Geralt’s Main Strength: Empathy

By Luis Navarro

Staff Writer, P.F.I. Co-Host

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

The Witcher is a medieval fantasy world where we follow Geralt of Rivia, a professional monster slayer for hire. It is a world where the humanization of characters takes center stage. Throughout his journey, Geralt encounters many individual characters with three-dimensional personalities, detailed stories, and complex backgrounds – no different than people in the real world. While Geralt may draw much of his strength from his skilled swordsmanship, mutations, and magical aptitude, I would argue that his main strength is his ability to empathize with others. 

What is empathy? It’s the capacity to feel what another person is feeling, being able to put yourself in their shoes. Throughout the show, the books, and the video games, it’s shown that Geralt would rather avoid engaging in unjustified violence. Oftentimes he would prefer to help monsters afflicted by a curse. If no other alternative works, then yes, he’ll proceed with killing them, but not without a sense of guilt. Afterall, Geralt did not want to become a Witcher; as a young boy, he dreamed of becoming a noble knight who helps those in need.

Geralt’s journey in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a prime example of this, as developers – through their game design – encourage players to display empathy in a cruel world filled with raw and unsavory individuals. The game is structured in such a way that the choices made by Geralt (and the player by extension) influence the narrative. While there are many examples of moral dilemmas in which Geralt takes part, none are as significant in magnitude as Ciri’s fate at the end of the game, which is directly tied to how Geralt interacts with her. 

The game revolves around Geralt trying to find Ciri, who he trained as a child and who is practically a daughter to him. What complicates Geralt’s search for Ciri is that the Wild Hunt is also in pursuit of her, as they seek to use her powers as a Child of the Elder Blood to conquer more worlds. Her power, however, can also be used to avert the White Frost, a world-ending catastrophic threat and the reason her fate is crucial to the story.

At the end of the game, once the Wild Hunt is defeated, Ciri has an opportunity to prevent the White Frost from happening. Her fate is dictated by how Geralt treats her throughout the story. For her to survive, Geralt must be a supportive father figure who comforts her in moments of despair and supports her to make her own decisions. However, should he be a stern, overprotective figure who lacks an understanding of what Ciri is going through and doesn’t trust her to handle herself, she will die. Overcome with guilt, it destroys Geralt, leaving him a lonely and broken man, a husk of his former self.

The ending of the game is a direct reflection of the empathy displayed by Geralt towards Ciri, and it shows that his main strength resides in his compassion. Of course, there are times when engaging in violence and a lack of compassion is promoted as justified (think of Whoreson Junior). Yet, this is a game where I generally found myself resolving conflicts peacefully and witnessing the world around Geralt become marginally better because of it.

“A true witcher should never abandon poultry in distress.” 

– Geralt, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

For this reason, I think of Geralt as an unconventional male protagonist. He reminds me of characters like Newt Scamander from the world of Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings. In summary, Newt is a powerful wizard whose character revolves around his compassion and nurturing of magical creatures often perceived as monsters by others. His views also extend to people, especially those considered outcasts of society. Meanwhile, Frodo is a hobbit who frankly isn’t very imposing compared to other supporting characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn, and Legolas. However, unlike those characters, Frodo can carry Sauron’s ring and resist its temptation due to his upbringing with Bilbo Baggins, who taught him the importance of living a life of humility, understanding the world around them, and having empathy towards others.

It’s not uncommon for some people to prefer the supporting characters in these franchises, perceived to be more interesting than the main characters. Geralt, who has similar characteristcs to Newt and Frodo, is undoubtedly the most popular character in The Witcher universe by far. This phenomenon begs the question: why are these characters, who draw their power from the same source, so juxtaposed in pop culture? Well, it’s fair to say audiences have been conditioned over time to expect leading male protagonists to conform to typical masculine performances. Look no further than Marvel Studios with their depictions of Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, men celebrated for their aggressiveness, boastfulness, and arrogance – all of which Geralt is not. While he may present himself as a stoic, courageous, and physically strong figure, his main strength is the ability to feel empathy and display a vulnerable yet confident form of manhood.

This leads me to believe that Geralt has become so widely embraced by fans because he displays the characteristics of a typical male hero while simultaneously being a sensitive and emotional human being, thus making him an intriguing and relatable character for all. Some people would argue that this is a weakness rather than a strength, as these traits are often stereotypically associated with women and femininity. However, Sapkowski and CD Projekt Red challenge these regressive gender expectations by framing these attributes as positive and heroic aspects of a male protagonist throughout his journey.

Geralt’s character is as complex as the world he lives in, much like the people in our everyday lives. His character is a refreshing take on a world abundant with bland and 2-dimensional superheroes. His tale resounds with audiences all over, be it those seeking that badass swordsman capable of taking down an entire army on his own or those who want to immerse themselves in the world and follow along with his journey.

Published by The Second Stylus

The Editor

%d bloggers like this: