The following review contains spoilers for The Witcher, episode 7, “Before a Fall.”
It took us nearly the entire first season of The Witcher to do it, but all three plotlines have finally begun to intersect as we slowly make our way towards the present. It’s been an interesting experience watching three separate plots that take place in completely different settings and time periods. While I’ll still need a bit of time to decide whether that was for the best or not, what I can say is that if there’s one thing that “Before a Fall” does, it’s put the inciting incident of Ciri’s (Freya Allan) plot into perspective.
We’ve known since episode 4 that Ciri has been promised to Geralt due to the Law of Surprise, but we haven’t exactly seen the ramifications of that deal until now. Geralt (Henry Cavill), aware of Nilfgaard’s plans to attack Cintra, travels to Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May) to invoke his Law of Surprise and take Ciri in an effort to protect her. While it’s unknown exactly how long ago the events of last episode were and his argument with Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) about the desire to have children, it’s clear that Ciri is on his mind, and whether he likes it or not, he has to protect her or deal with destiny.
Destiny is one of those abstract concepts that is thrown into any random story in order to give it a sense of gravitas. It’s mostly used in association with the monomyth in order to justify a hero’s journey and why that hero in particular is meant to save the world or accomplish a certain task: It’s their destiny. However, The Witcher turns the concept of destiny into a force of nature that is not to be trifled with, where even adept mages like Mousesack (Adam Levy) caution not to tempt destiny. It is not something that the people in The Witcher should play with.
With that in mind, it’s almost dumbfounding how arrogant and incompetent Queen Calanthe is when faced with forces beyond her control. Sure, she is a warrior queen who is feared with a blade, but the show has demonstrated time and time again that nearly everything bad that’s happened to her has been due to her meddling with destiny. Geralt approaches her and invokes the Law of Surprise in order to protect Ciri, and Calanthe tries to give him a body double. When he calls her out on it, she berates him and mocks destiny yet again. Suddenly, Nilfgaard attacks and her entire kingdom is left in ruins. Oops!
This mocking of destiny helps to explain why Cintra fell as easily as it did back in the premiere. Sure, it could be because the Nilfgaardian army is ridiculously strong religious zealots who worship whatever “the White Flame” is, almost sacrificing themselves for its sake, but another likely reason is that destiny decided to act out against Queen Calanthe once again for her hubris.
Destiny killed her husband, her trusted advisors, placed her granddaughter in mortal danger, and drove her to commit suicide. Meanwhile, all Geralt could do is sit in the palace dungeon, placing him directly in the belly of the beast, unaffected by destiny’s throes. He didn’t do anything wrong; he’s just a victim of Calanthe’s ego.
With Geralt sidelined halfway through “Before a Fall,” the heavy lifting of this episode is left to Yennefer and her coming to grips with her past. She reunites with her former lover Istredd (Royce Pierreson) in a scene that puts into perspective just how far these two lovers have grown before having Yennefer whisked to Aretuza, where she originally learned magic.
Growth has been a big element of Yennefer’s story this season, introducing her as a weak and maligned hunchback, to now, where Tissaia (MyAnna Buring) claims Yennefer was the best student that she ever taught. When the doors open on Yennefer entering Aretuza for the first time in decades, she doesn’t walk in as the confident badass that she always dreamed of being, but hunched over and scared, almost reminiscent of her original appearance.
She can’t escape her past no matter how hard she tries while at Aretuza. It does nothing but bring back bad memories, whether it be the insults thrown at her by Tissaia, cutting herself, watching her friends be turned into eels, or, most importantly, sacrificing her fertility. Instead of breaking down, all she can do is fester in her anger, telling a group of students the fate that they’ll eventually have. It’s a complicated scene, with Yennefer going through a cavalcade of emotions before ending with a warning. Those students might want to become sorcerers, but it’s going to cost them everything and Yennefer doesn’t want them to make the same mistakes she did.
Yennefer has a lot of baggage that she has to deal with, and there are no easy answers for her. She did attain the power that she wanted, (That’s good!) but at the cost of her own fertility, (That’s bad!) but she’s now respected by royalty and sorcerers across the world, (That’s good!) but she openly detests them and hates having to associate with them. (That’s bad!)
When the sorcerers decide to vote on whether to aid Cintra or not from Nilfgaardian attack, she’s openly hostile to all involved, yet she still agrees to help Tissaia protect Cintra on their own. I was a bit surprised by her agreement to aid Tissaia’s faction — especially given Yennefer’s own shock that Tissaia would even make her that offer, which doesn’t seem to fit too well with her character — with it instead coming across as an excuse to get all of our main heroes together for the finale.
Now that we’re all caught up in the present and Ciri is starting to display her vast magical capabilities, I’m curious to see where The Witcher will go in its season finale. “Before a Fall” was more interested in providing context for prior events of the season rather than setting up a particularly engaging climax, and while the clarification is nice, I’m still up in the air on whether or not The Witcher can stick the landing.