From the rule of the sexual fanatic, Emperor Fergus Var Emeris, to the elusive Usurper, the Netflix adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series spends the majority of its episodes switching between the past Nilfgaard that only served as a laughingstock of the Continent and the newly reformed superpower that tears through the land without a sense of mercy for those whose paths they cross. This has no doubt left viewers with one looming question during the wait for season two– What in the hell happened to Nilfgaard?
For those who have only seen the Netflix adaptation, be warned that potential spoilers lie in the analysis ahead.
In order to really understand where the tides began to change for the Nilfgaardian Empire, we have to go all the way back to the rule of the infamous Emperor Fergus Var Emeris. In the adaptation’s third episode, “Betrayer Moon”, viewers witness the Brotherhood of Sorcerers arguing whether to send Fringilla or Yennefer to Nilfgaard’s court. Yennefer was found to be the best choice, mainly because her stern hand would be the best match to help the Empire with the restructure that it so desperately needs. Fringilla is the type that’s “only capable of doing what she’s told” (Hissrich)– no more, no less.
Unfortunately, since “there’s no power in puppeting fools” (Hissrich) Yennefer decided to steal the Aedirn mage position instead. That act alone caused a considerable ripple effect throughout the fate of the entire Continent.
Now, during Pavetta’s betrothal feast in episode four, “Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials”; Queen Calanthe notes that Nilfgaard’s kings “don’t stay kings for long” (Hissrich). Considering that the Nilfgaardian Empire goes through three different emperors in the first season alone, that seems to be pretty accurate. Which means that in practically no time at all, Fringilla became just as brainwashed by the White Flame Dancing on the Graves of his Enemies’ (AKA Emperor Emhyr var Emreis) “mission” as the rest of the Nilfgaardians.
She swiftly abandoned all of her previous teachings regarding forbidden magic, sacrificing scores of her own brothers and sisters to chaos without even blinking an eye. Fringilla also supported Emperor Emhyr var Emreis’ command to imprison fellow mages in order to force them into fighting for the Nilfgaardian Empire.
Fringilla’s naive belief in “the rightful son of Nilfgaard” (Dailey) and his religious zeal is exactly what let Nilfgaard grow into a Southern superpower and set its sights on total Continental domination. Countless men, women, and children wound up getting slaughtered during the first Northern War between the Nilfgaardian Empire and the “four [of the North’s] prominent realms: Temeria, Redania, Kaedwen, and Aedirn” (Dailey).
Although, under the White Flame’s reign the Nilfgaardian Empire did appear to thrive. They were able to strengthen trade and fund research. Not to mention that for one of the first times ever, everyone was able to get a little bit of everything (even if it wasn’t that great). Does that really make up for the thousands of lives that got lost in the process?
In a sick twist of fate it’s later revealed in episode six, “A Rare Species”, that the first Northern War wouldn’t have happened at all if Yennefer had gone to the Nilfgaard post instead. Apparently her iron will would have been able to temper Nilfgaard’s extremist religious attitudes when they first began to form.
Considering that all of this took place from over the course of less than a century, one has to wonder just how realistic the drastic changes could really be. Although the Netflix adaptation has yet to shed further light on the subject, there are plenty of Witcher games and novels to get the answers from.
In digital adaptation of The Witcher Adventure Game by CD PROJEKT RED and Fantasy Flight Games, the Nilfgaardian Empire is the most powerful state in the Continent under the White Flame’s rule. The Empire’s southern expansion, lucrative economy and mighty army has established them as a southern superpower and constant threat to the northern kingdoms.
In the Reward Tree Entries in Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, a free-to-play digital collectible card game developed and published by CD Projekt, the Nilfgaardian Empire (under the reign of Emperor Emhyr var Emreis) is again depicted as a ruthless powerhouse built on the spoils of conquered territories. Considering that Nilfgaard completely took over the southern part of the Continent, they are by far “the largest, richest, most populated [and] most powerful” empire around. The Gwent game also touches on the deepset loyalty that Nilfgaardians have for their Emperor, so much so that “they would jump head first into a pool of acid” (author) for him.
If the White Flame is even half as awe inspiring as he appears to be in the Gwent or the Adventure games then the staggering changes the entire Nilfgaardian Empire underwent are entirely realistic. Especially when one takes into consideration that the “seat of the Empire cannot allow a mere ounce of incompetence”. If Emperor Emhyr var Emreis were to falter even for a moment then he would’ve been overthrown at the first sign of weakness. Nilfgaard is one of the most terrifyingly efficient “villians” in the entire Witcher universe whose full impact gets lost in the noise of the Netflix adaptation.
Dailey, Kim. “The Witcher: The Nilfgaardian War, Explained.” TheGamer, 11 Feb. 2020, www.thegamer.com/the-witcher-the-nilfgaardian-war-explained/.
Dailey, Kim.“The Witcher: The White Flame, Explained.” TheGamer, 16 Feb. 2020, www.thegamer.com/netflix-the-witcher-the-white-flame-explained/.
“Emhyr Var Emreis.” Witcher Wiki, witcher.fandom.com/wiki/Emhyr_var_Emreis.
“Nilfgaardian Empire.” Witcher Wiki, witcher.fandom.com/wiki/Nilfgaardian_Empire.
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