“You can’t outrun destiny just because you’re terrified of it. It’s coming, Geralt. Not believing won’t change that.”
It’s been some time since Geralt and Jaskier first met in Posada and, thanks to the bard’s nifty “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher” ditty, Geralt’s renown has continued to grow. As a favor, the witcher accompanies Jaskier to the engagement ball/banquet/gathering of Pavetta (Gaia Mondadori), Queen Calanthe’s daughter. Somewhat alleviated from the banquet’s stuffiness when he runs into his old friend Mousesack (Adam Levy, Knightfall, Snatch: The Series), Geralt’s forthright nature catches Calanthe’s eye. A woman of power and formidable skill on the battlefield, Calanthe does not suffer the timid, thus her genuine fascination at the witcher’s view on life and strength of will—standing up to her like no one save perhaps Eist (whom she eventually marries).
The conversation between queen and witcher is a fun display of verbal sparring, with Geralt’s aptitude for expressing so much using the fewest amount of words providing both insight and levity despite what’s going on around him. He is consistent with his message of non-interference, declining the queen’s probe on playing the bouncer if the need arises, but it’s his refusal to murder a cursed knight that sets off the inescapable chain of events that changes the fate of a kingdom and, perhaps the Continent.
Unbeknownst to Calanthe, Pavetta had fallen in love with Duny (Bart Edwards, State of Happiness, UnREAL), a knight whose monstrous curse only abates between twelfth bell and dawn. When this is revealed, Calanthe orders her guards to cut him down. Understanding the truth of the situation, Geralt intervenes, setting off an all-out brawl between guards and guests where the blood doesn’t flow with the orgiastic violence of the witcher’s previous battles, and though it plays out like a more dangerous game of blood-spattering sparring, it still provides the requisite action befitting the series. But it’s not over.
After seemingly accepting Pavetta and Duny’s love, Calanthe moves to strike down her would-be son-in-law and, in her desperation to save her love, Pavetta’s untapped power (passed down the family line) erupts, catching the entire contingent of guests in its wake. Though Geralt finds a way to end the tsunami of power, it sparks a further deliberation on destiny and its merit, one which Geralt scoffs at but ultimately finds himself a part of when, through a whimsical call for the Law of Surprise to sate Duny’s life debt to the witcher, Geralt (and the others) are astonished when Pavetta’s pregnancy is revealed.
Even in a world of magic and monsters, it’s difficult to foresee Geralt’s refusal to take his boon as the catalyst that sparked Cintra’s destruction. And yet, is it really that far-fetched? It evokes Renfri’s whispers — spoken by Stregobor—to Geralt about the inevitable confrontation in Blaviken. “You made a choice,” the wizard said as the crowd jeered, “and you’ll never know if it was the right one.” Though it could have been referencing Geralt’s decision not to kill Stregobor, the weight of it seems more at home here where, despite Mousesack’s attempt to convince him otherwise, Geralt turns his back on his child surprise and possibly upsetting the balance of fate. It’s this connectivity to past, present, and future that, even with a healthy bit of uncertainty, makes The Witcher such a fascinating series. In the premiere review, I mentioned that not making a choice is itself a choice. For Geralt, thumbing his nose at destiny has the uncomfortable response of forever leaving that question in his mind: was this the choice and the calamity that follows all because of him?
Just as Geralt’s narrative moves towards the present, so does Yennefer’s. It’s been three decades or so since her ascendance and a life of cleaning up royal messes is not what she envisioned for herself. But her escort assignment for Princess Kalis soon gives Yennefer a bit more than she expected. Her attempts to keep the princess and her babe safe from a magic assassin and his murdering arachnid by multiple portal jumps is the first time we get to see the power of Yennefer’s growth these past few decades. As strong as she is, Yennefer fails to save her charges and the situation pushes her to recognize the crossroads she’s come to. “We’re just vessels,” she tells Kalis’s dead baby, “for them to take and take…until we’re empty and alone.” It’s a continuation of her earlier words to Kalis.
As much as the power and idea of being someone respected (perhaps even feared) was Yennefer’s original desire, she holds an air of regret now. With a combination of exceptional writing and Chalotra’s impeccable performance, Yennefer of Vengenberg is even more mesmerizing that she was in the original material. But it’s not just her personal arc that makes Yennefer such a fascinating character, but the anticipation of that first meeting between the Witcher and sorceress that is just upon the horizon.
Containing enough action to entertain, the true strength of “Of Banquets, Bastards, and Burials” are Geralt and Yennefer’s divergent pasts slowly moving closer towards one another. The series continues to harp on the significance of destiny and choice and Geralt refusing to accept that his life is directed by things outside his control. It’s true that The Witcher (due to the source material, of course) relies heavily on many of the fantasy tropes but the execution of vibrant characters and their interactions makes this more than just a copy-and-paste of Andrzej Sapkowski’s. And the essence of a captivating show is when it can do something done several times over but still maintain its own unique flavor. That, dear people, is The Witcher in spades.
On Being a Witcher
- Ciri gets a bit more run than she did in the last episode, finds herself (and Dara) in the ethereal light of the Brokilon Forest and the dryads. With her purported destiny awaiting, Ciri decides to drink from the Forest’s waters that will push from her mind the reality of her fears and responsibility. Though when she does so, Ciri finds herself in a desert facing a grand tree that speaks to her; “what are you, child?”
- It looks like Fringilla’s (Mimi Ndiweni, Rellik, Mr Selfridge) time in Nilfgaard has been a boon to her growth and power. She leads a coven of mage fanatics who don’t mind giving their lives for the cause, which helps her and Cahir (Eamon Farren, Winchester, Twin Peaks) pinpoint Ciri’s location. Both characters are true believers in the White Flame, the true heir to Nilfgaard that has turned the kingdom from a laughingstock to the premier power on the Continent, all in less than two decades. With the blind allegiance this new ruler commands, as well as mages who are not confined by the strictures of the Brotherhood’s magical rule, the vast and terrifying threat that Nilfgaard and its emperor represents is laid bare.
‘The Witcher’: “Of Banquets, Bastards, and Burials”
8 out of 10