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"Why wouldn't you travel by main roads?"

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What I aim to do here is track what we see and connect pieces together. I will leave it to other people to do truly in-depth analysis that connects up to real-world things and turn up interesting ideas. It's also just going to be about the show canon, although I'll be considering book canon for clarity on some of the elements.

 

Let's start with the main character, Geralt, and Episode 1, The End's Beginning.

 

After a fight scene with a monster, Geralt enters a tavern and has a brief civil interaction with a barmaid, Isadora, only for her to be pushed aside by the tavern-owner who hates witchers enough to want him gone now, a sentiment echoed by a number of other men in the place.

It is, I think, worth mentioning that this does not appear to come from a place of fear:

"You don't give the orders around here, you mutant son of a bitch."

"Go. On your own or at the end of a rope, your choice."

And when Geralt turns as if to leave, the men make it clear that he doesn't even get that choice, they've decided on a lynching.

"Yeah, fuck that. Kill him with your bare hands if you have to."

"C'mon, Witcher. You're not scared of us, are ya? Show us what you've got."

"Witchers can't be trusted."

The anti-witcher sentiment is based on broader anti-human prejudice, not that witchers are legitimately frightening. If mankind fears that which is different, they don't fear it in the sense it's physically scary to them. These men expect him to back down (they mock him for being scared of them) and the final jab before Renfri steps in is that he can't be trusted. When accusing witchers of being no better than the monsters they hunt, they don't mean in the sense witchers are as likely to kill people, they mean that as non-humans their loyalties are suspect.

And it is probably not a coincidence that what we see is highly gendered. Even if we discount Renfri as having her own reasons, Isadora doesn't have any problem talking with him. And Marilka is probably not a good enough actor for all her enthusiastic prattling to be part of tricking him into visiting Stregobor. It's the men who are aggressive, likely because a witcher is doing a traditionally masculine role in killing very dangerous things the rest of the community couldn't and because he's just big and scary enough they think they can show off they're even tougher by harassing him.

Which is not to say that women necessarily disagree on him being inhuman. Marilka's chatter is heavy on other women:

"Isadora said you were looking for my father. She's a gossip, you see. Probably went two steps into the Lord's Inn before she was running off telling everyone an evil witcher had arrived."

Possibly this is putting words in Isadora's mouth because Marilka's heard elsewhere that witchers are evil, but if Marilka knows Isadora as a gossip, she's likely quite familiar with the sort of things Isadora says. Even people who are civil toward a witcher still believe them to be other. (As we will shortly see repeat with Stregobor.) That said, Marilka is wrong about what actually happened with Isadora (she didn't walk in, see him, and run out, as Marilka suggests, she spoke to him and only left after she was ordered to get away from him) and she still seems to have been helpful since she told Marilka that Geralt was looking for her father, which would've resolved the situation he was in.

"My mother says you're the offspring of foul sorcery, a diabolic creation, a filthy degenerate born of Hell."

Here we get the strongest statement against Geralt all episode. Again, the emphasis is not on what Geralt does or might do, but what he is. And this fits with how at episode's end, Geralt is going to kill most of the people initially trying to pick a fight without much effort and everyone is going to be shocked that the witcher they hated did a bad thing, because the prejudice against witchers has everything to do with what they are. From this, it seems like Geralt's tolerance for this sort of behavior is a standard trait of witchers. People do not expect violence from them and presumably behave this way to witchers regularly without consequence. Witchers must largely respond by either peacefully leaving or minimally defending themselves to make the other party back down.

Which brings up another issue - why doesn't Geralt just leave? What's he actually doing here? He seems invested in getting paid today despite not knowing if there's an applicable contract or not and running into a lot of pushback.

Geralt: "It's hard to make a living on main roads."
Renfri: "And you desperately need money for new clothes."
Marilka, shortly after: "That's enough to buy some new clothes. Just saying."

Geralt's behavior this episode is a bit unwitchery. He wandered around the wilderness looking for monsters of any kind then headed into the nearest town in case there was a reward. This does not seem like a particularly good business model, and what we'll mostly see for the rest of the show is people offering money first and then having a specific monster killed in return. Either Geralt is desperate for money so he decided to try to preemptively hunt a monster in the hopes of getting paid, or Geralt preemptively hunts monsters a lot and it's left him desperate for money.

On the one hand, the story Geralt tells Roach later about mistakenly thinking people needed him suggests he knows better than to do the latter... On the other, the story Geralt tells Roach is about him doing the latter. And the fact he's implying to Renfri that wandering around swamps just in case there's a monster is how he makes a living does suggest he does this a lot.

It is hard to say how representative Marilka is of the kind of interactions Geralt normally has, as not reacting much to events around him is Geralt's thing, but the fact that Marilka's friendly chatter involves a lot of objectively unusual things, like that she killed their dog, makes me guess it is probably not a common occurrence for Geralt. That said, again, people do not seem actually afraid of him, so kids finding him fascinating likely happens with some regularity. At the least, he doesn't appear thrown by Marilka's behavior.

We also get our first mention about the morality of monsters and monster-hunting from Marilka.

Geralt: "Your father, the alderman? He posted a flyer."
Marilka: "For a graveir. Kikimoras are useful. Population control."

and this will be echoed more forcibly by Stregobor shortly.

Geralt: "I kill monsters."
Stregobor: "The kikimora kills because it's hungry, Renfri kills for pleasure. She is a monster."

Now, this could mean it's a question the episode is asking Geralt, but by all appearances, Geralt unmoved by the idea that kikimoras should be left in peace to kill people and insists to the end that Renfri is not a monster. When talking about the story of his "first monster" he also has no qualifiers to suggest he's ever doubted his first evaluation.

I think what this is getting at is instead that witchers, despite being apparently mercenary, hunt monsters only by their own definition and not the definition of others. Geralt is unswayed by what non-monster-hunters think is a monster. He's the professional here. And he's also the one who has to live with what he does.

To go back to the tavern for a minute, there's another thing worth noting, which is his brief first conversation with Renfri. It runs pretty normally, which is actually incredibly weird going by all of Geralt's other conversations. 

Renfri: "Want some breakfast?"
Geralt: "I'm full. Venison."
Renfri: "My mother, God rest her, would be mortified."
Geralt: "Our secret, then."

He's not particularly talkative, but he's volunteering information, responding to something that isn't a direct question, and making no effort to turn the conversation to what he needs to do next the way he does with Marilka.

Does he know Renfri's a mutant like he is? We'll learn in the third episode that Geralt has a ridiculously good nose, so, honestly it does seem like he should know. There's also the fact she's just stood up for him, which may make him consider her emotionally safe to be around even if he doesn't know yet she isn't a regular human (or, if she doesn't know herself, which is somewhat the same from his point of view).

On to Stregobor and the rest of what he says.

"I'd offer you my condolences, but I seem to remember that witchers don't feel anything."

This is the first time this is brought up and I really do think it's not a coincidence it's put in the mouth of the guy who murdered little kids because of a prophecy Geralt thinks is clearly bullshit. It does establish that both prejudice and general mystery about witchers goes beyond the random peasants. Even an acclaimed sorcerer does not really know much about witchers and you'll notice that he does not phrase this as a question but is completely fine assuming it's true. Geralt has a whole range of reasons to not respond to this, including in this case because he doesn't even want to be talking to the guy, so it's hard to pick out his feelings on people's insistence he has no feelings beyond a general dislike.

And yes, Geralt definitely dislikes. He's staring ahead during the conversation until he hears that witchers don't feel, then he turns to Stregobor.

If someone has a reaction to you telling them they don't care about anything, they care. He's also quite snippy with him after this point - he doesn't seem particularly a fan of the guy before this, so it's hard to be sure, but at bare minimum, Stregobor has definitely failed to endear himself.

Since we haven't seen much of other witchers, it's hard to say how much of this is about wanting to view witchers as alien and inhuman and how much is that Geralt's flat affect is a common trait among them. We do see in just this episode absolutely no one is actually trying to talk to witchers under the assumptions they're meat robots - both the people threatening Geralt in the tavern and Stregobor in the tower are acting as if he has emotions (Stregobor goes on at length about why Renfri needs to die and only mentions payment at the end, and is frustrated, not shocked, when Geralt refuses on the basis he only hunts actual monsters) and no one reacts with surprise when Geralt does show emotion. Geralt appears to be thought to lack feelings in the way one might saw a cow doesn't have feelings, that whatever his emotions are, they're different and so do not deserve any consideration. (It would be interesting seeing how people might react to a more conventionally emotional witcher - would visibly "human" emoting make people think they were an exception to the no-emotion rule, or would people still ignore it?)

Stregobor goes on to bring up DESTINY in the hopes this will help. It does not.

Stregobor: "I'm grateful destiny brought you to me."
Geralt: "Marilka brought me to you."
...
Stregobor: "Destiny has many faces, Witcher. Mine, for example, is beautiful on the outside, but hideous on the inside."
...
Stregobor: "And now she's tracked me here, just as you arrived. Destiny. Kill her."

Geralt does not reject this as vigorously as he does the prophecy, but he either ignores or contradicts when it's brought up.

Stregobor: "Killing Renfri is the lesser evil."
Geralt: "Evil is evil, Stregobor. Lesser, greater, middling it's all the same. I'm not judging you. I haven't only done good in my life either. But now, if I have to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all."

I think there's a lot to unpack here!

Geralt does not seem sympathetic to Stregobor in the conversation - he dismisses the prophecy ("Doesn't rhyme. All good predictions rhyme."), interrupts Stregobor explaining that these were evil monsters with "Innocent women are dead," and brings attention to Stregobor's self-contradicting claim that he knew the girls needed to be killed because he could tell from autopsying them. And there's how Stregobor keeps insisting they were inherently evil because they were mutants to the mutant he's demanding help from. Yet after all that, Geralt says he can't judge Stregobor because whatever his "haven't only done good in my life" is alluding to, he feels it's on the same order as murdering sixty kids over a fake prophecy with a dash of general prejudice. At this point there's no way to tell if this is his own self-loathing talking or if that he really did fuck up that badly. It's even possible that it's neither of those things and "I'm not judging you," is far more about Geralt never wanting to be put in the position of judge than anything else. After all, the entire episode hinges on Geralt trying to avoid choosing who should die.

But to be clear, Geralt's stance on the prophecy is "Innocent women are dead," followed by sarcasm. The question he spends the episode struggling with is absolutely not "Wait...was Stregobor right about killing kids?"

I've seen some talk about Geralt's rejection of the idea of a lesser evil being the real moral stance, and it's definitely part of one, but key to me is that Geralt, mid-episode, frames it in terms of his own wish to avoid making any choice. Not "it is right not to choose" but "I prefer not to choose". And because of it, by the end of the episode, he's been forced into a choice anyway, and one that I think fandom largely agrees was a less than ideal one.

Also key: Since Geralt does not believe in the prophecy, Stregobor is not actually advocating for a lesser evil as far as Geralt's concerned. And in this light, Stregobor's past "lesser evil" choice was, again, doing actual harm to avert a fake harm. Stregobor illustrates why settling for a "lesser evil" is so dangerous. Stregobor is even now telling Geralt that the horrible things he did were fine because it was at least a milli-Hitler less evil than another option he could imagine ("I admit what happened next was not ideal, but with the lives of Aridea's own children on the line, we had to act.") therefore join in on doing terrible things. That's the real problem with the lesser evil, that people settle for smaller rather than greater evil instead of striving to actually do something good and that people are, furthermore, absolutely garbage at actually weighing the two.

But Geralt is also not doing anything good here. At this point he probably thinks he doesn't have to - Stregobor wants to kill yet another person, Geralt can say no, nothing more happens because the prophecy isn't real and if Renfri does get into the tower, eh, nothing of value will be lost. (Geralt appears to be either willfully blind to the fact Stregobor will keep trying to kill her or extremely optimistic about the morals of whoever else Stregobor tries to hire. That said, if it's only a witcher who could take her down at this point, Geralt may be right in his evaluation.) But his refusal to judge Stregobor and determination to stay out of this, to settle for not doing evil rather than attempting to do good, will come back to bite him.

Having rejected Stregobor, Geralt leaves the town entirely. He's in the middle of collecting some plants by a stream when Renfri arrives, at which point he looks up and apparently decides that if he looks away again and acts really, really interested in leaves maybe she won't try to talk to him. Geralt is already pretty old by this point, so the fact he tries this suggests he actually has managed to wiggle out of conversations before by avoiding eye contact hard enough.

It definitely doesn't work on Renfri and she gives her own pitch. She knows he was told she's done terrible things, and she argues that she did them in response to what was done to her, therefore, take her side. The discussion with Stregobor is a decoy dilemma. Geralt had more difficulty extracting himself from the conversation than he did figuring out what he'd do. But Renfri... Renfri has a much more difficult pitch for Geralt.

Renfri: "Lilit help me, I will take down anyone in my way. Unless destiny intervenes."
Geralt: "You want me to kill Stregobor for you."
Renfri: "It's the lesser evil."

Renfi's argument is that Geralt should kill Stregobor because the man is going to die one way or another and Geralt can do it without collateral damage, while left to her own devices Renfri is going to try drowning the man in the blood of the innocent. This could have been made more clear, but it's why Renfri makes a distinction between her killing Stregobor and Geralt doing it. Otherwise, she'd just be trying to convince him to not get in the way.

Stregobor is easily dismissed by Geralt. "Kill someone, or she will kill me for trying to kill her," is not a choice he struggled with. But "Kill someone, or I will kill other people," is where the actual "lesser evil" question comes into play. Geralt is now in a trolley dilemma.

And Geralt, exactly like you'd expect someone who already tried to wiggle out of making a choice in the matter, tries to go for the third option of convincing the trolley driver to stop. What follows is a bit muddy.

Renfri: "People call you a monster too.
Geralt: "A mutant."
Renfri: "What if they come after you? Attack you?"
Geralt: "They have."
Renfri: "Why not kill them?"
Geralt: "Because then I am what they say I am."

In isolation, this exchange is "When people attack me, I do not fight back." This is...something of a hard sell. But Renfri has already been in a situation where she's attacked, fought back, and killed people. She opens the conversation confirming that she did kill the man who Stregobor first hired to kill her, as Stregobor claims, and she did more, as Stregobor claims, and gives her justification:

Renfi: "Stregobor's man raped me, robbed me and let me go." ... "I had to survive. I stole rather than starve. I killed rather than be killed."

If any of what Renfri did already was enough for Geralt to consider her a monster, they wouldn't be having this discussion. That said, for whatever reason Geralt does not volunteer any qualifiers about self-defense being different either.

We haven't actually seen how Geralt handles being personally attacked, unfortunately. While it's not clearly explained, Geralt, as a witcher, carries two swords and the silver one is for monsters while the steel one is for men, which pretty strongly implies that there is an awful lot of killing men in a witcher's life. He appears to have been willing to leave the town when it was a choice between "leave" and "be killed", but what was he planning when it turned into a choice between "be killed" or "be killed while trying to peacefully leave"? It seems hard to believe that Geralt could have survived this long with a rule that he can only kill people when he has some higher goal than his own survival, but on the other hand, he does have super reflexes, super healing, and his magic that lets him knock people back and block projectiles, so surviving the initial attack and fleeing may have worked for him. It's also possible his reception in Blaviken was exceptionally bad and we can put his apparent lack of surprise down to his poker face, but it'd be a weird decision to have the show introduce us to how people treat witchers with a completely unrepresentative situation.

The sanest interpretation, I'd say, is that there's a distinction between "attacked" and "about to die" - we see Geralt threatened in the beginning and respond nonviolently, and we see him getting stoned at the end and respond nonviolently (with the help of magic). This fits with how the context of the conversation is about revenge. Similarly, Renfri has just brought up a situation that was both "attacked" and "let live" where she feels she was wholly justified in killing - she specifies the first man let her go after raping her.

Geralt's reasoning really seems to boil down to that he fundamentally does not want to kill people - not wanting to kill people is the entire reason this episode is a moral dilemma. The act of killing people is monstrous, therefore he will avoid it whenever possible for his own sanity.

There's an argument to be made that this is Geralt is valuing his own life as lesser than a human's, but he clearly values Renfri's life to the point he does everything he can to disuade her even after killing her men. It would seem Geralt just doesn't see a contradiction between "your life has value" and "it's wrong to kill people who want you dead due to believing you're not human".

This is not really that coherent as a philosophy and it's not particularly surprising it fails to convince Renfri.

Renfri: "If I tell you, Witcher, that I can neither forgive Stregobor nor renounce my revenge, is that it? I admit I'm a monster?"
Geralt: "Yes. Or you can leave Blaviken and finally live. You choose, Princess."

Now, it's true that if she can forgive this, she's definitely not a monster. But that is not the minimum standard people are held to. It's not even a solution to her actual problem, because Stregobor wanted her dead for being born and showing him mercy now would not change his mind. Geralt is asking her to live her life forever looking over her shoulder for the next assassin. And she might survive like that - she's survived this long, after all - but it is a shitty, shitty thing to ask of someone.

And I do not think, in the overall context, that it's intended to be read as Geralt asking because on an impartial moral level this is correct. Rather, it's Geralt trying to duck out of a choice he absolutely does not want to make.

He can't undo any of the harm Stregobor did, and Stregobor is not in this moment doing more harm. Renfi is planning to introduce more harm into the equation, so if he can talk her out of that, he doesn't have to get involved. He's even convinced that this would be the best for Renfri - "you can leave Blaviken and finally live" - because not holding onto grudges (...or telling himself very hard that he isn't, at least) is how he's been handling things.

(An unexamined distinction here is that Renfri seems like she would also be able to go live her life after Stregobor is dead, while Geralt would have to wipe out a big chunk of the human population if he killed everyone with a grudge against witchers. Geralt's life philosophy comes from a place where what Renfri aims for is impossible for him.)

But by narrowing his vision to the immediate present and immediate actions, what he ends up doing is lobbing the problem back to Renfri. He states that if she does a thing, he will do a thing in response. There! Not his fault, right? Geralt's turned a thorny ethical situation into a simple one where he is just a sword that stabs monsters and doesn't stab non-monsters and none of this is a choice he's making because swords don't make choices, so whatever happens, Geralt definitely isn't going to be forever scarred by a choice he makes about this mess.

Unfortunately for Geralt, he doesn't actually believe it.

Because if this:

Renfri: "If I tell you, Witcher, that I can neither forgive Stregobor nor renounce my revenge, is that it? I admit I'm a monster?"
Geralt: "Yes."

was all there was to it, the ending would be a simple victory of good over evil.

Geralt is contrasting Stregobor's "born evil" belief with the idea that what Renfri chooses will make her a monster. And that's very close to what he believes. But again, Renfri has already done a great deal of evil. Geralt could decide to quiz her on her past, on exactly how justified her various actions were, see if she's already disqualified herself. It's what Renfri expects of him.

"Here I am trying to convince you I'm not a monster."

But he's already decided. He refuses Stregobor immediately on the basis he only kills monsters, he only talks to Renfri at all because she sought him out, and he only knows what she's done and what her justification is because she volunteers the information. The other characters in the episode think this is a question of who's the monster, but the question Geralt's wrestling with is how does he handle situations more complicated than "this is a nonsapient animal that eats people and therefore you stab it".

Ultimatum that's also a bluff given, Geralt leaves, because again, his motive throughout the episode is to escape the entire situation. He sets up camp elsewhere and decides to unwind with a chat with his horse where he explains what proper witchering as he was taught it is.

What Vesemir would say, apparently: "Witchers shouldn't play at being white knights. We shouldn't try and uphold the law. We don't show off. We get paid in coin."

Now, Stregobor telling Geralt he'll get paid money for murdering Renfri doesn't violate any of those. Geralt isn't struggling with his decision to tell Stregobor to fuck off, though. It's the situation with Renfri.

To kill someone for the sake of their victim would be white-knighting, as would killing Renfri to prevent her from making more victims. Exactly what the legal status of what Stregobor did to Renfri is unclear but he hired someone to kill her and that's generally illegal, and Renfri is definitely a criminal about to kill more people. And it is, overall, a choice, instead of being as unobtrusive as possible and just doing what he's paid to do.

("We shouldn't try and uphold the law," though, is particularly sad. Discouraging witchers from trying to be their own law makes sense, but here we get an idea of just how apart from society they are.)

And he tells his horse about his first monster, which involved violating all of those.

"Want to hear about my first monster? Wasn't 50 miles outside of Kaer Morhen. He was huge. Stinking. Bald head. Rotten teeth. He pulled that girl from the cart, tore her dress off in front of her father and said, 'It's time you met a real man.' I told him it was time he met one too. It took two strikes to kill him. They weren't clean. But they were spectacular. I turned to that girl afterwards. She was drenched in the man's blood. She took one look at me, screamed, vomited, and passed out. Yeah. I thought the world needed me too."

Now, you can, and apparently people have, read that as him lamenting he wasn't rewarded with sex for heroism, but I am pretty sure that was not really the issue. "I thought the world needed me," he says, not "wanted me". What he wanted was to do good.

This story establishes some important things, though:
Geralt is actually really bad at not getting involved.
Geralt had and still has absolutely no issue with classifying humans as "monsters".
Geralt's (bloody) attempts to do good have had unintended and negative consequences to the point he expects that outcome.

Also, that he's reminiscing about killing a rapist right after Renfri says her first kill was her rapist should probably be taken into consideration.

And then we get the exchange:

Renfri: "Who were you talking to?"
Geralt: "I talk to my horse."
Renfri: "That's sad."
Geralt: "Is it?"

I would like to submit for your consideration that Geralt has enhanced senses. Did he actually miss that Renfri was right there? Possibly she has a super stealth ability but more likely Geralt either really doesn't see anything weird about chatting with Roach or he's past the point of caring. (Geralt's definitely grumpy when she asks who he's talking to, but he's so broadly grouchy that could be for a number of reasons.)

Or, of course, he meant for her to overhear that story in particular, but it does seem like he's capable of telling the story directly if he wanted. Renfri managed to tell him her own traumatic backstory without pretending she talks to trees and he managed to hold his side of the conversation then just fine.

Either way, yes, Geralt is definitely incredibly lonely and definitely talks to his horse all the time. We've just seen how badly a visit to a village went and the story even specifies the girl screams and vomits when he turns so she can see his face. And as fun as the hm/fuck meme is, Geralt does talk, sometimes elaborately. He just doesn't converse very well, exactly like you'd expect someone who's largely been making speeches to a horse. This also matches up well with how Geralt's response to other people trying to have conversations with him earlier in the episode has involved complaining about the other person talking to him:

Marilka: "You don't scare me."
Geralt: "That's too bad."
...
Stregobor: "She has stretched her bloody talons towards me."
Geralt: "Wizards are all the same. You talk nonsense while making wise and meaningful faces. Speak normally."

(Both those people also cheerily reminded him that human society does not consider him a member of it in the middle of the conversation. That's what you risk when you let other people talk instead of sticking to horses.)

At any rate, Renfri, the only person whose presence Geralt hasn't vocally objected to, is here to check in about if he's changed his mind on anything...

Renfri: "Tell me, Witcher. You don't believe in destiny or the lesser evil. What do you believe in?"
Geralt: "You mean who do I believe. I don't pick sides."
Renfri: "You just kill monsters."

And Geralt reiterates his position and his lies. As I said earlier, Geralt picks a side very early on. He just thinks he can make it not count by refusing to act. (It's also debatable if he "doesn't believe" in destiny or if he believes it exists but disagrees with the idea it's a moral force.)

Renfri says that in that case, she's taken his advice and threat, mostly the threat, seriously. She'll leave peacefully.

She then starts talking about her mother (the one whose broach she had, which in turn she used the first time she killed someone) and childhood, touches Geralt's leg, doesn't get stabbed, doesn't stab him, and after a bit of edging toward each other to see if one of them's going to change their mind about pulling out a knife, they manage to kiss. We cut away for discretion. Then we cut back, because it's on Netflix.

So, to recap Geralt's day:

Killed a random monster.
Went into town, almost got lynched.
Got chatted up by a stabby child.
Visited a wizard tower with 24/7 3D porn running.
Asked to murder somebody.
Asked to murder somebody take two.
Threatened to kill someone.
Had sex with her.
Still has made zero (0) coin.

Renfri, in the middle of sex, starts prophesying. Presumably this only happened in his dream version of sex with her, but I guess it's possible he had to sleep on it before he realized something was weird about that. Not important, though! What's important is this is a legitimate prophecy, and one of the things said is:

"You say you can't choose, but you had to. And you'll never know if you were right."

Geralt claimed that if Renfri killed people to get her revenge, she'd be a monster. That this was her choice, not his. That after that point, it'd just be him doing his job. But not only will he be obviously distressed about it throughout, the objective narrative voice of destiny itself is here to say that he does not ever get over this.

While Geralt is waking up from apparently just sleeping on the bare ground (and with his pan still out by the fire) Renfri's going ahead with her plan of killing people to get revenge.

And so Geralt is forced to do something. He had a choice earlier and he thought he was very clever outwitting this attempt to involve him by picking Option 3: remind everyone that he's a witcher, not a hitman, and refuse to do anything, hoping without him nothing can happen. And because of that, he now faces a different and worse choice.

Geralt heads to the market, unarmored and carrying his steel sword without a scabbord. He asks where Renfri is, then kills Renfri's men without saying another word to them. This does not resolve the question of what Geralt does when faced with lethal force because Geralt is killing people to stop them from massacring other people with his own survival necessary for that.

Then Renfri shows up with her sword at Marilka's neck to see he's killed them all.

Renfri: "You chose."

He did! And without any of the hesitation that's characterized this up to this point.

But he's still desperate to dodge the actual moral choice of the episode, which is what to do when someone has very good reason to be doing very terrible things. Renfri's men do not have the excuse of Renfri's personal trauma, and while you could argue they're helping out because they agree what happened to her was wrong, that they tried to pick a fight just because at the opening of the episode and how they generally do not seem to be conflicted in the slightest suggest that probably, they're just awful people.

But Renfri? The terrible thing she's doing is for a reason. So Geralt still wants Renfri to leave alive, despite his claim that she'd be a monster if she did this. Unfortunately, Renfri either sincerely believes she can singlehandedly kill the town if Geralt will just get out of her way or doesn't care anymore if she'll survive the attempt:

"I will kill her. I will kill everyone here until Stregobor comes down."

He tells her to leave. He tries to use magic to make her obey when he tells her leave. As I said, he was lying earlier. By all appearances Geralt does believe evil is a choice, but it's a choice you keep making. If someone stops doing monstrous things they stop being a monster. All Renfri has to do is stop, and even if she's made to stop by temporary mind-altering magic, that's apparently good enough.

There is certainly a kindness to this belief, and perhaps that's the main reason Geralt holds to it. But this kind of moral system is probably also a great comfort if you feel you've done terrible things, as Geralt alludes to in his speech about not picking any evil, and it smooths out your interactions with broader human society if when you encounter people who've done terrible things, like Stregobor, you can say that as long as they're not currently engaged in doing such it's not your affair.

At any rate, it doesn't work. As Stregobor told Geralt, she's resistant to magic, something impossible for a human, unless they're a mutant. The confirmation of one of Stregobor's claims about Renfri being different does nothing to change Geralt's mind because again, he just does not believe the prophecy means anything and witchers in particular are living proof that that "mutant" is not interchangable with "monster". Renfri rejects Geralt's continued attempts at an olive branch and picks suicide by Geralt. Geralt still tries to get her to surrender. Renfri refuses and continues however hopeless it gets. He kills her.

This is not what Geralt wanted to happen, and the prophecy makes it clear he does not consider it definitely the best option. Worth considering is that Geralt had enough choices throughout this episode that it's ambiguous if "You say you can't choose, but you had to. And you'll never know if you were right," is only talking about the final situation he ended up in or the situation as a whole.

Geralt does attempt to make a choice immediately afterward. When Stregobor shows up to collect his corpse prize, Geralt threatens to kill him if he touches the body. Even after she was given every chance to turn away from what she was planning and didn't take it, and even though she died in the process of it and so can never make the right choice now, Geralt insists to the very last that Renfri was not a monster.

Stregobor responds by turning the town against him in a scene that is either very weirdly compressed or is the guy actually using magic to manipulate the crowd.

"Witcher. You butchered bodies in the streets of Blaviken. You took the law into your own hands. You made a choice. And you'll never know if it was the right one."

(Although we won't learn this until a later episode, sorcerers can read minds. Stregobor's words are oddly well aimed at precisely what Geralt's weakest points are and require a much better insight into Geralt than he showed at any other point in the episode, so I think that may be what's going on here.)

In response to this, a screaming crowd trying to stone him, and Marilka, who he just saved the life of and who knows exactly what really happened, saying, "Get out of Blaviken, Geralt. Don't ever come back," Geralt's nerve breaks and he leaves.

Just leaves. Instead of, say, capping off the murder with killing Stregobor (it's not like there's consequences for killing one more person at this point) or at least taking Renfri's body with him, since it's clear no one could actually stop him. But Geralt's absolute fuck-up of an ending fits with the entire mess. He spends all episode insisting he shouldn't make a choice, then he finally makes a choice and it's terrible, so of course he ends where he begins.

He does take her broach with him, though, presumably as a reminder in case he ever stops being miserable for two consecutive seconds. He puts it on the hilt of his steel sword.

 

 

So, from this episode:

People's behavior toward witchers is based on xenophobia. That they're physically capable in a fight is, if anything, a mitigating factor, not the reason for it. There is a cultural belief that witchers are inhuman, but we only see men actually doing things based on that. It's hard to tell if the women are less invested or just more fearful of provoking them.

While this episode leaves some very lasting marks on Geralt, the events of the episode happen because some even earlier traumatic event(s) left Geralt convinced that faced with people talking about lesser evils he should run in the opposite direction. Geralt absolutely picks a side in the situation, he just doesn't want to act on it. I would say that not just the third episode but the events of the all of the next seven episodes, where Geralt just keeps getting involved, may be from how badly trying to chose nothing blew up in his face.

