It’s always been a little hard to parse exactly what The Witcher is doing with the story of Geralt’s mother, Visenna, a single parent who unceremoniously sent the adolescent Geralt to the witchers to endure the Trial of the Grasses — a process, we’re told, that only three in ten children survive. There’s a decent case to be made that Visenna is actually the first monster Geralt ever faced. Her brief appearance at the end of season one raised more inquiries than it answered: Appearing out of nowhere to save Geralt on his deathbed, she healed him, refused to answer any questions about his past, and had disappeared again by the time he awoke.
It always felt like there must be a part of this story left to be told — something that might even justify Visenna’s decision to suddenly abandon a child who, as Geralt wistfully recalls in “Unbound,” would have done anything to make her smile. But if there were an explanation, it has gone to the grave with her. Visenna, her friend Anika tells Geralt, is dead after being beaten by bigots who mistook her for an elf. (“She talked about you a lot at the end,” Anika says, which is clearly supposed to be comforting but lands as another twist of the knife.)
There’s a chance that Visenna’s death is yet another lie. This show has a lot going on right now, so I’m not sure we have enough room for another subplot — but it does feel a little weird to kill off the biggest link to Geralt’s pre-witcher life offscreen and to reveal her death through a character we’ve never met before.
But assuming Visenna is actually dead, there’s also something almost refreshingly brutal about this reveal. It’s a reminder that, despite all the magic and courtly scheming, most lives on the Continent are nasty, brutish, and short. Being the long-lost mother of the show’s hero didn’t give Visenna any magical plot armor. Geralt has spent most of his life haunted by the lost mother he could never understand, and now he always will be. Anika tells him Visenna loved him the best she could; all Geralt can do now is learn from her failings and love Ciri better. (In her absence, he’s kind enough to do the same for the fake Ciri, who turns out to be a girl named Teryn, whose brain has been warped by a powerful and mysterious enchantment.)
Of course, Geralt is just one of the two surrogate parents doing their best to raise the Cintran princess. “Unbound” is an interesting episode for Yennefer, who spends much of it trying to manage Ciri’s rebellious spirit even as she chafes against her own surrogate mother, Tissaia. Like any parent who has tried to make sure their gifted teenager gets into an elite academy, Yennefer is prepared to do just about anything to land Ciri a spot at her own alma mater, the magic school Aretuza. If there’s a fair amount of bad blood from that time Yennefer betrayed the mages and set Cahir free, she’s also lucky enough to have Tissaia, who has long regarded Yennefer as her own surrogate daughter.
This time, Yennefer holds it together. The problem is her rebellious teen. While Yennefer pleads her case, Ciri spends the episode wandering the streets of Gors Velen, eating donuts and taunting her nerdy male escort. When they take in the Witcher equivalent of a carnival sideshow, Ciri correctly notes that the fearsome creature on display is a wyvern, not a basilisk. She defeats it, though not before a pickpocket lifts the sack of coins Yennefer gave her. And when she does return to Yennefer — who is playing the game by wining and dining her fellow sorceresses while advocating for a mages’ conclave — Ciri is so disgusted that she abandons Yennefer altogether.
It’s not a great time for Ciri to be striking out on her own because two significant political assassinations in two separate kingdoms seem poised to put her in even greater danger. The first is in Redania, where Djikstra finally lives up to his reputation with a brutal power play. In an effort to ensure Vizimir doesn’t get too cozy with Nilfgaard, Djikstra has the queen’s head chopped off and delivered to Vizimir in a box. It is an incredibly obvious frame-job that works on the incredibly credulous king, ensuring that the bloodshed will continue to spread.
The second is in Nilfgaard, where Cahir gets back into the emperor’s good graces at the cost of what little goodness he had left. Slipping into Gallatin’s chamber, he stabs his friend in the neck on Emhyr’s orders, crying and apologizing even as he commits another murder in the White Flame’s name. Rough stuff.
But for anyone with an eye on The Witcher’s long game, the most consequential development comes at the episode’s end. As Ciri races toward Geralt, she’s pursued by the Wild Hunt, a series of spectral riders you might recall from the season-two finale. This time, Geralt arrives quickly enough to fend them off — but if you were laying odds on which of Ciri’s many, many pursuers posed the gravest threat, you’d probably need to put the extradimensional, quasi-immortal ghost elves with skull masks and ghost horses somewhere near the top.
• The captions reveal that one of the Wild Hunt’s spectral riders is Eredin, who appeared in a supporting role in The Witcher: Blood Origin.
• Istredd is back! He’s still obsessed with monoliths!
• And so is Lydia van Bredevoort, hiding the facial scar she got last season behind a glamour that Rience is all too happy to dispel.
• I can’t believe the episode introduced a lycanthrope in the first act and didn’t let him go full werewolf in the third act.
• Jaskier’s type, per Vespula: men, women, dwarves, elves, and the polymorphous.
• I don’t quite know what to make of Vizimir’s weirdly violent medieval-style Ping-Pong table, but I’d love to play a game.
• While we’re at it: I’ll take a handful of the medieval-style donuts Ciri is happily wolfing down.