Sex in The Witcher: Arbitrary or Essential?

By Holly Ross

From the beginning, the relationship between Geralt and Yennefer is characterized by chaos, fate, and physical intimacy. Their first meeting in the short story, “The Last Wish,” ends with them falling into bed together following an intense and almost humorous fight between them. The sexual tension has been continuously building up since Geralt first delivers her apple juice, and through this story we see the beginnings of their relationship. Yennefer uses her sex appeal to her advantage, placing Geralt under a spell and causing him to rampage through town on her behalf. The story ends intimately, with Geralt’s wish tying him and Yennefer together, and the two consummating their relationship.

But when comparing the role of sex in “The Last Wish” to the episode adaptation, “Bottled Appetites,” the tension and resulting sex seem to fall flat in terms of setting the stage for Geralt and Yennefer’s relationship. Let’s start by looking at how Geralt and Yennefer first meet. Instead of Geralt awkwardly approaching a nude Yennefer, he quite boldly walks into a magic-laced orgy with her at the center. This scene has little to do with anything, and fails to set up the growing sexual tension that we get right away in the short story that this episode was based off of. Even the final scene, where Geralt and Yennefer finally end up in bed together seems to fall flat. Perhaps the reason that this scene feels so off is that it lacks an earlier buildup. To put it simply: had sex been removed from “The Last Wish”, a major part of Geralt and Yennefer’s relationship would have been lost. Had it been removed from “Bottled Appetites,” we wouldn’t have lost a thing.

Apart from “The Last Wish”, some of the more intimate moments in The Witcher are found in the short story, “A Shard of Ice”, which delves deeper into  Geralt and Yennefer’s complicated relationship, as well as touches on their love triangle involving Istredd. The story takes place in the town Aedd Gynvael, which is described as a cold, dirty place. The only respite we gain from these gloomy conditions is in the room that Geralt and Yennefer stay in. After Geralt slays a zeugel, he returns to Yennefer, and the two spend an intimate evening together, only marred by the mention of Istredd and Yennefer’s disappearance to see him the next morning. 

In this story, we can see that Geralt thinks of intimacy in physical terms. Upon entering Istredd’s residence, one of the first thoughts he has is how unsuitable the place is for sex. And the relationship he has with Istredd regarding their individual relationships with Yennefer quickly devolves into a pissing contest about sleeping with her.

We also see this importance regarding physical intimacy expressed in the short stories “Something More” and “Bounds of Reason.”

In “Something More,” Geralt dreams of his last meeting with Yennefer during Beltane. Geralt finds Yennefer about to have sex with a boy who she had enchanted, but when Geralt vaguely implies that the two of them should sleep together, Yennefer calls it “improper” and “an affront” to them both. It is clear that the two still have feelings for each other but know that they cannot be together. It would be unfair to them both to be physically intimate with one another, knowing that nothing could come out of it. However, the two end up giving into their desires and make love to one another one last time before they part in the morning.

This emphasis on physical intimacy is expressed in “The Bounds of Reason”, when Yennefer calls out Geralt for thinking they would immediately make up and fall into bed together. Yennefer is stubborn and bitter, and continues to hold a grudge against him for how he left her following the events of “The Last Wish”. Although they are not physically intimate this chapter, Geralt’s desire to be and Yennefer’s rejection of Geralt’s desire for intimacy, shows that sex represents more than just sex in their relationship.

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With the importance that Geralt places (and that Yennefer knows he places) on physical intimacy, it seems out of place that the exact thing that Yennefer chastises him for thinking in the books is what happens in episode 6, “Rare Species”. Yennefer’s quick forgiveness and willingness to fall into bed with Geralt go completely against her actions in the book, both lessening the importance given to physical intimacy as well as doing a disservice to the stubborn nature of her character.

When comparing the Netflix sex scenes to those found in the book, they seem to lack the depth and intimacy present in the novels. They seem to do little more than sexualize Yennefer, who is given little depth in these meaningless scenes. Whether to flaunt attractive actors or  appeal to a certain audience, it’s clear that these scenes add little narrative importance to the meat of the story.

Another example of this comes from episode 3, “Betrayer Moon”, which has a scene where Yennefer and Istredd have intercourse in front of an illusory audience. Once again, this scene tells us little about Yennefer or Istredd, other than their apparent exhibition kink. And unlike in “The Last Wish”, it’s neither played for laughs or makes any reference to the plot. We learn nothing from the nature of this scene, and more than anything else, it’s simply a cringey and awkward moment in the episode.

On the other hand, even when not used to further the plot, the books use physical intimacy as a valid way to express relationships and character. In many cases, sex takes on something of a humorous tone, as we see through mention of Yennefer’s unicorn kink and throughout much of “The Last Wish.” Sex in The Witcher novels plays a number or roles in expressing emotion, setting up tone, and further fleshing out character. Although intimacy may not always play a direct role in moving forward the plot of the story, it gives up insight into not only the character’s relationships, but their values and personalities as well.

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