The Witcher’s Seventh Episode Raises the Stakes S1E7 Review: “Before a Fall”

By: Michael Busse

Grade: 8.8/10

Poor Ciri, on her own for so long that her entire mindset has changed so drastically. “This place isn’t safe if you’re alone,” a kindly townswoman tells her before we get the line from the show’s trailer, “Then it’s the same as every other place.” One sentence, and we learn so much about what Ciri has already endured. Having lost her parents, her grandparents, her home, her title, and even Dara has put quite a bit of bitterness into the heart of the Lion Cub of Cintra. Freya’s acting, already exceptional so far, is brought another step further this episode as she struggles to make it all on her own, without the help of anyone who might one day leave her alone again.

In an instant, we’re back in time again, watching Geralt spot the overwhelming Nilfgaardian forces beginning their march north towards Cintra. Though the point has been made already, I feel the need to address the strange shifts in timeline. With three major characters that all have different plotlines at different points in the show’s timeline, the abrupt changes in perspective are quite annoying. This one in particular, going from Ciri back into a not-destroyed Cintra, I worry will make some folks think less of the show simply because of the strange way in which its presented. Hopefully by episode seven, that’s not as much of an issue.

Geralt meeting with Mousesack and eventually Calanthe again is a very welcome addition to the episode given how good both of the actors. Even seeing Danek again was quite a nice surprise. But, as with the rest of the show, few can overcome the sheer presence of Jodhi May as Calanthe. Even Geralt, giving an excellent speech about how he wants to protect his child surprise, is pushed to the background as Calanthe spits her vitriol back his way. The Law of Surprise already took her daughter from her, and  Ciri is all she has left.

One of the better moments of the timelines finally beginning to cross comes as Geralt suspects he is being lied to about the girl he was shown not really being Ciri. We finally get to see Geralt trust his medallion’s humming (Place of Power, it’s gotta be), when he heads to the street to see the real Ciri playing knucklebones while disguised. The perspective quickly shifts and we finally see that Geralt’s presence was what distracted Ciri from her game all the way back in the first episode.

As Geralt confronts Calanthe again, we see a different side of him that isn’t shown very much in the books. This Geralt seems rather concerned about what destiny has in store for him should he not claim his child surprise, doing everything he can to try and convince Calanthe to allow him to take her with him. The Queen of Cintra will have none of it however, going so far as to capture Geralt on his way out of the castle to ensure he can never return for Ciri.

In a different time, far away, we join Yennefer as she pulls up to a large megalith buried in stone. Laborers slave away at uncovering it, and who should be at the helm of this operation but Istredd himself. Despite attempts at rekindling what they once had, Yennefer ends up alone again as Istredd is tired of being rejected by her so many times, another great and emotional confrontation between the two of them.

She doesn’t get to stay alone for very long,  for a stranger sits where Istredd once had and tells her that they need to leave post-haste. Who is this mysterious new face? Vilgefortz of Roggeveen, a very familiar name to anyone that has read the novels. He says that Nilfgaard is conscripting mages into service and that if she doesn’t want to meet that fate, she should return to Aretuza, per the wishes of her old rectoress Tissaia de Vries.

Yet, upon arrival, it seems Yennefer was manipulated once more, Vilgefortz having lied to her to get her back to her old school. Sick of the lies and games, she storms off reminiscing about all the times she had at Aretuza, the good and the bad. Her old room has new residents, three young girls that Yennefer quickly takes on the task of showing some new tricks to.

We get an… odd scene where Yennefer essentially gives hallucinogenic herbs to a bunch of teenagers as a way of showing them that they need to ask more questions, not take everything that’s taught to them at face value. A good lesson, I suppose, with a very strange way of teaching it though. She loses her head a bit at the thought that Aretuza is now taking payments to accept certain students; even should they not really be all that magical. Yennefer knows what happens to those that fail to meet Aretuza’s standards; they meet the weird eel pool beneath the school.

I get the whole equivalent exchange thing about magic, but personally the eel pool doesn’t do much more than confuse me. Do the girls die? Can they change back? Why exactly were those girls from Yennefer’s past chosen to be conduits only? Why does Aretuza need to use living fuel to keep the lights on?

An emergency meeting of all the Northern mages takes place to address the growing concern of Nilfgaard’s advance. Stregobor is reluctant to help Cintra in any way while most of Aretuza’s mages want to help. Fringilla Vigo shows up on behalf of Nilfgaard and gives a quaint speech about there being no dark or light magic and how Nilfgaard is trying to save the Continent. All of this patriotic nonsense is set over footage of Nilfgaardians literally running civilians down in the streets of Cintra and slaughtering innocents, an excellent show of how brainwashed she’s become by the new Emperor Emhyr. It also gives much more weight to the ( far more moving ) speech by Tissaia right after. She asks Yennefer to help the few mages who are willing to defend Sodden, if not for the Brotherhood, then for her. She even says please, something Yennefer doesn’t hear much, especially not from her former rectoress.

With Geralt now imprisoned in Cintra, he’s awoken from meditation by the Nilfgaardians attacking. We once more see the poignant scene of Calanthe telling Ciri to find Geralt of Rivia, now with added context that was missing from the first episode, before tossing herself from the tower to her doom. However, this time we watch as Geralt finds her broken body. An unfortunate soldier tells Geralt that no one is left, his destiny has left him.

The episode concludes back in the “present” with Ciri alone with her newly stolen horse. A brief moment of levity where Ciri asks what kind of crazy person speaks to their horse is broken when some old friends from Cintra seem to have found her. They’ve changed just as much as she has, pushing her around, telling her they were only friends on account of her crown, even telling her they were going to turn her in to Nilfgaard for the coin. They don’t get very far.

The added stress causes Ciri’s Elder Blood powers to manifest. Her voice is overdubbed with a mysterious second voice that recites a prophecy, “the Era of the Sword and the Axe is nigh”, echoing Cahir from the previous episode. The time of the White Chill and the White Light is nigh, the Time of Madness and the Time of Contempt; a familiar prophecy, Ithlinne’s prophecy predicting the end of the world. All we are left with is darkness, and a bloodcurdling scream.

It seems the plotlines are all coming together, and the last episode of the season is all ready to go. Ciri’s powers seem to have evolved, Geralt believes his destiny has been shattered, and Yennefer is on her way to Sodden for a desperate defense mission. Our protagonists have some tough challenges ahead. Buckle up everybody, the era of the Wolf’s Blizzard is upon us.

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