The following review contains spoilers for The Witcher episode 6, “Rare Species.”
Coming after the very emotional “Bottled Appetites,” I was expecting yet another episode where our main protagonists were back to their own individual plots and would remain isolated for the rest of the season. To my pleasant surprise, “Rare Species” continued to focus on the relationship between Geralt (Henry Cavill) and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra). To my even bigger surprise, Ciri (Freya Allan) actually received moderate development and some forward momentum for her storyline! “Rare Species” delivered Ciri a tension-filled scenario that feels like a breath of fresh air after her spending several episodes hanging with the dryads.
With Ciri and Dara (Wilson Radjou-Pujalte of Hunter Street) being escorted by the one I lovingly refer to as Doppsack — a doppleganger assuming the guise of Mousesack (Adam Levy) — it was only a matter of time until it was going to reveal itself as a monster and try to take Ciri by force. I just didn’t expect the show to savor those early moments, having Doppsack do a wonderful job at convincing them he was Mousesack while also doing a terrible job of maintaining that benevolent facade. It looked like Adam Levy had a blast with the duplicitous monster, giving him plenty of chances to chew the scenery, but it made Ciri look like a fool at times with how blind she was of Doppsack’s evil intent. Apparently all of Dara’s criticisms can be washed away by Doppsack giving Ciri her mother’s cloak. However, as well structured as their story is this week, it still feels like padding while we wait for her to eventually cross paths with Geralt.
Speaking of, Geralt’s quest this time in The Witcher is actually a simple one. Instead of trying to reverse a djinn’s curse or discover the connection between a king and a powerful monster attacking a village, Geralt is hired by an adventurer named Borch Three Jackdaws (Ron Cook from Chernobyl) to hunt a dragon. There’s a party out trying to kill a rampaging green dragon, and Borch wants Geralt’s skills in the hunt. It’s as simple as that… or is it?
Something that I’ve come to notice in most of the episodes so far is that The Witcher does a very good job at subverting audience expectations. Geralt’s mission of the day always starts off simple enough, but eventually the true motives are revealed and it leaves Geralt at a moral impasse — one where his good nature eventually shines through. The same is true for “Rare Species,” where Borch reveals himself to be a mythical golden dragon who hired Geralt to protect the green dragon’s egg, and the dragon had only defended itself from humans to protect its child. Geralt’s humanity shines through, as Borch hired Geralt specifically due to his empathy towards dragons and his ability to fight and protect the baby dragon.
In fact, the majority of “Rare Species” seems predicated on subverting most classic fairy tale tropes. Geralt’s party includes him, Yennefer, and Jaskier (Joey Batey), who all feel developed and stand out well from one another. But then you have a group of savage Reavers that are purely interested in hunting the dragon, a chivalrous white knight who is as dumb as he is effective, a king who promises gold and land for slaying the beast, and the most cliched fantasy creature in existence being the monster of the day. It all seems very traditional, but The Witcher is anything but. The knight brutally kills a hungry monster because it existed, only for him to be killed while suffering explosive diarrhea. A group of dwarves that tagged along are aware that the king’s offer for land is meaningless since that land will eventually be taken over by Nilfgaard, and there’s the reveal that the bad guy is not the dragon, but instead MAN.
It’s a fun idea, though “Rare Species” runs a very real risk of being too simple in comparison to previous Witcher episodes. Seeing Geralt go on a straight quest to hunt a dragon seems at odds with nearly every episode that came before it, with the show very obviously telegraphing its twists. Seeing Borch dramatically fall off the cliff all but spelled out that he was actually a golden dragon due to his earlier insistence that they existed, his scaly jacket, and the show hiding his true fate. Seriously, the show has never been shy about killing off people and letting their corpses just lie there — like this episode’s knight who died with his ass hanging out for all to see. Despite that, I thought that it was just simple enough to make it easy to follow while complex enough to keep me engaged.
By far the most engaging element, like last episode, was watching the development between Geralt and Yennefer. The two of them have run into each other a handful of times in between last episode and now, but that doesn’t diminish the impact and tenderness of their scenes. It’s very clear they both have strong feelings towards each other, and instead of toying around with that premise, the show just opts to dive head first into their complicated relationship. This culminates in a sweet moment where the two spend the night together and wake up to discover that the other is still there. Geralt’s “good morning” was the perfect line to use and immediately put a smile on my face.
Yennefer’s discovery of Geralt’s wish, which still remains vague, only further complicates their feelings for each other. Is it magical — or a genuine bond? Is destiny stringing them together, or is it the djinn’s spell? We don’t get any solid answers, and I hope that we don’t, but it gave Cavill the best opportunities to show his range. Geralt may not be capable of emotions, but his rage-filled accusal at Jaskier at the end was the first time we really saw him let loose at someone out of frustration and anger. It all did feel a bit rushed — maybe having another episode to flesh out their feelings towards each other would have helped — but the end result was still effective in eliciting a response.
As we inch closer and closer to Ciri meeting the rest of the cast, I can only hope that The Witcher continues to explore our main heroes in earnest and sees them tested like never before. I’m eager to see how Geralt will react to meeting Ciri for the first time and taking responsibility for his actions in Cintra, as well as the Black Knight, whom we finally learned is named Cahir (Eamon Farren from Twin Peaks), who is now more determined than ever to capture Ciri, putting him on a collision course with Geralt.