Stregobor seems more positive toward witchers than the townspeople and is certainly better educated but still mentions witchers having no emotions, so that appears to be a nigh-universal belief. No one seems to literally think they're emotionless and instead it means something more like "witchers don't have real person emotions like me". Geralt also has at least enough of a grasp on his own emotions to know people are being assholes when they say he has none.

Geralt absolutely doesn't believe in the Black Sun prophecy. Whether or not Renfri was a mutant doesn't change this, and whether or not all the girls were mutants doesn't change this.

While he's very good at killing humans, we have no evidence so far he'd do so for himself rather than others. That said, one of his two swords is for killing humans and that's standard for witchers, so whether it's for others or for themselves, evidently they find themselves needing to kill humans a lot.

Geralt hates killing people. He does not define "people" as having to do with how far you are from "human" and he does not see "human" and "monster" as mutually exclusive terms.

Also, he's actually quite firm on his definition of monsters - the episode isn't actually him wrestling with the question of if Renfri's a monster. He goes into this saying they were all innocent and his final act is taking the broach Renfri inherited from her mother (who loved her and did not think her a monster, it's the stepmother who wanted her dead), which Renfri used to murder a man in revenge rather than self-defense, and he'll place it on the steel sword that's for non-monsters.

While people misinterpreting what happened and screaming he's evil is surely upsetting, the primary traumatic event here is Renfri's death and Geralt's involvement in it. What will haunt him is "You say you can't choose, but you had to. And you'll never know if you were right," not that "Your reward will be a stoning." I would go so far as to argue that the biggest impact of that rejection and isolation is that Geralt is left with no one to confide in about what just happened. He has only his own sense of right and wrong to guide him, and he wasn't comfortable with that even before this happened.

Chapter Text

Now, to somewhat more briefly talk about Renfri...

We have two stories told about Renfri, one from Stregobor who is an unreliable narrator but convinced enough of his rightness that it's likely mostly true and one from Renfri herself, who admits she has a motive of trying to convince Geralt she's not a monster. We also have one object, the brooch, which is mentioned in both stories and possessed by Renfri.

Stregobor introduces the topic saying Renfri is a monster.

"The worst kind. The human kind. Its name is Renfri."

He elaborates on the general traits he claims the girls possessed.

Stregobor: "I found horrendous internal mutations among them. I tried to cure them, locked them in towers for safekeeping, but the girls always died."
Geralt: "Internal mutations?"
Stregobor: "They were autopsied, of course, to confirm my suspicions."

So, as I said, Stregobor is not a reliable narrator. The sequence of events here: "I found internal mutations, then I tried to cure them and locked them up, but sadly they died...wait shit I mean I found out they had the mutations when I autopsied them after their tragic and unforeseen deaths." The only real question is if show!Stregobor killed the girls first because he was that confident or if, as book!Stregobor admits, he cut them open while they were alive.

I believe we can take it as fact the girls are mutants. Geralt is also a mutant. Later, we'll meet a gold dragon and it's stated the color means it's a mutant.

On to Renfri specifically:

Stregobor: "Daughter of King Fredefalk of Creyden. I delivered the princess myself in the middle of the afternoon in pitch black."
Geralt: "Under the Black Sun, so she's cursed."
Stregobor: "Do you consider me a fool, Witcher? Do you think I did not conduct research? Renfri was acutely affected. Her stepmother, Aridea, told me she tortured a canary, strangled two puppies, even gouged out her maid's eye with a comb."

"Do you think I did not conduct research?" Stregobor bellows in outrage, followed by, "Her stepmother, Aridea, told me," because that's apparently all the research you need to conduct.

Sorcerers, we'll learn in the next episodes, are usually placed at courts, and Stregobor delivering a princess sure suggests he was court wizard. Then either he stuck around and never personally saw Renfri do anything or he left immediately after. Given he admits "girls", plural, died in his keeping and that he believed the prophecy from the start, it's very likely he was forced to leave the court because he wanted to kill her or at least take her away right after her birth. After Renfri's mother dies her stepmother contacts him, at which point he still did not see Renfri do any of these things - it would appear he did not see Renfri at all, in fact. He doesn't say he tried to contact the maid who should've still been alive. He doesn't say he talked to anyone else in court about if they'd seen these things. He definitely doesn't mention so much as seeing Renfri from afar, and in fact it's unclear if he was even in the area or just set things in motion - if Renfri's father was not on board (and it sounds like he wasn't) Stregobor may have been banned from the country.

"I admit what happened next was not ideal, but with the lives of Aridea's own children on the line, we had to act."

Based on the claims of a stepmother who had children with a competing claim to the throne, he orders Renfri's death.

"So I dispatched someone to follow Renfri into the woods. We found him in the brush, Renfri's antique brooch jammed into his ear."

This is the first thing Stregobor can actually confirm she did, and it's someone he intended to kill her.

Also, the brooch appears! This is actually the most confusing part of the tales and I'm not sure if it's just a plotting snafu or if it's intended. If they found the brooch jammed in his ear, Renfri did not take it with her. Renfri does have it currently.

"After that, I organized a manhunt to find the princess, but she was gone."

It's not clear if this part was done with the knowledge of Renfri's father or not. It may be that they hid the fact the man was sent after her and told the king that she'd just killed some random man in the forest and it may be that Stregobor's manhunt was with the help of fellow magicians who believed in the prophecy. Either way, Renfri knew to hide from them.

"Two years. Until she reappeared, robbing and murdering merchants on the roads of Mahakam. Impaled them on sticks at first, but soon, she picked up sword skills."

So here we get into the nature/nurture debate. Stregobor sees this as proof he was right. Renfri, left to her own devices, steals and kills. She also displays a real talent at it. On the other hand, what Stregobor did to her is what put her in the situation in the first place.

"And now no man can defy her, it's said."

Of course, Geralt has no issue defying her, and we don't see evidence she has the entire town under her sway, just her actual men. If she could control them like this, you'd think she'd be better able to strike at Stregobor.

Stregobor: "She's resistant to magic."
Geralt: "That's impossible in humans."
Stregobor: "Not mutated ones."

Here we get one thing we can directly confirm. Renfri is resistant to magic and thus a mutant.

We don't know the background mutation rate - magic itself has been rare so far, so it wouldn't be that obvious if someone could resist it, and it seems likely that it's not that all mutants have magic resistence but that you have to have an anti-magic mutation because baseline humans are susceptible. It's quite possible that the actual mutation rate, therefore, is unknown and plenty of people possess some non-obvious mutation. Certainly, we haven't seen any sign the average person gets an autopsy after death.

Or, it could be that getting born during an eclipse does mean you're a mutant, given the setting is magic. (Also, absolutely no one seems to have checked if any princes born have similar mutations, or if non-royal babies of either gender have them.) But having mutant magic resistance doesn't make you the same thing as a monster, particularly in a setting where the main character is defined as a mutant.

"She's chased me for years, bent on revenge."

Stregobor's final listing of Renfri's confirmed sins:

She killed the man he sent to kill her.
While evading more people he sent to kill her, she became a bandit.
She wants to kill him over what even Stregobor admits is revenge for what he did to her first.

And Stregobor finishes with,

"The kikimora kills because it's hungry, Renfri kills for pleasure. She is a monster."

Even from Stregobor's own retelling, it's pretty clear that Renfri also killed because she was hungry. That's kind of how banditry works, especially the kind that involves a girl armed with sticks. (Renfri is said to be eighteen when she dies. No one specifies how old she was when Stregobor tried to kill her, but she disappeared for two years after and has chased Stregobor for years more, which is a minimum of two more years and is presumably a different, larger number since he didn't just say two years again. So when Stregobor sent a man to kill her, she was at most thirteen and quite likely younger still.)

It's possible he's classing "killing for revenge" as "killing for pleasure", but, well, that's sure an easy dismissal to make when you've only ever been the instigator and not the victim.

On to Renfri's side.

"The girl this morning, she took you to see Stregobor, didn't she?"

Renfri was the one talking to him first, and from what we're told, Marilka works for Stregobor, she didn't just happen to do this one time. So, why didn't Renfri try to prevent Geralt from leaving?

It's possible she didn't think she could, that if she insisted she'd only make herself suspicious. But she doesn't make the slightest effort, as if she actually wanted Geralt to hear Stregobor's side.

It's unknown to us how many people believed the prophecy at the time, but that Renfri was initially spared and allowed to grow up normally and that Stregobor's first assault on her had to be kept secret means her father and at least the general nobility weren't concerned about her continued existence, and this about a firstborn heir no less. And we'll shortly hear that the attack failed because even a child rapist thought actually killing her was going too far.

I think it's quite possible Renfri took a risk hoping Stregobor's pitch would do him more harm than good, while trying to keep Geralt from talking to the man would make his claims seem more legitimate.

And it may be that a factor is how Renfri needs to not only make a case for her own right to live but ideally, a case for Geralt to kill Stregobor for her. Just preventing him from hearing she's supposedly a monster is not an argument for murdering someone else, but visiting Stregobor's tower and hearing the man speak? Maybe.

Renfri: "I used to be a princess. Did he tell you that? Until he sent a thug into the woods to kill me."
Geralt: "You killed him."
Renfri: "With my mother's brooch."

Here, Renfri repeats the story Geralt was told. She then says,

"Stregobor's man raped me, robbed me and let me go."

It's possible this is meant to be a contradiction - Stregobor claims she escaped by killing the man, Renfri that she did because she was let go. But the brooch continues to be an issue. If she was robbed and then they parted ways, he would have kept the brooch and then presumably resold it, so it's most likely she's clarifying what happened immediately before she killed him. And there may well have been a scuffle over the brooch in particular. The brooch is a keepsake from her dead mother and her mother is the only parent she reminisces about presently, so she may have been especially attached even then.

I think an unexamined aspect of this is that killing someone who raped you and thinks you're harmless is a lot easier - Renfri's first kill was not in a pitched battle but a surprise attack, and does not require any particular superhuman viciousness to pull off.

But for Stregobor to say the man was found with it jammed in his ear, she must have left the brooch behind and only regained it later. That speaks to her being pretty horrified at what she did. (It's also possible Stregobor just found the stab wound and luckily guessed it was with the brooch, but it doesn't seem he has any reason to invent the detail of finding it, and given her circumstances, it seems as likely she left it and got it back later than kept an expensive brooch during her initial years of starvation and abuse.)

(It is, I suppose, also possible that the man took the brooch, left, and was killed by the stepmother who blamed Renfri for it, since the huntsman who lies to the queen in Snow White doesn't always have a good ending. But there's no explanation for how the stepmother would so quickly realize Renfri survived in that case. There's also no reason for Stregobor to completely invent her killing the man. If he was going to do that, you'd expect him to invent a murder or murder attempt earlier, instead of admitting it was a preemptive assassination.)

Renfri goes on to say, "No more princess."

The most direct link between the two lines is "because I was raped, I was no longer a princess". We don't know how things worked in Renfri's country, so that's possible, and might be why the man thought raping her and letting her go was a valid option. Going by the Snow White aspect of this, she may also have taken the fact someone was hired to attack her as meaning she'd die if she returned home. And the third option is that the act of killing the man is the issue, that being able to do that will be taken as proof that she really is a monster. Perhaps it was a mix of the three. And also worth considering, this is Renfri's perspective, and she was a kid who had to deal with being raped, that it happened because one or both of her parents wanted her dead, and that she'd just killed someone. Her belief may say more about how she felt about herself than what would have actually happened if she'd tried going home.

"I had to survive. I stole rather than starve. I killed rather than be killed."

In Renfri's version of events, everything she does is a response to her circumstances. Is this true? Well, it's probably more true. But it doesn't look like Renfri has any skills other than banditry, which means she's probably been robbing and killing as a profession. It's possible she and her men have been doing more legitimate mercenary work, but she doesn't bring it up when it would be a good argument in her favor, and, well, her men certainly don't seem like they're particularly fussed about morals.

"Nohorn and the others saved me."

Of course, she's also a bandit because she fell in with bandits. It's unclear when this happened, if she started robbing merchants and bumped into other people doing the same or if Stregobor is glossing over that her first reappearance was as the new member of a gang of ordinary criminals because that'd undermine his argument her actions are proof of her nonhuman monstrous nature.

Either way it gives an additional reason why Renfri would stick to it herself if the only remaining people who've helped her and care about her are already neck-deep in it. (And Stregobor's continued attempts on her life are certainly not going to make her feel better at leaving the company of skilled fighters who have her back.)

"And they'll be by my side at the market as I get my revenge. Lilit help me, I will take down anyone in my way. Unless destiny intervenes."

It's easy to overlook, but I think it's really important to consider that it's Renfri who volunteers that she's going to kill people. Stregobor made vague claims that Renfri would destroy the entire world, but at the moment, he thinks she's only there for him.

As I said, it's interesting Renfri doesn't get in the way of Geralt talking to Stregobor, and she admits she's done terrible things, and then now she says she's planning another terrible thing.

Renfri's original plan is to threaten the lives of the people of Blaviken to get Stregobor to leave his tower so she can kill him. When Geralt shows up, she switches over to threatening the people of Blaviken to get Geralt to kill Stregobor. In order for such a threat to work, he has to be convinced she's capable of killing innocents for the sake of revenge.

So Renfri has a tightrope to walk - monstrous enough for him to believe her threat and act on it in some way, but not so monstrous he believes her a monster and decides the action he should take is to kill her outright.

And that's actually a risk she's taking. She shouldn't be that concerned about Geralt sticking around after the reception she saw him get. She might want to seek him out in the woods just in case Stregobor convinced him and he's planning to head back and kill her, but it doesn't seem like she expects attack. After all, if she was worried Geralt intends to kill her, staying in a town full of people who hate witchers with her gang of well-trained fighters seems like a better idea than heading out on her own for a private chat. And she doesn't ask if Stregobor told Geralt her plan, likely because she hasn't told Stregobor it yet herself.

So it's Renfri who tells Geralt he does have a reason to kill her. Why?

It's possible that Renfri doesn't expect her original plan to work. She's willing to kill people even on the slim chance it'll convince Stregobor but felt Geralt is simply the better bet even with the risk he might attack her instead.

It's also possible Renfri really does not want to go through with her original plan.

I said previously that Geralt does not believe Renfri is a monster. But Renfri appears to thinks she needs to convince him she's human, and she doesn't seem entirely sure herself.

"Stregobor asked you to kill me too. 'Cause I was a girl born during an eclipse? I could've become so many things. Queen Calanthe of Cintra, she just won her first battle at Hochebuz."

This line is likely mostly as your first clue about the timeline but Queen Calanthe, we'll learn as the episodes progress, has not only killed people in battle but done a hell of a lot of worse things including genocide. While show!Renfri does not explicitly bring up her feelings on the matter, book!Renfri's original gang is made of gnomes and she makes a point that they were better to her than most humans, and there's still the implication in how show!Renfri does not seem to have any doubts as to Geralt's own personhood.

Queen Calanthe illustrates that humans can do horrible things and still be viewed as not only human, but as people with a lot going on and complicated reasons for their actions. Nothing we've heard of Princess Renfri doing so far has been half as terrible as Queen Calanthe, and so none of it is evidence against her humanity.

"But here I am trying to convince you I'm not a monster."

Like I said, this is something Renfri's brought to the conversation. Geralt did not seek her out to judge her and has said nothing to suggest that he'll help if she convinces him. It really sounds like it's because it's weighing on Renfri's mind.

Geralt: "Are you?"
Renfri: "How am I to know? When I cut my finger, I bleed. That's human, right? When I overeat, my stomach aches. When I'm happy, I laugh. When I'm upset, I swear. And when I hate someone for stealing my whole life from me, I kill him."

Renfri is wobbling back and forth between "I think I'm human, I don't feel any different from anybody else, I know I do bad stuff but other people do bad stuff" and "my cause is the just one". The latter is what she needs to accomplish, so I think the heavy inclusion of the former is that she doesn't know. And Geralt should know, right? He's the monster-hunter.

(And it may be this need to know has as much to do with why she seeks him out alone despite the danger as it does actually needing his help.)

And in this context Geralt actually gives her a pretty good answer:

Renfri: "Why not kill them?"
Geralt: "Because then I am what they say I am."
Renfri: "If I tell you, Witcher, that I can neither forgive Stregobor nor renounce my revenge, is that it? I admit I'm a monster?"
Geralt: "Yes. Or you can leave Blaviken and finally live. You choose, Princess."

He tells her she's not currently a monster and affirms that she's not cursed by birth but that her morality is up to her own choices like anybody else. But he doesn't really address the issue of "would only a monster want revenge? really? seriously? you heard what I just said he did to me, right? and how he tried to hire you hours ago because he's still trying to kill me?" and he inadvertently implies that the dichotomy is monster or victim by saying he's handling it by accepting his life is that of a punching bag, which is going to be a particularly hard sell to someone who's been through as much as Renfri and managed to claw her away free of it.

Renfri leaves, comes back, and tells Geralt he's sad for talking to his horse. Given Renfri's own backstory, does she know this is sad because she did similar things while she was alone (it took Ciri only a couple hours in the company of an animal to start chatting), or did she not talk until she hooked up with people again and this is her contemplating that huh, apparently it can get worse.

She also checks back to see if he's changed his option on any of it. He hasn't. Still not picking a side, still not going to call her a monster so long as she doesn't go on a killing spree.

"I've made my decision. You gave me an ultimatum and I find they work."

It's possible her answering ultimatum with ultimatum is because she assumes the conversation was Geralt telling her how he works. It's also possible she just finds it funny because her plan already was an ultimatum.

Interestingly, she does not actually lie to him in what she says next.

"Tomorrow, I'll leave Blaviken. For good."

It is really unlikely she'd be sticking around after massacring people either, after all. Now, she mentioned the market is tomorrow when they first met and the next time said her men would be at her side at the market when she got revenge, so she's pretty strongly implied that her revenge is tomorrow if he remembers both pieces. Not sure she expects him to put this together or not

Going back to her bit about the ultimatum working... While it's probably just to be misleading, you could also say that she's decided that if there's no way to have her revenge without being a monster, she'd rather be a monster that got revenge.

"it's been a long time since someone saw me."

So we know Renfri has a practical reason for engaging with Geralt, the hope she can convince him to kill Stregobor for her. There's also her own uncertainty about herself - is she not human, and if so, does that make her a monster? But the third element is that she does seem to feel a kinship with Geralt. Stregobor's conversation with Geralt goes disastrously, but Geralt actually talks to Renfri. And he doesn't succeed at convincing her to do what he thinks is right, but he does say to her actual concern about if she was born a monster that he doesn't see her as one.

Of course, you could argue there's practical reason to have sex with him, i.e., additional reason for him to not kill her. But Renfri went with theft and murder over prostitution so it seems likely she's not big on manipulating people by sleeping with them, and furthermore this is right after saying she doesn't fuck her men. (And given Geralt's nose in the third episode, really seems unlikely she could be lying about that.)

So yeah, Renfri is almost certainly doing this just because she wants to.

"When I was a girl, my mother used to run her fingers over my forehead. She'd say she'd give a lovely lintar to know the thoughts going around in there."

This is a nice bit both for reinforcing that Renfri seems to only speak of her mother and for the counterpoint it gives to what Stregobor said of her stepmother's claims. This doesn't sound much like how a parent would talk to a kid who tortures animals.

When Geralt goes to the market, Renfri's men have some interesting things to say.

"She knew you'd come."

Did she? Or is that just what she said to pass along if Geralt showed up? Did she suspect the massacre itself might alert Geralt, so he'd be along but later?

"She's at the tower with your little friend, Marilka."

Now, I think this is easily overlooked because we don't see that, we're stuck with Geralt and only see what he sees.

The fact Renfri goes to the tower at all casts doubt on her actually knowing Geralt will show up, but if she's not sure which way Geralt will pick trying Stregobor first and then Geralt would make sense.

Renfri had some reason to bring Marilka to the tower when talking to Stregobor. Two reasons come to mind.

1) A hostage/human shield against immediate attack. But Stregobor told Geralt that he couldn't win against Renfri in a fight.
2) To be killed as part of her ultimatum. But Marilka is still unharmed when Renfri returns to the market, and Stregobor is still in his tower.

Renfri didn't kill Marilka to convince Stregobor she wasn't bluffing. However, she has two different people to give ultimatums to, so it's possible she would've given it a shot if she hadn't needed the kid still alive to try to bargain with Geralt.

That said... she doesn't kill Marilka when Geralt refuses her either.

Now, the message Renfri's men say she wanted Geralt to hear is,

"You have to choose the lesser evil."

That is, killing Stregobor is less evil than all the other death. Geralt disagrees, cue fight scene and Geralt killing them all, with Renfri showing up at the end, sword at Marilka's throat.

"You chose."

And Renfri does not look like she believed he'd do this. At the very least, she expected a final chance to make her case.

Now, Renfri's talked about what the men Geralt just killed are to her:

"Nohorn and the others saved me. And they'll be by my side at the market as I get my revenge."
"My men, they love me and I love them."

How is she supposed to walk away now?

Worse, there's the implicit parallel where Renfri was safe from Stregobor until her mother died and now her new family is gone and Stregobor is still there. She not only lost everyone she cared about, which is probably enough on its own, but any protection they could give her.

And it absolutely can't help that it's at Geralt's hands, that even someone she thinks is like her chooses to side against her.

Geralt: "Let the girl go."
Renfri: "I will kill her. I will kill everyone here until Stregobor comes down."

She already passed up her first chance to do this when she left Stregobor's tower with Marilka still unharmed. This is a threat for Geralt, but as she says, Geralt's already chosen by what he did when he heard the plan from her men.

Geralt tries to talk her down but she has nothing else left.

Geralt: "Leave Blaviken. It's not too late."
Renfri: "Magic doesn't work on me. Silver does, though." ... "They created me just as they created you."

As I mentioned earlier, Renfri may have ended up deciding that she might as well embrace being a monster if it's the only way she can get what she wants, and that she'd rather argue that Geralt should accept he's a monster as well.

That said. She starts with a sword to Marilka's throat. When she decides to attack Geralt, right as she's asserting she is a monster, she pulls her sword away before tossing Marilka to the side. It's hard to believe slitting Marilka's throat would've put Renfri at a disadvantage in the coming fight and entirely possible leaving Marilka unharmed could lead to interference - especially the kid specifically talking about stabbing a rat to death, who works for Renfris enemy. Renfri has two points where she really should've killed Marilka, and both times she doesn't.

And that's the final little tragedy of this. Would Renfri have followed through on her threats? We don't know quite how her conversation with Stregobor went, but the man evidently was firm enough on his willingness to let everyone else die that she didn't kill Marilka to call his bluff and decided to try again with Geralt instead. And when Geralt doesn't capitulate and tries talking Renfri out of it instead, she does let Marilka go. And that fits with how very hard she tried to get Geralt involved this whole time, instead of sticking to her original plan that didn't risk a witcher who might decide to kill her instead.

It seems likely Renfri would've killed people if it got her Stregobor. What we don't know is if, faced with Stregobor making a very convincing case that he doesn't actually care who lives or dies so long as he personally wasn't one of the dead, she would've gone ahead with the plan anyway. Once her plan definitely can't work, she gives up on it and decides to die trying to kill Geralt.

And with all that in mind... It's possible that Geralt really did cause this to end worse than it would've otherwise. If Renfri had returned knowing her plan wouldn't work but without the loss of everyone she cared about, maybe nothing might have happened. Indeed, book!Renfri says outright she's found out her plan doesn't work because when she told Stregobor he didn't give a fuck what she'd do to everyone else.

 

 

In conclusion:

We see nothing from Renfri that is worse than plenty of other characters who weren't born at Prophecy o' Clock. If the eclipse did anything to the girls, it wasn't making them evil.

The true question with Renfri is entirely about nurture - she has done horrible things because of what happened to her, but did that create someone who would have only continued to harm others (was her death at the end a necessary outcome? had she become a monster?) or would she have stopped once the pressure on her stopped? Could she have become a good person?

That said, the question preying on Renfri's mind is absolutely if she's a monster by nature or not, which makes sense given all her own suffering ultimately stemmed from it and it's the reason for the murder of everyone else like her.

The episode overall is also about how "other" and "evil" can both fall under "monster", and how muddled things can get. Even Geralt's line to Renfri that "Silver is for monsters." is still jumping back and forth on if monsterhood is physical or choice. We'll learn that silver also works on dopplers, who are not only definitely people but are generally far nicer people than humans. Meanwhile, no one questions if Stregobor is a person despite what he's done.

We don't know how many people Renfri would've been willing to kill to get her revenge, but we do know she took personal risk to try to avoid it, and she did not kill when she knew it wouldn't accomplish anything. It is possible she'd have massacred people just in case Stregobor was bluffing. It's also possible she would have called it off if Geralt hadn't been there and the rest weren't dead. (It's also possible this end became inevitable as soon as Geralt appeared, because she knows Geralt cares if she kills people, so if she still had her men she'd have started killing.) What we do know is she apparently wouldn't kill people just to lash out in frustration.

Stregobor did screw over Geralt but he screwed over a lot of people a lot worse, so, maybe keep that in mind when the impulse hits to make it all about Jaskier.

Chapter Text

Episode 1 Roach. Since Roach does not have lines, I have made gifs of her every appearance. Are these good gifs? No, I don't know what I'm doing. But they should be good enough to establish Roach's basic character.

Here is Roach reacting to Geralt's fight with the kikimora. She is distressed and reacting in a normal horsey way, which makes sense given a giant monster is thrashing around, but does not bolt, which makes sense because the most important thing for a witcher's mount is it not taking off every time you fight a monster. All in all, this is exactly what you'd expect of a regular horse that's been trained to tolerate loudness, unusual things, and blood.


And here's Geralt riding her afterward, as she continues to act like a normal horse. Also, this is her carrying him and the kikimora, so she can definitely bear a reasonable amount of weight.

She does not seem to mind her weird-smelling, bloody burden at all, and a complete stranger can walk right up to her without reaction. Roach is either a very chill horse by nature or Geralt has done a very good job of teaching her to be calm.


Roach continues to behave like a calm but normal horse as she travels through town. I did not get the entire sequence, but it's just this.

Geralt tells his horse to be nice. Is this because otherwise she removes fingers? Going by her continued lack of aggression and Marilka's grin, no. Either she is sometimes slightly bratty with strangers, Geralt has very high standards for Roach's company behavior and wants her to be a perfect angel, or Geralt thinks if he acts like he needs to tell his horse to be nice people will assume she's scarier than she is. Personally, I'd guess either "will try to get her nose into pockets" or "will wander off to nibble that yummy bush they passed".

Roach, still being normal.

Roach continuing to browse as a complete stranger approaches from behind her.

The continuing adventures of Roach chilling out.

Roach observing her surroundings...

...and back to browsing.

Still standing around being chill.


A stranger approaching me from behind? Sounds like I should continue to stand around not caring.

And a bit of walking.

Being tied to a tree is the most alert we've seen Roach in a while.

Time for Geralt to chat with his horse.



She stands around and lets him.

And then she continues to stand around as he goes over to the fire.

In conclusion:

The Roach in Renfri's time is a chill and well-behaved horse. She can be left untied during a monster battle and not run off, she doesn't mind carrying bloody monsters on her back, she doesn't react to complete strangers checking out what she's carrying, Geralt can hand her reins to a child safely, and she doesn't kick when strange people come at her from behind. And given Geralt isn't around for some of that, it's not because he's constantly using magic to make her calm or even that she'll only behave when he's there. This is just unusual enough that it's definitely evidence Geralt is very good at training/handling horses - there's no way the people he's buying from would have a horse pre-trained to not care about his very unusual lifestyle full of large screaming predators and blood, and it's going to be hard to convince a horse of that so you'd have to know what you were doing. Also, she's a mare. If Geralt wanted aggression he'd have a stallion.

We can already tell it's dead easy to steal anything Roach is carrying and probably easy to steal Roach herself. Either people have enough sense not to do this to a witcher's horse or a chunk of Geralt's income involves following the scent of whoever stole from him and relieving them of their coins in retaliation.

Not-a-horse Roach would involve different behavior from Roach that what's seen here and would be noticed by Geralt given he's smart and knows a lot about not only monsters but horses. The only exception would be if Roach is actually a dopple horse, in which case "be nice" is part of Geralt's ongoing fiction that his "horse" definitely behaves badly sometimes, no really, you just weren't there at the time.

While not directly in the episode, the internet at large informs me of some possibly pertinent horse facts:

Geldings are considered more reliable but dumber and less cuddly, while mares bond more with their owner and have better judgement about their own safety. In other words, a gelding would be considered the more practical choice for the dangerous lifestyle of a witcher while a mare would be expected to be affectionate and is more likely to survive if something goes very wrong hunting monsters. This points to Geralt consciously prioritizing his mount's value as a pet over practicality, not merely getting a horse based entirely on practical reasons and then treating her with affection. Alternatively, perhaps he isn't comfortable with the idea of castrating horses to make them more useful to humanity, or he broadly prefers being around women and extends that to his choice of horses.

Chapter Text

Last episode, Geralt starts off knowing that making choices sucks and ends learning that it turns out life can screw you over for avoiding choices too. There is absolutely no escape.

Also he's now been tarred with the reputation of being a mad dog who went on a killing spree for no reason.

The interesting thing about that is there's actually no evidence that his worsened reputation has actually impacted his life negatively. When we meet him this episode, he's brooding in a tavern having evidently successfully exchanged legal tender for food and drink and being otherwise left alone (and he's in full armor without a cloak this time, so he's not even trying to hide that he's a witcher) which is a huge step up from the previous episode when he was refused even the answer of which direction to leave in.

And this isn't that strange if you think about it. It is entirely possible that raising the possibility the heavily armed monster killer might go berserk has actually reduced the amount of overt harassment he faces given, as I argued back in the first chapter, people's behavior toward witchers seemed to involve the idea they could act with relative impunity.

It's now that Jaskier enters the situation. This isn't Jaskier's chapter, though! We're only paying attention to what that means to Geralt right now.

