By Benjamin Rose
After a middling last two episodes The Witcher returns to form. Fresh off her encounter with the Myriapod in episode 3, Ciri and Geralt run the Killer, a cross country course through the woods around Kaer Morhen, before a wounded Ciri bumps into Triss, who has arrived at Geralt’s request to help Ciri manage her powers. Meanwhile, Yennefer and Cahir sneak through Gors Velen, the nearest city to Aretuza, while the local soldiery humiliates elves and rounds them up for deportation. Things get dangerous when the Brotherhood drops magic leaflets on the city calling for their arrest, so they make their way to Oxenfurt, taking shelter in the sewers after nearly being captured. There they are aided by Balian and Dermain, two elven fugitives who lead them towards a mysterious figure called the Sandpiper smuggling eleves to Xintrea, until Dermain is eaten alive by an aquatic beast implied to be that Zeugl Geralt never shuts up about in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which, in the books, appeared in the story “A Shard of Ice”. Balian abandons his friend and earns Yennefer and Cahir’s disgust. They soon follow Balian to a tavern where it is revealed that Jaskier, now singing very intense breakup anthems about Geralt, is in fact the Sandpiper, having been radicalized to help the elves after witnessing a pogrom. Jaskier arranges passage for Cahir, Yen, and other refugees to Cintra before getting into a minor pissing match with a dock guard (played by the actor who voiced The Witcher 3 character Cleaver, no less!) that nearly sabotages the whole operation. Balian then distracts the guards by insulting the North publicly, at which point he is mobbed and beaten to death. Yennefer and Cahir escape, but shortly after sending them off, Jaskier cries out and is abducted by an unseen assailant, forcing Yennefer to abandon ship and set off to rescue him.
In Redania the show finally introduces Sigismund Dijkstra, master spy and all-around vezir to the feckless king Vizimir of Redania, who recruits Dara, the irritating elf boy from season 1, to infiltrate Xintrea, the elves’ new homeland. Dijkstra thwarts an assassination attempt on Vizimir and usnpools a plan to shore up Redania’s power by conquering Cintra in order to drive back Nilfgaard and become the mightiest kingdom on the Continent. Meanwhile, Triss investigates Ciri’s powers and the mutated leshy from the last episode, pushing back against Coen and Lambert’s Witcher Bro sexism in the process. Ciri confesses that her scream destroyed a monolith outside Cintra when Cahir was attempting to abduct her in the pilot, and so Triss portals Geralt to the Continent’s foremost expert on monoliths: Istredd.
Overall this is a far stronger episode than the last two, with the politics sidelined in favor of exploring new dynamics between characters who have scarcely met before or traditionally been enemies, such as Yennefer and Jaskier. The reunion between the two of them is particularly humorous, and it’s fun to see them develop a grudging friendship after spending most of season 1 hating each other’s guts. Likewise, Triss interrupts the groan-inducing banter of Kaer Morhen and is all-round pleasant enough to make me feel a bit guilty for penning an article titling her “Your Creepy Ex-Girlfriend” once. Her unrequited propositioning of Geralt is less pathetic than in the books, and the show seems to be leaning into the idea of making her more like her game counterpart and less like her deeply off-putting and potentially sexually-abusive print version, who only became remotely worthy of respect in the very last chapter of the entire series. Good work.