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When the first trailer for The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf premiered last month, one thing really stood out to longtime fans of The Witcher franchise. The anime movie focused on Vesemir, a character who appears in the games, books, and in the upcoming second season of the live-action Netflix show. Typically, Vesemir, a veteran Witcher, is an old man. But, in the anime, which takes place long before the events of the show, he's young. Not just that — he's hot.
It makes sense, to a certain extent. Nightmare of the Wolf, which hits Netflix on Aug. 23, is a prequel to the main events of The Witcher franchise, taking place hundreds of years before most of the events in the TV show, video games, and original books. Witchers — magically and chemically enhanced monster-hunters — live much longer than normal humans do, so while Vesemir normally looks pretty good for a man who has been alive for hundreds of years, he's still old. Fans know him as the white-haired father figure to Geralt (and grandfather figure to Ciri) in the books and games. Not so in Nightmare of the Wolf, which tells the story of his rise as a swashbuckling Witcher — and the downfall of the Witcher organization.
"I imagined Vesemir in his current status, which is an old man, but then, this is a story about a younger Vesemir," Kwang Il Han, Nightmare of the Wolf's director and co-executive producer, tells SYFY WIRE through an interpreter. When Han, who works for the Korean animation company Studio MIR, went about designing the young Vesemir, he went back hundreds of years to create a character who "shouldn't be too handsome, but he had to be quite good-looking and appealing because he's the main character." (Based on fan response to the trailer, however, it's possible Han underestimated how handsome Vesemir turned out.)
It's more than just Vesemir's appearance that's a bit of a surprise for Witcher fans. Hot characters, even hot Witchers, aren't unheard of. Geralt of Rivera, played in the show by the undeniably handsome Henry Cavill, is clearly a bit of a looker himself. The difference is that Geralt seems somber, burdened, and perpetually grimy. Nightmare of the Wolf's Vesemir, in comparison, is downright suave. In his prime, he looks and acts unlike Geralt and other Witchers we're used to — something writer and producer Beau DeMayo says was intentional.
"The idea for Vesemir came from looking at how he interacts with Ciri in the books and in the video games as an older man. There's a playfulness there. There's a bit of a mischievous quality to him. And I kind of looked at that and went, 'What was this guy like in his early 20s?'" DeMayo explains. "In backwards engineering that, I came to this idea that he could have been a very swashbuckling, kind of a braggart, casanova, charismatic character."
Story-wise, it makes sense. In the time of the core Witcher series, the monster-hunting order is a shadow of what it once was, and Witchers are feared, ostracized, and othered. Nightmare of the Wolf takes place long before this era, when the order is closer to something that might be considered its prime — even if there's a looming rot in the order's core. There's no room for Geralt to be happy-go-lucky; but Vesemir — who escapes poverty by voluntarily joining the order and gains strength, fortune, and some manner of fame as a result — should act differently.
Beyond that, DeMayo says there's another reason why this young Vesemir is a hotshot: Because Geralt isn't.
"I think Witcher is a story about families, and how families, generationally, are so different than the people who came before," he explains. "You look at Ciri, you look at Geralt. You look at Ciri, you look at Yennifer. You could not pick three more different individuals to become a surrogate family. So it felt that if we went back and met a Vesemir who was just Geralt 2.0 — or in this case, a prototype — one, it's not interesting, [and two] it's just now how families work. You tend to develop your personality in reaction to your parents. So, looking at Vesemir as a father figure and looking at Geralt as a very serious, no-nonsense Witcher, it kind of began to make more sense that Vesemir would be a very different type of character and very different type of Witcher."
In the upcoming second season of The Witcher, Vesemir will make his debut, not as an anime stud but in live-action form, as played by Killing Eve's Kim Bodnia. DeMayo, who was also a writer on Season 2 of the show, says Nightmare of the Wolf was in the animation stage by the time Season 2 got going, but he was "the Vesemir whisperer" when it came to making sure that the older version of the character didn't stray too far from the younger version seen in the animated prequel.
The decision to make young Vesemir hot is a fun one, clearly, but it's also a choice that felt natural and came from a well-reasoned, intentional place, according to DeMayo. The Nightmare of the Wolf team put time into deciding how he should look. One thing that didn't take as much time? The decision to have Vesemir recreate The Witcher's iconic (infamous?) sequence where a nude Geralt luxuriates in a hot tub. How quickly into making the movie did they realize they wanted to have a hot tub scene?
"Pretty quickly," DeMayo answers with a laugh — and without any hesitation.
The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf premieres on Netflix on Aug. 23. Season 2 of the live-action show will arrive on Dec. 17.