There have been a lot of strong contenders for the true villain of The Witcher’s second season. Is it Rience, the fire-wielding mage who keeps teleporting around the Continent and beating up people we like? Stregobor, the arrogant old mage trying to maintain the control of the Brotherhood? King Vizimir, scheming with Dijkstra to destabilize the entire Continent for his own political ends? Nilfgaard’s Emperor Emhyr, the unseen “White Flame” who inspires both fear and devotion from his generals? Or even Ciri herself, so unable to control her powers that she inadvertently releases full force of the apocalyptic magic within her?
As it turns out, the real answer has been hanging out in her chicken-legged hut all along. We’ve had plenty of evidence that the Deathless Mother is bad news — for starters, she’s called the “Deathless Mother” — but she’s primarily lurked on the periphery of the narrative, manipulating Francesca, Fringilla, and Yennefer without directly inserting herself into the political hornet’s nest that’s swarming across the Continent. But she did have a plan, and in “Voleth Meir,” she finally springs it.
The results are swift and horrifying, as all three women see their deepest wish flipped around with horrifying monkey’s paw-style consequences. Francesca’s baby, who brought so much hope and joy to the elves, suddenly dies in Filavandrel’s arms. Fringilla snaps, paralyzes, and murders almost every other high-ranking Nilfgaardian in Cintra, consolidating her power in a Red Wedding-esque coup. And Yennefer, desperate to get her power back, maneuvers Ciri into the Deathless Mother’s clutches, losing both Ciri and Geralt in the process.
This is a grim time for the Continent, and with the world in such a state of chaos, everyone is forced to retreat to their corners and rely on who they think they can trust. No fewer than two characters in “Voleth Meir” specifically cite the importance of valuing and trusting blood over anything else.
This is nonsense, of course. When Francesca and Filavandrel had their baby, they decided it was time for the elves to embrace isolationism after all. But in doing so, they also severed their alliance with Fringilla, weakening both Nilfgaard and the elves at a time when neither side could really afford it.
Even The Witcher’s metaphorical families are starting to fall apart. The Brotherhood — a name that implies a familial level of trust — is mainly characterized by the mages’ infighting and backstabbing, as Vilgefortz and Stregobor bicker over who deserves a leadership role. At the same time, Tissaia, the surrogate mother to an entire class of young sorceresses, breaks Triss’s trust by revealing her secrets to Vilgefortz. And the name of the Deathless Mother herself is a dark parody of parenthood, bringing those who are lost into her house and offering “gifts” only to torment them.
But for all the complicated, intimate relationships that are starting to fall apart, there’s none more painful than the breakdown between Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri, which is most clearly exemplified by the literal chasm that opens up when Ciri realizes Yennefer has betrayed her.
This is a particularly sad twist on a few different levels. Ciri is desperately in need of more mentors — especially those who can help her govern her magic — and Geralt, who she trusts more than anyone, is both Yennefer’s former lover and a man who has called her the greatest mage he’s ever known. On the other side, Yennefer preaches that magic will be the only thing Ciri ever truly needs, even as she scrambles to fill the hole that formed when her magic was stripped from her. Back in season one, Yennefer desperately wanted to fill that hole with the ability to conceive a child but couldn’t because she traded her uterus for magic. Now she’s lost her magic, and she’s so desperate to get it back that she sacrifices what clearly could have been her child.
For all the episode’s “blood is thicker than water”-style monologues, The Witcher and its trio of orphaned protagonists prove that the show understands that blood is not the same thing as family. Geralt may not have fathered Ciri, but she’s unquestionably his daughter now. How far is he willing to go to protect Ciri? When Jaskier asks what Geralt will do if Yennefer has hurt Ciri, Geralt doesn’t hesitate: “I may have to kill her.” And as Geralt stands with a sword to Yennefer’s throat, he snarls a confirmation when asked to whom Ciri belongs: “Mine.”
Over the course of season two, Geralt has surprised even himself with his new and earnest commitment to being the Continent’s Greatest Dad — but for now, at least, his assertion that Ciri belongs to him isn’t quite true. As the Deathless Mother’s plan comes to fruition, she abandons her chicken-legged house and flies away in a cloud of embers. And when those embers finally settle again, they land on Ciri, who she now possesses.
We’ve spent the whole season hearing about how Ciri harbors so much terrifying magical power that she could, and perhaps will, bring about the end of the world itself. Does that sound like a power you’d want the Deathless Mother to have?
• In addition to finally mending his relationship with Jaskier, Geralt reunites with Yarpen Zigrin, the leader of the band of dwarves they traveled with in last season’s “Rare Species.”
• Rience gives Lydia a bottle that he claims contains the witcher mutagen he stole from Kaer Morhen. When she holds it to her face, she screams and collapses while her face melts off. Maybe it’s time for people to stop trusting this guy?
• The scene in which Fringilla drugs the other Nilfgaardian generals with nightshade and then stabs them all to death as they sit paralyzed at the dinner table deserves to be counted among the best and most chilling sequences of the season, if not the series. We’ll see in the finale if Emhyr buys her lies about it.
• The Deathless Mother is The Witcher’s version of Baba Yaga, a figure in Slavic folklore who lives in a house that rests atop two chicken legs.
• Names discussed for the elven baby: Ceinwen, Fiona, Liserne. God, this is a sad part of this story.
• Ciri’s description of Geralt: “Grump of a first order, the social graces of a wild boar. He’s the father I never had.”
• Jaskier’s impression of Geralt, in an affected raspy voice: “I’m so sad and complicated.”
• Yennefer breaks down her feelings about Geralt: “Longing, regret, hope, and fear. I don’t think I’ve omitted anything.”
• Jaskier bathing in cold water: “You could hang portraits off my nipples right now.”
• Always a little weird when we’re reminded that Jaskier’s real name is Julian Alfred Pankratz.
• Throughout the season, I‘ve been critical of the inexplicably massive grudge Jaskier has been holding against Geralt — but to be fair, I never considered how annoying it would be to traipse down a mountain in those boots.
• Jaskier songs, ranked best to worst: “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher,” “Go Fuck Yourself You Whoreson,” “Burn Butcher Burn.”
• In case you want to call upon the Deathless Mother yourself, here’s the incantation: “Behold the mother of forests, the Deathless Mother nesting in dreams. Turn your back to the forest, hut hut. Turn your front to me, hut hut.” Good luck!