Yes, he totally deserves it.
By Benjamin Rose
Some time ago I wrote a piece arguing that the best ending to The Witcher 3: Blood And Wine was the one in which all three major players (Detlaff, Annarietta, and Syanna) die. That has since become our all-time most-viewed article, and I stand by it. But after coming across a random reditor who argued for the umpteenth time the other day the tired “Detlaff was innocent!” shtick, I’ve decided to remind you all that Detlaff was in fact a pathetic asshole and in no way innocent. This is an incel-adjacent argument about the game that needs to be put to rest once and for all.
The gist of Dettlaff apologism is as follows: because Detlaff was manipulated into committing multiple murders in the service of rescuing “Rhenawedd”, his fictitious lover who was actually Syanna, he is therefore blameless for his actions in the expansion and deserves to go free. Had he not been tricked by Syanna, he would have never killed Crespi, du Lac, Milton, etc. Okay, true on the latter count. But did that necessitate him waging indiscriminate warfare on an entire city? Dettlaff apologism argues that, on account of the emotional pain he suffered at the hands of Syanna, the answer is ‘yes’. But to agree with such a sentiment is to inhabit an imaginary world where Detlaff’s feelings overrule the rights of the Toussaintois to, you know, not be eaten alive by vampires. Several times we are told by Regis that Detlaff has a deeper capacity to feel than the average human, as if that somehow amounts to an argument in his favor. He’s a sensitive murderer! Well then, perhaps he should become a poet or take up painting to express his overflowing emotions more productively. After all, to quote HBO’s Barry, “Hitler painted”.
Sympathy for Detlaff is utterly misplaced. He is not a tragic figure, but a brooding and entitled adolescent whose narcissism permits him to commit mass murder over being romantically burned. That is Byronism at its worst. In one sense, this narrative is the product of CD Projekt’s sleight of hand in attempting to create a morally gray villain in Detlaff, one of many false equivalencies established in Blood and Wine to hamfist moral ambiguity into the scenario when there is none. Syanna is the other notable offender (literally and figuratively ) in this case: a terrorist and potential regicide who we must bizarrely forgive in order to attain the expansion’s “happy” ending, despite the fact that in any normal court of law she’d be imprisoned for life. In another sense, however, the defense of Detlaff speaks to an audience that has engaged with the narrative of The Witcher 3 superficially. The problem is two-fold: weak writing on the part of the developers, and an audience that uncritically accepts these weaknesses at face value.
The Witcher is a franchise concerned with ethical choice and the concept of “The Lesser Evil” above all. To its credit, every iteration of the franchise, from the novels, to the games, to the show has done an admirable job of inviting the consumer to explore various moral quandaries and arrive at their own conclusions, secure in the knowledge that no choice, however noble in principle, guarantees a good outcome. But the books remain the most successful form of this dialectic in that they refuse to succumb to relativism. Geralt can grate on some readers as overly opinionated in the books, but he is often shown to be fallible and wrong, and it is often in doubt whether or not his choices reflect authorial agreement or authorial satire. The show and games have at times, in their efforts to replicate the books’ moral dialectics, succumbed to offering radically unequal moral options and hand-waving them as equal on the grounds of “ambiguity”. Detlaff, the aggrieved mass murderer whose actions can somehow be approved due to erotic manipulation, is a particularly bad example of this hand-waving. It’s concerning, perhaps, how many people buy it. Don’t buy it. Kill Detlaff.