By Danielle Whitaker
From the very first episode, “The End’s Beginning”, Netflix’s newest adaptation of The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski explores the idea that destiny is an irresistible power capable of bonding the lives of individuals despite their wishes or in some cases, their beliefs. While a majority of the pairings seem to occur without too much hostility or bitterness, the deep seated hatred that bonds a certain former Princess and the magician responsible for ruining her life as she once knew it.
Renfri was originally born the daughter of Prince Fredefalk of Creyden and his first wife, as well as the firstborn heir to the throne. The young and famed beauty wanted for next to nothing, blissfully unaware of the nefarious plots forming right under her nose. Unfortunately for her, Renfri was born shortly after the first eclipse that the Continent had experienced in over a milenna which made her unknowingly afflicted with the Curse of the Black Sun.
The Curse of the Black Sun states that 60 women of royal blood would be born shortly after the eclipse that would bring about death on a massive scale while making way for the demon Lilit, who would become the doom of the human race. Now these women were considered to be physical manifestations of evil, but the answer as to why was composed of unanswered speculations that they could either be possessed by demons, contaminated by the eclipse or just generally condemned. In comes Stregobor, a sorcerer sent by the Council to study and attempt to “cure” the afflicted. Since the afflicted women would generally present with “internal mutations” on top of insanity, cruelty, aggression and sudden bursts of anger, Stregobor decided that the only truly effective cures were death or isolation. The sorcerer wound up killing dozens of these women, all in the name of humanity’s salvation (of course). After slaughtering these women, Stregobor performed their autopsies which supposedly confirmed internal mutations such as: a red, sponge-like substance in the skull, missing or even misplaced internal organs and six-chambered hearts. The “lucky few” that were chosen for isolation were locked in towers where their health would quickly deteriorate. Some managed to escape and others were saved by princes or dukes who would quickly find themselves the victims of terrible fates. All of Lilit’s women, both the imprisoned and the massacred, would experience brief periods of clairvoyance right before their untimely deaths.
Since Renfri herself was born under the eclipse, Stregobor was dispatched to Creyden to watch her in secret just in case she had been corrupted by the curse. As a young girl she showed a frightening capacity for aggression and cruelty by torturing a canary and two puppies to death as well as plucking her handmaid’s eye out with the handle of a comb. When it became clear that she was one of the women foretold, the sorcerer approached the Duke’s second wife, Aridea, about placing Renfri in isolation.
Now, Aridea was the descendant of a line of incredibly powerful mages who had passed down a priceless looking glass capable of accurately foretelling the future. When she looked into the mirror she saw the gruesome death of herself and countless others, either due to Renfri’s actions or directly by her hand. When Stregobor confirmed the inner evil he had witnessed, the Duke’s wife commanded that the girl be killed instead.
The threat towards the kingdom would be neutralized upon the girl’s death; however, that was far from the only reason that Aridea wanted her out of the way. Renfri was Duke Fredalk’s beloved firstborn which made her the heir to the throne. Aridea’s own children would never get a chance to rule while Renfri still lived. Aridea hired a thug to take the girl into the woods and deal with the threat, but she managed to escape with her life intact. Shortly after Stregobor fled the kingdom as well to avoid the Duke’s suspicion that the sorcerer had a hand to play in his favored daughter’s disappearance.
Several years later Renfri reemerges as Shrike due to her habit of impaling her enemies alive on sharpened poles. Her stepmother sends waves of assassins to kill Renfri, but during her time away Shrike had become so good with a sword that no one who went up against her ever lived to tell the tale. Shortly after, each member of the noble family finds themselves the victims of several “accidents” that claim the lives of the duke and his wife. No one was safe from Renfri’s wrath, not even the gnomes that had taken her in after she escaped her stepmother’s first assassin. Eventually Shrike set out to kill Stregobor himself, the man who condemned her in the first place.
The sorcerer fled from kingdom to kingdom, always with Renfri close behind. Upon getting to Blaviken Stregobor locked himself in a tower imbued with magic which made it the only place where he would be safe from The Shrike’s revenge.
Upon Geralt’s arrival, Stregobor pleads with him to kill Renfri for him as she has become immune to the effects of magic. After hearing the sorcerer’s rendition of his past with the Black Sun cursed women, Geralt declines, content with the irony that this man who imprisoned so many victims in isolated towers would be condemned to a tower prison of his own. The sorcerer tries once again to change his mind by claiming that The Shrike is only human in the technical sense and that her actions have proven to be monstrous enough to warrant the witcher’s help, but again Geralt refuses.
Shortly after, Renfri approaches the witcher to ask for him to kill Stregobor on her behalf. When Geralt refuses she recounts how “the whiteness of [her] batiste was lost never to return ” after the hired thug assaulted her in the woods as a child. Renfri confides in Geralt about everything from her hatred towards the “Shrike” title to her first kill and the joy she got from it to the things she had to do to survive while simultaneously eluding the various attempts on her life. The witcher stands firm in his decision even after Renfri’s seduces him and ultimately Shrike lies about her plans to leave Blaviken without her revenge.
The next day Renfri announces her plan to kill off the local residents until Stregobor comes out from his tower to face her. Geralt faces off with her and emerges victorious, but not before Shrike imparts some accurate predictions about the near future.
Despite Renfri proving Stregobor’s theory about by displaying all of the characteristics of a person stricken with the Black Sun Curse over the course of her life, one could argue that Renfri’s actions are what truly made her a monster. Yes, she may have been born with the inclination for cruelty and aggression; however, she still murdered a startling amount of people. A good number of which had only ever been good to her, like the gnomes that took her in and the father who had always adored her. She confessed to taking great joy out of killing those who wished her harm and didn’t even hesitate before trying to kill countless innocents just to extract her vengeance on one man. Stregobor was certainly not without fault as he seemed to take pleasure out of using the Black Sun Curse as an excuse to act as a puppet master in the lives and families of the afflicted; although, compared to Renfri, his actions weren’t nearly horrendous enough to warrant being labeled a monster.