The world of ‘The Witcher’, brought to life by author Andrzej Sapowski, subsequent video games based on his work and now a Netflix series, is one steeped in magic, monsters and gore, all haphazardly brought together by the overarching forces of destiny, with a capital D.
And as enjoyable as Netflix’s fantasy series is — especially for those looking to fill the ‘Game of Thrones’-shaped hole in their lives — the surprisingly impenetrable writing in the series does little to guide those who are completely new to the franchise. From jarring time jumps with no markers to vague concepts like the ‘Law of Surprise’, newbies are bound to be a little confused.
Here’s a handy guide to help you navigate the world of ‘The Witcher’ better.
WHAT IS A WITCHER?
Witchers are a class of once elite warrior-monks created and trained to hunt and fight monsters and defend humans. They are usually orphans trained in various schools across the world. Those training to become a Witcher learn magic, bestiary, weapons and herbalism. To become a Witcher officially, students must undergo a long and painful test called the Trial of the Grasses. Going through the trials successfully gives them powers such as improved healing, superhuman strength and ability to see in the dark.
With the help of sorcerers, Witchers also learn to utilise simple combat spells, called signs, as well as magic potions that amplify their fighting skills.
A standard way to identify Witchers is by the large medallions they wear, which glow when a monster is nearby. The form of an individual medallion (head of a wolf, cat, bear, griffin, among others) indicates the school at which its owner was trained.
Due to their otherness, unusual abilities, and magical skills, Witchers are treated as outcasts and sometimes even met with hatred. With most Witchers having been wiped out during a ghastly attack on Kaer Morhen, there are only a handful of them left, especially because they also refuse to train new successors.
THE LAW OF SURPRISE
In ‘The Witcher’ series, the Law of Surprise is a custom as old as humanity itself, and you’ll probably hear it a LOT in the course of season one. To put it simply, the law dictates that a man saved by another is expected to offer to his saviour a boon whose nature is unknown to one or both parties. In most cases, the boon takes the form of the saved man’s firstborn child, conceived or born without the father’s knowledge.
The criss-crossing timelines of ‘The Witcher’ follow three central characters and their converging journeys.
Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill)
One of the very few Witchers left, Geralt of Rivia is keeping his head down, fighting the odd monster to keep him and his faithful horse Roach well fed and housed. But trouble’s always just around the corner for the White Wolf, and ‘The Witcher’ charts its first season around Cavill’s Geralt as he deals with his ‘Child Surprise’ Ciri (more on her later) and the on-again, off-again love of a powerful mage, Yennefer.
Yennefer (Anya Chalotra)
Yennefer of Vengerberg, a mage and member of the Brotherhood of Sorcerers, begins her story as an abused hunchbacked girl who is purchased by a sorceress when she accidentally opens a portal, displaying her magical powers, called Chaos in this world. She is taken to Aretuzza to train as a sorceress, and season one devotes itself to following her transformation into a powerful and beautiful mage.
Princess Cirilla/Ciri (Freya Allan)
Ciri, princess of Cintra, is forced to flee her home as her kingdom is overrun by Nilfgaard forces. As she goes on the run, she begins to better understand her special powers and understand her destiny, involving our very own Witcher.
The events of ‘The Witcher’ take place mostly on the Continent. This is where the Northern Kingdoms and the Nilfgaardian Empire lie, again two places very central to the events of the series.
The Northern Wars were a series of wars fought between the southern Nilfgaardian Empire and coalitions of Northern Kingdoms. Nilfgaard’s foray into the North began with the annexation of minor kingdoms. By invading Cintra, Ciri’s kingdom, it sparked a mobilisation of Northern forces in response, resulting in the First Northern War.
Don’t miss it
‘The Witcher’ is available to stream on Netflix.