Episode 1 of The Witcher starts off by introducing us to Geralt in the midst of battle: his face pale and his eyes dark as he engages in combat with the kikimora. The episode then jumps straight into the first narrative of the story: a live-action retelling of “The Lesser Evil.” 12 minutes and 10 seconds in, the scene changes and we’re introduced to Ciri, a feast, and a brewing conflict with Nilfgaard. 14:25, we return to Geralt. 18:50, Ciri.
It isn’t uncommon for shows to alternate between different points of views, especially when there are multiple protagonists. For a new fan to the series, it might seem like this altering between Ciri and Geralt is just that: a switch between two characters’ perspectives and nothing more.
But then we reach episode two. Yennefer is finally introduced and with her introduction comes yet another story to add to the alternating perspectives. Exactly halfway through the series, we’re finally given a clear answer that no, Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer’s stories are not just alternating point of views, but three separate stories that start at different places in time. And just as soon as we figure that out, the timelines start to catch up to each other.
Although hints are dropped continuously throughout the first three episodes, they’re rather hard to catch, especially for someone who is new to the franchise. One of the many complaints that people had regarding season 1 was the convoluted story line and multiple interweaving timelines. However, in a show that has to balance a story spanning multiple generations, with characters that are both hundreds of years old and still in their early teens, traditional storytelling techniques wouldn’t be effective. If the story was told in chronological order, Ciri most likely wouldn’t show up until the later half the of series. Considering she is a major character, this would not be an effective way of telling her story.
Following Ciri from episode 1 instead of episode 5 or 6, makes the payoff that much better when she’s finally reunited with Geralt at the end of the season. It adds more tension for the reader— while Ciri is running toward her destiny, Calanthe is trying to reject it, leaving watchers with the difficult knowledge that many of the tragic events that Ciri witnessed could have been avoided.
Not finding out that Geralt and Ciri were incredibly close to running into each other at the start of the series until episode 7 hits harder impacts the watcher greater than if the knowledge had been given at the start. The hindsight that this all could have been avoided makes us feel sympathy for our characters. This sympathy wouldn’t have been garnered, had we not been given to form attachments to each of our characters starting at episode 1. Drawing out Ciri’s search for Geralt across eight episodes instead of just three or four toward the end highlights the significance of her journey, as well as the metamorphic and intense nature of it. Although Ciri’s timeline only takes place across weeks, whereas Geralt and Yennefer’s span years, she still experiences the same amount of character growth, and the timelines allow us to watch her growth right alongside theirs.
The multiple timelines imitate how the stories of our three main characters are intertwined. Just like their fates were connected far before they met, the timelines, too, weave through each other and connect their stories beyond their eventual interactions. Season 1 has a very goal-oriented narrative. The goal is to reunite Ciri and Geralt, and we learn this in episode 1 when Calanthe tells Ciri to find her destiny, Geralt of Rivia. The succeeding events of the series both explain to us how this goal game to be (through Geralt’s timeline) and takes the necessary steps to achieve this goal (as told through Ciri’s and eventually Geralt’s timeline, when it catches up to Ciri’s). Had the goal not been introduced until later in the season, the early events of Yennefer and Geralt’s timelines would seem almost meaningless in the story’s overarching plot. We would have no point of reference to attach these events to, and we would be left confused as to what the purpose of the series is until Ciri is finally introduced.
However, had the show started with Ciri’s timeline and left out the others, we would have lost vital background and character information. Each timeline plays its own role in achieving the established goal and without any one of them, the story would feel incomplete.
Another perk of this style of non-linear storytelling is that it encourages watchers to rewatch the show in hopes of picking up [things] they may have missed the first time through. Even just rewatching the first episode, one immediately picks up on all the hints dropped that these stories are not existing at the same time. Renfri mentions Queen Calanthe being sixteen. The person that Queen Calanthe mentions as being in the keep is Geralt. There’s more for us to discover, even after the eighth episode had finished. Storytelling that enhances the experience each consecutive time it’s told leaves the consumer coming back for more, and keeps them hooked until more content is released.
The multiple timelines are confusing. They’re convoluted and don’t give a clear picture of the complete timeline of all of the events, but they serve a narrative purpose and once episode 4 is watched, it’s relatively clear what’s going on. It allows us to see the backstories of all three characters while still pushing forward a clear narrative. As Ciri and Geralt were finally reunited at the end of season 1, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see this same sort of complex storytelling in future seasons. However, the timelines served their purpose, and now we’re all caught up to the present.