Jaskier: "No one else hesitated to comment on the quality of my performance, except for you. Come on. You don't want to keep a man with bread in his pants waiting. You must have some review for me. Three words or less."
Geralt: "They don't exist."
Jaskier: "What don't exist?"
Geralt: "The creatures in your song."

Now, there are different, if similar, reasons to bring this up.

One is that it's just annoying when people are wrong, one is that Geralt would be embarrassed to be loudly wrong about monsters in front of a crowd and is assuming Jaskier cares, and a third is that, as a monster-hunter, being wrong about monsters can be deadly and his objection is practical. Which is motivating Geralt at the moment is a mystery, though future episodes will shed some light on the matter.

Jaskier responds by realizing Geralt is Geralt.

"White hair, big old loner, two very very scary-looking swords. I know who you are. You're the witcher, Geralt of Rivia."

Now, in the previous episode, Geralt introduced himself to Marilka and it's entirely possible Stregobor didn't even know his name, as he just calls Geralt "Witcher". Now, Marilka was a kid and Stregobor was a horrible person, so this can't be taken as proof about how well-known Geralt was, but it does seem likely Geralt's actual name is spread around a lot more. I think it's notable that Jaskier starts off with "white hair", the trait that's Geralt-specific rather than witcher-specific.

Geralt responds by fleeing the area.

It's hard to say if his motivation is primarily concern Jaskier's going to incite a riot by alerting everyone else to his presence or if it's primarily about escaping the conversation he's already in.

Someone on tumblr noted he drops a coin in the process, possibly for his drink but apparently for Jaskier as the man's holding it in the next scene. Again, his motives are unclear - he may have thought paying Jaskier would make him go away, he might have actually liked the performance, he might just believe in always giving money under the circumstances, he might have felt bad for Jaskier.

"A job I've got for ya. I beg you. A devil, he's been stealing all our grain. In advance, I'll pay you. A hundred ducat."

Since this happens only in response to Jaskier announcing to everyone that hey, hey everyone, hey it's the witcher :D we know that Geralt did successfully avoid the notice of a lot of the people in the tavern. However, the only thing that happens is the guy wants to hire him and some others gawk at a distance.

This also again raises the question of what the fuck Geralt thinks being a witcher involves. Has he been sticking with the model of killing random monsters and hoping there's a standing reward for it rather than interacting with humans? (Admittedly, it may well work better given people now think he might snap at any time. We don't know how detailed the story of Blaviken is, but it did kick off with him being asked for the bounty on a random monster.) Has he been taking actual contracts and it's just he's got enough money so he's taking a break? Was he waiting to finish his drink and get a clear line of retreat before he announced he was a witcher and hey, any jobs or should I fuck off?

Regardless, Geralt's response is to ask for more money.

"One fifty."

Now, he'll explain shortly that he's sure there's no such thing as devils and he has no clue what this monster might actually be. How, then, does he know how much to charge for it?

I'm not sure how it works with regular monsters, but given Geralt has just brought up that he has opinions on if a given monster is real or not and will mention that again in a bit, he was probably going to check this out as soon as he heard that there's a "devil" even without pay. What we're probably seeing here is just Geralt having a lot of experience haggling and he can estimate from things like how anxious someone looks and what they're wearing how much more money he can safely demand.

This is followed by an explicit example of Geralt's new reputation improving his life:

"I've no doubt you'll come through. You take no prisoners, so I hear."

Aside from that being hilariously un-Geralt, there's the implication that the average witcher apparently is a bit too prone to taking prisoners. This is another point in favor of Geralt being normal by witcher standards. When people are surprised by Geralt's behavior, it's likely because, as with the emotions thing, he's violating an inaccurate stereotype, not because he's unlike other witchers.

(And this fits in with how when he was talking about "You know what Vesemir would say" last episode - not "Vesemir was always jesus Geralt what's wrong with you specifically why can't you be a proper witcher like everyone else?" but "Vesemir's general advice to all the kids being trained to be witchers, which he apparently said all the time as if he had reason to think his students needed to be reminded.")

Jaskier follows Geralt and, as with Marilka, Geralt is unable to do anything about this. Jaskier makes his pitch that following Geralt will benefit him, which Geralt largely ignores, and then attempts to offer something to Geralt in return.

"Ooh, I could be your barker, spreading the tales of Geralt of Rivia, the-the Butcher of Blaviken."

I think something that's easily missed in this interaction is that it's more than just mentioning the title. Jaskier is announcing it like it's something to be proud of, and one Geralt is concerned that maybe only most of everyone knows and wouldn't be be great if that number could be pushed up higher.

Which is to say, I don't think Geralt punches him because he doesn't like the title (and he will in a moment say the title is right). I think he punches him because Jaskier's suggesting bragging about it.

As I argued about last episode, Geralt is torn up over Renfri's death. The nickname is a constant reminder of one of the worst days of his life and that probably has far more to do with why he hates it than that it's unfair. He doesn't hear it and think woe is him for being hated and feared by those he protects, he hears it and remembers stabbing Renfri in the throat.

And Jaskier is talking like what he did was fine. Like Jaskier doesn't care it happened.

Geralt: "Come here."
Jaskier: "Yeah?"

And this, I think, is part of why he not only doesn't ask Jaskier to stop before escalating, but intentionally lures the guy into a punch. That's not Geralt asserting his boundaries, it's Geralt being angry at Jaskier for what the man had already said.

Geralt's punch is clearly aimed to hurt without doing real damage. This will turn out not to be enough to dissuade Jaskier, but honestly, it's none too clear Geralt is really trying to dissuade Jaskier given Geralt has a horse and should be able to outrun the guy. When we next see him he's switched to riding Roach but is still moving slowly enough for Jaskier to keep up.

Jaskier: "Reading between the lines and the gut punches, chum, I'd say you have got a bit of a an image problem. Were I to join you on this feat to defeat the devil of Posada, I could relieve you of that title. All the North would be too busy singing the tales of Geralt of Rivia, the-the White Wolf or-or something."
Geralt: "Butcher is right."

As I said. Geralt does not violently object to being called the Butcher of Blaviken. He violently objects to someone saying to brag about it.

And that's why Geralt does not actually agree to the whole "change my image" offer. People are wrong about which horrible thing he did in Blaviken, but he thinks he deserves to be hated for what he did.

Jaskier: "Mind if I hop up? I'm not wearing the right footwear."
Geralt: "Don't touch Roach."

Geralt has just punched this man. It is very unlikely he is expressing concern for Jaskier's safety around Roach, doubly so when it's in direct response to Jaskier bringing up an impediment to continuing to dog Geralt's monster hunt. And while this is a new Roach, we see a similar complete lack of aggression toward this chatty stranger standing very close and last episode established that being able to carry both Geralt and a monster is something he needs from his mount, so this also isn't because Roach just can't handle two riders.

"The elves called this Dol Blathanna before bequeathing it to the humans and retreating into their golden palaces in the mountains. There I go again, just delivering exposition. Geralt? Geralt? Wh-Where are you going? Geralt, don't leave me."

Just as Geralt did not correct Jaskier about the content of his songs until he was cornered, Geralt seems to prefer retreat in the face of racially-charged ignorance.

I feel it's worth pointing out that there'd be no physical consequences to speaking up for the elves here since they're alone. So Geralt is either exhausted by human contact and just doesn't want to say anything more regardless, or he finds talking on the subject emotionally distressing, or both.

Jaskier: "What are we looking for again?"
Geralt: "Blessed silence."

Once again, Geralt objects to people talking, bringing the count to three of the four people he's had conversations with and three of three humans. I think we can safely assume he's spent the time between the first and second episode talking to Roach a lot.

And yes, it's relevant to specify humans.

Jaskier: "Have you ever hunted a devil before?"
Geralt: "Devils don't exist."

It's interesting that Geralt is so confident in this when he's not going to recognize the monster he is hunting. So, something about a "devil" makes it impossible for it to exist. I'd guess it's the theological connection - even presented with something that looks even more exactly like a devil than what Geralt finds, he'd probably still argue that well actually, you see a devil is defined as...

Jaskier: "Right. Obviously. Then, uh then what are we doing?"
Geralt: "Sometimes there's monsters, sometimes there's money. Rarely both. That's the life."

Again, I really think Geralt was going to check this out regardless. Also, it's not clear if Geralt means "I only get paid properly on the rare intersection of people having money and also having a monster problem" or "at any given time probably I'm getting money for non-monster reasons". Does he get hired to kill bandits? The only intelligent creatures we've seen him kill without hesitation are humans, he tells the story of killing a rapist and how great it was, and he does have a sword "for men".

Torque: "Leave me be!"
Geralt: "You talk."
Torque: "Of course I talk!"
Geralt: "What happened with you? Your mother fuck a goat?"

Geralt initiating conversation with every human we've seen: Please I am as unhappy about this as you. If you work with me we can end our mutual suffering as fast as possible.
Geralt being spoken to by a human: Why is this happening and what must I do to end it.
Geralt upon meeting Torque: You can talk?! Oh boy have I been waiting to talk to someone!

(Also worth mentioning - Jaskier is currently unconscious, having been knocked out in the initial attack. So it's not an attempt to show off for a audience. Geralt is either not thinking about that or is acting like this specifically because no one else is there.)

Torque: "I am Torque the Sylvan, a rare and intelligent creature!"
Geralt: "You're a dick. With balls."

Seriously, Geralt is absolutely thrilled about this.

Look at him.

He may also have enjoyed the fight itself, given he hasn't unshealthed his sword and it's been more of a wrestling match, as well as how the actual content of his conversation has been trash talk rather than actually asking for information.

Geralt gets a hank of his hair ripped out and an insult ("Did your mother fuck a snowman?") which he takes in good humor.

He's more distressed to start the actual conversation they have to have, regarding how humans hired him and it's time to get the fuck out of dodge if you want to live.

We get our first specifics about Geralt's code:

"You are intelligent, I'll give you that. So I won't kill you, but you can't stay here."

Which is to say, Geralt isn't simply surprised Torque talked, it's that talking is his litmus test for "people" and it stopped being a monster-hunting contract at that point.

I think it's worth pointing out that he's not upset or frustrated, even though this job just got way more difficult and risky. Not only is this taking longer than if this was just a mutated goat that Geralt could behead right now, but if Geralt just gets a promise that Torque will leave, he's going to be in trouble if Torque was lying and continues to steal and if Torque refuses it's a Renfri situation again where Geralt has to try to talk someone into doing something they really don't want or else they'll die.

At any rate, this is the point the elves appear.

Jaskier: "This is the part where we escape."
Geralt: "This is the part where they kill us."

Honestly, I'm not sure how fucked Geralt is here. He struggles to get loose, so he definitely thinks that'd help the situation if he could manage it. But he spends the conversation prioritizing Jaskier's survival, so it's possible he's getting held back by that. If nothing else, Jaskier is a dead weight holding him down. But from what we've seen he needs his hands to do magic, so it's possible if he can't break or wriggle loose, he's screwed.

Geralt does headbutt Toruviel. Not sure if that's because he's figuring it's possible to get loose if she's unconscious long enough, if Geralt's just frustrated, or if he thinks if he makes himself annoying he can barter holding the fuck still while they kill him for them letting Jaskier go.

(The underlying problem here is that Geralt is regularly fighting for his life while being self-loathing, which makes his motivations when in danger really confusing.)

Toruveil: "What's two humans in the ground when countless elves have died?"
Geralt: "One human. And you can let him go."

Now, Renfri compared herself and Geralt as fellow mutants rather than humans last episode and here we see him going further and making the assertion himself.

Witchers are honestly a very interesting take. You'd expect enhanced humans to still identify as human or at least human-adjacent, unless a point is made that they're intentionally trying to reject their origins, and that's even more true for enhanced humans intentionally made to serve human interests. But while witchers are born from human parents, they're not considered humans by other humans, they're no longer physically or even genetically human, and they're raised in what sounds like a wholly separate culture by other witchers. On what level do they still have kinship? I think that's pretty fitting for a series that keeps getting into the issue of legacy and continuation.

Also, please note that Geralt is actively participating in this conversation and will be downright chatty throughout.

Filavandrel: "Then Posada will learn that we've been stealing. The humans will attack. Many will die on both sides."
Geralt: "The lesser evil. No matter what you choose, you'll come out bloody and hating yourself."

Is Geralt still prioritizing human interests?

He works with them, certainly, and we see him here trying to prevent Jaskier from dying. On the other hand, when he's told Jaskier has to die so the humans don't learn what's going on, Geralt agrees with the view this is the "lesser evil" option - he hates the whole concept, sure, but he doesn't weigh Jaskier's human life as worth whatever price the elves would end up paying. And that lines up with the first episode, where Geralt is willing to kill all of Renfri's men, who were definitely human, but still tried to save Renfri, who was a mutant.

I would say, rather, that Geralt does not want to be political. Jaskier is of the same race as the people who did this. And Jaskier has been benefiting from it all his life. But he has not personally done any of it, and his chatter about golden palaces may have been repeating whitewashing lies, but it didn't appear to have any element of hatred to it. Therefore, Jaskier should not be held accountable for the sins of his fellows.

Geralt, overall, really wants the past to just die. For people to let go of grudges. There's a validity to this - piling new violence atop old for the sake of the dead means you're either trapped in this cycle forever or that the only way to stop it is a complete genocide. But it also means rejecting any actual justice.

I mentioned previously that Geralt's worldview may have to do in part with the fact justice for himself is not achievable. It's not achievable for Filavandrel either. That may be why this conversation goes better than it does with Renfri, or it may be that one of the things Geralt learned from Renfri was you need a better argument than that letting it go will make you feel better.

Geralt: "it won't be long before you follow me in death."
Filavandrel: "Yes, because they pushed us from viable soil. Even chaos is polluted. Synthetically enhanced so humans can make magic."
Geralt: "Chaos is the same as it's always been. Humans just adapted better."
Filavandrel: "You say adapt, and I say destroy."
Geralt: "You are choosing to starve. You're cutting off your ear to spite your face."

While Geralt and Renfri both thought the issue was the morality of her plan, not its effectiveness, here Geralt can make the point that this simply isn't going to work. There are circumstances when people on marginal land do win wars against those on farmland, but former farmers who already lost once? No, it's going to go far worse than it did the first time.

Of course, Geralt's preferred solution of abandoning your wholly valid grievances and integrating doesn't work either, because Filavandrel points out the elves were integrated with humans when the slaughter started, and over in Yennefer's side of things she confirms that her half-elf father was considered elvish enough to be included in the genocide.

"Then go somewhere else. Rebuild. Get strong again. Show the humans that you are more than what they fear you to be."

It's pretty obvious from the final line that Geralt doesn't want them to rebuild their armies and make a more successful attempt at the land, but the nice thing about this advice is that it works for that too. Renfri leaving would have been a solely moral choice. Geralt's advice this time has a practical component.

A component. Because he's still holding to the idea the solution to people abusing you is to show them that you're very very nice and definitely won't retaliate for that or any future abuse. And while this was merely deeply wrongheaded with Renfri, here he's saying it to people who apparently welcomed humans with open arms the first time.

Filavandrel: "Like you, Witcher?"
Geralt: "I have learned to live with them. So that I may live."

I think this is what Geralt sincerely believes, but...the first episode opens with him killing an injured deer and then commenting he's full of venison next time we see him. I can't imagine it'd really be that hard for Geralt to just fuck off somewhere and live hunting ordinary animals. Like when he was trying to explain himself to Renfri, there's unvoiced assumptions where Geralt's identity revolves around being a witcher and everything proceeds from that. And in order to be a witcher whose livelihood involves working with and being hired by humans, he has to be able to tolerate humans.

Now, I said Geralt made a better argument this time around. It's still not actually a good enough one. Geralt's survival actually comes down to Torque's intervention. (Which, incidentally, is a component of proving Geralt's code - it's the least human-looking person who shows the greatest compassion throughout.)

"The witcher could've killed me. But he didn't. He's different. Like us."

Much like the use of "monster" last episode, this one seems to be a muddle conflating "behaves decently toward us" and "kin to us". If Geralt is truly like them, that would give weight to his advice on how to deal with humans. But if the proof he's like them and not a human is that he wasn't an indiscriminate killer toward them, that...well, that doesn't exactly sound like nonviolence will work against any actual humans, in that case.

Anyway, Geralt decides that it's time to die as he's lived: pedantically.

"If you must kill me I am ready. But the sylvan's right. Don't call me human."

Is he ready? Is his concern that he dies under his preferred racial designation? He struggled to get free when he woke up. Does he feel obligated to keep going? Did he do that because he felt responsible for Jaskier? Does he kind of prefer to be alive but y'know, if that doesn't work out then okay fine?

And why does he make a point about being nonhuman? I get the sense there's a degree of unconscious hypocrisy here, where even as he's trying to tell them that killing Jaskier just because of what other humans did is wrong and they shouldn't be thinking of people as just representatives of a broader group, he finds it actually galling to be killed over what a group he's not even part of did.

I really don't think it can be read as him lying to convince them - if Geralt, a mutant, thought he still counted as human, I really think he'd have told fellow mutant Renfri that she was human when it became clear she was wrestling over what being a mutant meant about her.

At any rate, his behavior is apparently the final creepy straw and the elves decide that they can't do this.

Jaskier: "That whole reverse-psychology thing you did on them was brilliant, by the way. 'Kill me. I'm ready.'

Geralt's stare brings to mind last episode's interaction with Stregobor, to the point I wonder if he's taking this to be Jaskier also believing witchers don't have emotions.

(If he regularly jumps to the worst possible interpretation when humans are talking to him, that's would explain a lot about his behavior when they start conversations with him.)

Or that could just be his all-purpose thinking the other person is dumb look.

Jaskier: "That's the conclusion. They just let us go, and you give all of Nettly's coin to the elves."
Geralt: "Filavandrel's lute not gift enough for you?"

Geralt gives them what he has, Jaskier gets what they have. It is an odd outcome.

Geralt: "This is where we part ways, bard, for good."
Jaskier: "I promised to change the public's tune about you. At least allow me to try."

That Jaskier is rebutting this to me suggests he does not, in fact, part ways. And it's clear Geralt isn't capable of actually escaping him if he insists on tagging along.

Does Geralt register the distinction between Jaskier's previous offer, where it was an attempt to bribe his way into sticking around, and how he sounds honestly invested this time around? I don't know. I'd think so. Geralt's issues with human interaction don't seem to be that he doesn't understand it at all but that he wants very different outcomes than other people generally do.

Note, though, that Geralt has still not expressed any interest in having the public's tune changed.

Moreover...

"That's not how it happened. Where's your newfound respect?"

This time when Geralt disputes the accuracy, he follows up with a specific objection, that it's further demonizing Torque and the elves.

Like I mentioned, he didn't say anything when Jaskier was talking about golden palaces. Either this is so much worse to him that he can't hold his tongue or the events of the episode raised his opinion of Jaskier enough that he thinks there's any point in trying to bring up the issue.

He returns to silence once he's brushed off, though.

 

In conclusion:

By all appearances, Geralt's life is the same or possibly better after becoming known for killing people for no reason. Geralt's issue with the "butcher" title is indeed that it's a reminder of a horrible thing that happened, not that it's unfair and definitely not that it makes people treat him unfairly. When the idea of not being called it all the time is brought up he solidly rejects it and thinks he deserves the title. There's definitely a self-flagellating element to it.

Geralt deals with people saying shitty things about others exactly like he deals with people saying shitty things about him: silence.

Geralt either completely doesn't mind stuff like getting headbutted in the ribs or he accepts a few bruises in return for the fun of a bit of wrestling.

It doesn't seem like Geralt actually hates talking to people, he hates talking to humans. It doesn't seem to matter in the slightest if they're hostile, with him being talkative with not only Torque but the elves. It's possible this is simply a matter of being happy to be around fellow nonhumans and it's possible it's because in his experience humans say horrible shit constantly (perhaps made worse by him taking everything they say in the worst light).

Relatedly, we've seen no sign Geralt puts the lives of humans above others. If anything, the fact his reaction to Torque stealing is that guy needs to leave before anyone catches him and he suffers consequences for the actual definite crimes Torque was committing suggests he prioritizes nonhumans, though that may simply be that Geralt feels it's a safe assumption that, given human dominance, nonhuman crimes are largely due to the position humans have put them in so it's just a matter of consistently siding with the underdog regardless of what species they are.

Despite that indication of just how much friction Geralt has with humans, he still focuses on trying to save Jaskier. As he barely knew the guy at this point and Jaskier's attempts to ingratiate himself were at best mixed, we can assume that he'd do that for anyone.

Geralt thinks people should be focused on the future and what's best over the past and revenge. He continues to believe it's a good idea to answer prejudice by being a model of virtue even when faced with people who got screwed over specifically because they tried being kind and helpful. While he's upset by how very badly this philosophy worked out with Renfri, he hasn't changed how he thinks.

Geralt may dislike the shit people give him for being a mutant but he doesn't dispute the classification itself. We don't know if this is a conclusion he came to at some point or if it's established witcher culture they learn as kids, but either way, the issue is "it's wrong to treat people badly because they're nonhuman" not "it's wrong to say I'm not human".

Between insisting that he deserves to be called a butcher and his "fuck it just kill me" bit, there's a self-harm thread throughout this. And that's really what improving his image/how people react to him is going to impact.

Chapter Text

And now, Jaskier's turn.

We are introduced to Jaskier loudly singing in a tavern, being told to shut the fuck up and pelted with food, and snarking back, "I'm so glad that I could bring you all together like this."

He then notices that wait, he's failed at bringing absolutely everyone together because that one guy in the corner is sitting staring at his table instead of paying any attention. Just as cats are drawn like magnets to people looking away and holding very still in the hopes they'll be left alone, Jaskier beelines for this stranger.

Is this a sign Jaskier is a free spirit with no sense of self-preservation? No. Jaskier just illustrated he doesn't mind a certain amount of pushback, his very career involves putting yourself out there a lot, and they're in a crowded room making it the safest place to do something like this. Even if Mr. Quiet reacts badly to Jaskier bugging him, Jaskier can probably just skitter back unharmed and call it a wash. (Also worth pointing out - I'm not saying Jaskier's good in a fight, but he's not actually a teeny guy. He's barely shorter than Geralt. That's going to discourage people from starting unnecessary fights when they could just accept he's leaving.)

"I love the way you just sit in the corner and brood."

Is Jaskier hitting on Geralt? Eh, yeah maybe. We'll find out in a moment he did not at all recognize Geralt or even the fact he is a heavily armed man, so it can't have been that he knew Geralt had to be interesting as a witcher. All he knows about Geralt right now is there's a big guy in the corner not paying attention to him, so "wow, he's hot" is as good an explanation as any.

Also interesting is that Jaskier is more or less introducing himself with, "So I noticed you seem to want to be left in peace but that is not going to stop me."

Geralt: "I'm here to drink alone."
Jaskier: "Good. Yeah, good."

I think people often think "risk-taker" and "fearless" are the same thing, but really, a person who engages in risky behavior usually has a very good sense of danger. Jaskier doesn't go right up to Geralt, he initially stands back and partly behind a pillar, and when he goes closer he remains standing. He's feeling out the situation. And if Geralt did react poorly, he wouldn't be able to reach Jaskier and Jaskier would have a clear space behind him for a quick escape.

Which is to say, Jaskier knows how far he can push people, knows the signs the other person is going to push back, knows how situations go south, knows how to mitigate that, and does this because he's weighed all that and decided the odds here are acceptable. He doesn't keep singing when people start yelling, but he does keep bugging Geralt because Geralt's objection here is so far a toothless one. Geralt is a big guy but isn't displaying any sign of violence and is instead desperately continuing to not make eye contact, so whether or not he currently wants Jaskier there, he's going to put up with him for now. Maybe Jaskier will win the stranger over, maybe the guy will get so annoyed he ends up needing to skedaddle, but so far it's good.

And so, Jaskier gets in front of him, then when Geralt continues to not react with more than a sort of exasperated defeat at the general concept of socializing, sits down.

"No one else hesitated to comment on the quality of my performance, except for you. Come on. You don't want to keep a man with bread in his pants waiting."

That all said, how long has Jaskier been doing this? Not long, I'd think, with how awkward he is. Part of his chirpy behavior earlier may be that all of this is still pretty novel and exciting, and similarly, that may be why he's viewing this as a situation worth the risk. Even being rebuffed is a fun new experience. He's eighteen at this point and given he actually got an official bardic education, he must've left the academy relatively recently.

Jaskier, who again, just got people screaming at him to shut up and throwing food, goes on to solicit commentary from the one person who hadn't yet reacted.

"You must have some review for me. Three words or less."

Jaskier legitimately wants to improve, knows that audience opinions are important, and doesn't throw tantrums when he hears that someone didn't like it. Fandom could stand to learn a lot from their fav.

Geralt focuses on the part where Jaskier made shit up.

"And how would you know? Oh, fun. White hair, big old loner, two very...very scary-looking swords."

I think that last bit is actually a moment when he's reconsidering his choices. The swords were between Geralt and the wall, so he couldn't see them before, and they mean Jaskier's worst case scenario just updated from "punched in my face" to "holy fuck he could cut me in half".

Also, notice his list of identifying traits.

1) Trait used as Geralt's personal identifier.
2) Impression of the guy
3) Swords

Notably absent is the fact witchers have bright yellow eyes, even though that appears to be the trait absolutely everyone else uses to identify witchers.

Either Jaskier has not made even the most fleeting of eye contact with Geralt throughout this conversation or Jaskier is colorblind. If he has trouble distinguishing yellow and green then from his point of view, Geralt-colored eyes are a rare but normal human feature.

"He can't be colorblind, he wears colorful clothing!" There aren't colorblindness police that follow you around enforcing clothing law. And isn't it interesting Jaskier's fashion sense over the decades appears to exclusively involve wearing outfits where they're all made from the same cloth as if he knows better than to wear something mixed where he'd need to be able tell what colors go well with each other? (Really, the only point against it is it'd also mean that to him, buttercups are a flower that's the same color as the rest of the plant. But buttercups are a pretty humble flower already to pick as your name, and maybe he thought there was some clever metaphor about a flower that's hard to see.)

(Also a possibility is that Jaskier was paying very intermittent attention when he learned about witchers and he only returned to the lecture when he heard about two swords because swords! Two of them! But even then I feel he'd need some further reason to not think anything of the feature when it's staring him in the face.)

And Geralt gets up! Looms! Grabs his swords and leaves without doing anything!

"I know who you are. You're the witcher, Geralt of Rivia. Called it."

Geralt is now leaving the building to escape Jaskier. Still no sign he's dangerous so Jaskier isn't shutting up. That said, Jaskier isn't trying to prevent him from leaving or even following on his heels at this point, either of which would be escalating the situation further. When the big scary monster-hunter picks "flight" as his option, you respect that.

Jaskier remains safely around the corner as another man gets up, follows Geralt out into the hallway entrance, and asks him to do something about some grain-stealing devil. He comes around the corner and watches with interest once Geralt actually agrees to take the job.

Would Jaskier have followed Geralt otherwise? I don't think so. His attempt to make friends, or possibly ~make friends~ failed, and there's other fish in the sea. Even other witcher-fish.

But if Geralt is going to fight a devil, well, now there's something else Jaskier can get out of tagging.

Jaskier: "Need a hand? I've got two. One for each of the, uh, devil's horns."
Geralt: "Go away."
Jaskier: "I won't be but silent back-up."

At which point Jaskier starts talking more.

Jaskier: "I heard your note, and, yes, you're right, maybe real adventures would make better stories. And you, sir, smell chock-full of them. Amongst other things. I mean, what is that? Is that onion? It doesn't matter. Whatever it is, you smell of death and destiny. Heroics and heartbreak."
Geralt: "It's onion."
Jaskier: "Right, yeah. Yeah."

Jaskier has, by all appearances, correctly worked out that it doesn't actually matter all that much if Geralt agrees to have him around because Geralt's methods of dealing with Jaskier are to ask for it to stop or physically walk to a new, Jaskier-free location. Faced with Jaskier's incredible counter of not listening and possessing legs of his own, Geralt is helpless.

Jaskier has no doubt also noticed that Geralt is attempting to outwalk him while leading a horse, and taking this to mean that Geralt can't mind all that much. Really hard to say what's happening on Geralt's end there, but Jaskier is broadly assuming Geralt is a functional person and if a functional person did this it'd mean they were okay with your continued presence.

But Jaskier doesn't want to just inflict his presence on somebody who doesn't like him when he could be gracing his presence to somebody who does like him. So he's going to continue to try to get Geralt to like him.

"Ooh, I could be your barker, spreading the tales of Geralt of Rivia, the-the Butcher of Blaviken."

To remind everyone, the story of the Butcher of Blaviken is "A witcher slaughtered a bunch of innocent people in the middle of town because he just loved killing so damn much." Jaskier is offering to help spread this fun yarn around.

So, first off, this is why people really shouldn't be surprised by Jaskier's genie wishes. Jaskier goes hard. He is assuming that Geralt is either proud of this or intentionally did it to make a point, and the story is well known because Geralt likes it that way. And he is saying he'd like to form a partnership with that person.

I think this comes down in part to Jaskier's place in the story as an ordinary person. People react to Jaskier in direct response to who Jaskier is and how he behaves. If he wants a different outcome, he just needs to do things differently. Songs not going over well? The problem is with the songs. Someone not interested in what you're offering? Try something else. And I think this extends to not really considering the broader picture.

I don't believe Jaskier is consciously thinking that those people Geralt killed deserved it, or that they didn't deserve it but he's fine helping out a man who'd kill innocent people. I don't think he thinks of them at all. It's just a story that happened in the past somewhere he's never been, and the people behind the story aren't real to him.

A more interesting question is why does Jaskier assume Geralt is proud of it? It seems an odd misstep to make, especially for a socially focused bard. But we know from Geralt's side of things that his stance on the story is to either say nothing or say that yes, he is a terrible butcher who should be hated. Jaskier presumably thinks the fact the story is undisputed means Geralt supports it. After all, normally people will give their own side of the story - even if the story's completely true and their version is a pack of lies, they'll still give it. So, whatever the truth of the matter is, Geralt must have no objections whatsoever to the tale as it's currently told.

