“There is not a person alive that does not look into the mirror and see some deformity. Except for us. We remake ourselves on our terms. The world has no say in it.”
Though the first two episodes of The Witcher introduced viewers to some important characters in Geralt’s life, the witcher’s two arcs played out more like side quests. For Geralt, “Betrayer Moon” is a main storyline-type narrative that not only shows that the witcher is more than swordplay and the sobriquets he’s been given, it also signals the first extended look at the series’ monster quotient with the striga, a cursed girl whom Geralt must fight (and not kill) if he’s to save her.
Short of the coin needed to pay a local brothel, Geralt heads to Temeria in hopes of cashing in on the bounty for a vukodlak that’s been killing citizens for several years, a situation that the King Foltest (Shaun Dooley, Gentleman Jack, Gunpowder, Broadchurch) has all but ignored. Providing the witcher a chance to display more than his physical prowess, “Betrayer Moon” is a tragedy in which King Foltest and his sister Adda had an incestual relationship that produced a daughter. Jealous of Foltest and angry for corrupting her, Ostrit (Jason Thorpe, Curfew, Sense8, Poldark), lord loyal to the Temerian royal family, cursed Foltest only for the result being Adda’s death and the daughter cursed as a striga. To break the curse, Geralt must battle the striga all night and prevent it from reaching its mother’s crypt until sunrise. Fueled by Ostrit’s own jealousy, this is a tale as much about the far-reaching dangers of envy as it is the perils of forbidden (in this case incestuous) love.
One of the first tales of Geralt from the books, “Betrayer Moon” is faithful to the original narrative. From the brutality of the fight — one lacking in the swordplay brilliance from the premiere but more dependent on witcher Sign usage — to the striga’s appearance, Geralt’s adventure felt as at home as anything we’ve seen thus far. From a thematic standpoint, Geralt’s determination to save this cursed child is as if the witcher is trying to make amends for his inability to save another princess — Renfri — years before. The commitment to this spanning timeline (discussed a bit more below) adds such depth in the ability of this show to convey Geralt’s incremental changes and how certain events have lasting effects on him. From an action standpoint, the battle alone would have been a suitable portrait of the witcher’s life but what makes the third act of “Betrayer Moon” so special is the seamless integration of Yennefer and her final transformation into the woman whose history with Geralt of Rivia is Witcher legend.
Following more of Yennefer’s journey, “Betrayer Moon” shows us a woman who’s become stronger in her magic and more confident in herself. She’s even found comfort (possibly love?) in the arms of Istredd (Royce Pierreson, Line of Duty, Our Girl, Wanderlust), the Ban Ard mage (and pupil to Stregobor) who’s helped her along in her decidedly less confident times in Aretuza. But even in gaining magical proficiency, Yen’s fear of never being enough, even if she was beautiful constantly hounds her. It all comes to a head when the cockroach of a mage Stregobor, undercuts Yennefer’s appointment to Aedirn by leaking her elven blood heritage to the Chapter. It’s a blow to Yennefer’s expectations for her future, one that reminds her of the power she still lacks. That frustration combined with Istredd’s betrayal pushes Yennefer into receiving her final enchantment, one that graces her with beauty to parallel her amazing power but robs her of the ability to conceive.
As Geralt fights to save a cursed child, Yennefer forever curses herself to never having children. It’s a decision that will always haunt her, just as her debilitating screams of agony are every bit as visceral as Geralt’s physical confrontation with the striga. Anya Chalotra continues her brilliant run, bringing life to Yennefer’s fears, visible through the towering wall she raises over her own emotional vulnerability. Her entrance into the ascendancy celebration was akin to a falling star. She commanded all eyes to her—from Stregobor, Tissaia, Istredd, the King of Aedirn and others—but what she wins in her own satisfaction, she also creates enemies that, due to the extended lifespan of sorcerers, will hound her for decades.
A fascinating tale of two halves, “Betrayer Moon” has finally fixed us on the Yennefer whose life is entwined with Geralt. But it’s not just Yen; we’re also introduced to Triss Merigold (Anna Shaffer, Hollyoaks, Harry Potter series), a sorceress who sits as advisor to King Foltest and whose role in Geralt’s life will be just as important as Yennefer. A much different character than Yennefer, Triss is one whose past hasn’t left her with gaping internal wounds. She’s hopeful yet strong in her own right, with Shaffer capturing Triss’s energy though not with the same verge as Chalotra does Yennefer. Though I found no real chemistry between Triss and Geralt, I am curious to see how the pair’s relationship develops as we’re given more time with them.
Another excellent installment, “Betrayer Moon” continues toward the inevitable meeting of Geralt and Yennefer while also giving us our first glimpse of Triss. And like in the two previous episodes, Geralt is reminded by Triss (as she patches up his injuries) of how fate, our choices, and destiny are inexorably entwined. Yet the witcher still seems to doubt the efficacy of those words; whether by the stubbornness of his nature or the fear that his life is not solely driven by his own choices, remains to be seen.
On Being a Witcher
• Hinted at in the previous episodes, but fully confirmed here are the diverging timelines present. From what we’ve been given thus far, Yennefer’s arc takes place deeper into the past (a young Foltest and Adda are there at the mage celebration) while Geralt’s own story takes place decades later. That would put Ciri’s story in the present timeline, perhaps two decades (give or take) from Geralt’s adventure in Temeria. It’s an insightful strategy that expands the breadth of the story as it should (considering witchers and mages are so long-lived), allowing The Witcher’s world to feel more alive and lived in.
• Despite Tissaia’s need to remain impartial to her charges, it’s obvious that Yennefer is special to her. It’s not only why she pushes her but also may be a part of the reason Yennefer is so combative towards the rectoress. Tissaia empathizes with Yennefer’s pain but also ushers her charge towards freedom. “You can free the victim in the mirror forever,” she tells Yen at one point but it’s not just the physical limitations Tissaia is referencing but Yennefer’s own limiting beliefs in herself. Alas, Yennefer’s inexperience prevents her from seeing the wisdom in Tissaia’s words and instead focuses on the immediate, blind to the long-term reach of her decisions. In that, it’s very much like any parent/child relationship and maybe that’s what makes it so special.
The Witcher – Betrayer’s Moon
8 out of 10