Good morrow, peasants, and welcome to our review of Netflix’s fantasy series The Witcher. Season one ended with a bang, in a monumental magical encounter between the warmongering Empire of Nilfgaard, and all of our favorite sorceresses fighting for the ambiguous North. Season two premiers with the immediate aftermath, and meanwhile delivers yet another classic monster-of-the-week with a twist on an old familiar fairy tale. Spoilers ahead, so abandon the village, and tell the kind of tale that requires a wine cellar, here are five thoughts on The Witcher season two, episode one, “A Grain of Truth.”
1. Fringilla Vigo and Yennefer of Vengerberg
After turning the tide of the Battle of Sodden, while Geralt and Tissaia de Vries the Rectoress of Aretuza believe she’s dead, Yennefer of Vengerberg is in fact alive and has been taken prisoner by Fringilla Vigo. The really important thing about this, first of all, is that The Witcher generously provides the world with the best character names in all of fantasy. The second most important thing is that it brings Yen and Fringilla together. Lest we forget, peasants, they were classmates at Aretuza, but never exactly friends. Yen pretty much stole Fringilla’s role at Aedirn, which is why Fringilla instead went to Nilfgaard, where she is now wreaking havoc across The Continent for the glory of The White Flame Who Dances on the Graves of His Foes (another fantastic moniker). Yen and Fringilla have always been at odds, though they also share a kind of kinship, both in their shared history at Aretuza, and in their similar grand ambitions and cunning pragmatic tactics. The season two premier hints that if these two should ever work together, they could take over the world. They make great foils for each other, but they’d make even better partners.
2. The Aftermath of War Through the Female Gaze
One of my many favorite things about The Witcher is that it is one of the very few fantasy shows that operates through the female gaze. The hot lady sorceresses are all warriors, and not all, but most of the sweaty grunting is left to the male characters. Last season ended with the Battle of Sodden, an epic fantasy confrontation, and this season begins with its immediate aftermath. Tissaia and Geralt mourn Yennefer (who isn’t actually dead). Triss suffers through a very painful recovery process from her injuries. Tissaia tortures Cahir for more information about Nilfgaard’s plans. In this world, war is largely women’s work. They’re in charge, making the tough decisions, doing the cruel dirty work, and enduring the consequences.
3. No Beauty, Just Beasts
Meanwhile, on their way to Kaer Morhen, Geralt and Ciri spend a night with Geralt’s old friend Nivellen, who has been cursed to look like a human-boar hybrid, living immortally in a spooky mansion next to a mysteriously abandoned village. So far, this story is reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast. The furniture doesn’t come to life to perform meticulously choreographed dinner parties, but Nivellen is capable of some very fun magical parlor tricks. Also, instead of the curse ending when Nivellen finds true love, it ends when he loses it, and instead of a kind overly compliant bookworm, he falls in love with a Bruxa, a vampire who, it turns out, ate the whole village. Most versions of Beauty and the Beast are reverent of true love, while this one mourns the high cost of loving a monster. No Beauties in this story, just beasts.
4. Here’s to You, Mrs. Rochester
Nivellen’s story also has parallels with “Jane Eyre” in which Mr. Rochester keeps his insane wife locked in the attic until she finally burns the estate down. The book seems to side with Mr. Rochester, pitying him having been tricked into the marriage, though the modern reader (hopefully) has more empathy for Mrs. Rochester, whose mental health is probably not improved by imprisonment. Mrs. Rochester is treated like a monster, but the Bruxa is literally a village-destroying blood sucking fiend, so it’s not the fairest comparison. However, in their own way, they each represent the thing their lover is trying to suppress. Like Mrs. Rochester, the Bruxa is hidden away, only to periodically escape and exhibit destructive or homicidal behavior, the way a suppressed feeling can periodically explode. Mr. Rochester hides Mrs. Rochester like he hides the shame of their union. He had planned on marrying the titular Jane Eyre without ever telling her he was already married. Nivellen hides the Bruxa, the only being who loves him despite his curse, as she reminds him of the shame of his curse and of his profound loneliness.Continued below
5. This Time, the Real Monster is… Loneliness
In the tried and true tradition of “monster-of-the-week” the fantastical monsters Geralt is hired to slay are nothing compared to the societal ills they represent. This time, the real monster is loneliness.
Nivellen met Geralt while risking his life to attempt to impress his father, which is a thing one only does when one’s father is particularly distant and withholding. Later, Nivellen “fell in with the wrong crowd” which is a thing one does when one is desperate to be in any crowd at all. Cursed for the atrocities he committed with his terrible friends, Nivellen was left more profoundly alone than he’d ever been. The Bruxa was the only living creature who loved him, and out of desperation for that love, Nivellen ignored her crimes against the village. Loneliness is the feeling that drives all of Nivellen’s horrible choices; it is what inspires him to become a monster.
The Witcher season two gears up to be very different from season one. Three timelines have come together into one. Two out of the three main characters are together too, promising a more focused season-long plot. Still, Geralt and Ciri’s visit with Nivellen also promises not to give up on fun episodic monster-of-the-week adventures in the meantime. Until next time, fight the monster within, and good luck on the path.