On to the less-odd misstep.

Geralt: "Come here."
Jaskier: "Yeah?"

Jaskier does not see the punch coming.

Why?

Because Geralt has been consistently non-aggressive.

Because everything else Jaskier has said so far has been about what Geralt could do for Jaskier and that wasn't met with violence, so actually offering to help Geralt out can only go over better.

Because Geralt is intentionally trying to suckerpunch Jaskier - and while as I've said, I'm sure Jaskier has a lot of experience telling when someone's about to try to hurt him, Geralt has not been acting like the kind of cruel man who would lure him over to be punched.

And because Jaskier's ability to read people requires there to be a lot more to go on than Geralt and his thousand-yard stare.

(And this supports the idea that Jaskier really can't make any connection between story and real-life, because he just brought up that Geralt kills people for no reason and doesn't occur to him that wait, I'm a people.)

Jaskier goes down. As Jaskier will pop back up and continue following Geralt, I think we can assume getting punched is something he may not like but he is used to. This goes back to risk-taking being tied to analysis of acceptable risk. Sometimes, the best way to find boundaries is push until you cross them and get smacked for it.

At this point, Jaskier most clearly shows that he is capable of reading people. Not only is he pretty sure he can keep talking without being punched again, but...

"Reading between the lines and the gut punches, chum, I'd say you have got a bit of a an image problem."

Jaskier has correctly grasped that Geralt wasn't just sick of talking but specifically reacting differently to that particular statement, and he correctly guessed the issue isn't "how dare you suggest I need help making people scared of me" but "bringing up that topic angers me". And he likely put together that the fact Geralt did not in any way explain this with his words instead of his punches is the reason Jaskier's never heard a different version of the Butcher story, as well as proof that without someone who actually grasps what "social graces" are, Geralt is never digging himself out of that hole.

So, Jaskier really does have something to offer. Geralt will be thrilled. Right?

Jaskier: "Were I to join you on this feat to defeat the devil of Posada, I could relieve you of that title. All the North would be too busy singing the tales of Geralt of Rivia, the-the White Wolf or-or something."
Geralt: "Butcher is right."

There's a sort of meta aspect to Jaskier's character. As I said, he's the one who's an ordinary human, and his view of the situation often matches up well with that of fandom because it matches well with what regular people would think. Jaskier looks at the situation and says, "Okay, you're not actually a mad dog and you got upset when I brought up the story. So...you don't like people telling the story about you." And that's the general fandom take, focusing on how unfair it is that what really happened was twisted around to blame Geralt.

(And I think the assumption Geralt is getting shit over it is similar. Because in Jaskier's experience, how you're treated is tied to your own actions, or at least what people think were your actions. If witchers are hated and feared, it's probably because they give the wrong impression by being all scowly and refusing to take part in friendly conversation and not explaining anything and then getting mad and punching you and still not explaining anything.)

But as I discussed before, it's not Geralt's take on it.

I think Jaskier doesn't quite get that even when hearing Geralt say, "Butcher is right." Geralt has been trying to rebuff him all episode. The obvious read of this in the context of the episode is "no no I totally murder people, very scary and dangerous here, now go away" and it could also be taken as Geralt just trying to refuse the offer to work together. And much like Marilka last episode, Jaskier appears to be in the "witchers are mysterious and cool" camp. How could this stoic badass be actually upset by whatever happened? He wouldn't, he's way too awesome for that.

In general, I think Jaskier is very good at dealing with "people" as a mass of common behaviors. But when someone's too far off the bell curve, he fumbles. Instead of reevaluating the situation and figuring out how they work as an individual, he tries to figure out how to match their unusual behavior up to something he already knows.

Jaskier: "Mind if I hop up? I'm not wearing the right footwear."
Geralt: "Don't touch Roach."
Jaskier: "Yeah, right, yeah."

Jaskier may not have been convinced to leave, or even shut up, but he's more cautious and appeasing after the punch, yanking his hand back as he speaks. (Roach does not react. That is Geralt asserting a boundary. Roach doesn't eat people's fingers. Please don't make me do a Roach chapter for every episode.)

Also, this conversation is taking place with Geralt on Roach, which means his ability to hit Jaskier is compromised. Jaskier gets considerably more anxious when Geralt climbs down.

So yeah, just to be clear:

1) Jaskier feels fear.
2) Jaskier feels fear of Geralt in particular.
3) Jaskier is completely right to feel fear of Geralt in particular given he knows almost nothing about the guy beyond that Geralt has just established minutes ago that he enforces his admittedly few boundaries with no-advance-warning punching and honestly it'd be more fucked up of a relationship if Jaskier was some sort of brain-damaged baby lamb living only on Geralt's mercy.

(Also, Geralt does not get off to kindly walk beside Jaskier to make up for denying him the chance to ride, but because he's reached where he thinks the monster is. He gets off Roach for Roach's sake, because he is leaving his horse before she gets too close to danger.)

"The elves called this Dol Blathanna before bequeathing it to the humans and retreating into their golden palaces in the mountains."

So, according to the timeline on the wiki, the Great Cleansing started just fifty-three years ago, and even assuming Yennefer's father was killed before she was born, was still going forty-eight years ago. So wow, that sure got covered up fast.

Timeline weirdness aside, I like what this says about Jaskier. Jaskier is sort of an interesting study in how a lack of malice isn't actually enough. He doesn't hate elves. In fact he seems to think highly of the elves, but his nice thoughts do nothing for the fact they're starving in those mountains and in fact prevent him from even realizing that when it's staring him in the face.

Jaskier: "Geralt? Geralt? Wh-where are you going? Geralt, don't leave me. Hello? What are we looking for again?"
Geralt: "Blessed silence."
Jaskier: "Yeah, I don't really go in for that."

Jaskier completely understands what Geralt means here, but he's also getting a good handle on Geralt. Geralt's only hit him for the content of his words, not their ongoing presence. So when Geralt tries to leave him in a possibly monster-infested field he correctly views it as safer to badger Geralt into letting him catch up and when Geralt says he wants quiet, Jaskier says message received but no and then continues to chatter, confident this will have no negative consequences for him.

Again, I do get the impression he's very new to traveling because it doesn't occur to him here that making noise means the monster hears you coming. Also...

"Act Two begins! What was that? Looks like a tiny cannonball from a - Oh, my gosh. Geralt, it is a devil. Ohh. I have to see this magical, this mythi-"

Jaskier does not seem to think that the monster could be a real danger. He either has a grossly inflated idea of what witchers are capable of and thinks Geralt can easily keep him safe no matter what or he's assuming that this is a fight between the two and no monster would be so rude as to attack some uninvolved noncombatant like himself.

That's stupid of him, but failing to realize there's danger because you're eighteen and lived a very sheltered life isn't the same thing as being unable to learn from experience.

"This is the part where we escape."

A point in favor of Jaskier having a very inflated opinion of witchers. Seems very unlikely he'd think the world works like it's a story given his attitude on making stuff up for his songs and disdain for less narratively suited facts, so there must be some other reason he thinks they'll survive fine.

"You hide in your golden palaces." ... "Yeah, take that, pointy." ... "Forced out? No, they chose -"

He really believed it, but we can see that believing it is worse than just that it covers up the past crimes of humans. By believing the elves have grand palaces Jaskier positions himself and the rest of humanity as an underdog oppressed by the rich and privileged elves. And believing they gave the land to humans means the elves are reneging on a deal when they return. This is an appealing story, such that even when Toruviel in her ragged clothing demands to know what they think of her "palace", even when he's confused why she's suddenly on the ground trying to cough up a lung, he continues to insist they totally left because they wanted to and everything's fine.

(And while we see very little actual prejudice from him, "pointy". His go-to for an insult is to bring up a physical feature that's different between him and the race of the other person. And just to underscore it, in the same episode on Ciri's side of things, she meets someone keeping those pointed ears as trophies, someone who appears to have just been murdering any elf he could find.)

Eventually, Jaskier shuts up and lets everyone else have their non-Holocaust-denier discussion without another peep from him. He also spends that quiet time on camera looking miserable, although, I have to say that may also have to do with the fact the conversation is clearly not going in their favor and they're probably going to die.

But they don't!

"Credit where credit is due. That whole reverse-psychology thing you did on them was brilliant, by the way. 'Kill me. I'm ready.'"

Jaskier has been disillusioned about the elves but not really about witchers. Maybe he thinks he has, given he saw Geralt couldn't just snap the rope and kill everyone with his bare hands, but he's still stuck on the idea that if Geralt has feelings they're only the badass kind. Geralt must have done that because he's so clever and experienced and cool and brilliant!

(...also, you'll note he puts them emphasis here on Geralt manipulating the elves into letting them go, over Torque's ongoing insistence he didn't sign up to get anybody killed, over Filavandrel's own clear discomfort with the idea, and even Toruviel's hesitation.)

"That's the conclusion. They just let us go, and you give all of Nettly's coin to the elves."

What he did pick up on is that even if he could've, Geralt didn't want to kill everyone. He doesn't want them to die at all, in fact. That part Jaskier knows wasn't reverse-psychology.

I'm not sure quite how he feels about that, and I think he isn't either. He doesn't know what to make of the end of this story but he doesn't like it, and he isn't comfortable with Geralt giving them the money. His disapproval is enough that Geralt retorts that Jaskier got a lute out of it.

"I do have respect for Filavandrel. He survived the Great Cleansing once. Who knows? Maybe he can do it again. Be reborn."

To Jaskier's credit, he has now accepted the elves' version of events. He doesn't think it's his responsibility, though. Jaskier feels vaguely positive toward Filavandrel. He hopes it works out for the guy somehow. He does not see it as having anything to do with him.

And in fairness, Jaskier has a lot to process right now, and he seems to be still working through how he feels.

"Will the elf king heed, what the witcher entreats? Is history a wheel, doomed to repeat? No, that's that's shit."

Jaskier's first thought is a song that does involve the situation Filavandrel and the rest of the elves are in, about if they'll survive and if things can become better. It's definitely on his mind. But he drops it after a single rhyme.

Geralt: "This is where we part ways, bard, for good."
Jaskier: "I promised to change the public's tune about you. At least allow me to try."

As I said on Geralt's side, this is far more sincere than the first offer. "At least allow me to try." especially, as it nudges up against the fact Geralt still hasn't asked for him to do it and definitely isn't demanding it as payment. Jaskier is conflicted about the elves but he's not conflicted about Geralt. He wants to do it even if Geralt doesn't care, because he's convinced Geralt is a good person.

And given Jaskier is saying this in response to Geralt wanting to split, Jaskier would appear to stick with Geralt for some time after this, though we know they're split up by the next episode which takes place three years later.

Geralt: "That's not how it happened. Where's your newfound respect?"
Jaskier: "Respect doesn't make history."

I think it's worth pointing out that Jaskier is entirely capable of telling the truth here, or making up any number of other events. When he talks about making history, he means in the sense that he's trying to make this song have the widest possible appeal, not that absolutely no one would listen to other versions. Which is not to say that it's wholly selfish. Jaskier is intending to push back against a different prejudice and if his song isn't popular it's not going to do Geralt any good.

It does, however, mean that we end the episode as we begin, with Jaskier ignoring the objections Geralt makes. He decides to bug Geralt, he decides to follow him, he decides to ignore Geralt claiming that no he does not want people to stop calling him butcher, and he decides to ignore Geralt here expressing that he doesn't like Jaskier writing a song full of lies about the elves. (On a lute that Geralt just reminded Jaskier he got from those elves.)

Jaskier is also, at this point, quite fearless and settling into the dynamic they'll have for the rest of the season. It's hard to believe Geralt's going to harm him when he spends the initial conversation with the elves alternating "don't kill him" and "don't hurt him".

"He wiped out your pest. Got kicked in his chest. He's a friend of humanity. So give him the rest. That's my epic tale. Our champion prevailed."

Jaskier has established that he doesn't care about "truth" or "accuracy" or "not shitting on two oppressed minorities who just showed you mercy". But I find it interesting that his song demonizing nonhumans puts Geralt at one remove from humans, "friend of humanity", which would seem to be respecting that Geralt identifies as nonhuman. It's hard to say if this is because these are pretty clear-cut definitions and it'd never occur to Jaskier that calling Geralt human is even an option or if he would've otherwise tried to rehabilitate the witchers' reputation by presenting them as magical humans similar to sorcerers. Kind of depends which way you assume the prejudice shakes out. Still, I think the fact the elves were initially willing to call Geralt human suggests it's got at least some wiggle room, and Jaskier is skilled at wiggling. I'm inclined to think he was trying to be respectful of Geralt's feelings.

I think you can also argue about whether or not the song is actually harming the elves. Is claiming there's terrifying elvish warriors and demons in their mountains going to lead to humans staying away, or will it make them think maybe they need to head up with an army of their own before this gets worse? It's hard to tell, and unfortunately, I don't think Jaskier's even thinking about that kind of indirect effect. He's just focused on how to make the song do what he wants for Geralt.

 

In conclusion:

At eighteen, Jaskier is irrepressible, has great self-esteem, and is not good at respecting boundaries. He's not going to throw a fit if someone doesn't like his singing (and takes criticism quite well), he's not going to take it to heart if someone doesn't like him, and he doesn't mind much if he's bothering someone - not because he doesn't care if people are happy, I think, but because he's sure his company is great actually and he just needs time to win you over. The same goes for his great ideas. Geralt doesn't want new, nicer titles? Well, Geralt's being dumb and Jaskier will do something about it and Geralt will be grateful once he realizes how very right Jaskier was, as always.

And in fairness, being good at people means you can find yourself in situations where someone says they don't want or won't like something but actually they do, and in further fairness, I think what's going to happen with Geralt is a valid example, and Jaskier manages that even without understanding what Geralt's exact issue is. It really seems like it's good for Geralt's sanity to have people spend less time reminding him of that time he killed someone he wanted to save and more time reminding him that he does good and helps people. It's also an improvement for Geralt's long-term survival if he actually gets paid decently.

(But hoo boy, Jaskier is not, at least right now, where you should be looking if you want someone to triple-check if you're okay with what's happening. Jaskier is good at being charming. He is good at getting people to enjoy themselves. If someone doesn't seem happy with what's happening, he's going to assume he's just not doing a good enough job and that the solution is to try harder, because in his experience, that's been true.)

Jaskier is a risk-taker, but he manages that by a finely tuned sense of risk...at least, in social situations. He's a lot more foolhardy outside of his element, but he's eighteen and this was his first trip with Geralt, so that'll probably improve.

Jaskier is understandably wary of Geralt initially and is probably only as bold as he is because Geralt is acting resigned rather than aggressive. That graduates to actual fear after the punch, and it's only after Geralt makes it clear he would die for the guy that Jaskier settles into his "lol I can do what I want you love me" attitude.

Just for a third time: Jaskier feels fear and it's not a once in a blue moon thing either.

He doesn't show much sign of prejudice but he's still clearly the product of a prejudiced society. He initially believes the lies he was told over what he sees in front of him, he calls the first elf a racial slur because he's mad at her, and even after learning the truth is stuck at "well, sucks that happened but I didn't do it, best of luck I guess", then follows up by writing a song furthering prejudice because it sells.

Relatedly, Jaskier thinks of himself as human and everyone around thinks of him as human and he has always had a good place in the world and it doesn't occur to him to question any of that. That is a huge part of why he is the way he is.

He's sincerely affected by what Geralt did for him. Witchers aren't viewed well either, making that a risk or an outright liability, and Geralt is thought badly of even by witcher standards. Even if this was about trying to make something different for attention, it didn't have to be covered in Geralt's name in particular. Plus from what he's seen of Geralt so far, apparently you can just say almost any horrible shit you want about the guy without consequence. But Jaskier makes the song revolve around how Geralt is great, and he got hurt fighting for you, and he deserves money and also alcohol, and he's your friend and champion and just, like, the best, you don't pay him enough, he fought an army for you, and it doesn't matter he's not human he's our friend.

Jaskier is definitely an important character with important interactions in the storyline, but he is not the only important thing happening at any moment. Other characters do things that do not revolve around him, and conversely, he's him, not the shiniest bits of every character in the show. You don't need to take everything down to Geralt caring about Roach and make it about Jaskier.

Chapter Text

This is very much Yennefer's episode - she gives it its title, she gets the opening scene, and the other stories, with elves and prejudice, tie into her own.

Yennefer's part starts well before any of the other events we've seen. According to the timeline, Renfri's story is a quarter century after this and Jaskier meets up with Geralt a decade after that. Yennefer is fourteen.

We open with a couple, neither of whom seem particularly pleasant people. Despite that, Yennefer picks up the flower the girl throws away and tries to hand it back to the girl when she looks for it.

This does not go well for Yennefer.

Girl: "Ugh! Now it smells of pig shit."
Boy: "You been spying on us, you creep?"
Girl: "'Course. Look at her. No one's ever kissed that."
Boy: "Could she even stand up straight to do it?"
Girl: "Where you going, crooked girl? We can teach you."

In the first episode, Geralt told Roach the story of how he learned kindness gets rewarded with rejection. The lesson Yennefer learns about kindness is even worse, that you're rewarded with assault.

Of the main characters, Yennefer is the only one we know (explicitly see, in fact) this happens to. They each grab her. She struggles and can't get free. They shove her to the ground and hold her there, pawing at her. They first insult her that she's unwanted, but immediately move to threatening to sexually assault her. She reacts extremely badly when in a few minutes Istredd says, meaning magically, "Oh, you're a virgin." We don't know how far they would've gone. And neither does Yennefer.

I'm assuming that fandom is primarily just being oblivious here, but it is really, really fucked up that it's someone we see narrowly escaping that fate who is people's go-to for rapist and rape apologist. This is, in fact, the worst it gets for the entire show - rape is brought up several times but never shown on screen. And it's not buried in her character arc, it's her introduction and it's why everything else happens: she's so terrified by what's happening she taps into magic in order to escape.

Yennefer: "Leave me alone. Stop."
"I heard your father makes you sleep with pigs."
Yennefer: "Stop."
"Your own family doesn't even want you."

She has to use magic because no other option is available to her. She is not strong enough to make them stop (and if she could fight back and harmed them, she'd be the one in trouble). And they don't care that they're told to stop. They're not doing this because they don't realize they're hurting her, they're doing it to hurt her. They know they can do it without consequence because no one else will care either. It's not just them, either, anyone around her can hurt her, probably wants to, and will be allowed to by the rest of her community. And this is because she is ugly/crippled/unloved - all things outside of Yennefer's control.

(We'll see in a moment that saying her "family" hates her isn't quite accurate, but the real situation is just horrible in a different way.)

So she uses a portal to escape. Not to hurt them back or even stop them, just to get so far away they can't hurt her.

(This is, I think, an example of how she and Geralt are alike yet struggle to hold a relationship. Two people with abandonment issues who respond to stress by running away.)

Istredd: "Who are you?"
Yennefer: "Wha- what is all this? Am I dead? How did I get here?"
Istredd: "Well, it looks to me like you portalled in."
Yennefer: "I what?"
Istredd: "You know, portalled. From wherever you were to here. The Tower of the Gull. Aretuza. Oh, you're a virgin."

Yennefer retreated, struggled, begged and finally ripped a hole in reality to escape this, and all it's accomplished is now her back is against an unfamiliar wall. Terrified, she hits him, only to panic further.

"I'm sorry. I'm s - I'm sorry."

Because if people hurt her for no reason, just how bad will it be now that she's given them a reason?

But Istredd doesn't hurt her.

"Your backhand is even more impressive than your magic."

He doesn't get mad at either her hurting him or the more defiance it signified. He compliments her for doing something she knows she shouldn't have and then something she couldn't possibly have.

Istredd then tells her she's got to get out of here because using magic will let someone find her.

"It's a a different kind of portal. One that can't be tracked. See, the one you made has put a target on your back, but this will take you home."

Yennefer hesitates, and honestly, that's probably not entirely that this is a complete stranger but that it's also not like "home" is really that safe of a destination. I really think if she had any idea of where else she could go/any belief anywhere else would treat her any better, she'd have asked for that instead. But that's the irony of how her power manifests. She desperately wants to escape but doesn't have any idea of what escape would even be.

Istredd tells her she can trust him and she asks his name, then leaves without giving her own.

And Istredd did send her home like he claimed he would. We next see Yennefer staggering about in the pigpen.

Yennefer's father: "Get out of there, girl."
Yennefer: "I - I can do it."

We're told she's made to sleep with the pigs, and it makes sense when we see her taking care of them, but then we find out that isn't actually something demanded of her. That's her trying to be useful, which her father is rejecting, to the point he shoves her to the ground and she ends up covered in the bucket of food she was carrying.

Again, kindness is not rewarded for Yennefer. The only positive interaction we've seen, in fact, involved her lashing out at someone.

Also worth pointing out because I think people may be missing it, Yennefer's bad spine means more than just that she's ugly. She's disabled. She is struggling to do this. If she was just ugly but physically capable, she'd have one reason why people should keep her around.

There's not even any sign she's angry at her father for how she's treated. She just wants him to like her and keeps trying in the face of rejection as if the problem is with her.

Tissaia arrives.

Tissaia: "How much for a pig?"
Yennefer's father: "They'll be at market tomorrow."
Tissaia: "Well, I'm here today."
Yennefer's father: "Ten marks."
Tissaia: "How much for this beast?"
Yennefer's father: "Six."
Tissaia: "Four."
Yennefer's mother: "What are you doing?"
Yennefer's father: "Sold. Four marks."

The question of what the fuck Tissaia is beyond the scope of Yennefer's meta. For today, we will just focus on what Yennefer heard.

The pigs are going to market. That's not so they can go live happy piggy lives somewhere else. She's not just being compared unfavorably to an animal but one being sent to the slaughter.

Tissaia is obviously wealthy and it's not hard to guess she's come all this way for Yennefer. She could and no doubt would pay a lot more. Her father is not literally paying someone else to get rid of her, but he is first giving a cruelly low price and then agreeing to an even lower one so Yennefer will know he hates her more than he cares about money.

Yennefer's mother does not agree with what's happening. She then explains why this is particularly bad.

Yennefer's mother: "Are you mad? You can't let them have her."
Yennefer's father: "As I said, sold. Four marks."
Yennefer's mother: "The woman's a witch. You know what they will do."

Do they? I'd guess there's some incomplete understanding that more girls enter than leave but that it's not understood that they only take girls with magical potential. Girls like Yennefer, where their family didn't see their magic manifest, may be assumed to be sacrifices. Certainly, her mother doesn't try to save her by saying Yennefer doesn't have magic and wouldn't be of any use.

On the other hand, maybe they do know about Yennefer's magic. Maybe the couple said they saw Yennefer disappear.

Yennefer's mother: "She's our daughter."
Yennefer's father: "She's no daughter of mine."

Initially, this seems like it's possible he's rejecting her because she's imperfect, but we'll confirm soon that he's literal and that Yennefer is not even wholly human. So why does her mother try this? It might just be desperation, or it might be that when they married he agreed to raise Yennefer as his daughter and her mother is hoping that meant anything to him. It might also be that Yennefer's real parentage was something of a question - her mother may have remarried immediately after her real father died and hoped Yennefer could be passed off as an early birth.

Yennefer will imply later that her original father died when she was old enough to remember it, and given why he died, my personal guess is that Yennefer's mother fled their original home and remarried somewhere far enough away that no one knew them. Yennefer's father knows Yennefer isn't of his blood but her mother thought as long as she was believed to have entirely of human blood it would be enough.

"Mother. Please help me."

Whatever the specifics of her father, her mother cared about her and she knew it. And her younger siblings look distressed as well.

And yet, she was still sleeping in the pigpen, still had no protection from anyone who wanted to hurt her.

So it's not that no one in Yennefer's life cared about her. It's that no one who cared could protect her, or perhaps never loved her enough to try. And that pattern has just repeated again with Istredd, who was kind to her and said he would try to hide her from being found by Tissaia, yet here Tissaia is.

"You can't take me! I won't go."

Yennefer is dragged off to Aretuza. Speaking accomplished nothing.

"Let me out! Let me out!"

Yennefer remains locked in a room.

She looks at herself in the mirror. Her face is deformed, and she knows that's part of why people hate her, but we'll also learn in a bit it goes deeper than that. To Yennefer, the deformities she sees stem from the real reason she's worthless, her nonhuman blood. That she is ugly, that she is crippled, and that she is not entirely a person... to Yennefer, all of those can be seen reflected there.

No one will listen to what she asks. Even if she had any control over her magic, what good would it do her? Fleeing by portal is what "put a target on your back". Tissaia found her once and she'd do it again, and now she knows she doesn't even have what little she thought she did back home.

And the only people who we've seen care about her, her mother and Istredd, both made it clear they think whatever happens next is going to be terrible, and both tried to spare her it.

The last time she was out of every option, she struck out. Now she hits the mirror and carves her wrists open with the shards.

But all that gets is Tissaia, the person she's trying to escape, returning.

"Do you know how many people wouldn't blink if you died? You get to live."

The next lesson Yennefer's taught is that she has to live despite no one else caring. She makes another desperate attempt to use words.

"You should've let me die. At least I had control over that."

And like every other time, her feelings don't matter and her words accomplish nothing.

"Oh, that's adorable, piglet. You weren't taking control. You were losing it. Be in the greenhouse in twenty minutes."

This is a pretty good general-purpose platitude about not killing yourself that is undermined by everything in this specific situation. People who impulsively try to kill themselves don't express exactly the same desire to die hours later when the wake, and it's not generally followed up by "I don't even give a fuck what your name is, I certainly won't allow you to say what your own feelings are, now obey me."

So, to recap where we are so far:

Yennefer attempts to communicate her feelings repeatedly.
1) She asks the couple to stop.
2) She asks her mother to save her.
3) She asks not to go.
4) She ask to be let out.
5) She asks to die.

None of that worked.

Yennefer attempts to escape repeatedly.
1) She struggles to get free of the couple.
2) She portals to a new location.
3) She enters another portal.
4) She tries to break out of the room she's locked in.
5) She tries to kill herself.

None of that worked.

Any time Yennefer tries to be kind and helpful, it makes her situation worse. Any time someone else tries to be kind and helpful to her, it accomplishes nothing.

I feel like this alone would be more than enough to explain why adult!Yennefer is so deeply fucked up, and we're only partway into the first episode of her multi-episode traumatic backstory.

At this point, Yennefer heads to the lesson either because she doesn't know how it can be worse but assumes Tissaia will manage or because she's just too exhausted to do anything but obey.

Tissaia introduces her philosophy to the students.

"I sense your terror. And you are right to be afraid. Chaos is the most dangerous thing in this world. It is all around us all the time. Volatile and powerful."

Yennefer didn't have a clue about chaos before this! The only thing that went halfway right was the portal itself. And now not only is magic not good enough to protect yourself, and not only did using it result in her being sold off, but also apparently it's incredibly dangerous and this woman who's belittled every one of Yennefer's legitimate fears as no big deal thinks magic is something to be absolutely terrified of.

This is followed by Tissaia explaining that yes, it does seem like maybe you were taken her to learn magic and not be sacrifices to a dark god or whatever it is you thought would happen, but...

"But just because you are conduits of chaos does not mean that you are capable of magic."

So a horrible fate is still very much on the table. Maybe it's whatever bad thing witches do to girls. Worse, maybe Tissaia brings Yennefer back to her father and demands a refund.

(And I'd imagine "just because there was a portal doesn't mean I can do magic" was already repeating inside Yennefer's head this whole time.)

We hear that the other girls similarly manifested power, none of which seems to have been in response to a direct threat to themselves. One possibility for why Yennefer struggles to use magic at first is that hers manifested early. Anica, with the closest parallel of a traumatic event where someone else had to be saved...well, she doesn't end up making the cut. She may have been a similarly premature manifestation, rather than inherently weaker. Sabrina, who'll be praised as having her magic under control, "made her mother fat" and just quietly smirks, so apparently not an upsetting situation. Whatever the context that caused Fringilla to freeze the cat, she's trembling and apologizing for it, so it doesn't even seem to have been something she wanted, and it's Fringilla who gets the spell working first. Initial power seems to match up well with needing little to no push for the conduit event.

Anica speaks up to say she wants to go home, the same request Yennefer's made, and is shut down just like Yennefer was.

Anica is not like Yennefer. She's standing straight. She's bigger - older, or better fed. Her hair is done up while Yennefer's hangs loose. We don't know anything about her life but you can imagine Yennefer filling in the gaps with everyone who isn't visibly like her that their life must lack all the invisible horrors as well because those are so closely linked to her. But straight-backed Anica is being treated with the same callousness by Tissaia.

I think this is the point at which Yennefer is convinced to try. This place is not kind, but the cruelty she's come to expect aimed at her is instead being distributed equally. She's dressed in the same clothing, standing in the same place, watching them be dismissed as easily as she was. And if she's being treated like an equal to them, girls who look like they had decent lives, like they mattered, like horrible things aren't just a given, then maybe there's a chance for her.

(And Anica is also scared and wants to go home. And Anica's magic manifested to save someone. I don't think it's a coincidence that Yennefer will become friends with Anica in particular.)

They do the spell and Fringilla seems like she's succeeding, only to suffer for it as the magic destroys her hand, at which point Tissaia makes it clear that making whoever managed first into an object lesson on how magic can hurt you was her plan. This is bizarre and establishes there is no clear path to safety, but at the same time, I wonder if it's a step up to Yennefer, who has never been a success, to be told that whether or not something will have horrible unforeseen consequences is random rather than a certainty for her in particular.

(And the girl beside Fringilla is horrified and shouts a warning. Yennefer cannot be sure anyone would care if the same happened to her, but the rest of the scene is about them interacting as equals. And it is already an improvement in Yennefer's life even to be around people who are not cruel to each other.)

