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The Witcher Discussion: 'The End's Beginning' sets up an epic fantasy
The Witcher is a new fantasy series hailing from Netflix. You've probably seen trailers for it, teases of Henry Cavill in giant bathtubs and witches doing witchy things and lots of CGI monsters.
It's got all of that, but it's also a rich, fascinating world built through a series of books and video games that are finally being adapted for television by showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich. The show's premiere does a decent job of setting up this epic adventure, introducing us to Cavill's gruff hero, a young princess with a mysterious destiny, swamp monsters, evil sorcerers, and a poor, unassuming horse named Roach just along for the ride.
We're Alyssa Fikse and Jessica Toomer and we're thrilled to be your guides to the world of The Witcher — and to serve up some juicy commentary of Henry Cavill's leather-clad bum.
Warning: The discussion below contains spoilers for Season 1, Episode 1 of The Witcher.
The Lesser Evil
Jessica: Alyssa, can I just say how damn excited I am that we get to cover this show? I've read a few of the books, I've seen Henry Cavill in the bathtub. This could not be more our sh*t. That said, the world of The Witcher is rich and vast and there's so much to choose from when telling this story. I don't envy showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, but she's done an excellent job in this first episode, giving us a bit of action and a whole lot of Geralt of Rivia, the (kind of) hero of this story. He's a Witcher, a mutated monster fighter, and he's spent most of his lonely existence taking down all manner of beastly creatures, which is where we meet him here, tangling with a swamp spider and receiving a less than warm welcome from the local townsfolk because haters gon' hate, I guess?
Alyssa: OK, I'm glad that you've read the books and are familiar with the world because I have not. I played the game once, but it went so poorly that my sister removed the controller from my hands and laughed me into shame. So I am coming into the world of The Witcher cold, and I will say that this episode does a pretty good job of establishing without overexplaining every little thing. Watching the episode with subtitles also helped. But yeah, if your episode opens with a leather-clad Henry Cavill fighting a giant spider in a swamp, I'm on board already. So he rolls into Blaviken with his spider carcass, and he meets a woman in a bar. Geralt is clearly not one for banter, but there is definitely something going on there. It might be the fact that she's the only one who doesn't want to beat the shit out of him onsight.
Jessica: It could also be her luscious curls and that killer (get it?) brooch. Renfri carries a lot of clout in this town. She seems to be as hated by the peasants as Geralt is so they share some ale and some sexual tension at the bar before Geralt is pulled away by Marilka, a wise-cracking little spitfire whose father, the alderman, posted a flyer promising to pay anyone who brought him a dead graveir. Geralt's got a kikimora leaking blood all over his poor horse Roach, so Marilka advises him to take the beast to the resident magician, Master Irion. He's a wizard who lives in a tower and gives coin for parts, which is how Marilka got rid of her mother's yappy dog. Have I mentioned that I love Marilka? Dog slaying aside?
Alyssa: Yeah, I pretty much loved Marilka on sight. She's sick of her small town and wants to be a Witcher, so basically imagine Belle at the beginning of Beauty and the Beast, except she's out for bloodlust instead of books. She takes him to Master Irion's tower, which is protected by illusion magic. When Geralt walks in, he is greeted by an exotic garden filled with naked women. Listen, if you want me to distrust a man before I see him, fill his home with naked women. This Irion fellow seems pretty untrustworthy, and we find out immediately that he is not, in fact, Irion, but Master Stregebor, who took over Irion's name after he died because apparently he's gotten into some trouble under his real name. Seems like a cool guy!
Jessica: The coolest! Not only does he surround himself with young naked women who pick his oranges for him, but he also ascribes to some truly insane prophecies. Cue his ominous retelling of the Curse of the Black Sun, which was just your basic eclipse but Stregobor believed it marked the imminent return of Lilit, a demon goddess of the night set on destroying the human race. She's basically the female Dracula who wants to bring about the apocalypse and she still sounds like a better hang than Stregobor. Lilit's coming was to be preceded by 60 women wearing gold crowns who'd fill the rivers with blood. Again, I'd love to be part of this squad and not Stregobor's harem. These women, princesses, were to be born under the Black Sun, so during an eclipse. Stregobor then rambles on about "studying" these girls, which ... eww, and finding internal mutations in them which means he autopsied them, but only after locking them in towers and slowly killing them. It all reeks of patriarchal paranoia and Geralt can smell it a mile away.
Cintra In Flames
Alyssa: Yeah, as Stregobor was telling the tale of Lilit's women, I immediately wanted to join up. Unfortunately, like so many good things, patriarchy takes them down. I am happy to report, though, that things in Cintra are a bit more egalitarian than I expected. There's a queen in charge! Who leads her men into battle! I was pretty crushed that we lost Queen Calanthe so soon, because what a badass. But I digress. We are introduced to Princess Cirilla in the classic fantasy "I'm not like other girls" way, with her dressed as a boy and playing with peasants. She is collected by the castle guard and brought to a royal assembly of sorts to observe the ruling of the queen. I have a question about the lore: does everyone in Cintra age slowly or is the casting just wild? Because Calanthe is Cirilla's GRANDMOTHER and she does not look a day over 40.
Jessica: If I remember correctly, she is quite young to be a grandmother. I think she may even be in her forties because this is a medieval fantasy and you know how young they married those princesses off back then. Whatever her actual age, she's gorgeous and fierce and I would not want to tangle with her. Unfortunately, not everyone is terrified of the Lioness of Cintra and while Ciri has fun dancing with her boyish suitor, Calanthe is calmly preparing for war with Nilfgaard, a powerful empire in the South intent on ruling Cintra. These are the bad guys Alyssa.
