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The Witcher Discussion: 'Betrayer Moon' plays with time, curses, and magical transformations
The third episode of Netflix's The Witcher navigates multiple time-jumps to connect its main characters in ways that feel fresh, authentic, and surprisingly bold.
In the present, Geralt takes on a complicated monster-hunting case involving a cursed princess, her demon daughter, and a dark secret the kingdom's desperately trying to hide. In the past, Yennefer readies for a tough initiation into Aretuza's ranks of sorceresses before battling a betrayal and taking control of her own destiny. Stay sharp, Witcher fans, this is a doozy of an episode.
Warning: This discussion contains spoilers for Season 1, Episode 3 of The Witcher.
A Cursed Princess
Alyssa: I uttered the word "YIKES" out loud multiple times watching this episode, which starts with a pretty bloody bang. A peasant boy has had his chest ripped open, and while he's bleeding out, he's telling an unnamed witcher about the creature known as the vukodlak, born from a cursed womb. The kingdom of Temeria has been terrorized by such a creature for years and their ineffectual king does nothing, allowing blood to be spilled on the reg by the violent monster. The witcher demands his price but never gets to spend it as he is killed rather quickly in his attempts. After his death, we cut to a very much alive and naked Geralt, shot in such a way to ensure that the audience knows how much work Henry Cavill's put in at the gym.
Jessica: To be fair to Henry, it's A LOT of work. While Geralt is spending *checks notes* THREE DAYS banging out his angst with a sex worker at an inn, Temeria's miners and peasants are fed up, especially when word gets back that the witcher they paid all that money to just up and vanished. When Geralt gets wind of the story, he immediately smells something fishy and leaves poor Roach at the inn as collateral until he can come back to pay his dues. I guess when you're a mutated monster hunter, blowing off steam means more than just my regular self-care routine of face masks and red wine?
Alyssa: Right. Marathon sex and unpaid hotel rooms seem to be the witcher way, but unfortunately, monsters must be slain and coin collected. He heads off to Temeria on foot and finds an angry mob who are looking to not only kill the monster but also take out the king. I'd be mad too if my countrymen were getting killed off while the king hid in his castle. The king's advisor Ostrit comes and sends the crowd away, and Geralt too, taking on an insular message that they don't need help from outsiders. As Geralt hits the road, the King's mage Triss Merigold (great name) stops him and asks for his help. She takes him to the corpses of the creature's latest kills — including the dead witcher — and Geralt realizes that they aren't dealing with a vukodlak at all. They're dealing with a Striga. And not just any Striga, but one born of the beloved and deceased Princess Adda, sister of King Foltest. Yikes.
Jessica: It's certainly a plot twist for Geralt, who deduces rather quickly that someone must've cursed Adda and that curse was passed on after her death to her daughter — because Strigas are always female. Adda was rumored to have had an affair with a peasant boy before her death but again, Geralt is surprisingly intuitive and suspects that King Foltest is the Striga's father. He's never married, never had an heir, and seems to be protecting the Striga for some reason. He's not happy about Geralt's insinuations so he banishes him, but you know our boy Geralt. He's not one for orders.
Alyssa: Geralt, while he may be of ambiguous age, has clearly been around the block a time or two, so he knows a curse when he sees one. He also apparently has a good read on incest relationships, so after talking about the creature "feeding on a petrified womb" (yikes), he gets himself kicked out of the king's court. Does this stop our determined monster killer? Absolutely not. He goes to explore the Striga's castle himself, and Triss follows him, impressed by his follow-through. Along the way, they see a portrait of Adda and Foltest as children, looking very Children of the Corn-esque, and also uncover letters from their mother to Adda that confirm Geralt's suspicions: Foltest is indeed the Striga's father and he was in love with Adda. Their mother was not on board.
An Unwelcome Assignment
Jessica: Understandable on her part, but this is where the timeline gets a bit tricky. Because this show has (rightfully) chosen to feature Yennefer early on, we're often flitting between her story and Geralt's, which means we're working in the present and the past. Yennefer's time at Aretuza is at least a few decades before Geralt's current quests, so when he discovers that Foltest and Adda were having an affair, we get a glimpse of them as children at a ball — the same ball Yennefer is preparing for when we catch up with her this episode. It's an initiation of sorts, when the sorceresses in training are paired up with their respective kings to wield their magical influence and keep the kingdoms of the Continent in check. But before the ball, Yennefer gets to have some kinky sexy time with Istredd and a makeover consultation. Queer Eye this is not.
Alyssa: It's … an odd time. After conjuring a crowd to cheer them on during sex, Yen and Istredd have a talk about their future together. Yen has been told that she is heading to Aidern to be the court's mage, so she is confident that she and Istredd can keep up whatever their relationship is after they get placed. However, because of the information that she has elven blood, Stregobor (yep, that guy's back) and the rest of The Chapter decide to send her to Nilfgaard, which Yen takes as an insult to her talents. Add that in with an uncomfortable meeting with a man who transforms the girls into whatever they want to look like for their assignments and Yennefer gets a one-two punch of bad news. After she skips the initiation ceremony, Istredd comes looking for her. It does not go well.
Jessica: The honeymoon phase is clearly over. Istredd means well when he offers for Yen to follow him around the world as he investigates old ruins, but that's his dream, not hers and he just can't seem to understand why that's not fulfilling enough for someone like Yen, who's been promised power and influence after years of study. She gets angry and defensive, he does the same, words are hurled and the break-up feels pretty final. Yen wants to be beautiful, sure, but she wants the power that beauty will give her even more. Istredd correctly guesses that no amount of beauty or power will ever fill the void inside of her. But she'll be damned if she doesn't try so Yen seeks out the sculptor, a guy who made a super bad first impression when he called her "nature's first draft." He's not supposed to transform her, but he will because … ego? And she wants to do it without the magical herbs putting her to sleep. Can our girl pick the easy way just once?