Tissaia failed to convince Yennefer earlier and I don't think her little speech about how managing to tap into chaos once doesn't mean you'll be able to do magic was all it took to make Yennefer switch motivations from "giving up killing myself because apparently that just hurts a bunch and you don't even get to be dead afterward and instead people invalidate your feelings further while calling you a demeaning nickname" to "I want to prove myself". I think it was that the other girls were the first positive thing she's encountered since arrival.

Unfortunately, Yennefer can't manage it.

Tissaia, seeing her distress, says both the kindest words and in the kindest tone we've seen from her all episode:

"You've lost a lot of blood, piglet."

She gives Yennefer an out. She just said some people don't deserve to be here and won't manage magic and that this test is designed to demonstrate that, then makes an excuse for why this doesn't apply for Yennefer.

I'm not sure how Yennefer interprets this. Tissaia, again, has absolutely terrified her, she is still in this very line comparing Yennefer to an animal you raise for slaughter, and she just intentionally tricked them with bad directions so whoever succeeded would suffer horrific consequences, so this could simply be another trap. Tissaia can't be trusted to tell the truth and even if she is honestly pitying Yennefer now, I'm going to go out on a limb and assume "pity" has not, in Yennefer's experience, heralded anything good.

We then get what I think is a near twin to trying to assert control through self-destruction. She knows Istredd ate a bit of a flower to cast a spell, and there's flowers here meant to be used to balance the spell, so she bites off one of the flowers and chews it. In this case it's just been estabished that the spell will destroy you if it doesn't have another target and that the target is supposed to be the flowers, so confusing the issue by eating the flowers seems like a bad idea - whether or not it's actually risky, it seems like Yennefer's chain of reasoning has moved from trying to kill herself to trying to do magic even if it kills her. Certainly Tissaia looks disturbed. (And the possibility that's got elements of confusion because she recognizes the strategy doesn't work, because it'll be a plot point that Tissaia does not know about Istredd's flowers.)

Luckily for Yennefer she doesn't manage anything because I really fear she could've melted her brain there.

Meanwhile, all the other girls are just very very quiet. No one mocks Yennefer. No one tells her to leave. For the first time, she could actually have a place here, only it turns out she's got something else wrong with her on top of all the things she already knew.

"Sometimes a flower is just a flower and the best thing it can do for us is to die."

I'm going to be honest, not entirely sure what's going on here. This is of course setting up the overall arc of sacrifices Yennefer must accept for magic/Tissaia's own very unhealthy life philosophy, but, Yennefer is not only wholly accepting the idea of murdering some (already cut) flowers to levitate a rock, but she just personally murdered one flower with her teeth. And Tissaia has been uncertainly trying to walk back from Yennefer's initial impression they were going to kill her, so if you're trying to reassure someone they should calm down and try again later, it's fine if they can't use magic yet, saying sometimes things are just useless non-magic things that should die would appear to be the exact opposite of what you should say.

Perhaps Yennefer is equally baffled by what the fuck Tissaia. She seems to just react to the fact Tissaia clearly wants her to stop trying the spell because apparently she is a failure who can't do magic, and finally flees.

The rest of the girls continue to be very very quiet because Aretuza was not a hotbed of student on student hatred. I'm sorry you had a bad time in school with other girls but that probably had more to do with your school being terrible to everyone than girls being inherently terrible and statistics back this up. Even Tissaia, who is working so hard at being cruel, largely does not try to pit the girls against each other.

Yennefer runs across Istredd again.

"You were right. She found me."

She says this apologetically. It either doesn't seem to occur to her that Istredd may have done a bad job of helping or, if he did half-ass it, that she deserved any better. As with her mother, Yennefer knows it's possible for someone to care about her, just not in a way that helps her.

"And you found me."

Instead of telling Yennefer that yeah, she sure fucked up again, that wow, what a waste of time helping her was when she can't do anything right, Istredd is pleased to see her. Istredd has directly complimented her twice, did not hurt her for hitting him in a panic, expressed concern for her, and is now encouraging her continued presence in his life.

At this point, the only other kindnesses Yennefer's encountered is one of Tissaia's demeaning statements was said in a nicer tone of voice and the other girls treated her neutrally by keeping quiet when they could have mocked her.

Yennefer: "My name. It's Yennefer."
Istredd: "It's good to meet you properly, Yennefer."

This is the seriously the only actually positive human interaction Yennefer has so far.

When next we join Yennefer, they're learning mind-reading.

Tissaia: "Look into her eyes. Look until a door becomes a window. Seek to understand your partner's greatest fears."
Yennefer: "With our eyes?"
Tissaia: "No, piglet. With chaos. Thought transference should flow through you, like learning to dance or swim or kiss. Come on, you can do it."

Again, what the fuck Tissaia is outside the scope here, but she did just list two things Yennefer presumably can't/doesn't know how to do and one thing she was specifically mocked about ("No one's ever kissed that." "Could she even stand up straight to do it?"). This shockingly does not reassure Yennefer and she tries lying. I don't think it's even to make Tissaia like her, just appease Tissaia before something worse happens.

"Anica's worst fear is snakes."

This is followed by Anica saying absolutely nothing.

If Yennefer had actually succeeded here so quickly, she'd have shown up the rest of them. And Yennefer so easily yanking that out of Anica's head doesn't seem to reflect well on Anica either. But Anica keeps quiet. She doesn't get in the way of Yennefer's attempt to cheat.

Now, this is the first time we see Yennefer try lying as a tactic, though I don't know if that means it's actually new for Yennefer or if it's just this is the first time lying was an option.

"You take weeks to lift your stone. You can't bend water. You struggle to perform the simplest physical tasks. And now you lie to me?"

Either way, lying works as well as her every other attempt to have any control over what's happening to her. She's belittled and reminded she has no value. Note Tissaia worked in that Yennefer was disabled here even though it's not even relevant just to upset her further.

"Your worst fear makes such sense. Even if you were a beauty, still, no one would love you."

I think people are generally reading this to mean, "Yennefer fears she is unlovable because she is ugly, Tissaia twists the knife further by saying no she's just wholly unlovable." But this is her very worst fear, and Yennefer has more reasons than ugliness to know she has no value. (More on this when we get to her behavior surrounding the transformation.)

Tissaia is stating the fear in is entirety. Yennefer's worst fear is even if she could do something about an obvious reason people reject her, it wouldn't change anything.

And this makes complete sense. We haven't got to her admission that she's worthless due to the very blood in her veins, but we have seen that Yennefer's every attempt to change anything about her circumstances fails. And if she did momentarily think maybe literal magic might be different, well, she's now had several weeks to learn that doesn't work either.

Honestly, it's impressive this is still merely Yennefer's worst fear and not something she's already accepted as fact, just as it's impressive she's even managing to keep trying instead of giving up entirely.

(It seems likely she's friends with Anica already, though I wouldn't be surprised if all of the girls are keeping somewhat reserved after watching Fringilla's hand mummify in front of them on their first day and having no idea if Tissaia's going to just start killing people. But the other thing about Yennefer is that she's so convinced she's unlovable that when someone does care about her, it doesn't register properly.)

Despite the abuse she's getting from Tissaia and that looming threat of death, Yennefer is actually in a healthier place already. That says a lot less about Aretuza than her previous situation. We next see Yennefer venting to Istredd.

"Tissaia's right. I've been here for weeks and can barely do shit."

It's venting on how Replacement Abusive Parent is right to continue rejecting her and she deserves this, but at least she's talking to Istredd as if she trusts him to not make it even worse.

"See, my thought transference trial at Ban Ard took three days."

And Yennefer gets something better, actual reassurance.

"I want to be good. Good at something."

And in response she expresses a desire out loud, something that, again, has worked out badly literally every other time it's happened so far in this episode.

Yennefer specifically wants to have value. It's why "Four marks." is particularly cutting and she can't let it go. If she can just be useful, if she could only do anything at all right, then they may not want her but they'll want something she can give them. They won't discard her like her father did.

And to really cement Yennefer's issues is that this is also objectively how things work at Aretuza. We know she's surprised when she sees happens to failures, so she doesn't know the specifics, but she understands that something terrible will happen to her if she can't prove herself useful at magic.

The saddest part here is I think this is a warped version of Yennefer's initial trait of caring about others. She keeps trying to be helpful but either she's actually unable due to the situation or she's convinced she's unable because what she does is rejected out of hand, and takes this to mean the problem is with her being unable to do anything right.

Istredd follows up his already exemplary performance of a decent person by helping her practice telepathy. Instead of Yennefer trying to dig her partner's darkest fear out, he intentionally thinks hard about things he guesses she'd like.

Yennefer: "Are these the things you love?"
Istredd: "These are the things I thought you would love."

Istredd has now shown consideration for Yennefer and taught her to good at something. Not only is he by far the nicest person in her life, Yennefer is presented with overlap between someone who cares about her and someone with the power to help her in any way.

This success is followed by a brand-new horrible situation. Previously, there has been an implicit threat that if they screw up enough, Tissaia will do something terrible. Today, Tissaia has simplified that.

Tissaia: "This trial tests your ability to control the ultimate expression of chaos. Catch lightning in a bottle."
Anica: "That's impossible."
Tissaia: "No, it's magic."

And she orders the first girl up. When Doralis fails to catch and is struck, another girl observes she's not quite dead, at which point Tissaia orders another girl to remove the twitching body and calls the next person on the list.

Tissaia: "Anica, your turn next. Quickly."
Yennefer: "You can do this."

Anica is better at magic than Yennefer, but Yennefer is reassuring her. Yennefer doesn't want to succeed because other people did worse, and she absolutely does not want people to be hurt.

Anica succeeds just long enough to stare at the bottle in surprise before it explodes, the shards piecing her face. From how she staggers back it seems she may have been blinded.

Yennefer's wishes, once again, accomplish nothing. Yennefer's attempt to help was worthless. The limits of what she had to offer her friend was reassurance and that reassurance did not save Anica, and now she's huddled on the ground next to the whimpering girl, utterly useless like always. She can't protect anyone else.

"Piglet, your turn."

And no one else will protect her.

Unlike the girls before her who looked away, Yennefer turns her face up toward the lightning. Given her spotty relationship with wanting to live, it may be that she prefers to see what'll kill her.

Like the girls before her, she fails and is struck, though the lightning curves strangely to avoid her outstretched arm entirely and hit her in the chest sideways. It suggests she did affect it with her magic, just not in the way she meant - or, perhaps, having seen two of two fail, at the last moment she was trying to deflect it away and partially did. She is in significantly better condition than the other girl stuck, so it looks like she accomplished something.

"Sabrina, show these girls how it's done."

Here is the first instance of Tissaia trying to pit them against each other. It may help matters that of the girls, Sabrina is the one we haven't seen express weakness, who seems to actually know what's going on and be relatively comfortable with it. Possibly she's a noble who's been around sorceresses at court.

Sabrina also has her face upturned, and she succeeds.

"The strong amongst the weak."

And Tissaia then looks to Yennefer to make it clear exactly who's failed the most at that.

And Yennefer screams and shoots lightning. (Visually, it's definitely aimed right at Tissaia, though it may have been meant for Sabrina and Tissaia intentionally pulls it toward her instead. And Yennefer's definitely motivated to go for Tissaia, but the rest of the scene does seem like it was blocked out like Yennefer went after someone else.)

This marks a differing outcome. Previously the world hurt Yennefer and she couldn't do anything. This time, being hurt gave her the power to do something back.

(Also, to briefly return to the issue of disability and how much Yennefer's life sucks, even assuming magical aid, the degree to which she remains capable after the lightning strike suggests someone habituated to chronic pain, which is common at even far lesser levels of spinal deformity than we see from her.)

Tissaia: "What you did there was pathetic and dangerous."
Yennefer: "Felt pretty powerful to me."

That's a far cry from Yennefer's babbled apologies when she struck Istredd at the start.

For one thing, like with her suicide attempt, it may have been emotional but I don't believe it was uncontrolled. Yennefer found her pain and rage giving her lightning, and she took that and aimed.

For another, well, sorry is unlikely to do anything. If she's going to die she might as well die savoring the closest she's ever been to success. If she's going to be discarded, at least this time it'll be because she was dangerous and not because she was worthless.

For a third, like I said, Yennefer and a will to live are not on the best of terms.

Tissaia: "There are mages like Sabrina who ignore their emotions. And then there are mages like us who are consumed by them."
Yennefer: "Like us?"

Yennefer's world has flipped on its head.

Yennefer may have wanted to avoid whatever terrible fate there is for girls who fail, but I think the best she could really hope for was delaying the inevitable. Maybe if she lied, they wouldn't realize she was useless for a bit longer. Maybe if she could do anything at all right, they wouldn't give up on her as fast. And maybe if she was going to fail no matter what she could hurt someone hurting her, for once.

But now untouchable Tissaia - who just confirmed that's literal by deflecting Yennefer's lightning unharmed - is what Yennefer can be. Failure and misery aren't a foregone conclusion. And Tissaia's abuse is recontextualized. It doesn't change that Tissaia's hurting her, but it means her suffering had a meaning to it, and better still, the promise of it stopping if she does well enough.

Tissaia: "Your first night here at Aretuza, you tried to kill yourself. And tonight, you almost killed someone else. It is your job to control chaos, not become it."
Yennefer: "I can."

Yennefer finally has a real reason to believe that, instead of it being words you say to delay being hurt.

We finally have it laid out what the girls are being trained for.

Tissaia: "But if I send you to advise a king, and your precious little feelings get hurt when he won't listen, and you submit to chaos, he dies, his people turn on us. Whose fault would that be?"
Yennefer: "Mine."
Tissaia: "No. Mine for letting you ascend."

Tissaia's explanation continues to tie them together. She does not hate Yennefer for being Yennefer but is giving a concrete explanation for why she holds Yennefer to this standard and that it's because she too will be judged by how well it's upheld. She's talking about Yennefer having a chance at that future. And the things she's talking about are finally things Yennefer has any experience with, instead of being thrown unprepared into an endless series of trials. Not getting upset when a king ignores you? That's the hardest thing she'll face if she survives this? That's probably the first time any of this has seemed achievable.

I'm not entirely sure if Yennefer registers it, but another aspect of Tissaia's explanation here makes no mention of being good at magic. Thinking rationally, this is weird and worrisome to hear, but after several weeks of being the worst of the students at magic, it must be good to hear there's any other criteria they're being judged on.

"You lie. You keep secrets. You succumb to emotion, to weakness. Do you actually have what it takes?"

Of course she'd do anything Tissaia asks at this point.

We next see Yennefer explaining she's going to be sent home for consorting with Istredd.

Yennefer: "We'll never see each other again."
Istredd: "What do you mean, we'll never see each other again? No, no. This - this is not the last time. We - we'll find a way."
Yennefer: "How? W-with one of those extra-special portals?"
Istredd: "Oh, look, you know I wish I could show you, but I-I can't risk the knowledge reaching the Brotherhood of Sorcerers."
Yennefer: "Why?"
Istredd: "It's not the method of magic we're taught. It's older. It's more potent. It could open doors that can't be closed again."
Yennefer: "I don't understand. My worst fear is true. I'm still not enough. Even for you."

Like I said earlier, Yennefer manages to know someone cares about her yet still feels no one loves her. Yennefer's framed her argument entirely around the idea Istredd wants her around. You wouldn't expect that from someone with Yennefer's level of self-hatred, but Istredd has made his feelings clear enough and Yennefer's intelligent enough that she's able to interact with them on a rational level.

At the same time, here she is framing this as an ultimatum and proof someone loves her, but even when she gets that it's not actually going to convince her. Fears aren't rational.

We then pause to get some worldbuilding that turns out to be terribly relevant to Yennefer.

Istredd: "Do you know whose skulls these are?"
Yennefer: "Dead people?"
Istredd: "Dead elves. These elves built Aretuza."
Yennefer: "You mean as slaves?"
Istredd: "No, no. This was before humans. Elves are the original sorcerers of the continent."
Yennefer: "What?"
Istredd: "When humans and monsters all arrived after the Conjunction of the Spheres elven mages taught the first humans how to turn chaos into magic. And then the humans slaughtered them so they could pretend the power had always belonged to them."

This is, I think, very similar to the upending Yennefer feels when Tissaia compares the two of them. Elven mages instead of slaves? Elven anything instead of slaves?

As a horrible addition, we know that the idea of elven slaves is not a cultural assumption Jaskier has in the future despite being treated as a certain fact by the elves and Geralt in that conversation, and Yennefer finds nothing odd at the idea of piles of elven skulls in a building that does not have elven servants currently. This would suggest the enslaved elves were worked to death within a few years and people like Yennefer and Istredd know this.

Istredd continues, "Rewriting history with the stories we tell, the songs we sing about our own triumphs, it's what we do. But I want to honor them."

He shows her how to do the spell and explains it uses a flower that grows where elder, which is to say elven, blood was spilled. Yennefer, for the first time, manages a spell easily, and Istredd is shocked. And, perhaps in large part because of what Istredd just said about elves, she confesses her worst secret.

Yennefer: "My father - My real father, he was half-elf. Do you remember the Great Cleansing?"
Istredd: "Thousands of elven lives lost."
Yennefer: "That's how my father died. His blood is why I'm cursed with a twisted spine. Why I'm only worth four marks. Why no one could ever love me."

We don't know when Yennefer's father died. It may have been before her birth and a secret her mother told her. But when Yennefer says, "Do you remember the Great Cleansing?" it sounds less like "do you remember learning about this historical event?" and more like she means they both lived through it as young children. Either way, she's grown up knowing having the wrong blood means she could be killed simply for existing. I think the most likely series of events is that Yennefer was spared because she passed well enough that her mother could claim she was human - people willing to kill those of mixed race have not, historically, been fine with leaving their children alive. In this context, being referred to as a beast and a piglet is all the more terrifying.

Similarly, note how to Yennefer, everything flows from that single point. Her compromised blood is why she's deformed and her compromised blood is why she was sold so cheaply and her compromised blood is why she's unlovable, rather than that one led to the next led to the next. Her hatred of her appearance has less to do with ugliness than that it's proof she's not truly human (and this when she knows that being human is what determines if you're spared from being murdered by those around you).

(I should add we have absolutely no evidence if Yennefer is correct that her deformity is caused by elven blood. It's entirely possible but people have often explained these kinds of things as some sort of curse, so it's also something people would assume regardless of evidence.)

Also noteworthy - it does not even occur to Yennefer that sometimes stepfathers are awful just because the kid isn't theirs. That would get too close to the idea bad things happen to Yennefer because of other people rather than because she is uniquely terrible and deserving of it.

Finally, Yennefer has again brought up the idea no one loves her, this time to someone who she just convinced to teach her secret forbidden magic so they could keep dating and who gave a mini-history-lecture about how great he thinks elves are. This is not a rational belief she arrived at by calmly analyzing the facts. It's something that's been beat into her.

After this touching scene, we jump to Yennefer presenting the flower to Tissaia, because what just happened is she lied and manipulated Istredd at Tissaia's order.

Yennefer: "What will you do with it?"
Tissaia: "Nothing. Simply wanted to know that you could control your emotions and get it from the boy. That you would. You may go Yennefer."
Yennefer: "Does this mean I get to ascend? I'm ready."

This is the second bad thing Yennefer has done, and while the first was aimed at someone hurting her, the second is at the request of that same person and was aimed at the only person we've seen help her.

There's two ways to take this. One is simply that Yennefer's desperation for Tissaia's approval/her own survival eclipses anything else. Doing this means she's being referred to by her actual name, and being told she has for once managed to meet someone's expectations.

The other is that Yennefer has not, historically, been able to accomplish anything. This is very new territory for her. It's going to really fuck up your ability to take responsibility for your actions if, on an emotional level, you can't really believe your actions have any impact.

Tissaia responds to Yennefer asking about ascending by saying, "Listen for the knock." Yennefer does so only to hear it pass her by. She follows the chosen girls and spies on them to see that this wasn't ascension.

She has finally seen the horrible fate of those who fail. And she's seen it because she made the cut.

Her response is to be upset on the behalf of others.

Yennefer: "You turned my friend into a slug."
Tissaia: "An eel. Come. Push your friend into the pool."

This is the capstone to the other two instances. Pain and rage gave Yennefer the power to throw lightning. Lying and manipulating someone she cared about and who cared about her let her prove herself to Tissaia. And now accepting (and participating in) the sacrifice of her friend means she'll get to ascend.

And this is clearly a test. Tissaia told Yennefer about the knocks so she'd see this. She does not need Yennefer to do anything, and she's going out of her way not to distance either of them from what's happened. She could say, "Push it into the pool." She instead says, "Push your friend into the pool." Tissaia could also make some sort of greater good argument, but she instead frames this being about what she and the other surviving mages will be able to use the girls for. And all this right after Tissaia has twice said that what's valued is the ability of Yennefer to control her emotions. She is twisting the knife here, telling Yennefer to take part in the final step of her friend's betrayal and to do it without fussing or weakness.

And if she doesn't?

Tissaia has made it very clear that she can do things Yennefer cannot defend herself against, and also that nothing Yennefer does to her will so much as singe her. Even refusing to participate accomplishes nothing, because as Tissaia just clarified, they're eels - if they don't go into the pool, they'll just suffocate. Yennefer can't turn Anica or the other girls back.

So Yennefer has just betrayed Istredd only to discover she's also now lost Anica, and she's standing in front of someone who could condemn her to the same fate after everything she's done to survive. And on the other side Tissaia is offering Yennefer her approval. Just like with betraying Istredd, Tissaia isn't getting anything out of this, it's just to test her. Tissaia has picked Yennefer over the other students and that's why she's still standing there on her own legs and not an eel. And refusing will not spare Anica.

"Sometimes the best thing a flower can do for us is die."

Yennefer starts off believing she will be hurt. Yennefer has now been taught that this is instead a transaction. Power is paid for through pain, and sometimes, other people can be hurt in your place. And if that's true, it must go both ways - that power requires suffering, but also that suffering results in power. Everything she goes through now, all the misery, are a promise of how much better her life will be if she survives it, instead of going down as part of someone else's payment.

As Jaskier's song about Geralt fighting off the demon-led elf army, which is, as Istredd says, "Rewriting history with the stories we tell, the songs we sing about our own triumphs," plays over the scene, we see Yennefer make her choice. She takes the broom from Tissaia. She pushes Anica into the pool. She kneels and stares down into the water, full of other sacrificed girls, from her position above, where she's been spared. And then she turns back to see Tissaia, and Tissaia smiles at her for the first time and gives her a nod of approval. At this, Yennefer smiles back.

Yennefer is still fourteen years old.

In conclusion:

Yennefer has massive issues with control because she grew up having that denied to her at every possible turn. She has related issues with cause and effect, both because she's been taught everything that happens is because she's inherently deserving of suffering and because her actions usually accomplish nothing and when they do, the outcome isn't predictable. Yennefer's "ambition" largely boils down to either wanting to protect herself from abuse or wanting the ability to help others.

She's the survivor of a genocide that killed one of her parents, and she was raised within the culture that committed it.

Yennefer's father isn't just cruel to her, he is by all appearances a generally abusive man the rest of the family fears, which in turn means he was also probably even crueler to her than we see. And yet, she still chased his approval. She believes what is done to her is the result of who she is, rather than because other people are terrible, and the recurring "four marks" is because she accepts her father's judgement of her worth - she is proven inherently bad because he wanted her gone.

From Yennefer's point of view, the primary difference between her father and Tissaia is that Tissaia's paying attention to her and hypothetically might stop hating her existence if she can just do something right for once. It is also unclear if she ever quite realizes that Tissaia's side of her purchase was a power thing or if Yennefer still thinks that was the most Tissaia was willing to pay.

Aretuza is not a pile of catfighting. The girls express vulnerability, show concern, and try to support each other. The abuse in Aretuza is pretty solidly flowing from teacher to student. The one time Tissaia does try to bait the girls with comparisons, it sure looks like it results in Yennefer attacking Tissaia.

Yennefer is capable of noticing someone being kind to her and even taking actions based on it because she can operate rationally, but emotionally she remains convinced she's unlovable. It might be something along the lines of whatever kindness someone provides her must not be as big a deal to them as it is to her.

Relatedly, there is a very sharp divide in Yennefer's life between people who control what happens to her and people who care about her. Her ongoing pursuit of Tissaia's approval at any cost makes particular sense in that context.

Yennefer is often kind and it either accomplishes nothing or makes the situation she's in worse. The few times Yennefer is not, she is rewarded for it.

Yennefer is absolutely not okay with what happens to the other girls. That's the entire point of Tissaia showing her what happens and directly saying yes, that's your friend and I demand you participate in betraying and discarding her. Yennefer knows her own existence depends on pleasing Tissaia. She is also utterly, utterly powerless to do anything else.

There is a character introduced in the second episode who lived in poverty, had a horrible childhood complete with an abusive parent and horrible schooling complete with an abusive teacher, was assaulted, is of elven blood, suffered prejudice over having mixed blood, has issues regarding sex, has a ton of issues regarding self-worth, and possesses magical power. Her name is not pronounced Jaskier.

Chapter Text

Tissaia: "How much for a pig?"
Yennefer's father: "They'll be at market tomorrow."
Tissaia: "Well, I'm here today."
Yennefer's father: "Ten marks."
Tissaia: "How much for this beast?"
Yennefer's father: "Six."
Tissaia: "Four."
Yennefer's mother: "What are you doing?"
Yennefer's father: "Sold. Four marks."

So. What the fuck, Tissaia?

The impression I get with Tissaia is that she is not aware of the different ways cruelty can be interpreted - I would go so far as to say Tissaia thinks she's way too obvious and is doing her best to rein herself in, as if Yennefer is a fellow adult made with laser focus for weakness instead of a traumatized kid to whom she might as well be God. One way this can be read is, "Hey, your life here sucks, no loss right? Look what they're letting me do. Can you believe this asshole?" Tissaia opens conversation degrading his daughter, then haggles him, unnecessarily, for a lower price just to prove the point she's unloved. This definitely does establish that Yennefer's life sucks. It does so by Tissaia introducing even more cruelty into the equation and in every way signaling her new life is going to be even worse.

"Do you know how many people wouldn't blink if you died?"

Shocking that someone told she's a pig to the slaughter thinks it's better to kill herself on her own terms! Clearly, reiterating that no one gives a fuck about her will help with that!

Tissaia is following up telling Yennefer she has no value and something terrible is going to happen with "if nobody loves you live out of spite, god, why do I have to explain this shit", as if the episode up until that point hasn't made it clear to Yennefer there are absolutely worse consequences beyond being lonely and unloved to staying alive.

I feel Tissaia also probably intended a subtext of "jfc I found you and bought you and bound your wounds will you stop being so goddamn needy" and may in fact be trying to be extra vicious to try to deflect from how obvious she thinks this is, but, I don't know, maybe Tissaia is deeply unclear on what happens to pigs after they're brought to market? She seems to never grasp that telling someone they're livestock is even more of a threat than an insult. Yennefer was raising those pigs. She is very familiar with keeping things alive that you plan to butcher later. Like I said, it seems like Tissaia knows what she means (you were being kept like another animal, doesn't that suck? don't you want to be more?) and so is completely oblivious to any other way Yennefer might take it.

Yennefer: "You should've let me die. At least I had control over that."
Tissaia: "Oh, that's adorable, piglet. You weren't taking control. You were losing it."

By all appearances Tissaia does not understand exactly how badly she terrified Yennefer in the first place. She's treating this like a tantrum because Yennefer's mad Tissaia was mean, not a reaction to being completely at the (apparently nonexistent) mercy of someone and being told things are only going to get worse. The very fact someone's come out the other end of a suicide attempt still saying they want to die suggests that it wasn't a temporary panic. (Though it does raise the possibility it's not that Tissaia is unfamiliar with suicide attempts but instead she's seen enough where they also wake up and beg to die for that part to also seem normal.)

I think there's also an element that although Tissaia knows Yennefer doesn't understand the specifics, to her it's obvious that the tower is an improvement. Yennefer trying to kill herself the moment her life gets better, just because Tissaia, what, didn't read her a bedtime story or whatever you're supposed to do with children? (I also think Tissaia legitimately does not know what you're supposed to do with children, and so even when she can tell somehow this isn't working, she doesn't have any clue what else to try.) But in the farming metaphor a piglet just means you have to spend longer fattening them up.

In Tissaia's defense, I also don't think she knows just how bad a day Yennefer had. This may have gone over marginally better if none of it had happened, especially if Yennefer's magic manifesting had instead happened in a way that was more helpful to her. But it's still mostly that Tissaia is so damn bad at this.

Tissaia does not list every girl's manifestation and does not mention Yennefer's, which may be because of space considerations, but I think it's worth pointing out she may only know half of them.

Tissaia: "Your conduit moment created a new ripple in chaos, reaching me here in Aretuza. Anica, you saved a drowning boy with your mind. Fringilla froze a cat."
Fringilla: "On accident."
Tissaia: "Sabrina turned her mother fat."

Conduit moments do not seem to require excessive stress, which means Tissaia has no reason to assume something terrible happened to Yennefer, and it looks like the others accomplished what they were doing, so Yennefer's hopelessness would be unexpected. Anica was probably upset to see someone drowning, but she saved him - not something inflicted on her, and it resulted in her successfully averting what was happening, which is the kind of event that leads to greater resilience instead. Sabrina might have been having an argument or something, or maybe it just happened, but either way she's outright pleased with herself. The closest we get is Fringilla and her trembly blurted out clarification of "On accident", but there the stress seems to be entirely after the magic happened and with no reason at all for the manifestation, which suggests a completely innocuous situation.

"Your conduit moment created a new ripple in chaos, reaching me here in Aretuza."

That does not say she could distinguish different kinds of ripples. Istredd thought getting Yennefer back quickly would either make it harder to tell what she'd done or at least keep anyone from noticing where she'd gone to, but that he'd have to use a special portal for his own magic to avoid notice. That's consistent with it being magic use at all that's being tracked. And even if Tissaia can tell it's a portal, she'd be confused by what exactly Yennefer did since Yennefer was still in the same place.

"This is the balance. Demonstrated beautifully. Thank you, Fringilla. There is no conjuring something from nothing. There is a give and a take."

