Honestly, the show should really be about Yennefer. She always delivers. Well I don’t know about you, but I had a wild time this episode. Episode 8 would make for a great mid-season finale on any other network, but Netflix loves to wrap things up after 8 or 10 episodes. And so, we’re left with what I feel is too much of a cliffhanger with too many loose ends. I found a balance of elements I enjoyed and rewrites I imagine a lot of viewers would love to make.
First, Ciri’s character is barely developed this season. Rather, the show uses her as one of its main plot devices – the person whom both Nilfgaard and Geralt spend most of their time searching for. She doesn’t get much audible screen time, and it’s pretty predictable that when the screen opens to her in any given episode, she’ll be wandering around the woods with no clear resolve in sight. I find it a shame, since both Ciri the character and Freya Allan have so much to offer. I hope the writers don’t make the same mistake again.
Episode 8 is almost the inverse of 4 – little character development, but a steady plot. Here, all three main characters make large sacrifices: Geralt chooses to fight in Sodden, Yennefer takes on Nilfgaard as the last woman standing, and Ciri chooses to fulfill her destiny and find Geralt. Of course, many small characters are asked to make a large, and sometimes the ultimate, sacrifice. Vilgefortz sacrifices his relationship with the mages in order to get his own revenge, while mages from both Nilfgaard and Sodden use their powers to the fullest extent, until there’s no life left in them. The Northern Wars are both the central plotline and central cause for sacrifice. And most everyone’s sacrifices don’t really feel voluntary. Geralt and Ciri are bound by the law of surprise and loyalty to Cintra, and Yennefer is a mage in service to protecting the vulnerable.
Most upsetting for me is how the wars are relatively one-sided. Nilfgaard, which Sapkowski modeled after the Roman Empire, simply wants to expand its kingdom at the cost of the North. There is no greater principle or lesson, it’s simply pillage and conquest.
Yennefer’s sacrifices become most apparent in this episode, as we realize exactly what Yennefer has given and must continue to give as a loyal mage. Other episodes allude to it, but here we see how little of Yennefer’s life belongs to her. As she sits with Tissaia, who asks point blank if she’s ready to die, she remarks “yes. I’ve lived two or three lifetimes already.” Tissasia replies, “but you haven’t been satisfied in any of them.” Yennefer lives unhappily in service to others. While many others feel this life to be a worthy pursuit, Yennefer is clearly sick and tired. Her arc in Season 2 will likely expand into shaping who she is without standing in the shadow of someone else.
I loved the battle between Nilfgaard and Sodden. Yennefer is an extremely powerful and resourceful mage, and I enjoyed watching her in action. All of the mages are creative and loyal to one another – watching brute force fight magic was fascinating. The battle also demonstrates the defining trait of Yennefer: her strength. While admirable, she has spent the season wanting something more, likely something more ordinary. However, her destiny will likely only take her more towards power and away from the ordinary.
I’m conflicted about the final scene. Geralt and Ciri finally find each other at what is likely the apex of the war, and fulfill their destiny. But then Ciri asks, “Who is Yennefer” before the ending credits roll. I see it as a great cliffhanger and foreshadow, but then I’m left asking – is that it? We don’t get to watch Yennefer finish smoking Nilfgaard, and we don’t see Geralt and Yennefer together.
I guess I’ll have to settle. What I do like is the symmetry. The opening scenes of Episode 1 have both Geralt and Ciri in the woods, alone, handling their own challenges. And the last brings them together. They’ll have Season 2 to develop their relationship and combine forces.
And then there’s Geralt, who does absolutely nothing this episode but wallow in the woods. I probably shouldn’t blame anyone for this – it’s much more fun watching Yennefer take lead. He does reveal his true feelings about his origin story, which are those of resentment towards his mother. Only 3 out of 10 boys survive the Witcher Trial of the Grasses, and he still hasn’t forgiven Visenna for knowingly facing her son with those odds. I appreciate this moment, but feel it to be misplaced in the episode, and lost among all the action. Geralt’s hallucination actually takes place months after the battle at Sodden in the books, and I think it belongs in that timeline. In the show, it gets swallowed up by everything else. Misplaced scenes seems to be a pattern this season.
As I watched, it was hard to stay in the moment, because I kept asking myself what each scene was setting up for the future. Episode 8 feels much less like a finale and more like a prelude to S2E1. And thankfully we’ll be getting one; the show signed on for 2 seasons to begin with.
Overall, I give Episode 8 an 8.9 /10 for a great battle and a powerful focus on Yennefer and the mages, with an ending that falls short of feeling like a real ending.
This episode gives me a lot of thoughts and predictions about Season 2 – maybe the Path team will share some later. For now, keep your eyes out for a full review of Season 1, and the fun mixed bag it was.
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