By Benjamin Rose
We begin with Yennefer dreaming of a quiet domestic life with Geralt, but this dream quickly turns into a nightmare when a red-robed figure abducts and burns the baby Yennefer has imagined herself having. Back in the real world, Yennefer and Fringilla are now prisoners of the Elves, who are now under the leadership of Francesca Findabair after the abdication of her husband Filavandrel. Led by psychic visions to a monolith in the wilderness South of Cintra, Yennefer, Francesca, and Fringilla all receive visions from a demonic entity known as the Deathless Mother, who promises them each power according to their desires. In what seems an explicit channeling of the Gaunter O’Dimm mythos from The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone, each woman but Yennefer makes a corrupt bargain with the entity, who appears to Francesca as the Prophetess Ithlinne, to Fringilla as Emhyr Var Emreis, and to Yennefer as an unidentified teen girl presumably representing her long-desired daughter. Yennefer knows this is a trap and rejects the offer outright, but soon discovers to her horror that her use of fire magic during the Battle of Sodden Hill has stripped her of her chaos, reducing her to a mortal woman. With the core of her identity effectively destroyed, this sets Yennefer on a collision course to return to the Deathless Mother under worse circumstances, and threatens to destroy her entire life once the Brotherhood discovers her newfound impotence. Meanwhile, Fringilla allies with Francesca in the hopes of forming a united Nilfgaardian/Elven front against the North.
Following their adventure with Nivellen, Geralt and Ciri arrive at the Witcher keep of Kaer Morhen the in far North of the Kingdom of Kaedwen, where Ciri is introduced to Geralt’s brothers in the trade, who welcome him home and soon begin a night of drunken revelry. However, matters are complicated by the late arrival of Eskel, a fellow Witcher just returned from a bruising fight with a leshy, who begins to show signs of random irritability and aggression. While Vesemir and Geralt debate the mystery of Ciri’s escape from Cintra, Ciri acquaints herself with Kaer Morhen. Soon, the party begins, with Lambert inviting a troupe of prostitutes to amuse the Witchers, and Geralt has a brief, awkward reunion with Danica, the whore who originally pointed him in the direction of the Temerian Striga way back in season 1. Just when everything is in full swing, it all goes to pox. Eskel has been infected and mutated by the Leshy, quickly morphing into one himself, and attacks Vesemir, forcing Geralt to kill him. Shaken by her helplessness during the crisis, Ciri begs Geralt to let her train in combat, and Geralt reluctantly consents.
This is a middling episode, neither good nor bad but largely a bridge to set up later plot developments. Ironically, despite the importance of finally seeing Kaer Morhen in the show (which previously appeared in the anime Nightmare of the Wolf in the Netflix continuity), the strongest scenes are those among the elves, where their culture and oppressed status is expanded upon in more detail and Anya Chalotra is left free to continuing being the most charismatic actor on set. Barring some terrible jokes from Lambert, the show’s dialogue sustains its improvement from S2E1 over the often clunky lines of season 1, and the universe of The Witcher is slowly beginning to feel as expansive and lived in as its counterpart in Sapkowski’s novels and CD Projekt Red’s game trilogy (a fourth installment of which is now in development). The combat and cinematography remain compelling, but are, ironically, not on par with that of season 1 despite improvement in all other areas of the production. Fortunately, Wolfgang Stegmann, the fight coordinator of the epic Blaviken massacre and duel from the pilot, will be returning next season and has actually been promoted to the role of overall stunt director. As production photos leak from the season 3 set of Geralt and Vilgefortz engaging in their iconic Time of Contempt-era duel, I can’t wait to see the next season of the Witcher marry its vast improvements in storytelling to the glorious heights of its season 1 swordplay.