This gets into Tissaia's philosophy about "balance" meaning "someone suffers". Either you pay the cost or you find something else you're willing to sacrifice.

I suspect that to Tissaia, having your hand wither up is no big deal. It's completely fixable, after all. I think she understands that it's going to be more startling to the students but her estimation of how much is completely off. If anything, she's probably worried it didn't have enough of an effect, which may be why she doesn't fix it then and just tells everyone including Fringilla to suck it up and try again.

"You've lost a lot of blood, piglet."

I think Tissaia could guess her methods weren't working right earlier but she's definitely realized at this point. The problem is she really does not have any other model to try. And the continued use of "piglet" suggests she's also, for whatever reason, concerned about anyone realizing she's got any emotional involvement in this. She doesn't know how to be comforting and what attempts she makes she sabotages.

And, of course, she also doesn't reassure Fringilla either about the cat or about losing a hand, and sharply shuts down Anica's request to go home. While Anica ends up in the pool, Fringilla doesn't, but we know Tissaia utterly failed at actually forging her into someone who wouldn't get sucked into a cult two steps out of the school. Tissaia is just not good at this.

"You take weeks to lift your stone. You can't bend water. You struggle to perform the simplest physical tasks. And now you lie to me?"

I feel this is further evidence that Tissaia doesn't know Yennefer's initial manifestation was portals/has no context in general for Yennefer's side of things. She wants Yennefer to succeed and the easiest way to do that would be trying the one thing Yennefer's shown she can do. It also does not seem to occur to Tissaia to offer any more help than giving directions once and hoping the rest can be made up for by the motivating power of insults.

It's possible this would work on someone a bit less beaten-down than Yennefer - that the emotional push would be enough to start the magic, then Yennefer's expected to get it under control. The disjoint may be that, at least around Tissaia, Yennefer doesn't really have intermediary emotions beyond submissive terrified misery and exploding. On the other hand, it's also possible the insults don't have any positive effect and it's just meant as an ongoing stress-test on the students.

The lightning trial would certainly fit with this all just being about terrorizing them. It doesn't seem like much time has passed and they're all still novices. Why are they being run through something without preparation where failure means literally getting stuck by lightning?

"Piglet, your turn."

And Yennefer's turn happens in the middle, having seen it go wrong two different horrible ways and once everyone's had time to work up a good panic. Only then does Tissaia say, "Sabrina, show these girls how it's done." and give them any reason to think it's even possible instead of because Tissaia thought this would be funny. Tissaia probably meant for this to push the girls into something, and when nothing happens with Yennefer, she keeps pushing first by assuming Sabrina will succeed and then grinding that success into Yennefer's face.

What the hell was she expecting from Yennefer, though? That Yennefer would try harder at the next trial? That she'd grab a spare bottle and try again? I do think Yennefer going berserk wasn't the intended outcome. In part because Tissaia has been so consistently bad at getting any intended outcome out of Yennefer. In part because it seems too elaborate a manipulation for her, especially when it's never mentioned to be one. Mostly, though, because it's followed up by actual vulnerability on Tissaia's part, and I can only imagine that's a sign Tissaia feels she's completely failed and is willing to try anything at this point.

"And then there are mages like us"

Tissaia has figured out that somehow, constantly belittling Yennefer and saying she's not good enough has been taken to mean Yennefer isn't good enough. Now, Tissaia can't apologize, or stop abusing children, or otherwise change her overall behavior, but for Yennefer, she's willing to clarify her motivations.

Also, this conversation happens without her calling Yennefer anything. Shortly after she'll present it as if she's using Yennefer's actual name as a reward for good behavior, but it seems like she's already realized the nickname was a mistake but, well, can't apologize.

"But if I send you to advise a king, and your precious little feelings get hurt when he won't listen, and you submit to chaos, he dies, his people turn on us."

Now, I mentioned last chapter that this does not sound like it's really about their ability to control magic. The girls are being tested on their ability to take abuse because their jobs will involve taking abuse. There's no particular sign this is a real concern with magic - we see strong emotions produce magic, yes, but so far Ciri's been consistently only harming/killing people in self-defense and she doesn't even have training, and people constantly telling you you're scum is unlikely to be a big feature of day to day spellcasting.

With this in mind, what does that say about the girls in the pool vs those who ascend?

Sabrina making the cut is easy. She catches the lightning and she's the only girl we see who isn't upset all the time.

Fringilla does seem good at magic, but she's introduced to us scared and trembling and we've seen nothing to contradict that. We'll learn soon that she's the niece of a powerful sorcerer. Did she make it through on strength of her magic, or was she exempt by strength of her family ties? Or does Tissaia think that kind of weakness is a positive thing, where breaking the girls down is step one and it means she can be counted on to do what she's told after she's sent out?

Doralis is the one struck first, who does not seem to manage anything.

Anica does catch lightning but the bottle bursts. Possibly this has some deep meaning about her being a flawed vessel for chaos, but honestly? She asked to go home, she objected to the lightning test. Her magic was awakened by trying to save someone else. I think she may not have been suitable because Tissaia doesn't trust she can be beaten into shape. (There's also the awful possibility that Tissaia did this specifically because Anica was Yennefer's friend, and losing her would hurt the most.)

There's also the question of if all eels are equal.

"I took away her control, but she still has power. She's a conduit."

This, to me, strongly suggests that less powerful mages have the same level of power once they're eels, which in turn suggests it's not just that if you're too weak to be useful as a human you get eeled. If a stronger mage is acting too independent...well, maybe the partial power you'll certainly get by turning them into an eel is better than the risk of losing them outright. And if a weaker mage is obedient, maybe they'll accomplish more as a person than they would in the pool.

Whatever Tissaia's criteria are, she does not feel Yennefer belongs in there and instead tells her to go do some extra-credit work by tricking Istredd.

Yennefer: "What will you do with it?"
Tissaia: "Nothing. Simply wanted to know that you could control your emotions and get it from the boy. That you would."

I don't think this was really up in the air to Tissaia. Yennefer was set a task that played reasonably well to her strengths - I mean, she's already been getting secret help from Istredd this entire time, and this type of emotional control doesn't resemble any of the situations we see her actually struggling in. She even previously demonstrated she's fine lying by doing it unprompted on the mindreading test.

Tissaia is giving her something she'll succeed at so that Tissaia can pretend that's why she's treating Yennefer differently and give Yennefer a success so she'll have some self-confidence, since it turns out the constant insults weren't doing that. I don't think the test itself was fake, exactly - if Yennefer had fucked up, that would have been a clear sign she really couldn't control herself. But Tissaia already believes Yennefer can handle this.

Also, Tissaia's attempt at honesty continues. Explaining exactly why she did it isn't necessary so I think it's a sign she's really unsettled by how badly things have gone with Yennefer and is trying to avoid any further misunderstanding between them.

The cut to Stregobor also reinforces this. He's been demanding Istredd produce something useful out of the continued meetings/presumably required Istredd to say he was working for Stregobor's interests just to allow them to continue to meet, while Tissaia appears to have been pretending she didn't even know and, once she does, tells Yennefer that she's not using her as a pawn to accomplish something else but that what just happens was all about Yennefer. As fucked up as what Tissaia's doing is, in the context of mages, it's nothing.

She then continues the test/honesty thing by telling Yennefer about the knock so she'll see what happens, then demanding she take part.

"Come. Push your friend into the pool."

And she's still doing everything she can to be cruel about it, but she's so pleased when Yennefer obeys. Tissaia really believes this is how things have to be and what Yennefer needs to learn. And she really believes it'll be worth it.

 

In conclusion:

Tissaia is not coolly doing this because it gets what she wants. She fucks up on Yennefer when by all appearances Yennefer is not only the student she cares about the most but the one most like her. There's no sign this is particularly effective for the other students either. And she doesn't even hold to the behavior that well, because for every trick and manipulation, she tells the truth shortly afterward. Why?

Legacy and continuation are themes in the show, Aretuza is not a nice place, and Tissaia absolutely believes in the sunk-cost fallacy she's trying to instill in her students. She didn't carefully analyze this situation and come to the conclusion this was the best way to raise mages, she's repeating how she was taught because it's the only thing she knows and because she's justified what was done to her as what was necessary for her. I get the impression her own teacher may have been even worse by how Tissaia seems frustrated as if she's comparing what she does to her own experiences and feeling she's nice in comparison. We often think of abuse as either a repeating cycle or something you break, but there's a middle ground where someone is able to recognize their own situation as wrong and strive to do better, but where that "better" is still very far from "ideal" or even "functional". Sometimes the most they can do is produce a new generation that's less fucked up than they were and capable of continuing that positive trend.

Tissaia seems fixated on not showing any sign of weakness even around isolated and terrified kids. I mentioned on Yennefer's side that the girls seem more about solidarity than in-fighting, and we learn this episode that Stregobor is engaged in some sort of power play with her. So that likely isn't something she learned during her time as a student. It's because Tissaia's adult life involves being surrounded by sharks and she's gotten so used to it that even away from them, in the center of her own power, she can't turn off her defenses and relax.

(I will add that while we know Tissaia is absolutely fucking up on teaching these kids, I think she may be good at actually running the school when it comes to dealing with the other adult mages. She seems to be facing little or no direct interference, and that Stregobor is having his students spy on her students suggests he's unhappy with the situation but can't do anything else.)

Tissaia is not interested in long-term manipulation. She regularly tricks people into doing things but she clarifies herself immediately afterward. Most of what's going on with Yennefer comes down to an extended miscommunication - she wants to be able to say hurtful and upsetting things and force emotional reactions out of Yennefer, but she wants Yennefer to then understand that what she really meant was... And when she tries to correct that the only way she comes up with is to switch to just stating what her purpose is. I suspect manipulation is fundamentally not her thing and we see it from her only because it's what she was taught is the right way to do things.

Chapter Text

"From wherever you were to here. The Tower of the Gull. Aretuza."

When we meet Istredd, he tells us his current location. We'll learn later that Istredd goes to Ban Ard, which is nowhere near Aretuza. What's he doing down here? Well, apparently something he shouldn't be, because while he's initially quiet and reassuring toward Yennefer, he (and only he) hears a female voice say, "We're not supposed to be out here," and suddenly he gets anxious.

Was he meeting another student? Was he officially allowed into some areas, but he's stepped out of bounds? We know he can portal in without being tracked, but he doesn't seem to be doing the best job of actually hiding while he's there unless he's in a place no one normally goes.

He tells Yennefer, "If you could conjure that portal out of thin air, she'll be coming for you." ... "It's a a different kind of portal. One that can't be tracked. See, the one you made has put a target on your back, but this will take you home. Look, you can trust me."

Now, as we saw with Yennefer, this absolutely did not do anything to stop Tissaia. And it's not clear if he actually thought it would. Istredd said that her portal could be tracked so he'd send her back by a safe portal, but he sent her back to where she made the original, noticeable portal. Did he know? Did he think it was possible they missed it, or was he just trying to get her out of a place where he himself wasn't supposed to be before anyone else noticed?

Interestingly, he didn't lie either way. His actual statements are:

Tissaia's going to come for Yennefer because she made a portal.
His portal is different and can't be tracked.
Yennefer has a target on her back from doing her portal.
He's sending her home.

It's only by implication that there's any connection between "she's coming for you" and "quick, into the untraceable portal", though that's certainly how Yennefer takes it.

Also in question is why he, a magic student, would want Yennefer to avoid the same fate. It seems plausible that he didn't and he was just desperate to get her away from the area, but I think it's even more interesting if he did given that says something about his own situation, what he knows about Aretuza, or both. Does Ban Ard also sacrifice a portion of their students, or is that only a concern for the female mages? Or is Stregobor even worse than Tissaia and Istredd is extrapolating from personal experiences?

We know he seems glad to see her again, which brings us to the next question, what's up with that? It would seem we get an answer near the end of the episode when we're told he's there to get dirt on Tissaia's students, but...

Stregobor: "You've been working on her for months. You must be able to give me something. Make Ban Ard proud."
Istredd: "Sh-she's part elf."

So we're told that all this was to spy on her, or at least, that's the justification he gave Stregobor for his continued interactions with her. And yet unlike Yennefer's earnest hopefulness to Tissaia when she betrays him, he can't even sound calm when telling Stregobor this. He also, as far as we can see, tripped into this piece of information. Yes, it came because he was kind to her, but it also came because it just so happened that she was asking about a spell that was particularly tied to the elves so he gave her his speech about how great elves are, then happened to master it in a way that made it clear something weird was up, and also this all happened when she was lying to get something from him which presumably made Yennefer want to be honest about something. Contrast that to Yennefer, who is told to get something from him by Tissaia and immediately does so.

It's not just that Istredd is uncomfortable with this, it's that it seems to have been accidental he accomplished anything at all. And while it seems like there was someone female down there with him the first time, we don't see them again - if he had a relationship with someone else before Yennefer he seems to have broken it off.

It's possible Stregobor has told Istredd to be a nonthreatening honeypot, but that requires Stregobor to be able to think in those terms. We saw how good he is at understanding other people in the first episode, where he can't out a single line without Geralt hating him more and he's surrounded himself with magic realdolls because that's his idea of delightful company. You know, guys who have realdolls usually want them to wear clothing? Stregobor is a creep by every possible standard is my point here. I don't think he has the first clue about how to interact with women, let alone seduce them.

The more likely option is that this is Istredd's basic personality, or at least grew out of it as it's exaggerated to the point it seems unlikely to be normal. I'm speculating a lot about what Istredd is doing when he's not around Yennefer because he doesn't talk to her about it, which is not a healthy sign. He's seen fussing over the bones but it's only when put on the spot that he talks about what they are, even though that's obviously his passion - "Rewriting history with the stories we tell, the songs we sing about our own triumphs, it's what we do. But I want to honor them." And this is also when he explains the spell he does isn't known by the Brotherhood at all, implying he discovered it himself with whatever research he's been doing on elves. Yet he never mentions it of his own accord in the months he's known Yennefer.

Put together, I don't know how Ban Ard is overall but I think we can guess it's pretty bad under Stregobor. Istredd is spending as much time as he can poking around the foundations of the girls' school instead of at his own, thinking about the past instead of the present and idealizing the elven mages in comparison to the human ones he's actually a part of, and does this even when it means he's expected to be spying on Tissaia's students which he's clearly uncomfortable with (and shows it by being terrible at it). He shows no sign of the guardedness Tissaia seems to be trying to beat into her charges, which suggests it either didn't take and he's considered a failure or Stregobor is more interested in beating appeasement into the kids he's got. He latches onto Yennefer because she's vulnerable and he wants to protect her, and although he doesn't seem to be showing much weakness on his side, just the way he seems to get Yennefer, whose behavior is pretty much entirely trauma, is pretty suspect.

Overall, Istredd is displaying signs of abuse, he's displaying familiarity with its manifestations in others, he at least claims Yennefer should try to avoid being found, and he himself seems to be trying to avoid being at his own school as much as he can. And given their graduations will happen at the same time, I'm pretty sure all this is true when he's also just fourteen years old.

Chapter Text

Let's stick with Yennefer, which will also reduce timeline shenanigans a bit.

We open with Yennefer and Istredd having sex while a crowd of mages watches. Turns out they're a bunch of illusions Yennefer made.

"Uh can - can uh, can they do something? Uh, they, they're just watching."

Istredd is not into this.

Now, we could talk about how Istredd seems generally into keeping his head down, how they're literally hanging out in an empty cave which is where he prefers to spend his time. But also, Yennefer, this is in fact super fucking weird.

I think it's kind of funny that this is a rare fandom where the canon actually goes into a lot of information about what the characters' sex lives are like and yet it's not really factored into the reams of porn being produced.

Yennefer makes the images of everyone she knows watch her riding her boyfriend and then applaud. Exhibition, but also the element of control - she's not doing this anywhere there's a risk of being found and there's no sign she's actually interested in that aspect of the kink. She wants to be the center of attention, she wants to choose what that attention is, and she wants it to stop and start when she decides. The illusion aspect means it's not necessarily something she'd enjoy happening for real if she did have the chance.

They then discuss their futures. They're being sent to different places, of course.

"Part-time dashing explorer. Stregobor says Temeria leans heavily on its mages."

His actual interest is in digging up ruins, but that's not his job, and we see here that it doesn't occur to either of them that just not doing their assigned job is an option. I wonder if the students even know there are rogue mages? Or, if they do, if they only know of them as criminals who only ran off to escape whatever punishment the mages enforce on their own?

We don't have enough information to make any sense of Istredd's placement. It sounds like this is a bad fit for him given he wants time to spend in those ruins, but possibly he's been sent to an already mage-friendly kingdom precisely because he's not going to be doing much to change anyone's mind on the matter and this is better than if he was expected to hang out at court constantly making a case for why the king should listen to him?

"Or maybe you'll be too busy for me once you get a taste of Aedirn revelry. King Virfuril is handsome. Allegedly."

This is innocuous but our first clue to the fact there's actually something pretty unsettling going on here, at least on the sorceresses' side of things. Neither of them seem aware of it or else Istredd wouldn't be teasing her about the king being handsome.

"If I do a good job I can persuade him to give you access to our ruins."

As excited as Yennefer is at her placement, her response makes it clear she's still very invested in Istredd. And she's probably looking forward for the chance to do something nice in return, to have power and use it for others...

But also, what an interesting way of phrasing it. She doesn't directly say, "I can persuade" but starts off with "If I do a good job". Yennefer is headed off for court with the attitude that you get what you want by first doing well on your assigned tasks, and, while she's less of a ball of trauma, she can't even manage the certainty of "I'll do a good job and then..."

Istredd: "Maybe we'll do this forever."
Yennefer: "Yeah."

Yennefer met him at fourteen and by all appearances this is the only relationship Istredd's ever had either. Their primary bonding activity for the last four years has been being miserable over their school experiences.

This will go fine, I'm sure.

Istredd continues, "Well, after the initiation today, we're in charge. We get to make the decisions, be who we want to be."

This is already not true from their conversations - after their initiation, they go to their assignments which they've had no say in. That very ignorance, however, highlights the degree to which they've been funneled into this. Just as it didn't occur to Istredd that just heading off to the ruins and staying there was an option, neither of them think to question the idea that being allowed any degree of freedom and decisionmaking at all means they're "in charge".

But like I said, there's even more going on with the sorceresses, and "be who we want to be" reminds Yennefer of her anxieties.

Istredd: "What's wrong?"
Yennefer: "Fringilla and the others see their ideal selves so clearly. They know exactly what they want for their enchantments."

It's very easy to look at the broad elements of Yennefer's story and say oh, ugh, another story about another woman who thinks beauty is everything. To get as far here as that Yennefer is fussing over what she'll look like and decide to check out from the show until Geralt comes back on screen.

If you do, you'll miss something very important.

Istredd: "Stop worrying so much."
Yennefer: "Easy for a Ban Ard boy. You dolts needn't change a single wrinkle before heading to court."

Namely, Yennefer does not want to do it.

Istredd does not get to become super hot and perfect, and Yennefer thinks that means he has it "easy". He "needn't" change.

But "before heading to court", before she gets to be in charge, before she gets to make the decisions, before she gets to finally escape Aretuza, she has to do this.

Yennefer has spent four years learning to be a sorceress, and in those four years her looks have not mattered. She has a boyfriend and the approval/protection of her replacement parent. She made a friend, even if she lost her shortly after, and she's likely friends now with the other surviving girls. She's not just good at something, she's good at lots of somethings, to the point she can throw around magic on frivolous things. She's done so good that she, a former peasant, is going to to a (handsome!) king's court. (And that isn't based on her appearance either - "King Virfuril prefers mages from his kingdom," we're told, so he approves of her simply for where she came from.)

Istredd: "What do you want?"
Yennefer: "Remember that scared girl who tumbled at your feet in this cave, totally unaware of her power? I want to go back home to Aedirn and never be her again."

She doesn't want to be scared and she doesn't want to be helpless and she wants to go home. She wants the same things she wanted at fourteen and she has been told ever since then that this is the only want to get them.

This contains the seeds of real ambition, though. Yennefer wants this terribly, terribly much, and her mental state is such she thinks it is an incredible thing to ask of the world, the sort of thing that you can only have if you can back it up with enormous power.

Also, it might be worth pointing out that it wasn't that she was told her choices were that if she didn't agree to change how she looks she couldn't go to court. She was told her choice was be a court mage - to ascend - or join Anica in the pool. I'm pretty sure the eeling is not actually a constant threat, but it's likely no one actually tells them otherwise, and given their introduction to Aretuza involves being lied to about crucial information, it's not like you'd ever know for sure anyway.

What's particularly interesting to me is that she actually has far more reason than most to want this deal. As I pointed out in her last meta, Yennefer is disabled and it's not the kind that can be fixed by accepting yourself, it's a chronic pain and fucked organs kind. It's the kind that we in modern society treat with braces and surgery to accomplish the same thing.

Quite possibly Yennefer just finds the idea of changing herself upsetting to the point it outweighs that, quite possibly she'd have been happy with a magic fix if was an actual choice she was making instead of something mandatory, quite possibly Yennefer does want to change herself somewhat and her anxiety comes from the fact she has to decide everything right now and she's not going to be allowed to stop at "somewhat".

Whatever the reason, Yennefer is not thinking beauty will solve her problems.

And this is followed, immediately, by a discussion where we find out just how little say she not just in agreeing to it, but about what it'll be.

"Let me be candid. You are a first draft of what nature intended, yes? Lucky for you, I'm the final artist. Every girl I enchant leaves Aretuza a living work of art. Hmm? No matter how challenging the clay."

Girls don't get to leave Aretuza with just "I don't like the freckles".

Everything about this is disquieting, from the way the conversation is about how they'll be made into artwork to the fact that, after Aretuza has been solidly woman-only, the person reworking their bodies is a man.

But he pulls up dresses. And this Yennefer is actually excited about. She wants beautiful things. But it distracts her only for a few moments.

Tissaia: "There is not a person alive that does not look into the mirror and see some deformity. Except for us. We remake ourselves on our terms. The world has no say in it. Look. You can free the victim in the mirror forever."
Yennefer: "I don't know where to begin."
Tissaia: "Close your eyes. I said close them. Imagine the most powerful woman in the world. Her hair, the color of her eyes, yes but also the strength of her posture. The poise of her entire being. Do you see her?"
Yennefer: "Yes."
Tissaia: "Open your eyes. She is stunning."

Tissaia is reassuring Yennefer. She is saying this is empowerment. She is saying this will make her happy.

You don't do that for someone who is fine with what's happening. And I don't think Tissaia would know to do it unless this is a common reaction.

(You should notice, also, that at no point has this actually been presented as a choice. It is a thing that is happening to Yennefer, and her choice is in the fine details of how the inevitable happens.)

Between this and the dress, Yennefer is reassured. We see her next holding the dress up, looking at herself in the mirror and smiling. She likes beautiful things and she likes the promise of a beautiful life. She doesn't hate the face she sees in the mirror now, but she's been convinced that this is going to be worth it.

And then she's given a new dress, to please a different king.

Yennefer is excited to get to go back home, but also, we spend the previous episode on how she fears no one would want her, and the king she's being sent to will want her simply for being one of his subjects returning home.

But now she's not getting that. Now she's going to someone else.

Which is not to say she'll be unwanted, exactly. When she's given the new dress she's told, "King Fergus chose this." Which is to say, Fergus wants the "work of art" her body is going to become.

See, Istredd is joking about a handsome king, he and Yennefer just think it's all exciting, but what's going on here is the sorceresses are getting whored out.

(...like I said last time: really fucked up that the character who gets this plotline not only gets this ignored but written as a rapist.)

Yennefer rushes off to yell at Tissaia. Because this is not the deal. The deal is, you suffer and you pay and then you get what (Tissaia said) you want. And she doesn't want this. How can she have suffered, and be about to suffer more by agreeing to what's going to happen next, and still not get what she wants?

"There's no power in puppeting fools, especially one who'd sooner fondle his sorceress than listen to her!"

Let's take this in two parts.

"no power in puppeting fools", really? Because after all, puppeting fools would mean you have easy access to their power. But the mages aren't being placed in courts to actually accomplish things. We know the reason they're doing this is, "Unchecked kings and queens lead to rebellions. Massacres." We know that in Yennefer's present, Fergus is starving his people and the sorceress assigned to him is supposed to fix that, and we know that in the future with Geralt, he's been usurped...and that in another kingdom that's being used as a rallying cry: "My son, rest his soul, told me in Nilfgaard the king diddled whores while his subjects starved. Then someone came. The usurper. And he rallied the people, and they took back what was theirs! Yeah! I say we follow their lead!"

The mages are after stability. If someone's a terrible king, the mages think the solution is to mitigate that just enough that no one rebels, not replace him with someone competent. If your king does interesting things, you get to be part of that, but if your king sits around and does nothing, you just run around putting out fires.

And it doesn't even occur to Yennefer that she could actually do things on her own. Because for all Yennefer thinks she's ambitious this episode, they do not actually raise mages with ambition.

"especially one who'd sooner fondle his sorceress than listen to her!"

I don't think Yennefer is especially afraid here, but I think that says more about the kind of thing she's been raised to find normal than anything, and even the most conservative reading shows she's pretty distressed about it all. The sorceresses are made into works of art because it's part of a bribe to get the kingdoms to play along with having mages in their affairs. You don't want your bribes saying no.

Like with the other "choice" Yennefer has throughout the episode, I'm mostly sure she could say no. But the most important thing to the Brotherhood, which they've convinced her is the most important thing for her, is how well she gets her king to listen to her. So if the guy shoves a hand down her shirt or up her skirt, is she going to say no? Be a weak, cowardly, incompetent little failure who can't control her emotions?

"I think the Chapter overruled you. Is that it? Yeah? The all-powerful sorceress Tissaia de Vriess knocked down from her glass pedestal."

There's anger here, but it's also worth considering that Yennefer sought Tissaia's approval for her own safety. If Tissaia is not that all-powerful sorceress, then what does that mean for Yennefer? (And it's not simply that Tissaia is failing her in one aspect. The pattern established in the second episode is all or nothing. Either they control everything about what happens to Yennefer, or there's someone else who does and they have no power to protect her.)

At this point Yennefer is told that hey, remember your elven blood? The thing that's why you'll never be loved and you'll always suffer? Yeah, that little voice in your head was right, again.

Tissaia gives the details - "Efforts in Cintra prevent the Brotherhood from placing a mage with elven blood in Aedirn's court." - but even if Yennefer has any context for what that means, I don't think it's registering. Especially when it's not just that she didn't get her preferred placement, but she's been stuck with what seems like the worst of them. From Yennefer's point of view, I think this is just, you're not human enough so everyone hates you.

"How could you tell them?"

Because Yennefer comes in wanting to argue with the Chapter, but as soon as she hears this, she completely accepts the idea that her blood is a valid reason. She doesn't demand that context. She doesn't try to argue it shouldn't matter. She doesn't even try to argue that she passes for human and Cintra never has to know. Her blood makes her worthless. Of course as soon as the Brotherhood found out, this would happen. Of course there's no point in arguing with them. She's only betrayed at the idea that Tissaia cares so little about her that she'd tell. (And going by the echoing nature of Yennefer's relationships, it seems particularly likely now that Yennefer's mother never told anyone else.)

Tissaia then points out that someone else told, and Yennefer realizes Istredd did this.

We cut briefly to the initiation.

"I, Sabrina Glevissig, offer myself to the Brotherhood to make good on the promise of the Spheres."
"Welcome to the Brotherhood of Sorcerers. You may perform your enchantment."

And it sure looks like it's not just the court position but that the sorceresses don't even enter the Brotherhood except tied to the enchantment.

Sadly, we don't see the boy's side of things. I'd really like to know if the language is different.

Yennefer is not there, because Yennefer is having a breakdown. If her blood is the problem, well, she knows she passes, so "I'll have my father sign this deed declaring me his natural-born daughter and not an elven bastard." ("Natural-born" means out of wedlock. That would confirm that Yennefer was born before her mother remarried.) Istredd tries to explain to her this is not a solution, but Istredd is why she's grasping at straws right now.

"Can your apology save me from Nilfgaard? Take me to Aedirn? Do they make me more than my blood?"

Yennefer is a few years older than when we last saw her, and she's built herself up to be more than the shaking girl we opened last episode on, but she is still the same person. Her deepest fear is that she is nothing more than her cursed blood. Now Istredd's betrayed her with it and everything she was promised has been taken from her because of it.

"It's too late. You missed initiation. The enchantments are done."

Like I said, these things seem to be directly linked and I really don't think the enchantment is what you get in return for completing initiation. Istredd is phrasing it as if the enchantment part being over is the problem, and Yennefer, certainly, is about to decide that the issue is with missing the enchantment.

Istredd: "Think clearly."
Yennefer: "You're so smart, aren't you? You know everything."
Istredd: "I'm sorry. I had no way of knowing how the information would be used."

The dynamic between Yennefer and Istredd last episode is that he cannot protect her but he offers her what he can. Here, that's finally broken down. It could be because Istredd has done something to actually harm her and she just can't forgive that, it could simply be Yennefer has very slowly raised her expectations enough that she isn't satisfied with anything she's given. I think an element here is that Yennefer feels the very fact he's caused her so much harm means he does have power to do more - why else start shouting he knows everything, as if he meant for this all to happen? She also demands he tell Stregobor that it's a lie as if that would work. She suddenly seems to think Istredd has a lot more power over this situation than she ever has before.

Istredd: "But neither did you."
Yennefer: "Do not turn this on me."
Istredd: "We're pretending your precious rectoress never ordered you to spy on me?"

Istredd is trying to be sympathetic but he has limits. Unfortunately, I also think he's running into the problem that Stregobor and Tissaia aren't actually the same.

I think a case can be made that Yennefer didn't know what Tissaia would do with the flower, so she can't claim to have been any more responsible or considerate. A case could also be made that Yennefer didn't know what Tissaia would do with the flower while Istredd must have known Stregobor could only do bad things with the information about Yennefer. (She likely doesn't grasp that Istredd wasn't doing this as a test, like she was, but was explicitly ordered to find dirt on her and that's why he gave up such a personal and damaging secret.)

