Long before Cintra fell to a Nilfgaardian army, Princess Cirilla had learned to disguise her regal bearing. Whenever she wanted to play games with the other kids in the street, she’d change into common clothes and masquerade as an ordinary Cintran citizen.
It’s a skill that enabled Ciri to survive in the weeks after Cintra was destroyed — helped by commoners who didn’t recognize her as she dodged the enemies who were running around hunting a princess. But it was still a form of playacting, and recent encounters with a bruxa and a leshy have made it clear it’s time for Ciri to actually become something else. You can’t be the princess of a country that doesn’t exist anymore — and if Geralt can make her into anything else, it’s a witcher.
Hollywood has a rich history of training montages, and by the time you’re reading this, some enterprising fan might already have recut Ciri’s American Ninja Warrior routine in this episode to “Eye of the Tiger.” But what’s interesting about this subplot isn’t that Ciri is developing the skills to become a witcher in her own right; it’s that the show lets her fail in the process.
Geralt’s training routine involves Ciri spending hour after hour practicing her sword swings against a straw dummy. But he and Vesemir soon get distracted by the business of laying Eskel to rest, and the other witchers take over. It’s Lambert, sneering at the “pretty, pretty princess,” who has a more aggressive regimen in mind. He takes Ciri to an elaborate obstacle course in the mountains — swinging logs, spinning blades, the whole deal — and challenges her to complete it.
At first, it doesn’t go well; eventually, it starts to go better. By the time it looks like the bruised and bloodied Ciri might actually complete the course, even Geralt has shown up to watch her progress. But she’s still not ready. At the very end, she slips off a platform and slams into the ground.
When Ciri gets up spitting blood, Geralt is displeased. But as he patches up her wounds, it becomes clear the displeasure isn’t that she couldn’t complete the course; it’s that she doesn’t understand why she shouldn’t have tried. Ciri is so angry about her powerlessness during the fall of Cintra that she’s attempting to jam a lifetime’s worth of training into a matter of weeks. “I have known many who wanted to be great fighters in my time,” he warns her. “Do you know where they are now? In cemeteries.”
It wouldn’t be a Witcher story without at least one good monster rearing its ugly head, so soon after they head back out to the woods together, Geralt and Ciri square off against the leshy that infected Eskel in the first place, and then a bigger monster that’s even harder to kill. As Geralt puts his detective cap on, it’s clear the monsters are drawn to Ciri in some way — a thread the show will surely pay off in the episodes to come. But whatever the nature of the “uncontrollable power” that makes her into a monster magnet, it’s something Geralt and Ciri will need to discover together as she works toward what she can control: the discipline Geralt still hopes to instill.
Is there another way? Elsewhere on the Continent, Yennefer is trying to figure out just how much of her own training is useful. She rejoins her fellow mages just in time to end up at the center of a political squabble. She arrives shortly after Tissaia de Vries carves the names of the dead heroes from Sodden Hill for a memorial to be unveiled in front of the northern kings. It’s intended to be a meaningful tribute, but it’s also a flattening one, reducing each person on the list to a noble hero on a single horrible day.
For the survivors, the truth is more complicated. Tissaia has spent these first few episodes in such despair over Yennefer that she has resorted to brutally torturing their Nilfgaardian captive. Triss Merigold suffers, both physically and mentally, from the scars that left her burned and screaming on the battlefield.
And Yennefer has lost her ability to do magic at all, though she does her best to hide it. As the remaining mages squabble for political power — with Stregobor on one side and Tissaia and Vilgefortz on the other — Yennefer remains a pawn being pushed around the chessboard. Her heroism at the Battle of Sodden Hill has, in the end, just made her politically radioactive. In a desperate grab for power, Stregobor speculates that Yennefer might have survived by agreeing to serve as a Nilfgaardian spy. (He has no actual evidence, of course, but when has that ever stopped a bad actor from slinging mud in the desperate hope some of it will stick?)
Stregobor eventually resorts to magically poking around in Yennefer’s brain for evidence — a violation that Tissaia interrupts, though not before he’s already gone too far. But while Tissaia clearly views herself as Yennefer’s closest ally, the best she can offer Yennefer is an uneasy moral compromise. The only way to disprove Stregobor’s accusation — and, perhaps not coincidentally, the only way for Tissaia and Vilgefortz to win leadership of the council — is for Yennefer to prove her loyalty by beheading Cahir, the Nilfgaardian prisoner, in front of the northern kings.
It’s worth pausing here to note just how powerless Yennefer is as she stands at the executioner’s block. She’s surrounded by the most powerful kings and mages in the north. She has lost her ability to cast any spells. Even her closest allies have urged her to stay in the shadows out of the fear she might spoil their plans.
So when Yennefer severs Cahir’s handcuffs instead of his neck and rides off before her friends or foes can stop her, it’s a powerful assertion that she’s not powerless after all — that even when she’s stumbling through the woods, crying at the power she’s lost, she can take her fate in her hands. When Cahir asks why she saved him, she practically rolls her eyes. “Don’t flatter yourself. I’m saving me.”
• In Cintra — or, as the elves would have it, Xin’trea — Fringilla and Francesca play out the new alliance between Nilfgaard and the elves as elven refugees arrive in the city for support and supplies. Francesca also reveals she’s pregnant, which gives her a more personal stake in securing a safe home for her people and sets up a possible successor if she manages to establish a new elven kingdom.
• You might remember King Foltest from one of the strongest episodes of season one, when he summoned Geralt to kill a striga who ultimately turned out to be the product of Foltest’s incestuous affair with his sister, Adda.
• When Vesemir wonders aloud whether there might be another Conjunction on the way, he’s referring to the cataclysm — more than 1,000 years before the events of The Witcher — that bought monsters into the world in the first place. Netflix is currently producing a limited series called The Witcher: Blood Origin that will cover this story in more exhaustive detail.
• Stregobor attempts to stir up the fears of his fellow mages by comparing Yennefer to Falka, a historical princess who led a rebellion against her father when he passed her over in the line of succession. Depending on who’s telling the story, Falka was either a ruthless killer or a brave leader. The truth is probably somewhere in between — but either way, this certainly sounds like the kind of story that might also make a good movie or limited series as Netflix continues to build out the extended Witcher universe.
• No spoilers, but King Vizimir’s brief reference to a man named Dijkstra is definitely designed to whet the appetites of longtime Witcher fans.
• And while we’re on the subject: In a series full of hard-to-remember fantasy names, it is bold that The Witcher has simultaneously introduced characters named Vesemir and Vizimir.