Explaining the timelines of The Witcher
Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Witcher.
Welcome to the world of The Witcher. Although the first season of the new Netflix fantasy series was many American viewers’ first exposure to The Continent, a world where special people known as “witchers” protect their fellow humans from monsters and elves, it has deep roots in video games and books by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Through those games and books, The Witcher has built up deep lore. Though the show is meant to be watchable for newcomers and devoted fans, some things are more obvious to the trained eye. One element of the show that is more readily apparent to viewers already familiar with the characters is the fact that not every scene in the show is happening at the same time.
Most of the first episode follows the witcher Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) as he’s tasked with killing a young woman presumed to be cursed because she was born during an eclipse. That is one of Geralt’s formative adventures; at one point he cuts his way through a group of warriors, earning him the sobriquet “The Butcher of Blaviken,” which he carries for the rest of the season. But the end of the episode cuts away from Geralt, following a young princess named Ciri (Freya Allan), who is forced to flee her kingdom of Cintra after it’s conquered by the rival power of Nilfgaard. On first watch, you may think those events are happening at a similar time. In fact, those Ciri scenes are set decades after the Blaviken butchery — and Geralt will eventually catch up to them by the season finale (not for nothing is the premiere titled “The End’s Beginning”). The second episode, “Four Marks,” features Geralt’s first meeting with the bard Jaskier (Joey Batey), but also showcases the origin story of the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra), set years earlier. Confused yet?
One main reason the events of The Witcher are so scattered across time is that they are adaptions of different short stories by Sapkowski, set at different periods of Geralt’s long life. Another reason for the time displacement, as showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich explained to The Wrap, was so that the show could get power players Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri all on screen from the get-go. This way, viewers meet Ciri and Yennefer on their own terms, rather than encountering them only when Geralt’s life story overlaps with theirs. Since the books are told exclusively from his perspective, the show greatly expands Yennefer’s story line to show us what she was like before meeting Geralt.
Characters are therefore key to time in The Witcher; following them is the best way to keep track of everything else. Each main character’s journey is told chronologically on screen, they’re just out of sync from each other. So we see Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May) of Cintra die in episode 1 at the beginning of Ciri’s journey, but see a younger version of Calanthe in episodes 4 and 7 as she pops up during Geralt’s journey. As the show progresses to the season 1 finale, the timelines start to match up as we see Geralt and Yennefer’s various encounters.
There probably won’t be as much timey-wimey confusion in future seasons because (spoiler alert!) the final scene of season 1 is the long-awaited meeting between Geralt and Ciri. Ciri’s first question to the man she’s been told is her destiny (“Who’s Yennefer?”) indicates that the three main characters of The Witcher will soon, finally, be on the same page.