Alyssa: "Nilfgaard" is an inherently menacing name, so I picked up on that. Calanthe and her flirty husband, Eist, prepare their men for battle, and I really liked that this scene felt more high fantasy than realistic in the portrayal of war. It doesn't have the grubby claustrophobia of Game of Thrones. It's got more of the fancy armor and almost glamor of Lord of the Rings. I'm not mad about it. Unfortunately, their allies were waylaid by a storm, so Cintra suffers a crushing defeat. Her husband dies, her men die, and Calanthe barely makes it back to the castle. While the battle is raging, Cirilla is stuck inside under the watchful eye of her grandmother's magician, Mousesack, and she gets a bit of a lesson on her importance. There is a reason she's kept protected beyond the fact that she's a princess. People are not telling her what she needs to know!
Jessica: Isn't that how these things always go? I seem to remember another fantasy series about a young girl with a mysterious destiny who's always being kept in the dark. Alas, despite how much she begs, no one, not even her handsome guard, will tell her what's going on which makes witnessing the death of her advisors and friends all the more traumatic. Cirilla escapes the city and the strange man on horseback who, we can only assume, will be the true monster of this story. I have faith in her — she displays some surprising power with a guttural scream that literally splits the earth in two — but I also hate to see our little lion cub out in the woods all alone. Of course, we don't have long to spend worrying about Ciri because Geralt has his own troublesome princess to deal with.
The Girl In The Woods
Alyssa: Yes, while Ciri is off on a quest to find Geralt and mourning the loss of her grandmother, Geralt is dealing with his own mess. After being charged by Stregobor to kill Renfri, he finds her in the woods — surprise, it's the woman from the bar! — and she tries to convince him that she only did those terrible things to survive. Stregobor has taken everything from her and she's only done what she's had to do. She encourages Geralt to see her as the lesser of two evils here. Sure, she's killed many, but she didn't ask for this power and has been persecuted because of it. While he doesn't like her methods, I think Geralt knows that she's right.
Jessica: Look, I've hated Stregobor from the beginning so it didn't take much to sway me to Renfri's side but yeah, if an old white dude sent men to rape and kill you just because you were born during an eclipse and your stepmother held a grudge, I'd want some bloody revenge too. Renfri is a fascinating character. She's not wholly good or evil, which makes her a bit of an enigma for someone like Geralt who lives on very black and white terms at the moment. She's also just a woman trying to make it in a man's world which will always be relatable to me. Still, there's something about her I just don't trust, so watching her and Geralt get down in the woods — Alyssa, what is it about foliage and open spaces that make people so damn horny? — was a bit nerve-wracking for me. At any point I expected her to pull out a knife and relieve Geralt of a vital appendage. Fortunately, the killing came later. Renfri dips out after their night together and Geralt seems to be a bit bewitched, despite the fact that mutated individuals are immune to magic. Geralt heads to the market where Renfri's men are waiting and we get to see Cavill's athleticism in action. Again, these fight scenes have just the right amount of fantasy and realism to make them entertaining yet believable. Also, I never tire of seeing a leather-clad beefcake butcher bad guys.
Alyssa: I feel like this needs to be said: Henry Cavill is so swol that clothes look ridiculous on him. What a blessing. I seriously loved this fight scene. I rewound it twice. It gave us a great look at Geralt's skill. Sure, he killed a spider monster in the opening scene, but now we saw that he's more than a blunt instrument. He fights almost like a dancer and incorporates magic pretty seamlessly. After he easily sliced and diced his way through Renfri's men, the woman herself shows up with Marilka as a hostage. I liked Renfri, but I turned against her pretty quickly when she threatened Marilka. At the same time, though, I was still hoping that she and Geralt would team up and take out Stregobor. Sadly, that was not the case. Even though she saw him talking to his horse, Roach, and they spent the night making nudity-free love (the way that sex scene was shot was bizarre to me), that wasn't enough to sway him from his task of killing her. Bummer.
Jessica: Yeah, did they even have sex, or did she just do a bit of spell casting with a makeout on the side? We shall never know I guess because Renfri is very dead. She gave Geralt a run for his money, though, and I loved how the show afforded her a unique fighting style that felt so different from Geralt's. That's the mark of a good director really putting thought into every character. I also appreciated that even after Geralt did the deed, he still defended Renfri and fought Stregobor over rights to her body. Like dude, she's dead and you said she was the last of the "evil" princesses. Give it a rest, you creep. Sadly, not everyone is cool with Geralt killing this band of mercenaries and Stregobor has an easy time turning the townsfolk against him, making Renfri's parting words about stoning and questioning if he was right in his choice real. Even Marilka turns against him, which really hit me in the feels. Geralt leaves Blaviken in disgrace, proving what I've always known to be true: people are the absolute worst.
Alyssa: People are indeed terrible! I have to say that I really enjoyed this episode, and not in an ironic way. I love some high fantasy shenanigans and The Witcher really grabbed me from the get-go. I'm excited to learn more about these vague mutations that everyone is talking about with regards to magical powers, and I'm excited to see Ciri grow and develop hers. I also need to know a bit more about Nilfgaard. Who are these jerks? What do they want to do with Ciri's powers? How do they know about Ciri's powers when CIRI didn't even know about Ciri's powers? Also, I want to see more chats between Geralt and his horse. I'm sure this will not surprise you at all, but I enjoyed that moment. But mostly, I need more sword fights.
Jessica: Oh Alyssa, I shall spare you the harsh truth about this horse friendship but yes, I want to see more Ciri, more Geralt in leather pants, but mostly I want to see a character that's yet to be introduced who has a huge role to play in this story. She's a snarky witch named Yennefer and I'd die for her.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors', and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.