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The Witcher Discussion: 'Of Banquets, Bastards, And Burials' gives us some much-needed backstory

Contributed by
Jan 7, 2020

As we reach the halfway point in The Witcher's first season, the show about the monstrous creatures and the true monsters — man — has really hit its stride. This show has some deep lore to wade through, but compelling characters and rather fun penis innuendos keep things going at a steady clip. Geralt's busy monster hunting, Ciri is on the run, and Yennefer is bored as hell of courtly life. Our main characters are still flung apart to the four corners of the Continent, but each is getting their backstory fleshed out in interesting ways.

It's clear now that the show is juggling a number of different timelines, and that gets a bit murky. Still, each new revelation is a piece in the puzzle, and each episode moves a bit closer towards who Ciri really is, why she's so valuable, and how Geralt and Yennefer eventually tie in. We get a good look at Ciri's parentage in this episode, and it's exactly as dramatic as you might have guessed. Lots of curses and speeches about destiny.

We're Alyssa Fikse and Jessica Toomer, and we're just about ready to start a Yennefer Fan Club.

Warning: This discussion contains spoilers for Season 1, Episode 4 of The Witcher.

Credit: Netflix

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A Favor For A Friend 

Jessica: Geralt is back on his questing sh*t, taking on another monster for some poor townsfolk willing to pay coin. This time it’s a water-dwelling selkimore and while the locals at the pub believe the beast actually bested our lone wolf, good ol’ Dandelion knows better. Unfortunately, this slaying was perhaps the dirtiest of them all so we don’t get to enjoy the tale of Geralt swimming through the selkimore’s guts before killing it because our boy needs a bath. The Witcher knows our universal kink and it's Henry Cavill in a claw tub. 

Alyssa: I was a little disappointed to miss out on this fight (I get it, budgets), but Geralt strolling in covered in guts was a pretty great gag. I also loved seeing Dandelion writing down Geralt’s exploits in detail, because who doesn’t love an epic ballad of great deeds? Still, the bard isn’t just looking to make Geralt famous, he’s also looking to elevate his own name, and that means he needs to hit a royal party in Cintra. And because he has a tendency to “hide his sausage in the wrong royal pantry,” he needs Geralt as a bodyguard. That seems like a real demotion for the witcher, but despite his claims that he has no feelings, he agrees. I think he’s rather fond of old Jaskier, despite himself.

Jessica: It’s the classic gruff-exterior-but-inside-I’m-a-soft-fragile-unicorn bit. Geralt’s not fooling anyone with that whole loner status, least of all Jaskier who not only strongarms him into being his date for this betrothal ball but also manages to dress him in some proper silks. It doesn’t disguise Geralt from those who know him, like the sorcerer Mousesack — remember him from Episode 1? He’s younger, more boisterous, and apparently the closest thing Geralt has to a pal. They make bets on which royal priss will win the princess’s hand and we learn that the only thing Geralt hates more than being mistaken for humans are royals. 

Alyssa: Another hint at the timeline! Listen, I don’t need to be spoonfed, but SOME indication where we’re at would be nice instead of having to guess by the greyness of Mousesack’s hair. But yes, we’re back in Cintra to see who wins Princess Pavetta’s hand. Pavetta is Calanthe’s daughter, so we are pre-Ciri at this point. Queen Calanthe comes striding in off the battlefield, and it’s quite apparent that she and her much gentler daughter don’t see eye to eye on, well, anything. Calanthe might be the Robert Baratheon of The Witcher, honestly.

Jessica: There’s a chaos and bloodlust to this younger Calanthe that feels extremely unsettling. Honestly, we should’ve known this betrothal would end in bloodshed after the way she came in. She takes a liking to Geralt because … have you seen him? But unfortunately for Calanthe, no amount of sweet talk or threat of torture will sway him to act as her enforcer which means we have to sit through some pretty heinous proposals, like that Nilfgaard prince who promised to give the princess his “strong seed.” Romance is well and truly dead, Alyssa. 

