The Witcher has repeatedly warned us that the time of sword and axe is nigh — but as the season-two finale begins, the Deathless Mother settles for a knife. In Ciri’s body, the Deathless Mother stalks around Kaer Morhen, slitting the throats of witchers as they sleep. To these victims, who don’t know Ciri has been possessed, this is as about as shocking and horrible a death as you can imagine: Bleeding out while staring at the girl you welcomed into the only home you’ve ever known, who holds the knife with a finger to her lips and a smile on her face.
This series frequently flirts with fantasy horror, but it’s never embraced it as fully as it does in “Family.” This grim opening sequence isn’t even the only mass murder in the finale; in response to the killing of her baby daughter, Francesca engineers a truly nightmarish spell that causes mass infanticide, leaving all the babies in one Redanian city dead.
But as rough as it is to watch the Deathless Mother kill off a few remaining members of the endangered species called witchers, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the violence she could unleash if she fully taps into Ciri’s powers. After Geralt and Yennefer race to Kaer Morhen to try to save Ciri, they find her poised to shatter yet another monolith that will unleash new breeds of monsters into the world.
Geralt’s whole job is killing monsters. Now he’s staring at an impossibly powerful one, in the guise of his surrogate daughter, who is threatening to unleash countless more. Which pushes The Witcher’s season two finale to a question the show has been asking all along: What is a monster, and what can be done to stop one?
In this case, Geralt never wavers in his answer: Even if killing Ciri would also mean the death of the Deathless Mother, that’s a compromise he won’t make. The only solution he’s willing to entertain is one that will leave Ciri alive.
Vesemir isn’t as sure, and it’s because the stakes are so high here that I found myself in the unusual position of siding against Geralt. For reasons both as personal as saving the few remaining witchers and as universal as preventing the end of the world, there’s a legitimate argument that Ciri needs to be stopped by any means necessary.
After a bunch of monsters kill a bunch of witchers and the survivors put their heads together, it turns out there is another answer. Honestly, I found it so contrived and convoluted that I’m not entirely sure how to describe what happens, but I’ll take a shot anyway:
- Geralt figures out that the Deathless Mother feeds on hate.
- Our heroes do an It: Chapter Two thing where they weaken the Deathless Mother by asserting their love for Ciri.
- Geralt offers himself up as an alternate vessel for the Deathless Mother, which doesn’t work.
- Yennefer cuts her wrists and offers herself up as a different alternate vessel for the Deathless Mother, which does work.
- Ciri, Geralt, and Yennefer are drawn through the portal to the red-tinted sphere occupied by the Wild Hunt, which is also where the Deathless Mother originally came from.
- The Deathless Mother flies away because her real goal all along was to return home.
- Our heroes head back through the portal to Kaer Morhen.
- Yennefer discovers her ability to perform magic has returned.
That’s more or less what literally happens — but the real battle that unfolds here, which feels closer to the story The Witcher actually wants to tell, is happening in Ciri’s mind. Like everyone else who encounters the Deathless Mother, Ciri has been sold a fantasy. While the Deathless Mother uses her body to kill people, Ciri believes herself to be at a ball in Cintra, living an idealized version of the life she lost when Nilfgaard attacked her home. Not only are Calanthe and Mousesack there; her dead parents, Pavetta and Duny, are in attendance too.
In the end, it’s Geralt’s insistence on bringing Ciri back to reality that breaks her out of this fog, with his desperate pleas managing to reach her and shatter the fantasy she’s stuck in. Having spent the entire series mourning the loss of her old home, Ciri closes out the season by asserting that she has a new one: “I have to go home,” she tells these phantom versions of her parents as they dissolve into dust.
So Ciri has a new home after all. Her “family,” as it stands, is pretty dysfunctional. In Jaskier: a goofy uncle you probably shouldn’t trust to babysit. In Vesemir: a grandpa who tried to stab her to death. In Geralt: a father who pointedly insists that he still hasn’t forgiven Yennefer for her betrayal. Then again, Yennefer is the only one who can help Ciri gain the discipline she needs in her magic, so it looks like they’ll stay together for the kid.
But as heartwarming as this is, the Continent offers a much broader canvas than this odd little clan at Kaer Morhen. And as the season comes to a close, pretty much everybody still wants something from Ciri. Francesca, spurred on by Istredd, sees Ciri’s Elder blood as the potential fulfillment of Ithlinne’s Prophecy, in which a world reborn in ice might be more hospitable to elves. The Wild Hunt wants Ciri to join them on their violent, trans-dimensional ride. King Vizimir wants to marry Ciri and claim Cintra for himself. Tissaia suggests a bounty on Ciri and anyone who would protect her.
And then there’s Emhyr var Emreis, the oft-mentioned, never seen “White Flame” and emperor of Nilfgaard. In a season-ending twist, Emhyr finally enters Cintra, and his face turns out to be familiar after all. Emhyr was formerly known as Duny, the knight who happens to be Ciri’s actual father. (You might recall his hedgehog head.) Now he wants her back. I wonder what her new father will have to say about that?
• If you turned off the show right as the credits started rolling, you missed a quick teaser for The Witcher: Blood Origin, a six-episode prequel miniseries starring Michelle Yeoh, which will delve deeper into the Conjunction of the Spheres and the creation of the first witcher. You can watch the teaser here.
• We also finally, albeit briefly, meet the true human form of Philippa Eilhart, the sorceress and close ally of Dijkstra, who has been disguising herself as an owl all season.
• The show just skips right over how Geralt and Yennefer got from Cintra to Kaer Morhen, huh?
• Among the various northern leaders at the council near the end of the episode, franchise fans should be able to pick out Queen Meve, the protagonist of the video game Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales.
• Dijkstra only mentions “the bard,” so it’s possible there’s some other bard we haven’t met yet — but it certainly sounds like Jaskier owes Dijkstra a favor. I’m guessing it’s going to be a rough one.
• I assume Björn Hlynur Haraldsson had a scheduling conflict and they were forced to use a double, but I found it incredibly distracting that King Eist Tuirseach spent the entirety of Ciri’s dream sequence sitting with his head turned away from the camera.
• Geralt refers to the golden dragon by his true name, Villentretenmerth, instead of Borch Three Jackdaws, which is way easier to remember.
• And that’s a wrap on The Witcher’s second season! It was interesting to watch the show shift from the scrambled chronology and monster-of-the-week missions of season one and into more traditional, linear epic fantasy. This is, to be fair, almost exactly the structure of the Andrzej Sapkowski series on which it’s based (though I suspect book fans will have plenty of complaints about how freely the show adapts Sapkowski’s Blood of Elves). That said: I’m hoping for a little more episodic monster-hunting in season three. There’s something very satisfying about the core structure of Geralt finding a problem, solving a mystery, killing a monster, and moving along. Which type of Witcher story do you prefer? Sound off in the comments below.