It’s almost time to return to The Continent – a fantastical land filled with foul creatures, magical monster slayers, and chaotic sorcery. The Witcher’s long-anticipated second season on Netflix is nigh, and if you need a refresher on the first season, we’ve got you covered.
Here’s a quick rundown of the most important beats from the first eight episodes of The Witcher. Who won the Battle of Sodden Hill? What’s the Law of Surprise? What’s so special about Princess Cirilla of Cintra? What other words does Geralt know besides “f***?” We’ll answer all this and more. Sit back, toss a coin to your Witcher, and let us guide you through the basics.
While Season 2 will unfold in a traditional, linear manner, Season 1 was presented to us Dunkirk-style, with many not realizing that we were following, essentially, three different timelines, until the fourth episode, “Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials,” made it more clear. Ultimately though, the first season focuses on the Big Three: Geralt of Rivia, Yennefer of Vengerberg, and Cirilla (aka “Ciri”) of Cintra. There are many important characters in The Witcher, but these are the pillars.
For clarity’s sake, let’s look at the events of Season 1 (mostly) in chronological order.
Yennefer of Vengerberg
In 1206 (yes, the show has an official timeline to help sort out the first eight episodes), a hunchbacked teen girl named Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), who has shown a mysterious aptitude for magic, is sold off by her father (for less than the price of a pig) to Tissaia de Vries (MyAnna Buring), a sorceress and proctor for Aretuza, a magical academy for young ladies.
Yennefer struggles with the arcane arts at Aretuza, at first, but then when she thinks she’s about to flunk out, Tissaia transforms her classmates into eels (which help “power” the school) while sparing her, revealing that Yennefer is the best of all of them. Yennefer befriends a young man, a student named Istredd, and the two eventually become lovers. She reveals to him that she is one-quarter elf, which is both the cause of her physical deformities and, probably, the root of her power.
Yennefer is presented with – as all female magical graduates are – the chance to alter their appearance through sorcery (to become their “ideal” image), the price being that she would be unable to bear a child. At first, she refuses but then reconsiders after discovering that she and Istredd were pawns in a power struggle between Tissaia and Istredd’s teacher, Stregobor – and that Istredd already told Stregobor about Yennefer’s elven heritage (which is alarming for a land heavily and dangerously prejudiced against elves).
Her elven lineage costs Yennefer a position in the highly sought-after court of Aedirn. Mages, for all intents and purposes, are taught to be political animals. With each kingdom given an advisor from the Brotherhood of Sorcerers, the idea is that the mages should influence policy from behind the scenes.
After this betrayal, Yennefer agrees to magically change her appearance, becoming outwardly beautiful and seductive, and charms her way into Aedirn’s court on her own, making it so her rival classmate, Fringilla, is sent off to the court in “no one wants to go there” Nilfgaard.
It’s important to note that all of this, though it plays out over the first three episodes, takes place about 10 to 15 years before Geralt’s first adventure in Episode 1, “The End’s Beginning.”
Because Yennefer and Geralt are enhanced magical beings, they don’t age like the rest of humanity and therefore don’t particularly age during the 50 years that Season 1 covers.
Geralt of Rivia
Geralt of Rivia is our story’s badass, titular Witcher. He’s a mutant, having been painfully altered as a young abandoned boy by a master Witcher named Vesemir, who used tonics and potions designed by human mages to change people into, well, super soldiers. Men powerful enough to battle the ferocious and frightening monsters that have roamed the land ever since the Conjunction (more on that in Season 2).
Despite not looking all that much different than a human (and also generally being the most attractive person in most rooms) Geralt faces scorn and resentment everywhere he goes. Humans think Witchers are vile and begrudgingly use them because, you know, who else is going to save a village from a killer Kikimora?
