Geralt of Rivia’s last job didn’t go so well. After reluctantly killing Renfri in Blaviken, he was confronted by Stregobor, who reneged on the promised price of “whatever you want” by inciting the townsfolk into stoning Geralt until he left town.
So it’s back on the road again, looking for an odd job that’ll put a little coin in his pocket. And it’s not long before he steps into a tavern and encounters another misfit: a wayward bard whose music inspires the jeering patrons to toss vegetables at him. (In a clever, revealing little character beat, the bard picks up the fresh veggies and saves them for later.)
This is the TV show’s version of the fan-favorite character Jaskier (whose name has previously been translated to “Dandelion” in English). And when Geralt gets hired by a bar patron to find a demon who has been recently causing trouble, Jaskier decides to tag along and see if the witcher’s exploits might inspire a new song.
And, honestly, I kind of dig this Hercules: The Legendary Journeys approach to Geralt’s story, which seems to promise new wacky buddies and adventures in every episode. At the very least, it adds some color to Henry Cavill’s Geralt, who tends to be a little one-note and monotone unless he’s actively riffing with somebody.
So Geralt rides off to confront the “demon,” who actually turns out to be a relatively harmless “sylvan” — basically a person with a goat’s head — named Torque. After a brief scuffle, Torque ties up Geralt and Jaskier and takes them to his buddy: an elf named Filavandrel, sometimes hailed as the “elf king.” The reality, however, doesn’t befit that grandiose title. Filavandrel is in hiding in the wake of a human-led genocide of the elves, which is described euphemistically as “the Great Cleansing.”
Of course, Geralt continues to insist that he’s not a human, and he’s more than happy to move along without turning this ragtag crew over to its tormentors. And just like the premiere, Geralt basically has one piece of advice when he meets somebody in a bad situation: Run away and make a new life someplace else. It’s a philosophy that speaks to Geralt’s life as a nomad, but it’s also totally unrealistic for most people, who are understandably attached to their homes.
In any case, Filavandrel and his companions aren’t going anywhere — but they’ve also decided Geralt isn’t a threat. So they let him go, he gives them the 150 ducat he received in advance, they give Jaskier a new lute to replace the one they broke, and everyone wanders off relatively happy. Jaskier even decides to write a new song about Geralt’s adventure, though Geralt is characteristically grumpy about it.
While I’m sure we’ll meet Filavandrel again someday, this story is both straightforward and self-contained: just a fun little adventure with our witcher and his obnoxious but charming new friend. But the real meat of the episode comes from a parallel plot that follows a new character: a young sorceress named Yennefer. (Friendly advice: If you don’t want anything spoiled, don’t even Google that name.)
At the beginning of the episode, we meet Yennefer as the abused and unloved stepdaughter of a pig farmer, forced to work in the slop while peers mock her for her hunched back. But like Carrie, all that adolescent abuse eventually seems to awaken something in Yennefer. At a moment of high stress, Yennefer suddenly teleports away to a magical place. A friendly young man named Istredd sends her right back. But it isn’t long before a mysterious and glamorous sorceress named Tissaia de Vries — having sensed Yennefer’s raw power — arrives and buys her away from her stepfather for the four marks that give the episode its title.
In rapid succession — maybe a little too rapid — Yennefer learns the ins and outs of life at the Witcher equivalent of Hogwarts. When she first arrives, she attempts suicide, taking her stepfather’s cruelty as a sign that no one will ever love her. But before long, Yennefer becomes curious about exploring the limits of her own magical powers alongside peers that, for the first time, she can connect with. They levitate rocks and read each other’s minds and catch lightning in bottles until Tissaia decides it’s time to figure out which of the girls should “ascend.”
Yennefer’s final test, which seems to be the real test, is all about manipulation. Throughout her training, she’s been sneaking off to meet with a young man named Istredd, who harbors an obvious crush on her. As they meet again, Yennefer reveals that Tissaia has discovered the affair and plans to send her away. In a fairly clumsy bit of exposition, Yennefer also reveals that her real father was an elf who died in the Great Cleansing. Yennefer and Istredd kiss, and Yennefer leaves with a special flower she receives from Istredd.
And she promptly brings the flower to Tissaia, who ordered her to wrest it from Istredd in the first place. Yennefer watches, and eventually helps, as Tissaia gives several of her peers another hard lesson: turning them into electric eels in service of a greater magical power. For now, at least, Yennefer is most useful in her current form.
You might be feeling pretty bad for Istredd right now. But wait! In a subsequent scene, we learn that Istredd is running a con on Yennefer too. Stregobor, our creepy old wizard buddy from the last episode, pops up to reveal he has been ordering Istredd to romance Yennefer all along. Both of the apprentices seem to be pawns in some kind of greater game played by their masters — and while The Witcher is currently splitting its time between Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri, the recurring characters popping up in these apparently disconnected story lines are surely a sign that this massive world will start to come together before the season comes to an end.
• Most of this episode is spent with Geralt and Yennefer, but we get a little more time with Ciri, too. In brief: She evades the Nilfgaardian soldiers, camps out with a Cintran family that hated the late queen but doesn’t recognize that she is the queen’s granddaughter, and then escapes again when the Nilfgaardians show up and kill everybody. She also makes friends with a helpful, mostly silent elf boy named Dara, who roasts a rat over a spit for her to eat.
• There’s a weird moment when the guy at the bar looks at Geralt and says, “You take no prisoners, I hear” — exactly the thing Queen Calanthe said about the invading Nilfgaardians. A suspicious person might start to wonder if there’s any connection between Geralt and that army of killers …
• “There I go again, just delivering exposition,” says Jaskier right after delivering some bad exposition. He also calls out the Act Two break. Cute — but acknowledging the lazy stuff doesn’t give you a free pass to do the lazy stuff.
• I know The Witcher’s world is big enough to account for different areas that use different types of money, but what’s the conversion rate between marks (four for Yennefer, ten for a pig) and ducat (150 to go find a demon)?
• I’m sure it’s a coincidence that the most gifted teenage witch in Yennefer’s class is named Sabrina — but hey, why not have a little Netflix cross-promotion?
• Jaskier refers to Geralt as “White Wolf,” which has been a common nickname for Geralt throughout the Witcher franchise. I guess this is how he got it.
• Here’s the full version of Jaskier’s song, “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher,” which has been stuck in my head for two straight days.