And drawing this comparison is just making Istredd sound worse. We still have no evidence that Ban Ard eels their kids (or, if they do, that Yennefer knows) so Yennefer can claim she was acting to save her own life while Istredd wasn't. And on the other end, I'm not sure if Istredd thinks Tissaia is more evil than she is or if he doesn't realize how evil Stregobor is or both, but for whatever reason Istredd is likely badly underselling exactly how much pressure he was under and how little choice he had in the matter.

Like I said, the dynamic between them is that Istredd protects Yennefer. I don't think their relationship is wholly one-sided - you get a glimpse at the start of Yennefer offering to get Istredd access to sites in her kingdom, and we've seen she likes being helpful last episode - but we see no sign Istredd particularly confided in Yennefer. That may have just been because Istredd never wanted to, preferring to avoid thinking about things entirely over seeking reassurance, but even if the reasons were relatively innocuous, it likely left Yennefer with the idea everything's fine on his end.

And Yennefer is, as I've been saying, pretty fucked up. I really can't see her independently coming to the conclusion Istredd was in a bad situation of his own when she has so little frame of reference for what normal behavior is. (Maybe Sabrina isn't fucked up? I really don't get the impression things have been great for Fringilla.) She also ties her problems very tightly to the way she's different from everyone else. How could bad things happen to Istredd when he's not cursed like she is?

This may well be the most vulnerability Istredd's shown, actually. At the worst possible time, with Yennefer both upset at him and generally breaking down.

Istredd: "Look, I-I can fix this. The Brotherhood they've offered me a seat on the Research Chapter. Me. Okay? Neither of us have to go to court."
Yennefer: "You can't be serious?"
Istredd: "We can travel the continent together. We can be together. We can forge a whole new destiny."
Yennefer: "Ah. A life holding dustpans while you brush off forgotten bones? That's not destiny. It's slow suicide."

Couple things of note here.

So we know now that there's other career paths, but it seems very likely that's not true for Aretuza graduates. We know Tissaia liked Yennefer but last episode she explicitly says the standard Yennefer must meet is to be able to put up with abuse from a king, which very strongly implies there are no less stressful or lower-stakes options available for Yennefer. The only question is if it's normal for Ban Ard graduates to sometimes do other things or if it's because Istredd has been exceptionally into archeology and there normally are no options for anyone. Istredd says "the Brotherhood" and not "Stregobor", so we also don't know if this is a matter of going over his head or if, conversely, Stregobor is annoyed Istredd wanted a court position instead of accepting this other option and that's why he was going somewhere that expects a lot from a mage and would cut into his digging time. We do know that Istredd had a choice and they didn't just assign him to the Research Chapter.

Next, what exactly is Istredd offering Yennefer, actually? How does his getting this position mean she can go too? Is this a gendered thing where she'd be allowed out as his wife, or is it that anyone on the Research Chapter would be able to point to another mage and say they want that one as an underling? Yennefer's response sounds a lot like the answer is "as his wife". (Also possible is that Istredd would not actually be allowed to do this, he's just thinking/hoping it'd be okay.) And is he trying to suggest a different career wouldn't be that bad or is he trying to suggest any way that doesn't end with her becoming an eel?

And, of course, there's the part where that's not what she wants. And I think she is somewhat right in her accusation here, because Istredd's particular interest so far...well, we always seem him alone and in caves, keeping his head down. It's hard to separate out how much of this is simply that it interests him and how much that it means he can dig a pit to hide in so the present can't find him.

(There's also the edge that the forgotten bones he's digging up seem like they're likely elven, something Yennefer is tied to in a way Istredd isn't. It is much more reminder than escape to her.)

And so, time for a fight.

Istredd: "You don't mean that."
Yennefer: "Would it frighten you to know you're not privy to every one of my thoughts?"

A return to the issue of control. Normally, this would simply mean, "I don't tell you everything," but it's got more of a bite when we're talking about telepathic mages. Yennefer is introduced to telepathy by having her worst fear thrown in her face. Istredd helps her learn it by projecting pleasant things for her. Now it's Yennefer's turn to use what she learned for the opposite purpose and claim he doesn't know what she's really been thinking.

Istredd: "You are patronizing me. I was going to Temeria for you."
Yennefer: "That was your decision."
Istredd: "You really think I wish to waste my days gossiping at court? That's your fetish, not mine."

And Istredd is now retaliating. Yennefer's side was accepting whatever he could do for her was enough. If that's not good enough for her, then why was he doing any of it?

But also, it's not clear why he needed to go to Temeria "for her". He evidently didn't even mention the research position was an option before now. And if he thinks he'd have enough leeway to take her with him, it's hard to believe he wouldn't have enough leeway to visit her. Either he's so used to going along with what Yennefer is excited about he didn't consider it, or he was concerned if he didn't take part she'd reject him.

Istredd seems to have been making an enormous sacrifice that doesn't even have a clear point, and without being asked or even a sure indication Yennefer wanted it from him. Given what he says next it's unclear if he even realized what he was doing.

Yennefer: "A true man would state his desires."
Istredd: "Well, how would I recognize them? Huh? You get off on disguising yours as my own. Oh. Stregobor was right. That's exactly why you're here, exactly what she taught you. Everyone's a pawn."

At this point, the only question if Istredd was particularly unlucky in getting Stregobor's full attention or if all his students were treated this way. And this bit is particularly disturbing because for all of Tissaia's many faults, what Istredd's talking about doesn't seem to match up at all with anything we've seen from her, and also seems like an inversion of how in this episode we see the sorceresses being used as pawns. So what, exactly, has Stregobor been telling his students?

And what does he think Yennefer's even doing here? Right at this moment, she's down here because she was panicking and grasping at straws. The only elements of this that Tissaia could've taught her is that she's keeping relatively calm while saying whatever she can to hurt him, as opposed to a more emotional or lightning-filled fight. The only possible plan here would be crushing his heart for the sake of it even at the cost of losing any aid he could give her. And if he means more generally, then he's assuming her stumbling across him by chance and him repeatedly inviting contact was actually her secretly manipulating him into it all.

Is that the sort of thing Stregobor would tell his students? Quite possibly. Deciding women are acting because they're evil rather than having normal human motivations is on-brand for him, and Stregobor's weird relationship with women and agency may explain some of why Istredd didn't think to talk to Yennefer about things like being offered a different position.

Yennefer, meanwhile, is either too busy being upset to stop to realize that holy shit those sure are some things Istredd just said or doesn't register it as obviously horrible because she thinks Stregobor is Istredd's Tissaia and whatever he's talking about must be well-meant advice from Istredd's replacement dad.

"I will not be schooled by a man who pimps the world as some romantic adventure. My world is cruel. Unpredictable. You enter, you survive, you die."

I think part of why this entire encounter goes so badly is that we're seeing incompatible coping mechanisms smash into each other. It really does seem like Istredd knows the world they're in is cruel. That's why he's trying to opt out of the entire thing. But Yennefer was dragged here for using a portal to escape and she fights like a cornered rat now, and even if she could be convinced hiding from the world worked, if she wanted to spend her life cowering in corners hoping she'd be left alone, she would've made herself scarce instead of offering up the flower last episode.

Also, just wanna mention again: nowhere has it actually been said the eel thing isn't still very much a possibility. We do not know what the consequences for refusing initiation are and I suspect Yennefer doesn't either - if nothing else, even if she was told what they are, people lie in Aretuza. Yennefer likely understands Tissaia doesn't want to turn her into an eel but she also just found out Tissaia isn't actually the one who decides what'll happen to her. And Yennefer is judged on her ability to keep her emotions under control, and she missed initiation and is now snapping at her boyfriend and even if there is another option, if she can't keep calm and accept that gratefully, and she obviously can't given she just rejected an offer from Istredd and started a fight instead, what happens then?

Yennefer seems more together when we meet her at the start of this episode, but that's because she was used to her circumstances, not because they truly changed. This has been life or death for her the entire time.

Istredd: "You know, victimhood is not your color."
Yennefer: "Nor heroism yours."

And that is, unfortunately, the basis of their relationship. The issue is that to work, they both have to stop short. Istredd does what he can for Yennefer, and Yennefer doesn't ask for more. Now Istredd thinks she's asking too much and Yennefer's responding that he never was enough.

Which is an unfair light to put their relationship in - Istredd really does seem to have done his best - but she's just lost everything she's worked for because of something he did, and instead of putting it right he's telling her she shouldn't have wanted it. And it really can't be helping matters that his proposed solution was to become entirely dependent on him just hours after she learned he'd betrayed her, and when he was never enough to protect her before this. It's very likely it doesn't actually matter what he could offer her now because she never expected him to be able to save her.

Istredd: "You're just angry because you lost your chance to be beautiful!"
Yennefer: "I want to be powerful."

As I've been saying, the idea Yennefer actually wants to be beautiful is a misunderstanding of what's going on all episode. We open with her getting upset Istredd doesn't have to become beautiful, and now when Istredd accuses her of this, she snaps back that she wants power. I've seen people get very upset at how Yennefer thinks beauty and power are the same thing, but it is completely and objectively true that Yennefer is not allowed power within the Brotherhood unless she first agrees to become beautiful.

Istredd continues, "Seen and adored with everyone watching." which is a third thing. There's power, there's beauty, and there's love. Yennefer has been explicitly told the path to power will require beauty and implicitly told that she would be loved if she's beautiful.

The real issue with Yennefer is less what she wants and more her issues with proportion. She does want to be seen and acknowledged and loved. And that's completely reasonable. The problem is she doesn't believe anyone will give her that, so she tries to seek it from absolutely everyone. Istredd isn't wrong that this is unhealthy but telling her she should strangle her hopes and give up entirely is just saying to switch to his own equally unhealthy attitude.

And at this point she no longer has the support she had at the opening of the episode. Tissaia's approval wasn't contingent on her looks, but Tissaia's approval turned out not to be able to protect her. Istredd's love wasn't contingent on her looks, but she's losing it anyway (and it wasn't good for much in the first place given this is happening now). Also, Yennefer did not appear to notice Tissaia was upset when she stormed in, and it's unclear how much shes' able to register Istredd really is sorry for what's happened. Strong bonds with a few people has not worked out at all - maybe, they just never cared as much about her as she thought they did.

"It is what I'm owed."

As I mentioned for the previous meta, Yennefer completely accepted Tissaia's philosophy that all things have a price and here we confirm that she's taking it as going both ways. If to get something you have to suffer then to suffer means you have to get something. She suffered as required and so she's owed this.

Yennefer's faith in that is suffering its first blow. Because if it's what she's owed, why is she down here?

"No amount of power or beauty will ever make you feel worthy of either."

Perhaps part of the gulf between Yennefer's motivations and people's interpretations of her motivations comes down to taking what other people say as fact. Yennefer wants power and beauty as a means to an end, but I think Istredd can't understand because he can't see a way they'd ever help. If you think the way to survive is to keep your head down and be left alone, they don't. They're just more reasons for people to want things from you.

Yennefer has spent the episode getting pushed about. Everything seemed inevitable. But now that it's all gone to hell, it turns out she does have a choice to make.

Yennefer decides to go prove Istredd wrong. She'll be happy, however much power and beauty and suffering that takes.

Yennefer: "You claim to be quite the artist. Prove it."
"The Chapter would have my head."
Yennefer: "Do they already have your cock?"

The others were herded into this. They may have had similar misgivings or they may not have even noticed, but Yennefer is very consciously making this deal. She wants. And if what she'd already paid isn't enough, she'll pay more.

"I'll need time to prepare the herbs."
Yennefer: "That won't be necessary."
"Don't be foolish. You can't be awake during the procedure."
Yennefer: "I can."

Is this a practical decision, because she's really on a time crunch? Yes. Is it likely that Yennefer thinks it makes sense that in order for this to work she has to suffer for it, that the more she suffers the better things will be afterward? Unfortunately, yes.

Now, at the start of this we have Yennefer talking about how she's trying to figure out what she wants to look like, and lamenting that the others seem to know when she doesn't. Now, Yennefer understands that beauty isn't about who she wants to be, it's about what other people want from her. She makes two requests, to keep her eyes and the scars on her wrists, and tells him to change whatever else it takes.

"There is a cost to all creation. A sacrifice that is always made. To be reborn... you will bear no more. Do you understand?"

Yennefer is currently naked and strapped down for the procedure when she's told this.

Is she physically capable of saying, "Oh, I guess not then," at this point? Yes.

Is there even a pretense she actually would refuse? No.

Does he even bother to ask if she agrees to this? No.

He's just making clear that she understands what's going to happen, then proceeds once she nods.

Assuming this bears the slightest resemblance to how things normally go, this fact is sprung on them at the last moment when they're fully committed, having spent at least months designing their "ideal selves" and hearing how wonderful their lives will be for going through with it, not even phrased as a choice, then they're knocked out before there's any chance they might have second thoughts.

Not that Yennefer would, of course, but everything about this is coercive. All embracing her choice and trying to have agency in it does is make it harder for her to understand why she's miserable.

(Yennefer also thinks her blood is cursed and tried to kill herself over it, and from her behavior throughout this episode may have always feared she wouldn't survive Aretuza to have any future. It's not just that this is a terrible decision to have sprung on you at eighteen but Yennefer has been in a particularly poor place to think about it.)

As the striga, a girl made monstrous by the curse of a man, fights Geralt, Yennefer is also changed by a man to please another man. There's a lot of blood and screaming. She washes the evidence of what happened to her off, pulls on a dress, and heads off to seduce a king, and it turns out doubling and tripling down on the idea of suffering and balance worked.

Specifically, it worked because as I mentioned earlier, they're getting whored out. The different sorceresses dance with the kings like they're courting at a ball and King Virfuril, Yennefer's target, is unimpressed with poor Fringilla and making that very clear to her. It may be that she's actually struggling with the steps, it may be that her nerves are shot from him how he's treating her and that's making her fumble.

Yennefer enters, and she is very much what the king wanted. He stares at her, Fringilla forgotten. (This is another aspect that's indicating this is not, narratively, the triumph Yennefer thinks it is. King Virfuril's casual cruelty toward Fringilla, the hurt she feels at all this, is very much on display.) She approaches. Tissaia attempts to intervene, but she's already reached the king.

"My apologies, Your Excellence. Please allow me to remove this misguided girl."

I'm not sure what would've happened if Yennefer had been stopped. Yennefer is still under the impression she's disposable and powerless, but contextually I don't think they have the resources to discard good candidates right when they're ready to be put to work and Tissaia certainly wouldn't want to.

It's actually an interesting area to explore.

My guess is she'd most likely be sent to Nilfgaard, but it's really unlikely the same events would play out as with Fringilla. She might desert much earlier, because why be loyal if this is her reward? Or she might start doing way more than she's supposed to because the king doesn't care enough to stop her and she doesn't care about what the Brotherhood feels is acceptable levels of intervention. Maybe she decides fuck it and backs the usurper. Maybe she dopes him up so he never leaves the bedroom and just runs the country herself.

If she isn't sent to Nilfgaard because they're not sending her anywhere while she's acting out like this, she'd have to stay at least another year, which would likely be even more disastrous because Yennefer is desperate to get out and has just been cheated out of the carrot they've been dangling to keep her behaving well. (Tissaia likely thinks Yennefer would agree to just stay and work there, but she doesn't grasp how Yennefer utterly hates the place.) Yennefer could easily just start lighting things on fire. It's also possible she'll realize she can just leave on her own and portal to god-knows-where to do god-knows-what. (What she does when she actually deserts is based on what she learned at court, not Aretuza, so what she'd try straight out of the school is a mystery. She'd also be a lot more scared someone would try to find her, possibly to the point she'd be scared to use magic at all.)

But that doesn't happen. On Yennefer's side of things, these are assignments. But from the king's side, it's choice. And he's going to make the choice she wants because she agreed to remake herself into what he wanted.

"Now, what sort of a king refuses a dance with one of his subjects? Vengerberg? Are you aware that I'm in the market for just such a mage?"

And so Yennefer gets what she wants as Fringilla, rejected, flees the room. Once again, Yennefer is rewarded for a combination of her own suffering and the suffering of others.

In conclusion:

This entire episode is about criticizing the beauty/power thing. If it was in any way endorsing the idea, it would not have given reason after reason for why Yennefer must become beautiful in order to be allowed other things but instead taken it as self-evident that beauty was something to pursue for its own sake, and also, it would not have opened with her happily having sex with her loving boyfriend whose only opinion on the transformation is that he doesn't understand why she thinks it's a big deal. And it would not end with her abandoning the idea of an "ideal self", the fiction that any of this was about empowering them, in favor of telling a man to change whatever it takes to make her pretty enough for the king's taste. (A man who, from how he's treating Fringilla, is an asshole.)

Yennefer is eighteen. She has been groomed for this for four years straight, which came after fourteen years of abuse. Even with her ability to say no that thoroughly beaten out of her, she still makes it clear she isn't comfortable with it, enough that Tissaia notices and tries to reassure her that what's happening is good and she'll be happy. Given how things are framed with the choice offered at the last possible second, she's probably far from the first to not feel comfortable but be pressured forward anyway. (Also, at no point did anyone indicate the eel thing was off the table. Given Yennefer's overall mindset, it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway - she has grown up convinced she could be killed at any moment for any reason.)

That said, Yennefer does have things she wants and is willing to pursue. They're modest now, but the beginnings of her ambition is here in how much she wants those few things and how very far she's willing to get them. She isn't doing this because it's expected but because she's been promised something in return. When she thinks she's lost that, she manages to make the choice for herself. She goes down of her own accord to demand the transformation - but that's because the game was already rigged and Yennefer is just a pawn in it. It's not that Yennefer thinks that she prefers being pretty to having kids and then changes her mind. This was a trade of agreeing to become pretty at any cost in return for being allowed a life.

While I am sympathetic to the fact there are a lot of upsetting elements around the storyline, it is super fucked up to take the fact other people decided that Yennefer was required to change her appearance in order to be let out of Aretuza and take that to mean Yennefer's a shallow idiot who wanted to beautiful without thinking about the consequences.

It's true there should be more diversity in female characters but here is also something extremely unsettling in the tone of some of the criticism of this, where people seem to object to the fact she didn't suffer enough because wanting to change your appearance for any reason, under any circumstances, means you deserve to be ground into the dirt. What happens to Yennefer is, at core, about her losing control over her own body. Twisting that around to say that her sin is she made herself look prettier is creepy, especially when people's idea of a fix are things like that she should fail at everything and be miserable because you're not allowed to regret things, or that she should sexually assaulted until she's desperate to undo it all just to escape it, and also that retwisting her spine would accomplish that because ugly or disabled people never, ever face that sort of thing.

Chapter Text

Tissaia: "There is not a person alive that does not look into the mirror and see some deformity. Except for us. We remake ourselves on our terms. The world has no say in it. Look. You can free the victim in the mirror forever."
Yennefer: "I don't know where to begin."
Tissaia: "Close your eyes. I said close them. Imagine the most powerful woman in the world. Her hair, the color of her eyes, yes but also the strength of her posture. The poise of her entire being. Do you see her?"
Yennefer: "Yes."
Tissaia: "Open your eyes. She is stunning."

I mentioned in Tissaia's last chapter that she really believes in Aretuza and we're seeing this here. This is an attitude people hold, and there are contexts where it might be ambiguous if this was meant to be empowering. Those contexts are not this one. The show takes pains to establish that in the larger context of the episode, what's best for the sorceresses is not a consideration. This isn't something the boys go through, only the girls, and it's done to make them more appealing to the men they're about to be given to. Some people might love the idea of this and consider the loss of their uterus totally worth the cost (or a bonus, even) but as far as the Brotherhood's concerned, this benefiting a sorceress is entirely coincidental.

Tissaia seems great and powerful to Yennefer, but she doesn't feel that way herself. She said last episode, "There are mages like Sabrina who ignore their emotions. And then there are mages like us who are consumed by them." She relies on the rigid discipline she was raised under because she doesn't trust herself not to be consumed otherwise, and that means she doesn't second-guess the way Aretuza works. She rationalizes everything as either necessary or good because she doesn't dare question it - because what if she found it wasn't, and found herself angry about it? And if it is wrong, then what she's doing to the girls who are under her is also wrong but she can't actually do anything about that. Much better for everyone if this is something that's good. (And I do think she's trying to make this as untraumatic a process as she can, for once - it's not being sprung on them, she responds to anxiety with surprising kindness, and encouraging them to spend a long time thinking about what they want to look like probably means that even in the worst cases it's not bad enough to provoke dysphoria.)

Then we go to her meeting with the rest of the Brotherhood. There's twelve people sitting in a circle. She's not the only woman there, but it looks to me like there's only three other women. So, they're 1/4 of the group. Just enough to say, oh, of course we're not excluding women.

(If Yennefer's group is representative, only half of the girls with magic potential actually become sorceresses. If Ban Ard doesn't cull their students, then there's twice as many sorcerers as sorceresses. But that alone would give us a 2:1 ratio and the group we're seeing here is 3:1. Whether or not the eeling is female-only, sorceresses do not get the same treatment as sorcerers.)

Tissaia: "Cintra continues their animosity towards our organization."
Artorius: "Don't tell me they're employing druids or worse--fortune tellers."

We've had several episodes about prejudice and it's very interesting to suddenly have a lack of it right here. Cintra does not hold an animosity toward magic but specifically this group of people. As soon as it's brought up, the next line makes it clear they're fine with unaligned magic users.

"King Dagorad has banned mages from Cintra, God knows why."

And we still don't.

This and the previous episode establish that the Brotherhood is an extremely political organization. Its politics seem to closely align with the interests of monarchs but it's quite possible the condescending belief they're needed to tidy up after idiot kings is reason enough to object to them. It's also possible King Dagorad is paranoid or had some other bad reason. And it's possible the mages' interests actually don't align in his case, since the next line is Stregobor saying, "I've heard rumors he's taken ill. Now, if the king dies, perhaps his heiress will be more pliable." Is he killing the guy? We don't know. We know Calanthe continues this policy and is never killed by the Brotherhood, which points to this just being a happy accident, but that may be because there's a limited number of murders you can do before it destabilizes things too much or it may be that Calanthe, being Calanthe, stabbed whoever they sent to poison her. And certainly, even if the mages aren't to blame for this happening, they're not interested in offering any help.

Also, Tissaia dismisses the idea Calanthe will go along with them out of hand - "Calanthe? Good luck with that. Word is she's even more stubborn than her father is." It could just be they're hearing different things but it's very in line with the two of them that Stregobor would assume a princess is more easily pushed about while Tissaia would actually care to hear about what her personality is like.

Artorius: "How fares Nilfgaard?"
Another woman finally speaks: "King Fergus is proving to be an effective and excitable young king."
Stregobor: "Horny, she means. Spending the kingdom's money on women as his people starve to death."

This is a terribly weird exchange. The woman doesn't exactly sound sarcastic, and "effective" isn't really something that fits sarcastically either. She's just, for some reason, giving a report that contains something in the ballpark of truth amid the flattering lies. And her expression is this unsettling mix of perky and painfully guarded. The impression I get is that she isn't able, or doesn't feel safe, to actually criticize a king on her own, even among people who think he's an idiot and are explicitly asking for information.

She's on a chair in the same circle as the rest of them but she is clearly not an equal member. My own best guess is that she's in charge of actually doing a circuit of the kingdoms and reporting back, and she's there as an underlining giving a report - it fits with how Stregobor and Tissaia are talking about what they've heard, so they're not going around themselves. It's a shame we don't see the actual vote, because her behavior really suggests she wouldn't have one (which would adjust our numbers to eleven chapter members and two women), and if so, is that true about anyone else sitting in the circle?

Tissaia: "Fringilla will be in Nilfgaard by week's end. She will bring sanity and bread to the people."
Stregobor: "Your girl is-- With all due respect, your niece is only capable of doing what she's told."

Back on the seventh chapter, Buzibee508 noted that due to how long mages live, Fringilla isn't necessarily Artorius' niece as in brother's daughter, but might be a grand-niece or further down the lineage. It's hard to be sure because on the one hand, he's got enough clout to be arguing with Tissaia, but on the other hand, this is the episode where after the very female-centric previous episode, we find out the mage world beyond Aretuza is quite misogynistic, so he may not need to be that old to have that much clout compared to her. (And we also don't know Tissaia's own age, or how long she's been running things at Aretuza.)

That said, it is worth considering if Fringilla is actually the best fit. This is definitely motivated by him caring about Fringilla, but he could still have a point.

We know she's not Tissaia's favorite, since that's Yennefer, and we know Tissaia thinks Sabrina is a model mage and directly compliments her, so by process of elimination, Fringilla is the least favorite. We don't know for sure that she was spared a place in the eel pool due to being related to Artorius, but it seems like if even she did make the cut on her own merits, it was a near thing. (I'd argue also that the degree to which he's interfering this much in a far more minor matter strongly suggests that Tissaia did not have a choice in sparing Fringilla then.) Fringilla may be being sent to Nilfgaard simply because Tissaia doesn't care what happens to her.

That said, it's also possible this is an okay placement for her, at least with what they currently know. Yennefer will be offended at being sent to deal with a "fool", that it's a waste of her ability, which fits with how this actually seems a pretty easy job, and the specificity of Tissaia's statement suggests she's fully aware Fringilla is only capable of doing what she's told but isn't worried because she'll be sending the girl off with very precise directions. We know that Fringilla fails to fix things in Nilfgaard, which is a point against Tissaia's decision, but we'll soon see Fringilla also does not appear to be able to hold her own when Aedirn's king finds her unimpressive. She might've been less miserable in Aedirn than Nilfgaard, but it seems she'd be struggling anywhere.

"No ambitious mage wants to be assigned anywhere south of Sodden."

I'd like to take a moment to mention that, for all mages are terribly powerful, they really don't seem to have much grasp of ambition. They're engaged here in a continent-spanning conspiracy to...maintain the status quo. By assigning people with world-shaking power to babysit royalty. And you'd think perhaps their prestige among each other would at least be based on how good a job they do of it, but instead it's by how prestigious the kingdom they work in is. Ambitious mages want to be assigned to the nearby northern kingdoms and not the southern backwaters. (And similarly, Tissaia's role of running one of the two major mage schools is no doubt considered terribly ambitious, especially when Stregobor has the counterpart role, and yet the most she seems to do is try to keep things going as they always have been and she's doing nothing to push for further power.)

I talked in Yennefer's meta about how minimal the things she's actually asking for are at the moment, but it seems possible by that mage standards, she's already quite ambitious. (I would really like to see the cut scenes where the other students actually talk. At the moment we have nothing concrete about where Yennefer stands on the spectrum.)

I also get the impression that for all there's a "Brotherhood" and lofty goals and the equality of everyone having one vote, most of the mages have a very curtailed outlook by design. You have the very oldest mages who established the system and goals, and everyone else who were intentionally raised to be cogs in that machine. Making "ambition" and "doing what you're told but in one of the prettier castles" synonymous fits well with that. (And while many of those cogs don't stay cogs, the degree of manipulation is such that probably most objection plays out like Yennefer's, where the mage just goes rogue instead of continuing to participate in the Brotherhood but pushing their own interests.)

Artorius: "But Nilfgaard needs correcting. Perhaps we consider sending someone there with a bit more... spine. Stregobor, did you have anyone in mind?"
Stregobor: "What about your hunchback protégé? How's her... spine?"

We know Yennefer is Tissaia's favorite and apparently, so does everyone else.

I'm not sure what Stregobor's angle here is. He's coordinated with Artorius for this, but is it about doing Artorius a favor to make the man indebted to him, is it about undermining Tissaia for the sake of it, or is he trying to compromise Tissaia's future power base by getting her most devoted student placed in a backwater while elevating another girl who's already got divided loyalties and who'll only have more reason to be loyal to them now? All of the above?

"We agreed Yennefer would thrive in Aedirn. King Virfuril prefers mages from his kingdom, and Yennefer was born in Vengerberg."

The degree to which this posting is exactly perfect for Yennefer makes me wonder how far Tissaia's gone to orchestrate this. Mages stay at their assigned court for at least decades. And there are so few graduates each year that they probably aren't assigning a new mage right when an old one leaves. I'd guess then that the spot has been open for at least a few years, and/or that she moved the currently assigned mage somewhere else.

I will add that the fact Tissaia says "Yennefer would thrive in Aedirn", suggests to me that she generally tries to match her graduates as well as she can, because she does try to hide her level of investment in Yennefer so she must talk about what's best for other graduates as well. Tissaia may be doing a really bad job of taking care of them but it's not for lack of desire on her end. And it must be at least somewhat of a factor to the rest of the mages if she's bothering to use it as an argument in her favor, even if for them it's likely more out of self-interest. Happy mages stay as part of the Brotherhood and keep doing what they're told. (They're also not swayed by what Virfuril wants, presumably because he doesn't oppose their interests as a whole. They don't care about the kings being happy so long as the kings don't cause trouble.)

Stregobor: "Oh, we'd be spitting in Dagorad's face if we send Yennefer to their biggest trade partner. The only thing Cintra hates more than mages is... elves."
Artorius: "Yennefer's of elven blood?"
Tissaia: "Quarter elf."
Stregobor: "Watch a Cintran do that math."

At the start of the conversation Stregobor is talking about how Dagorad will be dead soon, shortly followed by how if his heir also hated the Brotherhood there was nothing much they could do and none of them even know why the kingdom's against them. Now suddenly he thinks courting Dagorad's goodwill is vitally important and will be accomplished by considering their opinions about another kingdom's mage who they'll already hate just for being a mage. That this is so important it's worth ignoring Virfuril's own opinion on what he wants from his mage.

Tissaia: "Let's not model our wisdom on prejudice and paranoia."
Artorius: "Prejudiced or not, you can't deny Cintra has operated outside our influence far too long."

