Happy Witcher Week! From Dec. 15 to Dec. 22, TV Guide and sister sites Gamespot and Metacritic are celebrating everything The Witcher. We have reviews, explainers, and everything you need to get ready for and break down The Witcher Season 2, which premiered Dec. 17 on Netflix. The following story is part of that celebration, and you can enjoy all of The Witcher content across sites right here.
What, exactly, do the people of the Continent expect when a witcher rides into town with his sword, his bravado, and his promise to take care your little monster problem in exchange for a fee? There are three hundred years of (fictional) history, rumors, and gossip that contribute to the answer and we'll know exactly how far the mighty monster slayers have risen or fallen after we get a look at Blood Origins (The Witcherprequel series slated for 2022) but if even a fraction of what we've been led to believe by the current series and the animated feature Nightmare of the Wolf is true, there's one thing we can declare with absolute certainty: Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) is a terrible, horrible, extremely sh–ty witcher. That is, of course, why we love him and we wouldn't have a show if he stopped causing problems for himself, so let us salute our protagonist-in-chief by taking a look at some of his greatest (worst) hits.
According to Vesemir (Kim Bodnia), Geralt's mentor and father figure of record, being a witcher is a profession and one must thus establish and maintain a brand while riding from town to town doing witcher things (Nightmare of the Wolf). While each witcher is free to riff on the fundamentals and personalize as desired, there are a few elements all witchers should include in their packages: roam around being just menacing enough to avoid forming lasting attachments but not so menacing that you feed the rumor witchers are emotionless shells who will murder one's face for imagined offenses. Do swagger; potential employers and bedmates love swagger. Kill monsters, not people. It doesn't matter how much a potential employer offers you to take out the duke of whatever. No people, no politics, no personal business. Get paid. If they don't pay you, you can claim the Law of Surprise but think real hard about that because it will probably bite you in the ass. Celebrate with hookers and magical, mystery blow. Don't be a dick about it, you may be back here someday. Go back to Kaer Morhen in the winter. Repeat until something tears you in half and licks your bones clean.
Geralt has managed to get himself two whole ass brands and they are both terrible when compared with even the most loose interpretations of "good witcher-ing." The first is, "The Butcher of Blaviken." He earned that one by slaughteringa marketplace full of people after which he was driven out of town while being pelted with rocks. Were the people he killed bad? Yes. Well… yes, though Renfri's (Emma Appleton) descent wasn't really her fault. Her henchmen were for sure scoundrels and regardless of Renfri's origin story, she did order a massacre. Did the townspeople care that Geralt had saved their lives? They didn't know, nor did they stop to find out, because they saw a witcher chopping off limbs and slitting throats and stabbing pretty young girls in the gut, and because people are people and they're willing to believe anything that makes them feel righteous, they immediately assumed the beast killer decided to have a blood bath for breakfast. All because Geralt decided to make Stregabor's (Lars Mikkelsen) human problem his problem as well — Stregabor's personal human problem. Whoops.
From a witcher perspective, Geralt's other brand is equally as horrifying: dude is a damn paladin. He may pretend to be reluctant and cold and he might cuss while he's marching into battle but the fact of the matter is, he kills plenty of monsters for free. He goes into panic mode when his friends get hurt, and goodness gracious, wait until you see him dad despite the fact we learn he and Vesimir did the whole, "Girl, don't do it, I'm not gonna do it, I was just thinking about it," routine at least twice and Geralt promised both times not to claim Cirilla. Because Vesmir knows. Vesimir knows Geralt's life is nothing but personal business. And even though he's chilled out significantly since his 70s, he knows that witchers have a limited life expectancy. The life expectancy of paladins are even shorter still because being a paladin isn't a career, it's a calling. Witchers know when to stop, when to rest, and when to walk away. Geralt knows, but won't. Bad witcher. Good man.
Also, small screen Geralt is totally anti-hookers and magical, mystery blow. He (usually) only has sex with people he actually likes. And not in the house, guys, jeez.
Another reason witchers are tolerated as useful tools but reviled as living, breathing entities is the rumor that their trials and training implodes their emotions, leaving them empty shells fulfilled only by wholesale slaughter. In some ways, that's a useful reputation for a guild of monster-killers to have; people are more likely to hire you at the rate you want to be paid if they're confident you're not going to run before the job is done. Why would men who feel no fear run? The flip side however, is the concern that once you've taken care of the problem, you will, in an unfulfilled berserker rage, turn on your boss, their children, their horses, or whatever it is that's most dear to them, leaving everything in pieces and pools of blood.
Those of you who have watched Nightmare of the Wolf, or more than five seconds of Season 1, were surely unsurprised to discover that rumor to be a garbage scare tactic; of course witchers have emotions. They've simply been trained to push feelings to the background when engaged in the decision-making process so they don't become entangled in politics, people, or personal business.