Alyssa: Yeah, despite the news that she and Eist are in love but she doesn’t want a husband, Calanthe doesn’t hide her horniness for Geralt AT ALL. Is Nilfgaard a kingdom of dweebs? Like, we’ve seen that they’re awfully powerful in the future, but I am not getting that vibe from Lord Peregrin. As the feast continues, Geralt and Calanthe discuss the simplicity of killing monsters and how dumb male tradition is, and in the midst of all of that, a fully armored knight breaks into the hall, claiming to be Lord Urcheon of Erlenwald and that he’s here to marry Pavetta. After he refuses to remove his helmet before “the twelfth bell,” Eist removes it for him, revealing that the knight has been cursed to look like a hedgehog. It does not go over well with Queen Calanthe. 

Credit: Netflix

Yennefer's Assignment 

Jessica: You know what else isn’t going well? Yennefer’s court assignment. We catch up with our ballsy little witch three decades into her tenure as mage to Aedirn’s king where she’s figured out that the promise of glory and power she was sold in Aretuza is a little less glamorous than she believed it to be. She’s bored, playing “royal ass-wiper” for men in power who squabble over nonsense and she’s keenly aware of what she’s given up to play this role. She has an interesting chat with Aedirn’s queen, a woman who can’t seem to produce a male heir and bemoans her own place within this patriarchal society and I’m reminded once more that while the time jumps give us whiplash, it’s worth it to follow Yennefer’s story, which feels so much more compelling at this stage than even Geralt’s. 

Alyssa: I am a little sad that we missed out on THREE DECADES of Yennefer cutting her teeth in court, but the woman that we return to is interesting as well. Like you said, she’s bored, but it’s even more than that. She’s bitter. She gave up everything to gain power, and she still feels empty. Being a mage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and that is a real blow. Queen Kalis not producing a male heir is the most pressing issue, though, when an assassin and his horrifying spider monster attacks their traveling party. The bad news? He’s from Kalis’ husband, who just can’t deal with another daughter and a wife that won’t bear him sons. Woof. Yennefer finally gets to use some of her skills, and they clearly haven’t atrophied. She’s throwing portals out left and right, but somehow the assassin keeps tracking them. 

Jessica: All that portaling is wearing our girl out and after spiriting the Queen to a rainy village and a barren desert, she bails and this b*tch decides to save her own skin by offering up her baby girl as a sacrifice. Not everyone has motherly instincts, I guess, but still, being totally chill with some mutated scorpion-spider creature eating your newborn is a LOOK. The assassin doesn’t fall for it though and Kalis ends her reign as Queen with a slit throat. Yen returns to try to save the baby, killing the beast and portaling away with the child but a well-thrown knife does the job anyway and she reacts to the baby’s death with a surprising amount of emotion. 

Alyssa: While she mourns the baby on the beach, Yen monologues about the difficulties of being a woman, and damn, I felt that. She explains that men will only ever see us as vessels, even the ones deemed “special,” and she almost sounds jealous that this poor baby met its end before it had to deal with being a woman in a man’s world. Seriously, I am obsessed with Yennefer. She is dark, but she is real. “They take and take until we’re empty and alone” will haunt me for a while. 

Credit: Netflix

The Law Of Surprise 

Jessica: Yen has suffered in a way most people will never know and while yes, she’s bitter and resentful and pissed off, she still has hope and goals and this drive to steer her own narrative. It’s truly inspiring and honestly, I appreciate her directness, unlike Queen Calanthe who plays this courtly game so well. She knows she’s not supposed to kill poor Urcheon because she needs to maintain a sense of decorum and fairness, but she’s also a vain, egotistical ruler hyped up on her power so the insult of this cursed nobody riding up to her castle and demanding her daughter’s hand just cannot stand. Things get bloody fast at the ball and Geralt chooses Urcheon’s side because, duh, he’s not a monster, just a really unlucky knight. There’s more sword fighting and the show continues to prove it knows what it’s doing on the action-fantasy front but I will say, I’m surprised at the direction the last half of this episode took. Aside from the ballroom war, a ton of story set-up took place. 