The Butcher of Blaviken
Geralt is over a hundred years old when we meet him, in “The End’s Beginning,” as we watch the sorcerer Stregobor (yes, Istredd’s master) ask Geralt to kill a former princess (now bandit leader) named Renfri. Stregobor insists she’s part of a malicious omen while Renfri insists she was forced into a life on the run because of Stregobor’s cruel superstitions. Geralt doesn’t want to get involved, but does and winds up killing Renfri – but not before she tells him, prophetically, about a young girl in the forest who is his destiny.
Geralt continues his monster-slaying, coin-collecting ways, riding his trusty steed named Roach throughout the land, thinking now and again of Renfri’s words. He carries with him the hard-to-shake title of “Butcher of Blaviken” because of the Renfri incident.
A Legend is Tossed
After, oh, 10 years, Geralt meets a bard named Jaskier (Joey Batey). Together they embark on a mission that introduces them to Filavandrel (Tom Canton), the fallen elven king, who now lords over a people who’ve been cast out from their homeland by humans. Geralt urges Filavandrel to lead his people to a new and better home.
In the years that follow, the public’s opinion of Witchers, specifically Geralt of Rivia, turns upside-down. He’s now seen as a folk hero thanks to Jaskier’s catchy songs (“Toss a Coin to Your Witcher” being a bop, in particular) which paint Geralt as a courageous champion, while also using a bit of creative license to bolster and boost the narrative.
At some point over the next 10 years, Geralt investigates a monster in the kingdom of Temeria, meeting King Foltest and his sorceress advisor Triss Merigold (Anna Shaffer). Together, he and Triss determine the creature tormenting the land is a Striga: a child that’s been cursed into a monstrous, ravenous form – the king’s child, in fact, who he secretly bore with his sister. Geralt decides to spare, and cure, the Striga by battling it until dawn’s light.
During this time, Yennefer, who’s become bored and disillusioned in King Virfuril’s court at Aedirn, abandons Queen Kalis to a magical portal-using assassin (while trying, but failing, to save Kalis’ baby).
After realizing the king sent the assassin himself, she decides politics, and courtly positions, are both boring and revolting so she essentially leaves her Brotherhood of Sorcerers-assigned post and goes off on her own, becoming a humble countryside witch selling magical tonics (all while looking for a way to reverse the magic that prevents her from bearing a child).
The Child of Surprise
In 1249, as a favor to Jaskier, Geralt attends the betrothal feast of Princess Pavetta, daughter of Queen Calanthe of Cintra. There, Geralt leaps into action and protects the Urcheon of Erlenwald – aka “Duny” (a man cursed to look like a hedgehog) – after he interrupts the ceremony to demand his true love Pavetta’s hand through the “Law of Surprise” (which rewards one the next gift the saved person receives as a surprise), having saved her father years earlier (and her father not knowing his wife was pregnant).
Geralt, not really wanting to be rewarded for his actions, jokingly takes “Law of Surprise” as his prize and winds up, himself, with a Child of Surprise when it’s revealed that Pavetta is pregnant with Duny’s child. Something Duny did not know. So now Renfri’s words, from decades earlier, start becoming clearer as Geralt is now bound to this (yet unborn) child by magical fortune.
Pavetta also, during Calanthe’s attempt to kill Duny, unleashes a powerful blast of energy. A magical force she didn’t know she held within.
Geralt and Yennefer
Seven years after Geralt’s time in Cintra, in 1256, his fate becomes massively intertwined with Yennefer, meeting her for the first time while seeking a rumored local mage to save Jaskier’s life from a wish-gone-wrong via Djinn. He finds Yennefer’s hideout and, although she heals Jaskier, she sees the Djinn as a way to become fertile again. Geralt realizes that Yennefer’s plan to capture the Djinn will kill her so he uses his third and final wish to save her (though the actual specifics of the wish remain secret, he undoubtedly used it to tie his fate, and love, to her – and vice versa). Yennefer and Geralt then begin an on-and-off romance that lasts several years, with neither one fully committing to the other.