Geralt, our "... witcher crawling with scruples," according to The Witcher novel series by Andrzej Sapkowski, likes to pretend he got the memo with his glare, and his frown, and his dislike of full sentences when, in fact, his moral compass has so many points he barely knows whether he should be heading toward, "love," "duty," "guilt," "concern," "papa bear," or somewhere else entirely. When a priestess friend admonishes him to take care of himself in The Last Wish, Geralt replies, "I prefer to look after others. It turns out better in the long run," and in Season 2 of the Netflix series when Triss (Anne Shaffer) challenges him on his hesitation to kill a monster for reasons, Geralt says, "Witchers don't hesitate," but for more reasons that are related to feelings he did.
If you asked Geralt, he would probably blame his last wish for this particular downfall, to the split second decision to ask the djinn in Season 1 for that one thing he desired most but we know better. After all, how would Geralt have known what he was missing if he couldn't feel its lack and act on that feeling? Would a good witcher have acted on that feeling? Absolutely not. A good witcher wouldn't have lost control of the djinn in the first place, wouldn't have screwed up because he was worried about his friend, and he definitely wouldn't have risked the monster escaping a second time because he was in love.
That glacial exterior conceals a whirling storm of emotions, emotions Geralt was taught, as a witcher, to tame. His failure to do so isn't a sin, it's a "needs work" on a yearly performance evaluation. But because no one offered him an alternative, his feelings became his greatest stumbling block on his path to "excellent" or "expert." The slip did, however, makes him a better person and a more interesting protagonist. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but clearly failures are the seeds of the very best stories and we should definitely lift a tankard to this one and to Geralt, the man who feels too much and tries real hard to pretend he doesn't care at all.
Since poor Geralt is down, we may as well kick him one more time. We meet other witchers for the first time in Season 2 and while they're definitely men (and some aren't too keen on a girl witcher but, again, high fantasy and Ciri (Freya Allan) change their minds) they do all have their redeeming qualities and it's clear they care very much about one another. They're a rowdy, abrasive, foul-mouthed bunch, and the only thing they do on any sort of schedule is return to Kaer Morhen in the winter, ostensibly to rest and heal. Really, it's an opportunity for each of them to check in and make sure their beloved brothers are still alive. They're a creative, intelligent group (no matter how much they'd like you to believe the opposite) that engineers and builds intricate machines to enhance their training, has intimate knowledge of botany and physiology, and could probably explain the physics of a dragon in flight. They are, to a man, fantastic story tellers, every element of their tales spun out thoughtfully, carefully, lovingly. They take time to allow themselves to be enthralled by the magic of what they do, by the magic of the world they inhabit, and even by the mundane. They know each moment of laughter could be their last and they savor it with their fellow witchers. They celebrate life and while it isn't always in the most savory of ways, they aren't cruel or mean or callous. They simply want to live while they can.
Geralt, however…it's not that he doesn't want to live or that he doesn't have the skills. He does and he does. It's that he doesn't throw himself into it the same way his brothers do. While he clearly loves them, and they love him, he goes out of his way to avoid being part of the enthusiastic existence and lust for everything they share. It's clear when he and Ciri arrive at Kaer Morhen that it's been several years since Geralt checked in and the others are… well, they pretend they're angry but it's the kind of anger that's really deep, deep worry. Geralt went back on the promise they all made: the promise to be a family. The promise of, "I'm still here." He hurt them when he didn't need to and that's an even greater offense coming from Geralt since his feelings are so much more of a factor in his decisions (These dudes grew up together. They lived in each others' sweat and blood. They know). He listens to their stories but he doesn't offer his own, doesn't engage, doesn't return the trust they put in him by offering bits and pieces of their souls. No love for wanderlust or laughter for hilarious misunderstandings. Geralt doesn't savor life; he views it as a duty as he does everything else and that's an offence to every witcher who walks the halls of Kaer Morhen and to everyone who wore a medallion that now hangs on the tree. They're all frustrated. They're all tired. They all grieve. But only Geralt hides himself away in the world, in the lab, in anywhere or anything he can find. It's one thing when your family doesn't want you. But they want him desperately and he won't meet them even partway. I, for one, am curious to find out why.
Does Geralt know he's a sh–ty witcher? Hard to say. The dude is super self-aware when he wants to be and equally as clueless when it suits his purposes. Vesemir knows he's a terrible witcher but I think, on the sly, having had the experiences he did in Nightmare of the Wolf, having watched the slaughter of his own brothers, thinks maybe it isn't such a bad thing. That maybe, should such a thing ever happen again, no matter the grief, the pain, Geralt, at least will survive because he has a purpose and relationships beyond the brotherhood — that someone will carry forward the knowledge and the drive without the baggage. Or maybe, just maybe, Vesimir too has a few more scruples, and cares a little more about people, than he wants the world to believe.
The Witcher Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.