Alyssa: Major things happened at this ball, particularly the knowledge that Urcheon was cursed as a boy, but he saved the King’s life, who offered him a reward for his service. Urcheon did what historically many do and asked for the Law of Surprise, where someone gives something they don’t know that they have yet as a means of payment. Usually, that shakes out to some crops or a new puppy, but in this situation, that meant the King’s newborn daughter, Pavetta. Now, when he finds out that he has a claim on Pavetta, Urcheon is horrified and keeps his distance, but he decides to watch her from afar in order to see what he’s missing out on. Not so shockingly, he falls in love. One night after his curse is lifted for the late-night hours, he and Pavetta meet and fall deeply in love and into bed. She isn’t thrown by his animal appearance and she entreats her mother to allow them to marry. I am not sure where the nickname “Duny” comes from, but it’s very cute. I am an absolute sucker for some star-crossed lovers, so this is checking all of my boxes.

Jessica: Sadly, it looks like this interspecies Romeo and Juliet might suffer the same tragic fate because Calanthe is not moved by Urcheon’s story or Pavetta’s pleas. She still wants him dead and her last-ditch attempt to do the deed herself backfires in a big way. Turns out, Pavetta is hella powerful and her mother’s murderous betrayal is the metaphorical flipping of the switch when it comes to her abilities. She tears the palace apart, protecting both herself and Urcheon while everyone else tries to survive the supernatural cyclone she conjures up. It’s wicked cool and also, a little terrifying. 

Alyssa: Yeah, while Pavetta doesn’t seem to have a handle on her powers, they are hella rad and require Mousesack’s magic and a dosed up Geralt to stop it. After the dust settles, Calanthe realizes that not only does Pavetta have her grandmother’s magic — it must rankle Calanthe that she was skipped — she has to acquiesce to destiny or bad sh*t is going to go down. So, not only does she agree to wed the loved-up youngsters, so she also agrees to marry Eist after years of flirtily protesting. Double wedding! It’s all taken care of rather quickly and Pavetta and Duny are married amidst the rubble, and by the fulfillment of destiny, Duny is turned back into a real boy. Apparently Pavetta’s reward for selfless love is a hottie that won’t tear her face and other bits to shreds.

Jessica: Yay for Pavetta! But this story doesn’t have a traditional happily-ever-after because, after the wedding business, Pavetta vomits rather violently in front of everyone — how embarrassing. Yep, Pavetta's pregnant. Even worse, she does so soon after Geralt claims the Law of Surprise when Urcheon insists on thanking him for his help. So now we have the connecting thread between Ciri and Geralt, the reason Calanthe told her granddaughter to find the witcher during Nilfgaard’s siege. His destiny is tied to hers, which can’t be good news for our little loner boy. He sulks off and somewhere, sometime later, we meet Ciri back in that forbidden forest which turns out to be Brokilon Forest. She’s wandering through the brush, disturbing the Amazonian locals and y’all, they are not happy to see her. 

Alyssa: They really are not. However, they do heal Dara from his arrow wound, so that immediately paints them as the good guys to me. They inform Ciri and Dara that they are going to have to drink from the forest’s magical waters in order to ascertain whether or not they’re pure of heart and of good intentions. Considering the fact that Ciri lied about her identity upon meeting them, she’s a little worried and informs Dara of her real name and position. To her surprise, he reacts negatively because her grandmother slaughtered his entire family when she beat back the elven king Filavandrel. Time to learn a little bit about imperialism, girl!

Jessica: Poor Ciri, white privilege is a b*tch, but it’s best she find out how her ancestors screwed over her new friends now. It’s a tough pill to swallow for someone as sheltered as she’s been but of course, these people are gracious and super patient with her royal ass, offering to let her drink the waters and all. Turns out, while a swig from the canteen is enough for Dara, Ciri must drink from the source and that liquid is a bit more powerful. She hallucinates a bit, finds herself dropped in the desert at night with a talking tree asking who she really is, and that’s how this wild ride ends. 

Credit: Netflix

What's Next

Alyssa: I will say this about The Witcher: even when I don’t know what the f*ck is going on, I always want to know what’s coming next. I will admit to being frustrated about the skipping timelines, but I’m still glued to my screen to see how they converge. I am more than ready to see these main characters — Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer — make their way to one another. There is an awful lot of talk about how they’re destined and all, and I’m ready to see that in action.

Jessica: Yeah, I appreciate how the show is building up each character to stand on their own so that when they come together, we can really see how they influence each other, but I’m ready for at least two of our heroes to meet. Also, I want Yen to get whatever she wants out of this life. That is all. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors', and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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