The Witcher Season-Finale Recap: Under Siege

The Witcher

Much More
Season 1 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating 3 stars

The Witcher

Much More
Season 1 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: Netflix

Whatever the show’s title, it has become increasingly clear over the course of The Witcher’s first season that this series is interested in a lot more than the witcher. With three timelines viewed from three different point-of-view characters — and at least two dozen side characters operating within the scope of this immensely complicated and war-torn fantasy landscape — there was simply no way the finale was going to resolve, or even address, all the dangling threads we’ve been following throughout the first season.

But what I didn’t expect was that the witcher himself would be so irrelevant to the finale of The Witcher. At the top of the episode, Geralt gets attacked by some zombielike monsters and spends the rest of it convalescing in a delirious haze. We get some flashbacks while Geralt is backing away from death’s door, but until the closing moments of the finale, that’s all he does in this episode.

Instead, the big arc in the finale belongs to Yennefer. Her season-long quest to carve out a meaningful life ends at Sodden Hill, where she and her fellow mages make a 300-style stand against the invading Nilfgaardian army, who will have unfettered access to the Northern kingdoms if they can get across that bridge. And this is also a kind of civil war, since the Nilfgaardian army is led by their fellow sorceress, Fringilla.

There’s just one problem I have with all of this: Who is Fringilla? I don’t mean that literally — she’s been around since Yennefer’s training days at Aretuza. I mean: What’s Fringilla’s deal? How did she get so powerful? Is all of this revenge against Yennefer for abandoning Nilfgaard for a more glamorous post, which is how Fringilla got stuck there in the first place? Was this her plan all along, regardless of where she ended up? Is Fringilla a zealot herself, or is she just manipulating zealots like Cahir as pawns in her own quest for power? Fringilla is clearly a worthy villain, but I wish The Witcher had done more to give her a real arc. Even a single scene where she and Yennefer have a significant interaction at Aretuza would have made Fringilla’s betrayal play that much more clearly, and sting that much harder.

On the eve of the battle, the odds are not looking great for our heroes, but the stakes become clearer when Yennefer makes an important philosophical shift. As Yennefer laments that the world has nothing left to give her, Tissaia de Vries flips it around, suggesting that Yennefer still has plenty left to give the world. Having grown up in such abuse and poverty, Yennefer has been focused on taking as much as she can — but giving is a better look for someone with her powers, and I suspect she’ll find it more fulfilling.

And the timing couldn’t be better, because her skill as a sorceress is desperately needed. Let’s talk about the thing the Witcher finale doesn’t skimp on: Magic. In scope and ambition, the Battle of Sodden Hill is fairly similar to fantasy battles like Lord of the Rings’ Battle of Helm’s Deep or Game of Thrones’ Battle of Blackwater — but things get so much nuttier when you put 22 sorceresses and sorcerers on that wall.

The battle begins in earnest when Fringilla orders the sorceresses on her side to launch massive fireballs at the castle. Back at the Council of Mages, it was briefly mentioned that fire magic is forbidden, and now we see why: Generating that much power reduces each sorceress who casts the spell to ash. A single direct hit would probably end the whole battle — but fortunately, the good guys have Yennefer, who manages to deflect the fireballs before they can do any real damage to the keep.

And with the first shots fired, Yennefer and her 21 fellow mages launch an elaborate and genuinely thrilling scheme to beat the odds — and crush an army of 50,000 — with a bevy of well-placed spells. Triss Merigold (who you might remember from “Betrayer Moon”) casts a spell that creates a bed of deadly mushrooms, which launch spores when trampled that poison the Nilfgaardian soldiers. Vilgefortz teleports into the opposing army and uses magic to dodge their attacks while cutting them down with terrifying efficiency. Coral does the Darth Vader thing and telekinetically crushes the windpipe of any soldier who reaches the frontline.

There’s just one problem: Nilfgaard still has a mage, too. Fringilla has some clever tricks up her own sleeve — it’s honestly pretty awesome when she opens a portal and gets the archers to shoot into it, suddenly raining arrows out of nowhere onto Sodden Hill — but her real trick comes with an unassuming metal box that she manages to get within the walls of the keep. The box is full of magic worms, which crawl into the ears and control the minds of the heroes (including the sorceress Sabrina), forcing them to turn on their allies. The panic and confusion is enough to break the front line.

