Magical Meetings & Spellbinding Showdowns in 'The Witcher' Finale (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for The Witcher Episode 8, "Much More."]
"You have to make a choice to fight back," Tissaia de Vries (MyAnna Buring) tells Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) in the magic-packed Witcher season finale. The choice to fight has been a thematic throughline since the very first episode when Geralt (Henry Cavill) was forced to battle the murderous princess Renfri (Emma Appleton). Sometimes you have to fight for the "lesser evil," even knowing you will still come out bloody and hating yourself. And so, it makes perfect sense that the first season of The Witcher would end in an all-out, sword-swinging, potion-blasting fight to the death.
It's not Geralt in the middle of the combat this time, though. In fact, the White Wolf is sidelined for the majority of the finale after being bitten by what I can only describe as a skeleton zombie. As Cintra burns and Nilfgaard continues its invasion of the North, Geralt is lumbered onto the back of a kindly merchant's trailer, where he drifts in and out of consciousness. It's in these hallucinations we learn of Geralt's past, how his mother, Visenna, abandoned him as a child, leaving him in the hands of a Witcher named Vesemir, who apparently subjected Geralt to sadistic Witcher trials.
While Geralt licks his wounds and battles with his imagination, it's Yennefer who chooses to involve herself in the real fight. She joins Tissaia, Vilgefortz (Mahesh Jadu), Triss (Anna Shaffer), and a group of other like-minded mages in fortifying Sodden against a Nilfgaard attack — Sodden is said to be the gateway to the North. If it falls, Nilfgaard would be unstoppable. It's not entirely clear at first why Yennefer decides to fight. Does she really hate Nilfgaard's "sh**ty ale" that much? Or does she have a death wish? When Tissaia asks her if she's ready to die, Yennefer doesn't hesitate to answer. "Yes," she states. "I've lived two or three lifetimes already."
Yennefer still regrets the path she took in life, the things she gave up for a false sense of power and importance. "I have no legacy to leave behind," she tells Tissaia, once again referring to her inability to have children. But it's almost as if Yennefer underestimates or undervalues her own power and importance. "It's just magic. It's not real," she says at one point, as if she doesn't have the capacity to reign down hellfire from the skies. It takes this fight with Nilfgaard to remind her just how strong she is and how much she matters to the survival of the continent.
And let's talk about the fight for a second. This a proper, drag-out, take no prisoners war of anarchy and alchemy. It's Dungeons & Dragons come to life. You want sword fights and bludgeoning? You got it! But you're also getting billowing smoke monsters, mind-controlling worms, exploding toadstools, and all sorts of other electrifying elixirs. If you're a fan of fantasy in its purest, most fun form, then this should be right up your street. I mean, a regular bow-and-arrow fight... boring. A bow-and-arrow fight via teleportation? Yes, please!
Through all this, Yennefer takes charge, standing atop the watchtower and telepathically commanding the troops. And for a while, she is successful in holding off the attack. But the Nilfgaard army is too big and too powerful, especially with Fringilla (Mimi Ndiweni) using her own lawless magic to combat the mages. Triss is unable to keep the soldiers from breaching the gates to Sodden. Vilgefortz is outmatched by Cahir (Eamon Farren) and sent tumbling over a cliff's edge. And Fringilla casts a spell over Tissaia, essentially rendering her powerless.
Yennefer stumbles through the rubble of the fort, where the bodies of the dead and injured are strewn across the ground. "If anyone can hear me, we can't give up, we can still fight," she says. Fringilla telepathically replies, telling Yennefer that she doesn't need to fight anymore. She can join Nilfgaard, where there are no limits, only power and potential. "That could be your legacy," she offers. But there is a different legacy awaiting Yennefer. "It's your turn to save these people, this continent," a weak and beaten Tissaia tells the girl she once saved from killing herself. "That is your legacy... let your chaos explode."