Meeting up again in 1262, Geralt and Yennefer (with Jaskier in tow) embark on a quest to find a dragon, with Yennefer hoping the monster’s egg will cure her of her infertility. After learning that no such cure exists, and that Geralt’s Djinn wish perhaps meant her feelings for him were artificial, she leaves him. A despondent and angry Geralt then also cuts ties with Jaskier, whom he berates.
Return to Cintra
Alone now, and thinking of how much Yennefer wished to be a mother, Geralt returns to Cintra in 1263 to claim his Child of Surprise, Pavetta’s daughter, Cirilla. With Pavetta and Duny now dead from a maritime accident, and Ciri being raised by her grandmother Calanthe, Geralt hopes to protect his “child” from the invading forces of Nilfgaard from the south, who are poised to conquer Cintra (and then the rest of the Northern Kingdoms).
Calanthe refuses to release Ciri to Geralt and instead imprisons him. Later, she regrets her rash choice when Cintra falls, telling Ciri to run and find Geralt. Geralt, however, escapes his cell before Ciri can find him, leaving Ciri to escape a burning Cintra with the help of Calanthe’s sorcerer advisor, Mousesack (who gives his life so Ciri can flee to safety).
Cirilla of Cintra
As viewers, we follow Ciri right from the first episode, as Cintra is invaded and she’s ushered out of the gates with one name – “Geralt of Rivia” – given to her as a man to seek out for protection. Everything Ciri experiences happens in the “here and now” of the show, in 1263, as she evades attempted capture by a man she knows as the Black Knight, who’s actually Cahir of Nilfgaard.
Cahir and the mage Fringella, who was assigned to Nilfgaard’s court decades earlier, are after Ciri for unspecified reasons – at the behest of Nilfgaard’s Emperor Emhyr (also called the “White Flame”).
The Magical Scream
Ciri, outside of Cintra’s capital, evades full capture by Cahir after involuntarily unleashing a scream – aka a tremendous blast of magic – that kills soldiers, destroys a Conjunction monolith, and opens a massive chasm in the ground.
Ciri, on the run, hiding from Nilgaardian forces, meets an elven boy named Dara, finds refuge with the dryads in Brokilon Forest, and then does battle with a doppelganger sent after her disguised as Mousesack.
The Battle of Sodden Hill
Soon after the fall of Cintra, the Brotherhood of Sorcerers discuss possible intervention from the mages, to stop Nilfgaard from attacking the Northern Kingdoms. In the end, with the Brotherhood voting to stay neutral, twenty-two mages decide to take a stand at Sodden Hill – including Tissaia, Triss, a warrior mage named Vilgefortz, and Yennefer (who’d been called back to Aretuza by her former lover, Istredd).
The Battle of Sodden Hill is won by the mages, though not without supreme cost, as fourteen of them perish in the fight. Tissaia, Vilgefortz, and Triss (with injuries) live, but Yennefer is thought to be dead after torching Nilgaardian forces with forbidden fire magic that is thought to have grown so powerful that it consumed her.
Geralt and Ciri Meet
Ciri, displaying another power, has a vision of the body-filled fields of Sodden Hill, featuring Geralt looking for any sign of Yennefer.
At this time, Geralt, recently surviving the poisonous bite of an undead zombie creature (possibly a rotfiend), finally finds Ciri in the woods. Renfri’s prophecy is complete. After a hug, Ciri asks Geralt, “Who is Yennefer?”
Season 2 will pick up right where Season 1 left off. Geralt will take Ciri to Kaer Morhen, a hidden mountainside keep where he was raised when it was a Witcher school. Ciri’s secrets will start to be unraveled as she becomes even more wanted by those in political power, ancient evil forces, and a reclusive party controlling a dangerous mage. The fate of Yennefer following the Battle of Sodden Hill will also be revealed as the plight of the elves, the mysteries of the monoliths, and the nefarious plotting of Nilfgaard’s “White Flame” are also explored.
The Witcher hits Netflix on December 17, 2021.
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