Alyssa: I have to say that I really loved Yen and Istredd's fight. I think The Witcher is doing some pretty radical things with women and their quest for power. I think on a different show *cough cough Game of Thrones*, Yennefer's extreme thirst for power would be shamed more. However, I don't think we're supposed to look at her with judgment. Power is what she wants and she is willing to undergo a horrific transformation in her quest to get it. It's a brutal watch, and I honestly don't think I've ever seen a female character quite like her before.
Jessica: Right? And that scene, watching her willingly suffer for this thing she's always wanted … it was powerful and done so well. You're right, another show would've shamed or trivialized Yen's longing for beauty and power but The Witcher just accepts this as a facet of this truly complex woman and presents it without any strings attached. I straight up cheered when Yennefer walked into that ball and took control of her narrative. She was gorgeous, yes, but she was confident and strong and that's what I've been wanting for her since the beginning. Honestly, I pity anyone who gets in her way on this show.
Alyssa: Yes, Yennefer is leaving Istredd, Aretuza, and all of her haters behind to get the assignment she wants. We have no choice but to stan. Meanwhile, back in the past, Geralt and Triss bring the letters to Ostrit to inform him that the curse was most likely from the Queen and the true nature of Adda and Foltest's relationship. Ostrit pretends to be in the dark, but after he lies his ass off, Geralt tells him that he smelled him all over Adda's sheets (yikes again). Indeed, Ostrit was in love with Adda, jealous of Foltest, and hoping for more, so after Adda fell pregnant, he bathed in some chicken blood, did an elven chant, and cursed Foltest. While he was trying to direct all of his rage at the king, he unknowingly cursed Adda in the process, leading to the creation of the Striga. Dudes who feel sexually slighted really do the most.
Jessica: And of course, they muck it all up. Here's a pro-tip: If you've never attempted an Elven curse before, maybe start with something a bit more small potatoes like shrinking the king's peen? Just spitballing here. Anyway, Ostrit gets what's coming to him, courtesy of the Striga with an assist from Geralt who chains him to said bed. And then the real fight ensues. It's bloody and dark and Geralt looks to be in trouble a few times. Honestly, I like that they show the struggle in taking these monsters down. It wouldn't be half as fun if Geralt bested each of these beasts with just a flick of the wrist. Of course, we need to save this monster, not kill it, so that cramps Geralt's usual slaying style a bit but he's able to keep the Striga busy until morning, locking himself in Adda's crypt so the child turns back into a human.
Alyssa: Yes! I love this! When Geralt realizes that he has to keep the Striga out of her crypt until dawn in order to turn her into a human, there is real fear in his eyes. Sure, Geralt has a kill list a mile long and the scars to prove it, he gives these monsters the respect that they deserve. I also like that we got a look at how the witcher's magic works in this episode, using the potions to unlock his skills and whatnot. The fight is bloody and the Striga is horrifying. I love that they juxtaposed this fight with Yennefer's bloody transformation, really leaning into the body horror aspects for these women. The Striga was cursed because of men seeking power over a woman, and Yennefer's body is broken and remade in an attempt to reclaim some power for herself. Whew, I did not expect this when I started watching The Witcher, honestly.
Jessica: It's the most gratifying switch-up and I am here for it! But yes, Yen's body-morphing, in all its bloody, screaming glory was juxtaposed perfectly with the Striga's own transformation. The women on this show are so much stronger than the men and it really shows. Speaking of Yen's procedure, as tough as it was to watch, I'm kind of glad the show didn't gloss over it. Normally I could care less if we get any kind of nudity — especially female nudity because we've had enough — but I felt it was tastefully done here and really added to the scene with Yennefer. Girl went through it for that body and we, as the audience, were forced to understand that in a visceral way.
Alyssa: Honestly, you can see the influence of a female showrunner all over The Witcher. The Striga-turned-princess and Geralt have one last scrap that leaves them both wounded, but Triss swoops in and saves them both. She explains to a groggy Geralt (who can't stop calling out for Renfri) that the king lied and said that Ostrit had given his life to stop the Vukodlak, allowing the commoners to live in ignorance of the Striga and his own indiscretions. The girl has been whisked away to a nunnery in order to recover, but how does one recover being cursed in the womb and living your life as a horrific monster? Something tells me that sad girl isn't coming out anytime soon. Speaking of sad girls, we get a brief glimpse of Ciri and Dara on the run, and Ciri goes into some sort of trance and is beckoned into an ominous forest while Dara is shot by an arrow. Not great!
Jessica: Yeah, Ciri's in all kinds of trouble but dark forest trouble really is the worst. Again, our trauma from Lord of the Rings rears its ugly head. I'm curious as to Renfri's continued hold on Geralt. That whole "girl in the woods" thing feels like it's about Ciri, but I'd love to dig into that a bit more. Mostly though I just want to hang with Yen for an entire episode to see what her life at court is like. This is a powerful female character I can really get down with.
Alyssa: Yes, to all. However, I am most interested in getting a handle on the multiple timelines. Something tells me that Geralt and Ciri's threads aren't happening at the same time either. As much as I am thoroughly enjoying this show, the timelines are a little tricky to follow. I do have faith that they will clear up eventually so we can focus on complex ladies and Henry Cavill's shoulders. That is truly all I want in life.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors', and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.