But the good guys also have one last wild card left to play: Yennefer, who has been saving the bulk of her magic power for just such  desperate moment. “Let your chaos explode,” urges Tissasia — and as Yennefer reflects on a lifetime of disappointment and abuse, she does explode, unleashing a massive and devastating wave of fire that beats back the Niflgaardian army long enough for the cavalry, led by King Foltest, to arrive.

And so the North is saved from Nilfgaard for today (and, at least, until season two). And while the battle was raging nearby, Geralt managed to recover from his injuries. Ever since the Law of Surprise kicked in during the royal banquet in Cintra, there’s been a lot of talk about destiny in this series. And whether by fate itself or by happy coincidence, the now-recovered witcher is finally within walking distance of Ciri.

The scene when Geralt and Ciri finally come face to face in the woods has a genuine sense of catharsis — if only because The Witcher has been teasing this as the endgame all along. The entire season has been building to the moment when these two timelines would finally converge. And while Geralt and Ciri don’t know each other personally yet, we already know how much they have to offer each other. Geralt will be a reliable mentor and protector, and Ciri will be the connection to humanity that Geralt has otherwise largely cast aside. (There’s also the matter of her innate magical power, which will surely come in handy and/or change the world.)

But even as she hugs Geralt, Ciri’s premonition of the future is enough to make her realize that one third of the triptych is missing. “Who is Yennefer?”

We already know the answer to that one. But more to the point: Where is Yennefer? This show may be called The Witcher, but Yennefer is arguably even more central to the narrative — and at the end of the battle she won, she’s nowhere to be found. At long last, two of our heroes are together. Now it’s time to bring the third one into the fold.

Stray arrows:

• The Witcher has already been picked up by Netflix for a second season, due to start shooting in early 2020 — but unfortunately, it sounds like season two won’t be ready to stream until at least 2021, so we all have a long wait ahead. That said: If you’re hankering for more Witcher right now, eight of Andrzej Sapkowski’s original books have been translated into English, and the video game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is very well-regarded and roughly 1 million hours long.

• The Witcher has used a different sigil on its title screen every episode, and while I haven’t kept track, I assume that’s all of the previous sigils coming together to form the big one in the finale. You probably noticed the wolf, which represents Geralt, but the swallow is a bird closely associated with Siri in the books, and the obsidian star is a symbol for Yennefer.

• While Geralt is in his haze, we get a few flashbacks to his childhood — when he had brown hair! — and get the broad strokes of his origin story: He was abandoned by his mother, who seems to have been some kind of healer or sorceress, and left at the doorstep of Vesemir, the man who made him a witcher.

• Okay, that “feast for crows line” was definitely a Game of Thrones, reference, right?

• That unnamed woman was so (unintentionally?) creepy when she tucked Ciri into bed that I was absolutely convinced she would turn out to be the villain in a Hansel & Gretel–style subplot.

• Fringilla reveals that she conjured the storm that sank the fleet that would otherwise have saved Cintra.

When asked why he’s doing all this, Cahir says he wants to “get to the center of it all.” I … don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.

Geralt’s delirium includes a quick conversation with Renfri, whom he killed back in the premiere, and whose death continues to haunt him. It also includes Geralt’s old buddy Borch, seen here as a tiny golden dragon.

• When Yurga the merchant offers Geralt the Law of Surprise, Geralt quickly asks for an ale instead. Good call, man.

• Here’s “The Song of the White Wolf,” which played over the credits of the finale.

• And that’s a wrap on The Witcher until 2021! Sound off on what you liked and didn’t like about season one — and what you want from season two — in the comments below. Personally, I’m hoping for more wacky Hercules: The Legendary Journeys–style fantasy hijinks and less grim Game of Thrones–esque political maneuvering, but I’m curious what everybody else wants out of this show.

The Witcher Season-Finale Recap: Under Siege