Let Us Help Parse the Jumbled Timeline of Netflix's 'The Witcher'
Spoilers for The Witcher follow.
Netflix's new show The Witcher, with its baths and monster duels, is full of weird rewards, but one thing it doesn't give its audience at any point in its inaugural eight-episode season is a clear sense of what happens when. Showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and her team's decision to time revelations out of order, without onscreen dates, turns the first season into a fun mystery box. Here's the full solution to it, made possible by characters who age at supernatural rates.
There are (sorta) three timelines
The first two episodes, "The End's Beginning" and "Four Marks," reveal the stories we'll follow for the season. We meet Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) and Princess Ciri of Cintra (Freya Allan) in "The End's Beginning," and Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra) in "Four Marks." While those episodes serve as Ciri and Yennefer's origin stories, Geralt's origin is only revealed later. Geralt, a witcher, and Yennefer, a sorceress, both age at a much slower rate than Ciri, who is a human child.
We later see Geralt and Yennefer's paths intersect in episode five, “Bottled Appetites,” before they go their separate ways, which takes place well before Ciri's origin in episode one. Episode one's title, "The End's Beginning," is literal, as it depicts the sacking of Cintra, a pivotal event we return to in the last episode when Ciri and Geralt finally meet and their stories converge. And while she is not with them, Yennefer's story in the last episode, "Much More," occurs concurrently with Ciri and Geralt's encounter. These three storylines meet, split, then meet again before the end.
How old are Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri if their timelines are this wonky?
Ciri is 12 years old throughout the course of the first season. Yennefer and Geralt's respective ages are a trickier question; we need to examine clues from the show and the books by The Witcher creator Andrzej Sapkowski. Hissrich's show presents their makeup and costuming as relatively consistent through most of the show's century-long timespan, but she did give a hint before the show debuted: "Geralt is almost 100 years old when the series starts and we find him in the middle of a journey," she told the magazine SciFiNow. "Then there’s the death of a character and that’s what launches him off onto his journey."
Hissrich was referring to the death of Renfri, a character who tells Geralt he'll meet a "girl in the woods" whom he'll try to outrun but will not be able to. "She is your destiny," Renfri prophesies before Geralt eventually kills her. If Geralt is almost 100 years old here, and Ciri has yet to be born, we can probably assume Geralt is over 100 by the time he eventually meets Ciri.
We can also extrapolate from a quote Hissrich gave TVGuide: "Ciri's story takes place over two weeks, Yennefer's takes place over, you know, it's like 70 years. Geralt's takes place over 20 years." This means that since Yennefer starts the series roughly in her 20s (Chalotra is 23), Yennefer is probably in her 90s by the events of the season finale. (We'll assume that Hissrich wasn't factoring in the flashback to Geralt's mother, given her earlier statement on his age.) It also gives us a fuller picture of how we can lay out the show's events.
Here's an estimate of how it works out chronologically
100+ years before the Slaughter of Cintra: Geralt's mother Visenna abandons him to the witcher school's training and mutations (episode 8, flashback). We know it happened more than100 years ago because of Hissrich's interview ahead of the show's release referring to Geralt killing Renfri.
70ish years before the Slaughter of Cintra: Yennefer, a young woman with facial disfigurement and a spinal curvature due to her part-elf parentage, is sold by her abusive father to a sorceress who drafts her into a magic school (episode 2). Yennefer transforms her body and begins advising the king of Aedirn (episode 3). We know it happens more or less 70 years ago thanks to Hissrich.
40ish years before the Slaughter of Cintra: Yennefer, as the king of Aedirn's mage, is tasked with escorting Queen Kalis of Lyria and her infant daughter home, when they encounter an assassin. Both die, and Yennefer decides to go solo (episode 4).
20ish-13 years before the Slaughter of Cintra: We follow Geralt's miscellaneous witcher exploits in which he kills Renfri and earns his title as the Butcher of Blaviken (episode 1), meets the bard Jaskier and some elves (episode 2), lifts a striga curse (episode 3), and attends a banquet hosted by Queen Calanthe of Cintra and claims "the Law of Surprise" (episode 4). We know all this happens in order because of the presence of Jaskier and his songs in each one, and because Ciri's mother is pregnant with her at the banquet, and Ciri is 12 when we meet her in person.
Sometime 13 years before the Slaughter of Cintra: Geralt and Yennefer meet and battle a djinn (episode 5) -- which we know happens after the banquet because Jaskier helpfully recalls Geralt invoking the Law of Surprise. Geralt and Yennefer's paths cross again to confront a golden dragon sometime after that (episode 6).
Immediately before the Slaughter of Cintra: Geralt rides to finally claim his Promise of Surprise, the child Princess Ciri, on the eve of Cintra's sacking by the rival kingdom Nilfgaard, but Queen Calanthe, loath to give up her granddaughter, offers Geralt a decoy before imprisoning him (episode 7). Yennefer and other mages rally to fight against Nilfgaard (episode 7).
The Slaughter of Cintra: The city is sacked. Queen Calanthe dies. Ciri flees and her mystic powers awaken (episode 1). Geralt manages to escape, but is badly wounded and later rescued by a peasant man (episode 8).
After the Slaughter of Cintra: Ciri's entire storyline throughout the season takes place, following her on the run in a two-week span where she uses her powers again to escape would-be captors, is sheltered by elves, and is fooled by a doppler posing as a trusted Cintra advisor (episodes 1-7). Yennefer and her mage comrades take the fight to Nilfgaard at the Battle of Sodden Hill, and after unleashing an onslaught of magic, Yennefer disappears (episode 8). Ciri eventually finds shelter with a peasant woman and finally meets Geralt after he wakes up and it's revealed that the man and woman who saved them were husband and wife (episode 8).
Was the confusing timeline worth it?
As a timeline, basically, it all coheres, but it undoubtedly makes for a confusing viewer experience for a world that's already built on high-fantasy names like "Villentretenmerth," "Aretuza," and "Filavandrel." It's genuinely hard to keep track of all of this if you're not willing to invest serious additional time into wiki-diving and or rewatches. It's also a structure that does few favors to Ciri's character and storyline, which suffers from an inherent repetitiveness where Geralt and Yennefer's characters are developed. The split plots are a double-edged sword -- keeping the tension high and the audience guessing throughout the season, but also leaving you wondering what the hell the point of a third Jaskier episode is when Geralt still hasn't met Ciri.
To the show's credit, though, this one mystery box that has resolved itself by the end of the season. It also nicely adapts the Sapkowski short stories, while offering backstory invented whole cloth that his books never got into. Whether Hissrich and her writers return to the split narrative structure will remain a burning question until Season 2 comes out.
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