The Past Comes Calling in ‘The Witcher’ Episode 7 (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for The Witcher Episode 7, “Before a Fall.”]
The penultimate episode of The Witcher‘s first season brings a lot of things into focus. Not only do the separate timelines finally converge, returning us to where we started this epic story, but the characters’ solidify their motivations. “Before a Fall” is an episode that retraces steps and looks into the past, hoping to find that what came before can provide a path into the future.
Take Geralt (Henry Cavill), he’s spent over a decade doing everything he can to ignore his past, and by “past,” I mean, his Child Surprise, Princess Ciri (Freya Allan). He’s tried to occupy his restless mind with monster chases, sword fights, and bathtub rubs with Yennefer (Anya Chalotra). But still, destiny’s child plays in his head, and I’m not talking about Beyoncé. And now that Yennefer has effectively dumped him, the Witcher is once again left alone with an empty heart and a brain full of troubling thoughts. Is it time to finally face up to his past and reconsider his Law of Surprise?
For all of his glum looks and steely demeanor, Geralt is a man bound by honor and loyalty. He knows that he is sworn to protect, and when he sees the Nilfgaard army poised to invade Cintra, he realizes it’s time to invoke his Law of Surprise. But that’s easier said than done. Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May) is not readily willing to hand her granddaughter into the care of the White Wolf. She’s already lost her daughter Pavetta, who, apparently, met her tragic fate in a boat accident alongside her husband, Duny. Ciri will have to be prised out of Calanthe’s cold, dead hands before she gives up her only surviving family member.
And so, Calanthe tries to have Geralt assassinated, and when that fails, she attempts to fool him with a fake Ciri. The Queen’s tricks do not work on the seasoned Witcher, who promises to protect the child and then bring her back unharmed once the war is over. “Why would I give my only heir to someone who never cared enough to come back for her?” Calanthe asks, along with the excellent, “You and destiny can f**k right off!” She sort of has a point — Geralt sure has taken his sweet old time to make his presence known. But he’s here now, and he’s not going anywhere while Ciri is in danger.
This is where we catch up with the events of the first episode. Nilfgaard sacks the city and breaches the castle walls, and we learn that Geralt was there all along, imprisoned by Calanthe in the gatekeep. It’s only in her dying moments that the Lioness of Cintra agrees to honor the Law of Surprise, but it’s too late, Geralt escapes his cell and is gone by the time Mousesack (Adam Levy) goes to fetch him. Calanthe tells Ciri to find Geralt of Rivia, unaware that he is still on the castle grounds, stabbing and bludgeoning his way through Nilfgaard soldiers. Geralt is even present when Calanthe jumps to her death, while at the same time, Mousesack ushers Ciri out of Cintra.
It’s a brilliant way to reshape events we’ve already seen through a different perspective. Remember, the first episode threw us straight into the middle of this Nilfgaard attack with almost zero context. I thought that was a bold move at the time, even if it was very confusing. Now it makes sense, knowing the season would return to this moment after we’d learned more about the continent’s history and the characters within it. And now knowing the connection between Geralt and Ciri, it makes it that much more tragic that they missed each other by mere seconds.
Ciri has been looking for the White Wolf in all the wrong places. The puzzled Princess is the one character who has been chasing her past from the very start. But it’s her past here that comes back to haunt her. After stealing a horse from a village (and speaking to it, much like the man she’s looking for), Ciri runs into a group of old friends from Cintra. But they’re no longer friends. “We don’t take orders from you anymore,” they spit. “The only thing special about you was the f**king crown on your head.” The gang tries to kidnap her so that they can sell her to Nilfgaard, but the attack trigger’s Ciri’s powers.
I’ve never been quite sure what’s going on with Ciri or what her powers are or what they mean. But I don’t think we’re supposed to know yet. Here, she drops to her knees, almost as if she’s possessed, and starts uttering various non-sensical phrases, such as “the White Chill,” “the White Night,” “the Wolf’s Blizzard,” and “the Time of Madness and Time of Contempt.” The one phrase that jumped out to me was, “the time of the ax and the sword is nigh,” as that’s the same expression Cahir (Eamon Farren) used in the previous episode. What it all means? I have no idea. But I think it’s safe to say those Cintran goons won’t be doing any princess kidnapping.
The other character reexamining her past this episode is Yennefer, who first stops by a Nilfgaard-approved archeological dig, where her old flame, Istredd (Royce Pierreson), is busy at work. Yennefer wonders if he might still be interested in the promise he made all those years ago, about the two of them traveling the continent together. It’s almost a desperate plea from Yennefer, even if it doesn’t come across that way. She is searching for something, anything, to fill a hole — a hole that was never filled as a mage in Aedirn. “They loved the power I had in court, not my power,” she says.
Istredd loved her before she had superficial beauty and power, and he spent years trying to get back to her. But every request he sent to work in Aedirn, Yennefer shut them all down. “You went after the thing you loved, so you chose power,” he tells her, before leaving, perhaps for good this time. The rejection leaves Yennefer at a loss. What does she do now? She’s been told she will never regain her womb. Her connection to Geralt felt real but was built off the back of a magical wish. She really has nothing. And it’s perhaps that desolation which makes her accept an offer to return to Aretuza.
Aretuza brings up a lot of dark memories for Yennefer. She remembers the abuse she suffered between these walls. She remembers the night she tried to kill herself. She remembers the woman she used to be. And she warns the newest group of wannabe witches about the fate that awaits them — the boring life of a mage, the false sense of power, and the devastating cost of it all. “The ability to create life, real life, they take that from you,” she says, “and then send you out, so the only family and loyalty you have is to them. For what? Looks that never change. A court full of idiots. But you don’t have to do it.”
However, Yennefer wasn’t brought back to Aretuza to relive her past regrets; she is there for a gathering of the Northern mages to discuss Nilfgaard’s attack on Cintra. The question is, do they help Cintra? The Brotherhood remains neutral, but Tissaia (MyAnna Buring) and several other mages want to fight in order to defend their way of life. Fringilla (Mimi Ndiweni) argues that Nilfgaard has modified their way of life for the better under the guidance of Emperor Emhyr, who has strengthed trade, funded research, and “torn down walls while Calanthe has put them up.”
The vote is lopsided in favor of not helping Cintra, and Yennefer herself doesn’t appear to give a damn either way until she’s insulted by the Brotherhood. “I went to a prized kingdom and did f**k all for decades, just like you taught us,” she says. “Helped murderers and rapists keep their crown. Maybe it is time for something different.” It isn’t until Tissaia approaches Yennefer in private about fighting alongside them that the mage reconsiders her stance. “Do it for me. Please,” Tissaia begs. “Have you ever used that word before?” Yennefer smirks.
And with the past mined, the future now beckons, as all the pieces are in place for what should be a dramatic conclusion.
- During Geralt’s argument with Calanthe, she references the Witcher’s mother discarding him when he was a baby. I guess that’s why he has issues!
- Triss Merigold (Anna Shaffer) makes her return in this episode as part of the gathering of mages. Once again, she doesn’t get a great deal to do, but it’s nice to see her alive and well after the Striga episode.
- “What kind of crazy person talks to a horse?”
The Witcher, Season 1, Streaming, Netflix