So far, I think “of Banquets, Bastards, and Burials” is peak Netflix arc. I was already excited about this one – the story revolves around Calanthe’s banquet comes from “A Question of Price” from the first novel, and is my favorite story from the first book. It’s raw, brings about incredible character development, and leaves a major foreshadow. This episode makes my main observation of this adaptation of The Witcher crystal clear: what the show lacks in direct plot development, it makes up for in bombshell characters. Yennefer, Ciri, Jaskier, and especially Calanthe shine, and kept me watching.
First, Jaskier – the delightful sunshine who gives us a breath of fresh air from Geralt. His optimism towards the world is charming, and notably exclusive to him. As an artist, he remains unscathed by the trauma of war Geralt, Yennefer, Ciri, and Calanthe live with. And we need a happy character. His foil keeps things interesting. I love Joey Batey, and I’m happy too.
Next, Ciri gives a simple and chilling performance in the Brokilon Forest. When Dara realizes who she really is, he’s visibly betrayed by who is likely the first person he has trusted in a long time. Dara breaks the truth about Calanthe’s rule to Ciri, unlocking a clear view of racism and classicism. Finding out you have a connection to so much pain and destruction is a complete whiplash. Sapkowski has a reputation for weaving race and gender into his novels, and they are thoughtfully transferred into the show.
If Ciri’s plot captures race, Yennefer and Calanthe represent gender, both through themselves and through the baby and Pavetta respectively. Their characters are remarkable, especially for a show with a growing intersectional audience. The action fantasy genre is rooted in a few main themes, one of them heroism. For the longest time, only men could be heroes. Pre-Wonder Woman, action fantasy wasn’t necessarily relatable to a wide audience. Audiences want characters to connect with. It’s a simple formula. Sapkowski wrote several strong female fighters into his series, which was unheard of in fantasy in the 80s and 90s. Decades later, we’re ready for a more balanced show. Now, all viewers have phenomenal women fighters, heroes, and anti heroes to whom they can relate.
Yennefer has one hell of a journey this episode. Her monologue to the cold, peaceful looking baby sent chills – for a fantasy show, it felt too real. Her words relate in medieval times, and relate a millennium backwards and forwards, still finding a place in my life circa 2019. Yennefer looks at the baby and says, “I’m sorry you didn’t have a life… let’s face it, you’re a girl. Your mother was right about one thing. We’re just vessels. And even when we’re told we’re special… as I was, as you would have been, we’re still just vessels. For them to take, and take, until we’re empty. So count yourself lucky.” I know some of us very well feel like vessels.
This baby had an easy life, and what a shame for Yennefer to know so. To otherwise be subject to the violence and emptiness Yennefer and so many like her experience is very unlucky. And we see how she might have turned out as we watch the turmoil Yennefer, Ciri, Calanthe, Pavetta, and even Renfri endure.
Finally, the Lioness of Cintra. Queen Calanthe’s fiery energy takes up all of the space in her castle, and I love it. I love it so much. Should I care about her tendency for extreme violence and indiscretion towards teaching her soldiers an honor code? Yes, and I do. But for a moment I’d like the opportunity to separate the pillaging. In this fictional world, I self identify with her chaotic attitude and calculated temperament, because in her banquet hall she is my hero. Of course, this is still problematic – many problematic people find role models in fiction in the form of dangerous, ethically grey characters. So I hate to love her.
Jodhi May brings a special energy to Calanthe. Each frame of her is more powerful than the next. Her facial expressions alone out do Henry Cavill’s entire performance this season. I don’t know how someone can show equal parts anger and fear, but maybe she’ll tell us in an interview with the BBC. I only wish Calanthe had a much larger role in the show, since she brings so much firepower to the screen. In the last scene, we find her cold body outside the burning castle, as marauders begin to desecrate it in order to gain information. I hope this marks a stronger understanding of the time elapsed, as the producers fail to make the change crystal clear. That’s both poor organization and unfair for new viewers, who exist in the tens of thousands.
Back to the plot for a hot second. I liked how the Banquet played out, and clearly, Geralt just got himself into the royal mess that creates the main arc. The Law of Surprise gives him Princess Cirilla, dots we quickly connect in the span of minutes. More time will hopefully be spent developing their relationship, and coming full circle into the present.
Overall, I give E4 a 9.2/10 for character development, Yennefer’s monologue, camera work, and for acing the adaptation of “A Question of Price”. Hell, even Geralt was interesting.
You can catch my review of Episode 8, when Ciri’s destiny comes to a head.