The Witcher Recap: The Time of Contempt

The Witcher

Turn Your Back
Season 2 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

The Witcher

Turn Your Back
Season 2 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Susie Allnutt/Netflix

Over a season and a half, The Witcher has introduced a sometimes dizzying number of characters, but none have loomed larger than Queen Calanthe. In life, Ciri’s maternal grandmother was so respected and feared that none of the northern leaders, including Calanthe herself, thought she could be toppled. On the evening of her daughter’s engagement party, Calanthe swaggered into the ballroom wearing armor, covered in dirt and blood from a raiding party. Later, when Nilfgaard surprised everyone by launching a direct attack on Cintra, Calanthe herself led the soldiers that met them in the field outside the city. And when the unthinkable happened and Cintra fell, Calanthe chose to leap from a tower to her death before she’d surrender and allow Nilfgaard to decide her fate.

Now that Calanthe is truly gone, the rest of the Continent is figuring out what the world looks like without her. Dijkstra suggests Nilfgaard’s hold on Cintra might be weak enough for King Vizimir to take it — a gamble he openly acknowledges they could never have made if Calanthe were still alive. To reach the toppled monolith, Geralt and Istredd travel to a place Calanthe strictly forbade anyone from walking, confident that they can handle any Nilfgaardian troops they meet.

And when a mysterious villain decides to sic a magic-wielding assassin on Geralt, they know exactly where to find the most dangerous man: in a dimeritium prison cell, where Calanthe left him to rot a decade earlier because he did something to piss her off. (For the record, this assassin’s name is Rience, and he’s the one who abducted Jaskier at the end of the previous episode. Yennefer quickly manages to track them down and save Jaskier, because come on, The Witcher’s not going to keep the bard out of commission for long.)

Despite all those lasting reminders of the power she once held, Calanthe’s real legacy is her granddaughter — which is part of why she was so reluctant to let Geralt claim her, despite the fatal consequences of breaking the Law of Surprise. By the end of the episode, Istredd figures out that Calanthe knew something about what Ciri could really do: magic that could bring about the end of the world.

But Ciri’s birthright is only half of her story. Now that the princess of a fallen kingdom is on her own, she’s deciding how much of that royal inheritance she wants to embrace and how much she wants to try to bury. At Kaer Morhen, Ciri copes with her grief and rage by throwing herself into her training. Having sparred with enough straw dolls and run through the Kaedweni Ninja Warrior course enough for a lifetime, she’s ready to go all the way and become a witcher, which will give her the tools to seek revenge while also forging an identity that isn’t tied to her royal lineage or her confusing and terrifying powers.

Conveniently enough, her eagerness to become a witcher aligns with the dreams of Vesemir, who wants to use her Elder blood to make new batches of the mutagens that can turn children into witchers. That’s assuming those children don’t die in the process, which … well, mostly they do. And that’s why Triss strenuously objects to letting Ciri be Patient Zero in Vesemir’s plan and why Geralt literally teleports back to interrupt the process just before the mutagens can be injected into her body.

But as dramatic as this sequence of events turns out to be, it’s what happens inside Ciri’s mind that really charts the path for where The Witcher is going. In an elaborate and magic-induced dream engineered by Triss, she and Ciri walk around inside Ciri’s “Dol Durz,” or “valley of the soul.”

This sequence deserves close scrutiny — full of hints about Ciri’s past and future. It’s also full of familiar faces: Calanthe herself, as well as Ciri’s mother Pavetta and father Duny. Early in the dream, Triss warns Ciri not to take any of this literally: Since all of this is happening in Ciri’s mind, all these “people” are just different aspects of her.

Given everyone Ciri has lost, that sounds a comforting way to think about the people in her past: In one way or another, each of them imparted love or wisdom that now lives in Ciri’s soul, helping to define who she is. Unfortunately, this revelation is also terrifying because those aren’t the only people who show up in Ciri’s brain. To Triss’s mounting horror, Ciri’s dream culminates in a woman choking her while delivering a horrible prophecy: “The time of contempt is nigh. The world will die amidst frost and be reborn of the new sun. Reborn of Elder blood, of the seed that has been sown. A seed that will not sprout, but will burst into flame.”

By the time they return to the real world, Triss is convinced: Not only is Ciri fated to destroy the world, but it’s also already too late for anyone to do anything about it. It is — we’re left to presume — what Calanthe always knew and why Nilfgaard will stop at nothing to find her. The real question is what anyone, including those who have sworn to protect Ciri, should do about it. The Time of Contempt is nigh, indeed.

Stray Arrows

• In another episode-ending cliffhanger, Yennefer ends up captured by guards and finally gives in to the incessant whispers of the Deathless Mother. The trade? She’ll recover her ability to do magic on the condition that she deliver Ciri to a black door outside Cintra, which Ciri is apparently the key to opening. Sounds like a great plan that won’t have unforeseen and horrible consequences for all involved.

• Meanwhile, Cahir enters Cintra, where he’s immediately recognized by Fringilla, and Dara enters Cintra, where everybody immediately ignores him.

• There’s a nice little beat of bro-y rivalry when Istredd refers to Yennefer by the pet name “Yenne,” and Geralt instantly counters by calling her “Yen.”

• The bust in Istredd’s is of Roegner of Ebbing, the first husband of Queen Calanthe. He’s also the guy who agreed to the Law of Surprise with Duny, setting up the dominoes that put much of The Witcher’s overarching story into motion.

• Triss tells Vesemir she preferred him when he was a cynical old codger. Again, I would much rather see the origins of this relationship than have the characters explain it to each other for the audience’s benefit.

• Vesemir offers a fairly useful summary of the Conjunction of the Spheres: Centuries before the beginning of the series, mages weaponized the monsters that appeared during the cataclysm and then created and weaponized witchers to take care of the monsters they’d created. (It’s kind of a “House that Jack Built” situation.)

• Jaskier mentions that his break with Geralt came in Caingorn, which is where “Rare Species” was set, so I guess that quick flash of anger from Geralt at the end of the episode really was enough to ruin their friendship.

• Jaskier’s first guess is that Rience kidnapped him because he’s angry about a wife, mistress, or niece Jaskier hooked up with. His second guess is that Rience is a crazed fan, and now I really want to see Misery set in the Witcher universe.

• Jaskier’s succinct and mostly accurate summary of Geralt: “He doesn’t share details. He does not have friends. And he does not have weaknesses.”

• Joey Batey has the best delivery of a line like “fucking fuckity fuck” this side of Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

• Jaskier to Yennefer: “You don’t get to play damsel in distress. That’s my job.”

• I admire her panache, but for someone on the lam, Yennefer’s purple robe is pretty conspicuous.

• Ciri’s dream includes a quick shot of riders on horseback galloping across the sky, and boy, get excited for that to pay off sometime.

The Witcher Recap: The Time of Contempt