All these years, Yennefer has been told to control her chaos, to not let herself become the chaos. It's the rules all mages must follow. Now, finally, Tissaia gives her approval to let loose. And boy, does Yennefer let loose. She climbs to the top of a rock and blasts flames from her hands, burning through the entire forest and any living creature — Nilfgaard or otherwise — that resides within it. And she manages to protect Tissaia from the fire at the same time. All that's left in the aftermath is a dusty, ashen woodland. The fight is over... for now. But as Tissaia looks around, she realizes Yennefer is nowhere to be found.
While Yennefer's powers are purposeful and unleashed with intent, Princess Ciri (Freya Allan) is still rattled and afraid of her mysterious skills. She wakes up in a field of blood, beside her a dead horse and the bodies of those Cintran goons impaled on tree branches. "They came for me," she tells Zola (Anna-Louise Plowman), the woman from the village she stole the horse from. "Well then, they got what they deserved," says Zola, who promises to take Ciri in at her farm and look after her. And so, the dazed and confused princess goes with her. But destiny can't be ignored forever.
In a dream, Ciri sees the ashy battleground of the Sodden war, and walking through the dirt and debris is a man, Geralt of Rivia, yelling out for Yennefer. Ciri wakes up and knows she must continue her search for the man her destiny is allegedly tied to. And, in an unfortunate bit of timing, she runs into the woods just as the merchant arrives at Zola's farm with Geralt in tow. For a moment, I thought the season was going to end on this ridiculous tease. It reminded me of all those times in Game of Thrones where Jon Snow and Arya would be separated by mere seconds and still miss each other.
Thankfully, that isn't the case, as Zola tells the merchant that she found an orphan girl in the woods. This triggers Geralt's memory. He remembers what Renfri told him all those years ago: "The girl in the woods will be with you always." Without hesitation, and zombie-bitten leg be damned, Geralt takes off into the forest, where he sees the blonde-haired princess running towards him. This is no longer a dream or a hallucination. This is real. Ciri runs into the Witcher's arms and gives him a great, big hug, leaving Geralt no choice but to acknowledge the existence of destiny. But, based on Ciri's next question, clearly, destiny isn't done with him just yet. "Who is Yennefer?" she asks.
It's a fantastically fun finale with a feel-good ending and the promise of more adventures and fights to come. And it's also the perfect cap on this highly-entertaining first season of The Witcher, a show that really came out of nowhere for me, having very little familiarity with the books or video games. There have been other shows this year that perhaps had more depth and consistency, but in terms of just pure entertainment, I can't think of anything I've enjoyed quite as much as The Witcher. It's a show that can pull off an intense fight scene just as successfully as it can a campy, tongue-in-cheek joke, and how can you hate that?
Going into the season, everyone was comparing it with Game of Thrones, and that is some mighty big shoes to fill, regardless of what you thought about the HBO epic's ending. But The Witcher isn't the new Game of Thrones, nor is it trying to be. If anything, it's the R-rated, grimdark Xena: Warrior Princess, and that is a far more exciting prospect for the future of this show. So bring on season two... destiny is waiting.
- I enjoyed Triss telling Yennefer about how Geralt helped her with the Striga situation. "Be wary of his kind," Yen tells her. "They're so often disappointing."
- I'm also a big fan of Yennefer describing herself as "an inconvenient arsehole."
- Borch, the talking golden dragon, makes an appearance during one of Geralt's hallucinations, albeit in miniature form. Still not quite sure what to make of that guy/thing.
- This episode definitely wasn't as heavy on the laughs as previous outings, but I did get a chuckle out of the merchant offering Geralt the Law of Surprise by way of payment. "Just give me an ale and consider your debt paid," says Geralt.
- Actually, the merchant also has the other funny line of the episode, after Geralt wakes up from the dream about his mother. "Where did the woman go?" Geralt asks. "Which one? You called out for so many," the merchant replies.
The Witcher, Season 1, Streaming, Netflix