nilfgaard was planning to resume its hostilities against its neighbours. The Battle of Brenna, on the Chotla river just east of Brokilon Forest, marked the decisive moment of the conflict, with the north again chasing the Nilfgaardians back to their southern homelands. Nevertheless, it was during this period that Cintra became a part of Nilfgaard, after the events of the previous war.
And the third Northern War is the one players can bring an end to in The Witcher 3 - do you side with Temeria and Redania, or with Nilfgaard? And what does that mean for Ciri? These are questions only your actions in the game will determine.
Who is Renfri?
Right, back to the show. And the books. Renfri barely gets a mention in the Witcher video games, but she's a massive early character in the Netflix show. Hailing from the county of Creyden, she's actually a princess by birth - but as she was born during an eclipse, certain mages decided that she must have been struck by the Curse of the Black Sun - an affliction that effectively turned 60 girls into harbingers of the downfall of the human race. Big stakes, so these girls were hunted and killed - but Renfri escaped, changed her name to Shrieke, and struck up a companionship with seven gnomes. Together, they pillaged and plundered, murdered and tortured. Yes, she's kind of a deadlier Snow White.
When Geralt meets Renfri in 'The End's Beginning', what follows is essentially the short story 'The Lesser Evil', as featured in the collection, The Last Wish. So, if you've read that, you know how this particular meeting of witcher and royalty is going to end. But it won't be the only episode in which you hear her name.
Who is Stregobor?
Stregobor is who Renfri's after, in 'The End's Beginning'. He's a mage and illusionist who's found refuge in the town of Blaviken, way up in the north of The Continent. Renfri has been hunting him for no short time, as he was the one who confirmed that she was, indeed, afflicted with the Curse of the Black Sun. What happened next for Renfri wasn't nice, as she explains in the first episode - so don't be surprised if you find yourself on her side.
But Stregobor, while not a presence in the Witcher games, has a bigger part to play in the Netflix show than episode one might suggest. Keep an eye out for him and his scheming ways as the season progresses.
Oh, and if Blaviken is a name you've heard in the games, in regard to a butchering that happened there, strap in for a bloody climax to episode one.
Who is this black rider with the feathers?
This is Cahir. When we first meet him in the show, he is in pursuit of Ciri - he's the rider, the Nilfgaardian, who she most fears. But he may not be all that he seems to be, on this first impression. He's a regular in the books, so expect to see a lot, lot more of him in Netflix's adaptation.
Geralt's bard best bud will be along shortly, appearing in episode two and hanging with the witcher for the foreseeable. But for the show he's going under the name he had in the books, not the games: Jaskier. He's still every bit as adorable/annoying as he is in the games, though.
What's a kikimora?
You mean a kikimore? We've seen it in trailers, so it's no spoiler to say that Geralt comes face to face with one of The Continent's nastiest monsters - an insectoid giant that prowls swamplands, in the show's case those in the vicinity of Blaviken. These terrifying things were added to The Witcher 3 with its Blood & Wine expansion, but the version we see in the TV show has slightly more human-like facial features. It's still an absolute b*stard to get the better of, and represents Geralt's first life-or-death challenge in Netflix's The Witcher. There'll be many more to come. So, many, more.
Featured Image Credit: Netflix