Eagle-eyed viewers of Netflix’s The Witcher, an adaptation of the written Witcher saga by Andrzej Sapkowski, likely realized that the famed, four-legged companion that routinely appears at Geralt’s (Henry Cavill) side are actually several different horses all named Roach.
If you didn’t happen to then that’s completely understandable too. In your defense, each of the horses that appear in the first season all have really similar white stripes down their muzzle and similarly colored coats which made the differences pretty difficult to catch. After rewatching the show for what was likely the twentieth time, the only real difference seemed to be that in some episodes Roach had white fur by her hooves and in other episodes she didn’t.
This probably comes as no surprise to fans that read the books or played Witcher 3: Wild Hunt though. In both the book series and the third installment in the line of Witcher video games developed by CD Projekt Red, The White Wolf is widely known for cycling through multiple horses over his extraordinarily long lifetime (usually female) and naming them all Roach.
While the subject of how long an “average” witcher’s lifespan can last (barring any early, violent death at the hands of the very monster they sought out to kill) is considered a very controversial topic among the Witcher world discussion forums, it is universally understood that they can live longer than unmutated humans.
In fact, an interview with showrunner, Lauren S. Hissrich revealed that Geralt of Rivia starts off season one at a whopping 100 years old and ends it at around 150. When you take into account that regular horses that don’t have frequent run-ins with dangerous creatures and characters live for only for about 25 to 30 years, Geralt’s gone through a lot of Roaches.
For someone who lives so long in a universe where most others don’t, choosing similar horses and giving them all the same name could serve as a way to try and keep the loneliness at bay.
After a long day of getting their behind handed to them by some creature and pondering the idea that almost every mortal they’ve come across is already dead, a horse that looks the same as your last 50 horses and has the same name seems the next best thing a witcher has to a constant in their lifetime. Although for the White Wolf, it’s more than that.
In a journal entry from the Blood and Wine Expansion of Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the relationship between Geralt and his latest version of Roach comes across as the most invaluable one that he has. Even when “Roach panicked and tossed him in the middle of a battle” or would “suddenly turn a different direction that he wanted while he was riding at full gallop towards some urgent destination” He never traded him* in for a more obedient horse that happened to look similar; the “monstrous” Butcher of Blaviken chose to stick it out every time.
The journal entry also revealed that while “many a witcher has talked over the nuts and bolts of his current contract with his horse”, very few would actually admit it. Geralt choosing to confirm that he does without any reluctance or shame from the show’s very first episode is proof that the bond between him is one that he cherishes dearly.
One could even go as far as to say that it’s the bond that Geralt seems to cherish the most out of the few he makes in the first season.
Despite Jaskier (Joey Batey) being the closest thing that the White Wolf currently has to a best friend, Geralt still has a tendency to take his feelings out on him. Whether that’s by speaking to Jaskier harshly or limiting the conversation to simple demands out of annoyance.
Even Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), one of Geralt’s greatest loves, is occasionally made the target of Geralt’s hostile outbursts, but Roach never is.
Actually, the way that the Butcher speaks to Roach is the most gentle that Season One viewers ever see, and with the tone that one would use when speaking to an old friend.
Season One Geralt also displays a tendency to try and shield Roach from as much danger as he can by making sure that Roach is secured somewhere off in the distance. The only two exceptions being in the very last episode when he had to rush in to save a helpless merchant (Francis McGee) from a pack of ghouls and when dealing with the djinn (a situation that he didn’t expect to be dangerous).
Hell, the show’s version of Geralt of Rivia is so fiercely protective of Roach that he won’t even let anyone else touch her unless it’s a life or death situation. The only time that it’s happened so far is when Jaskier’s throat swelled up to the size of a softball and when a couple of low lives decided to lay a hand on her without permission, Geralt (who has been openly and violently opposed to killing humans unless their actions proved them to be monstrous) praised the woman who killed them.
Now in the books, particularly Baptism of Fire, the White Wolf isn’t nearly as affectionate towards Roach. Baptism of Fire takes place over the course of one particular Roach’s whole cycle with the witcher and characterizes their relationship as a lot closer to the one between Geralt and Jaskier in the adaptation.
Geralt constantly complains about her and at one point even threatens to replace her with a donkey, but their connection is still so strong that others can see straight through his charade.
In order to get an accurate picture of what Roach and Geralt mean to each other for the TV series, showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich had Henry Cavill pick the horse that played Roach so that their bond would seem more authentic.
In a series so centered on the importance of certain interpersonal collections, who would’ve guessed that one of the most substantial ones of all would occur between two participants that barely talk to each other at all.
* Roach was a male horse in Witcher 3: Wild Hunt