The penultimate episode of Netflix' adaptation of The Witcher finally brings Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri together in the same timeline. It's actually still a flashback as the story takes place right before the Niilfgardian invasion of Cintra.
Turns out Geralt actually came back to Cintra on the eve of the invasion to collect Ciri and fulfill his duty by the Law of Surprise. Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May) is having none of it. First, she sends men to kill him. Then she tries to fob off a double on him, which Geralt sees through.
Calanthe has become attached to Ciri since her parents died in a shipwreck and refuses to let her go. Geralt warns her that he came to take Ciri to safety after seeing the Niilgardian army massing near the border. Calanthe isn't Calanthe if she isn't a stubborn asshole. She has Geralt locked up.
Yennefer Steps Up
Yennefer returns to Aretuza to find the place has fallen on hard times. It even takes girls with no talent for magic as long as their families are rich enough to pay the tuition. This is far from the dark, intense, life-or-death training Yennefer and her classmates had to live through.
The Brotherhood of Sorcerers debate Nilfgard's invasion of Cintra. It would give Niilfgard a path to going to war against the northern kingdoms. Fringilla has been recruiting mages and indoctrinating them into the White Flame, whose ideology now drives Nilfgard's desire for conquest.
Yennefer has been at a loose end since she failed to restore her ability to have children. Her teacher Tresaia de Vries convinces her it's time to give back to the world instead of take. She agrees to join the breakaway faction to fight the Nilfgardians.
Then the invasion happens and Cintra is taken apart as we saw in the first episode. Geralt narrowly misses Ciri as she rides out of Cintra after her knight bodyguard takes an arrow in the throat. Geralt has no other choice but the get out of the kingdom and continue his search for Ciri.
Ciri's Life on the Run Still Sucks
In the present, Ciri comes to a town hoping to get on a boat to Skellige, the kingdom's version of the Celtic isles. She runs into some people she used to know in Cintra, but they're not as nice as they use to be. They grab her to turn her over to the Nilfgardians for a reward. This causes her to scream and unleash her superpower and it goes as well as you expect.
There's a missing note in the way they directed Anya Charlotra. She's great when she played the younger Yennefer, scared and uncertain as she was learning the ways of magic. When she finally becomes a professional sorceress and advisor to kings, she should be regal, aloof, remote and arrogant. That's how she came across in the books and the game. That's why people are afraid of her.
Yennefer is someone whose beauty and haughty arrogance should intimidate every man who looks at her. Instead, she remains put-upon, pissed off and earnest. It's not Charlotra's fault, since she wasn't written or directed to be that character from the books. Yennefer in The Witcher books is a weapons-grade "Mean Girl".
I wonder if the writers were afraid she would be too unlikable if they made her that way. MyAnna Buring is the only actress on the show who seems to get how to play the aloof arrogance of a sorceress in this world.
Every Decision Has Led to This
The theme of the road not taken, the wrong decision made, dominates this episode. If Geralt had returned to Cintra to claim Ciri much sooner, would things have turned out differently? If Yennefer had gone to the court at Niilfgard instead of Fringilla, would the kingdom had become a dangerous threat to the whole continent? Would Queen Calanthe have lost everything if she wasn't such an arrogant asshole and denied the Law of Surprise?
Props to May's intense performance as Queen Calanthe. She gets a complete arc in this season and plays the pride and fall of a too-proud queen as a grand Shakespearean tragedy. Calanthe's story becomes a cautionary tale in the folly of trying to deny destiny.
With only one episode of The Witcher remaining this season, now it should all be about the payoff…