So, this is absolutely about prejudice. That's why Tissaia doesn't respond with "who cares, they won't have a chance to do that math because Yennefer passes well enough none of you even knew" or anything similar. It's why Stregobor knew years ago that what Istredd told him was valuable. What just happened is that any consideration for what's best for Yennefer evaporated, and it also suddenly just makes so much sense that she should be sent to a shitty backwater and forgotten. (Worth mentioning also is that both schools have graduates, but it seems agreed that if they're going to saddle someone with Nilfgaard, it's going to be a sorceress. Maybe that's because they think a king obsessed with fucking will only want a woman, but you could make an even better argument that if you want his mage to actually have any time to do their job you should send a guy who he'll leave alone.)

I would add that we don't actually know how Tissaia feels about elves. She knew about Yennefer, but it's hard to say if elven blood doesn't matter to her or if her attachment to Yennefer was enough to make an exception. That said, I do think it's likely she doesn't feel much personal prejudice. She tries to defend Yennefer on the basis prejudice is wrong, rather than the far more likely to work tactic, "Oh please, you think someone elven could handle Nilfgaard? I thought we agreed we needed to take it seriously." She is wrongfooted by this coming up in a way that suggests she has difficulty thinking in terms that would matter to the others, and in a way that seems to echo how her first defense of Yennefer's placement was consideration for Yennefer's wellbeing over her use as a pawn in the Brotherhood's schemes.

And "paranoia"... We don't know what the prejudices against elves are, specifically, but this would suggest there's an element of fear to it. That could be a specific thing, that elves might hold a grudge against what's been done to them, or it could be the same as men harassing Geralt saying,"Witchers can't be trusted", where they're simply too other to be considered people.

Stregobor: "Unchecked kings and queens lead to rebellions. Massacres. It's the reason this chapter was formed."
Tissaia: "Still afraid of Falka, are you?"

I'm largely avoiding spoilers but the most minimal of checks says that's yet another princess. Stregobor! Renfri had even more of a point than we already knew.

Tissaia: "And you, you spare your niece her duties? Not enough fragrance in Toussaint to take the stench off that nepotism."
Artorius: "Let the Chapter vote, then. I'll even recuse myself."

Artorius is the only one with a real investment in his niece getting the post, but he's still going to get what he wants, even with Tissaia pointing out his own very obvious stake in the matter. "Watch a Cintran do that math," Stregobor says, as if it's just the small-minded prejudices of ordinary humans and they didn't all just do the exact same math right in front of her eyes.

(This may also explain the oddly rough way Yennefer is treated when she gets the dress from Fergus shoved at her, and the way there's a degree of guilt without being apologetic. When the man was talking to her earlier, he thought her to be purely human but now he knows otherwise.)

"I handle court assignments, Yennefer. Not the Chapter."

Now, the thing is, Tissaia's not just covering up what just happened. She's lying about the entire system. Again: "We agreed Yennefer would thrive in Aedirn."

It may be technically true Tissaia handles them but only in the sense that she's normally the only one who knows the girls involved so normally she's the only one with an opinion on who goes where, and even then, she clearly still needs to discuss them with the rest of the group. Even this time we know the real reason Yennefer's assignment was messed with was because it's a rare time where someone does know one of the girls and so had an opinion about how Tissaia was handing out assignments.

As I said in her previous chapter, she's extremely guarded and here we get more of a look at why - for all her position is important, it does not seem to have much, or perhaps any, official power. And she's not any good at manipulating people. Stregobor has been holding onto that information for years just to ruin her plans now, and Tissaia has no counter up her sleeve, not even a petty one that messes up something Stregobor wants simply because he wants it.

And yet, Tissaia really does not want to admit that.

"New items came to light which led me to believe that you would be a better fit for Nilfgaard."

Why? Well, there's a couple directions it could go in.

One is Tissaia's whole thing has been that she's in charge, and she's not letting go of that. A more charitable explanation is this is much like her trying to get Yennefer to calm down about the transformation. She's trying to get Yennefer to feel this is to her benefit because that's her own way of dealing with things outside her control. Her phrasing is positive - that Yennefer would be a better fit to the current assignment, rather than a bad fit for the previous one. But she's really not a great manipulator. She can only dupe Yennefer into things she herself was duped into actually believing, and she knows this is a disaster.

"'Twas your blood."

When Yennefer refuses this, she tells more of the truth, likely because she's trying to spare Yennefer from whatever she'd hear from the other mages when she tried to talk to them. Better to hear it sympathetically from Tissaia than sneered from someone else.

"Efforts in Cintra prevent the Brotherhood from placing a mage with elven blood in Aedirn's court."

I do think even still she's trying to sugercoat this. They're wholly capable of it and choosing not to, and "Efforts in Cintra" makes it sound like Cintra is actively involved rather than that they're just trying to cater to Cintra on the one in a million chance they can convince Cintra to change their minds on mages otherwise but elven blood would be the sticking point, and we also know she at least believes even that's an excuse and the real issue is the Brotherhood itself is prejudiced and would rather the kid with elven blood get dumped into the shithold posting. It's futile, though. Yennefer grew up so terribly aware of her blood that she blames even unrelated misery on it. She doesn't need Tissaia to explicitly say the word prejudice to know that's what happened. Tissaia would have to actually be a master liar to have even a chance of convincing Yennefer otherwise. (Or at least, to be cruel enough to gaslight her that it had nothing to do with prejudice and that Yennefer is being paranoid and hysterical to think otherwise.)

Yennefer: "How could you tell them?"
Tissaia: "I did not."

Tissaia was willing to accept the blame for Yennefer getting a bad placement, but she's not willing to accept the blame for Yennefer being betrayed.

(How does Tissaia know Yennefer's exact parentage? It seems unlikely she returned to chat up Yennefer's family later and if you could tell by just looking Stregobor wouldn't have needed an admission. Did Yennefer confess to Tissaia at some point, as she did with Istredd?)

"Stregobor did. Divine the rest."

It's interesting doesn't actually bring up Istredd on her own, not as a warning against Istredd or a warning against Yennefer trusting anyone at all. Instead, she tried to deflect as long as she could. She must still think well enough of him even now - though we don't know if that's at all for his sake, where she's sympathetic and assumes it was a dumb mistake, or that she thinks Yennefer will only be hurt further if she knows. (Does Tissaia regret letting the two of them keep meeting?) It's only when she's facing Yennefer thinking she betrayed Yennefer's deepest secret that she gives the real culprit.

We know she left Yennefer alone after this, even when Yennefer didn't appear at initiation. It's less clear what she thought this would accomplish. Perhaps she doesn't have any idea what to do. Perhaps she's decided that it's better to let Yennefer act badly than try to get her to behave just long enough to have some meltdown at Nilfgaard tomorrow. Letting her tantrum now and then going "whoops! guess Yennefer sucks and shouldn't be sent anywhere yet! no Nilfgaard for her, so sorry!" might actually be better for her. (Especially if you don't understand just how much Yennefer hates Aretuza, which Tissaia does not.) If Tissaia has any control, it's over Aretuza itself, so I don't think the others could demand Yennefer get eeled for being too emotional. And perhaps she does still intend to send Yennefer to Nilfgaard and is giving her space to rage privately before she's shipped off. (Or she's giving Yennefer and herself space, and she'll decide whatever comes next later.)

Regardless of why, leaving Yennefer to her own devices was a terrible, terrible idea. They're similar but they're not exactly the same. Yennefer will do things Tissaia never would and Tissaia will not see it coming because, fundamentally, she's just not very good at handling people.

"My apologies, Your Excellence. Please allow me to remove this misguided girl."

Tissaia definitely does not think Yennefer's plan is a good idea. Is that her loyalty to the Brotherhood's decision, where she may not like it but she's still going to hold to it? Is that she thinks this is a terrible start to Yennefer's career, irritating the Brotherhood in general and making an enemy of Artorius in particular? (As well as possibly setting off Stregobor's issues with women.) Is it for her own sake, because this is going to reflect terribly on Tissaia's ability and judgement? Is it that this is a risk and Tissaia is not one for risks, so she's acting based on the consequences of it failing without considering the benefits of it succeeding? Hard to say, as yet again Tissaia is not able to convince anyone.

 

In conclusion:

The Brotherhood sucks.

Because the Brotherhood only gets new members from children they take from their parents and raise in seclusion to better indoctrinate them, as well as removing those who don't seem malleable enough, it is also deeply weird in its outlook and appears to be entirely lacking in any empathy or higher goals. At this point the main question is if its obsession with the status quo was a naturally emerging dysfunction that grew out of the degree of control and repression they instilled in their students or if it's because the initial founders intentionally designed everything so that they could get on with their own personal lives with minimal fuss or danger and everyone since has been dancing on their strings.

It's unclear what the Brotherhood's overall stance on nonhumans is, but we definitely see here that the average member of the Brotherhood appears prejudiced. And mages must've been instrumental in the genocide as well as the subsequent coverup, and Aretuza itself is literally filled with the bones of elves - if those piles aren't of people personally killed by human mages but older graves, then Aretuza was an elven settlement with catacombs for the people who lived there and the humans mages still took it by personally killing those people.

Tissaia does not have much power within the Brotherhood and there's a gendered aspect to this given the Chapter is mostly male and the one other woman who speaks is acting so strangely. The fact that the Brotherhood seems to run on whisper campaigns and favor-trading would only make this worse given what we see this episode confirms Tissaia is terrible at playing those games. (And also, whisper campaigns and favor-trading tend to magnify existing inequalities.) That she does accomplish things likely comes down to her taking her job seriously when no one else gives enough of a shit to hold a contrary opinion, so they don't have any reason to mess with her decisions. When another mage does dispute something, they get their way. There's no sign she has any allies among the upper-level mages - either all of them supported Stregobor, or if any felt otherwise they're cowed enough that they didn't dare speak up. The most we can say about this is that Stregobor had to put some effort into it and couldn't just tell her to swap the assignments because he said so.

It's very hard to be certain Tissaia actually doesn't share the prejudice against elves, but we've see none from her so far and given her track record with lying and manipulation, it's more plausible that "Let's not model our wisdom on prejudice and paranoia," is her honest opinion.

Good god is Tissaia not good at her job. She's better at raising the girls than she is keeping them in line with Brotherhood interests, and she is terrible at raising the girls.

Chapter Text

As I mentioned in Episode 2 metas, when next we see Geralt, he's split with Jaskier. He's not on his own, though, as he's hired some company.

Geralt...does not seem to be getting his money's worth. The prostitute is very into his scars, both touching and kissing them as well as trying to match them with songs Jaskier made, and Geralt's only interaction is rolling onto his back to hide one of them and then just giving up as she moves on to the ones on his side and front. I remember once someone describing a wolf getting harassed by puppies where they were chewing on her ears, so she stood up, so they chewed her paws, so she lay down to tuck her paws under herself, bringing her ears back into range...

It's unclear exactly why Geralt doesn't tell the person he is paying to stop doing something that's bugging him. Is it because he's just really bad at asserting boundaries, or is it because he's just so used to people ignoring him when he does? Does he feel it's rude to complain? Is he putting up with it because she's apparently enjoying herself?

(This also now brings us to 4/4 humans that Geralt has been uncomfortable holding a conversation with.)

"The vampiress bled/As white as a sheet/And yet her dead heart did beat/Did beat. The kikimora?" (kiss)

So, Geralt knows people are into his scars. It's not that he needs someone to say that actually his scars are very impressive to make him feel better but no one ever has. (And while she's referencing the songs and that might've made it more common, the weary familiarity we see from Geralt is not that of a man who's never experienced this in his long life before now.) Geralt's discomfort is because he does not like people making a big deal about the scars, even if it's compliments and caresses.

"Hmm. I don't recall the bard singing of this one."

Now, Geralt is scarred up, but he's been around quite a while and the individual scars are distinct, so he's not getting mauled every fight. Given that and how the prostitute is surprised she can't identify just one, it sure sounds like Jaskier pried the info about old scars out of Geralt. It's possible Geralt's displeasure now is that he really regrets telling Jaskier and hearing people singing at random, but given he must've had several conversations with songs being written between them, it seems more likely he just particularly hates people poking his scars. Or maybe the poking is less annoying than expecting him to respond?

And it does seem they're accurate, despite Jaskier's bit about respect not making history when we left him. Admittedly, we don't know if they're accurate beyond the information of what caused the scar and precisely what the scar looked like, but the fact information we know Jaskier had available is meticulously accurate makes me think if they're not, it's down to Geralt not telling/outright lying, rather than because Jaskier chose to misrepresent anything.

How come?

Well, there's the thing I pointed out earlier, that the song doesn't seem to take any liberties about Geralt's own self-identification. Lying about his scars may be a similar matter of respect, especially given Geralt's complained about inaccuracies. There's also the fact the kickoff for the events of the previous episode is Geralt saying and Jaskier agreeing that songs would be better if they're true. And the song about the evil devil and elves was Jaskier's first popular song, and it makes sense that if he's not confident, he'd try harder not to say anything controversial, but when he succeeds he'd be willing to take bigger risks afterward. Indeed, going by the first discarded rhyme, Jaskier's first impulse was to try to compose a story about what actually happened, he just chickened out.

It's also possible this is because every time Jaskier tried to compose another song Geralt refuses to give any criticism beyond "it didn't happen like that" until he changes it. Geralt gave up after a single try at the end of the second episode, but if Jaskier convinced him to be talkative enough to explain his scars, Geralt may also have been talkative enough to whine about any resulting inaccuracies, especially when we know Jaskier asks people what they think while composing. Also possible is that Geralt just refused to talk about the next scar until Jaskier's song about a previous one was reworked. And the accurate songs clearly are finding an audience, so Jaskier has no reason to stop.

Regardless of how he came around to the idea, I think this can be taken to mean that lying is the exception and not the rule with Jaskier. He's not just using Geralt as inspiration then changing it around however he feels, he really is acting like a biographer. The way he behaves on his first appearance isn't representative of who he's become just a few years later and it's unfair to characterize him as making shit up constantly.

Also, this establishes Geralt emphatically does not tell Jaskier about Renfri. So we don't know how much carjoling it took Jaskier to get other stories out of him, but we do know Geralt was capable of saying no when he wanted to. (It also suggests that whatever other traumatic events had already happened to make him refuse to help Renfri didn't leave scars, but as our helpful prostutute only gets perhaps a quarter of the way through his scars, it's possible she'd have found others Geralt didn't tell Jaskier about.)

Woman: "Who would dare try and rob you of your treasure? A woman?"
Geralt: "Princess."
Woman: "Were you in love? What's her name?"
Geralt: "When you live as long as I do, all the names start to sound the same."

Here we confirm that Geralt is absolutely willing to lie. Sometimes, he'll just say things to make the conversation stop, even things that play right into prejudices about witchers. (Speaking about prejudices about witchers, note she finds it completely plausible he was in love and even sounds excited at the idea. This episode is going to really hammer on the fact "witchers don't feel" is something thrown at them when people are uncomfortable.)

Geralt's lie does manage to frustrate her enough to stop asking about Renfri, though it's unclear if she's disappointed it isn't a love story or disappointed because she can tell he's deflecting her. She grabs the wine nearby, chugs it, and begins to grouse, which I think Geralt finds an improvement over interacting with his scars.

"Were destiny a kinder bitch, a whore like me wouldn't have to settle for her client's telltales."

Now, it's possible her ease with Geralt is entirely down to Jaskier's songs, but I don't think that's true because she doesn't sound like she was too concerned about the other witcher either, and overall this seems wholly in line with how people don't seem particularly scared of witchers and what anxiety they do have comes from witchers being unfamiliar due to rarity. That the conversation avoided explicitly bringing up Blaviken, though, that's likely something to be credited to Jaskier, and it's possible her particularly touchy and engaged behavior comes from Geralt having exciting songs about him. (Which Geralt does not seem to be enjoying, admittedly, but it may still be more mentally healthy to have that included in the experience of ways people interact with him.)

Woman: "A friend of yours came through here last month headed for Temeria."
Geralt: "Friend?"
Woman: "Another witcher."

"Friend" gets only his grudging minimal involvement in the conversation, which is actually weird - she presumably wouldn't mean Jaskier if she knows Jaskier's songs because she'd more likely identify him as Jaskier or at least bard, so who else? Do people sometimes claim to know him just to sound badass? Does he figure it's someone like Mousesack who's more of a work colleague? - but "witcher" gets an immediate reaction from Geralt. He is suddenly actually paying attention to the conversation. His eyes go wide and he actually looks at her. He sits up.

(I don't think there's any need to gif that. Tumblr has that very thoroughly covered. I'm just pointing out the specific context to those couple frames you've already seen more times than there are atoms in the universe. Barely open eyes = "a friend". Wide-eyed and getting up = "another witcher".)

Woman: "Blessed that prick with my fullest efforts, too - and he - "
Geralt: "What's in Temeria?"
Woman: "Do you not just hear me talking?"
Geralt: "Shouldn't you know when someone's pretending?"

Overall, Geralt has just been incredibly passive in this conversation. Mostly, this seems to be illustrating Geralt's backup method for dealing with things. When people bug you, leave. If that's not an option because it's your room, try ignoring the issue to the best of your considerable powers. When called on that, snark.

But another witcher is, for whatever reason, a big deal to Geralt. We know from the first episode that there's not many of them left, and between that and his reaction here, I think the most likely assumption is that Geralt/witchers in general try to meet up when they can. I'd think that's gotten more important to them as they died off and the chances of running across one another by chance plummeted. The first episode establishes Geralt is terribly lonely and the second that he likes talking to nonhumans. Wouldn't be surprised if normal witcher interaction went down similar to Torque's introductory tackle, which would explain why Geralt seemed in such particularly good spirits about all that.

"Temeria? It's got a pest problem. A few miners rounded up 3,000 orens to have it killed. Your boy took the coin and ran."

Now, what does this mean to Geralt?

We don't know if other witchers do cheat people, but it seems unlikely given witchers could earn a better/safer living doing basically anything but witchering which suggests they really buy into it as a calling. With that in mind, a mysterious disappearance is probably more likely a death. However, we also know that Geralt sees no issue with taking people's money and then not killing what he was told to kill. But also we know Geralt doesn't just leave at that point but tries to resolve it, and if they know the guy didn't deal with it, the monster's still active. We also don't know exactly how much of a work ethic the average witcher has - maybe it's plausible one agreed to a job, realized that wow, no, this is definitely not doable and also there are five times as many monsters as claimed, I'm out. Finally, there's the possibility the witcher was outmatched and crawled into a hole to try to heal up.

I think the lack of a confirmed death might make Geralt hopeful. It seems unlikely people's first assumption when sending out a monster hunter is that the guy ran instead of got killed, which suggests they checked the area and didn't find a body.

Conversely, he may be assuming they're dead and concerned about the lack of a corpse given you've got Stregobor and his passion for cutting up peoples' bodies to learn more about their mutations. Best case there would be that someone malicious just happened over the body, worst that the entire point of the monster is collecting witcher corpses for experimentation.

Regardless, he's just found out there's definitely still a dangerous monster in the area and also there's some sort of mystery with whatever happened to the other witcher. Geralt may hate being dragged into things but he loves poking around at his own discretion.

Also, a guy comes by to bang on the room's door and complain.

"It's been three nights. Pay up or get out!"

Has he spent all three nights with this woman? For her sake I hope not because Geralt is evidently set on boring her to death. Geralt does thank her "For...everything" and hand her all his remaining money, though. (Also, she scooches up against his side when the guy barges in - not only does she convincingly act like Geralt doesn't horrify and disgust her, we see no sign that she has any unconscious fear of witchers either.)

Which brings us to our next point, what exactly was Geralt doing here? Lying around for three days with wine and one or more prostitutes until you completely run out of money is not very responsible, Geralt. Possibly he got hurt and needed a few days to recuperate, then decided if he was already in bed he might as well enjoy himself to the very limited degree Geralt enjoys things. Possibly Geralt just goes on very dull benders now and then - if a human is drinking the same stuff as he is, I can't believe the wine? is even doing much of anything for him. Maybe he's got potions that overload his ability to process poison? (They drink from bottles on either side of the bed, so it's also possible he spiked his with mega-poison, but that seems irresponsible.)

The man outside does not seem particularly intimidated by Geralt (though he did give him time to dress and even do his hair) but again, that's wholly in line with how people are treating him back in the first episode. Geralt ignores the guy in favor of heading for Roach, who tries to headbutt him. "Don't judge me," he tells her.

A point against there being any reason for this and a point for Geralt just goes on very dull benders now and then. (Actually, I suppose we don't know it's "now and then", it could be quite often. The camera's on Geralt when he's doing interesting things and this seems like it's not usually very interesting.)

Geralt: "I'll be back with payment in a few days. Anything happens to my horse-"
Man: "You don't scare me."

At which point Geralt glowers at him and looms, establishing that he is, in fact, scary. (And that he could more generally respond with scary looming when people give him shit, but chooses not to.)

I'm actually not sure what to make of this.

It seems like the most coherent explanation is he's leaving his horse as collateral, except the guy is clearly not pleased with any of this and only agrees because Geralt makes it clear he'd better, which strongly suggests if Geralt wanted to take Roach he could do that instead. It's possible that this is Geralt obeying a general social rule and thinks it'd be immoral to not leave collateral whether or not the other person finds this acceptable.

It's also possible Geralt is assuming he may die. We don't know the relative likelihood of each possible fate of the other witcher, but we've got:
1) Dead.
2) Ran off at the sight of it.
3) Injured somewhere.
4) The monster shouldn't be killed but something went wrong about resolving the problem.

The first one means Geralt could die as well, the second one means it's downright likely Geralt will die since we know he's not going to run, the third also means there's a good chance Geralt dies, and the fourth is a mess of unknown complications that could end badly. And of course, the fallout of him dying would be he inadvertently ends up cheating the guy and Roach is left wandering around in the territory of a monster so badass it's killed two witchers.

So, perhaps Geralt is also using this as an excuse to board Roach for free somewhere far from the fight.

When next we see Geralt, he has successfully walked to Temeria and up to the very angry miners, who are currently considering outright murdering their king since he's not doing his job of protecting them from the monster.

"You can't kill the vukodlak so you decide to kill your king?"

This is probably largely a matter of Geralt pointing out their plan is stupid, but it's not outside the boundaries of possibility that he's thinking "oh fuck please don't decide you think the king is the real monster and try to hire me to deal with that" because, well, it is the Renfri Redux episode. (And Renfri and Stregobor were likely not the first or last to try to convince him. He was practiced turning people down.)

Man: "Another fuckin' witcher. Your kind already swindled us once."
Geralt: "I take payment after the job is done and for a third of the price. An apology, from my guild to yours."

Does Geralt give a damn about apologizing?

I have no earthly clue. His statement as a whole seems to be about mollifying them - he doesn't need them getting mad at him, he doesn't want them to keep being mad at the king when that's going to get them killed, and he has to get enough coin to cover his very dull bender and Roach's steadily-climbing oats bill while he's out earning the money and then walking on foot all the way back. Apologizing and trying to draw a comparison between what he does and a guild like theirs is the best way to do all this.

We know when he was the one everyone was mad about, he did nothing much to fix the Butcher reputation, but it's not clear that impacted anyone else or, if it did, was actually a negative. (We'll hopefully get the opinions of other witchers next season.) This, though, is a direct threat to the entire witcher system. I understand in the games there's a big deal about proving you actually did the contract and only then getting your money but the show canon seems to be running on an honor system much of the time. Getting paid in advance and not needing to bring back heads is why he was able to spare the sylvan and elves last episode. Also, witchers might be willing to beat up someone refusing to hand over the money in order to get to their coin if they really have to, but if people lied about having the money at all, well, not much to do about it, so getting paid first is just good sense.

Anyway, the miners seem to find that reasonable, only for things to re-escalate when a small army shows up due to this sort of talk being treasonous. The noble leading the soldiers, Lord Ostrit, seems a reasonable fellow trying to talk them down. But he arrives right when Geralt is already doing that, riling them back up, and after the miners disperse, Geralt asks, "Does Foltest have a plan?" because it is rather weird to interrupt Geralt already doing a perfectly good job of calming them down by saying he'd deal with the problem. I'm not sure at what point Geralt works out that there's something up. It may be as soon as he heard that the king has been refusing to deal with a monster.

"See this one to our borders. Temeria's had their fill... of witchers."

The soldiers don't seem to think this is suspicious. Prejudice can act as a cover for a lot. And not just in-universe. It also hides it from the viewer, who can just as easily think this is another instance of people being unfairly mean to Geralt and needing no further motive. I would guess, though, that if Geralt hadn't already figured out something's up, he knows now.

Here we have someone who knows that right now the very best case scenario is that the miners desert and that more likely he's going to be ordering his soldiers to slaughter them. He supposedly does not want this to happen and even offers sympathy for the death ("Mikal was a good boy. Revenge will not ease your pain.") as if he was at least passingly familiar with the dead man and the other still-living miners. And furthermore, he's not the one who paid for the other witcher, (...indeed, he did nothing to help them deal with this) so why does he feel the need to protect Temeria from witchers?

It's suspicious if you think about it, and it's only going to be far more to Geralt who actually has experience on how getting kicked out of places normally goes down.

Would he have left at this point? I think it's likely. He doesn't know the details about the monster that are getting him invested and one possibility this exchange has raised is that this guy or some other connected noble murdered the other witcher, and we know given the choice between leaving peacefully or leaving on the end of a rope, Geralt picks leaving peacefully. (Geralt would not like that they'd murdered the other witcher, but Geralt's also established his feelings on revenge in the previous two episodes.)

But we don't find out. Instead the men escorting him pass out and fall off their horses and Triss arrives.

Triss: "Witcher. You can put down your sword. I'm not here to hurt you."
Geralt: "Says the witch hiding in the woods."
Triss: "Sorceress."
Geralt: "Witch."

That's surprisingly combative from Geralt, especially considering his own pickiness about how people refer to him. I think it's mostly that he's taking this to confirm that there's a conspiracy murdering witchers and he's next, but it could be this is Stregobor related trauma making him generally hostile (if so, a bit awkward he's insulting her using the female-only slur for mages). We'll learn next episode he's on perfectly good terms with a druid and those appear to be just non-aligned mages, which really suggests he considers them to be different than regular humans, so treating her even more negatively than he does humans is quite odd and seems like it's an indication something else is going on. Also, this is the Renfri Redux episode. He was polite to Stregobor and regrets it, now he's meeting another mage with a sword out and insults.

Triss explains that she's here to hire him.

"So he makes a show of kicking me out...then sends his errand girl to slip me some coin so I kill his monster. Not a very original plan for a king."

Seriously, Geralt? How many times could this possibly have happened?

I guess I could see kings doing this sort of thing when they don't want word of the monster to get out, but, well, word of the monster is very thoroughly out. We even just saw the people hate the king for not doing anything about it so much they're talking about a full-on rebellion.

Now, we will learn over on Yennefer's side this episode that kingdoms have varying attitudes toward sorcerers, and Marilka in the first episode explained that, at least as her mother saw it, a witcher is "a filthy degenerate born of Hell" so my best guess would be there's kings that ban witchers outright then run into a problem that needs a witcher but don't want to admit they were wrong. We haven't heard anything about that, but possibly it does come up a lot but witchers generally don't pay much attention because they're already wandering and hard to track, they're too heavily armed to easily lynch, and people are fine reacting violently to them even without a king's order so it's not like their official status in a country necessarily makes a significant difference in their reception.

(And while it's still weird that Geralt has been through this so incredibly many times his objection is the lack of originality, that it took this long for a witcher to get involved and that the miners were so willing to assume the other witcher cheated them certainly fit with a kingdom that simply does not like witchers and does its best to turn them around at the border. Geralt wouldn't know otherwise given he knows so little about the place he had to ask to be pointed toward the kingdom.)

Triss, though, clarifies that no, this is being done on her own initiative - her money, and her plan, with no involvement from the king. That's really not encouraging, Triss.

"And I don't want you to kill the beast. I want you to help me save it."

Well, Geralt's in.

Triss gives us the background about how this monster's been active for years, it's coming out of the crypt, and it's the baby of the king's dead sister and so the only heir to the throne, and that probably has to do with why the king's just been ignoring the entire situation and letting it eat whoever it feels like instead of killing it.

Geralt: "Vukodlaks are freak mutations. They can't be cured."
Triss: "Good thing it's not a vukodlak."

So, fandom has been a bit...weird, about Geralt's interactions with monsters, so it's probably worth taking a moment on this. By the fact a vukodlak and a striga have been confused, as well as the opening exposition about vukodlaks, they both appear to be unintelligent instinctive killers, like the kikimora. Geralt isn't saying vukodlaks are okay to kill because they're mutants, he's saying that because they're mutants rather than cursed, there's no cure for the way they are and so no way to stop that but to kill them first. The same would apply to someone cursed if that curse had no way of being broken.

Triss takes him down to where she's been storing the bodies in what I assume is salt and tells him he'll get two thousand orens just for telling her what did it. Geralt notices the witcher and looks distressed, makes more distressed expressions while heading for the body, distressedly touches the medallion on the body, looks distressed and angrily says, "You didn't want the people to know that it bested a witcher. And you let them believe that he fled with their coin," while staring at Triss, pockets the medallion while looking distressed, and then finally examines the man's injuries.

"You two clearly weren't acquainted," says Triss when he does so.

Because remember what I said earlier about witchers and emotions and how it's just a way for people to be shitty to them? If the fact the words were first in Stregobor's mouth wasn't a clue, here we see Geralt expressing emotions about this and directly accusing Triss of covering up the death (by slandering him and witchers as a whole when he gave his life trying to stop this monster) but upon Geralt trying to find out what killed him, Triss declares that he obviously doesn't give a fuck this man is dead. His visible emotional displays mean nothing in the face of her deciding if he really cared he'd be acting different.

(That they don't know each other is an especially big stretch when we know even in Renfri's time witchers are rare. She doesn't see what we see about Geralt's actual reaction as soon as he hears another one is nearby, but the simple pair of facts that there are almost no witchers and all current witchers have been around for quite a while means they would know each other at least in passing by now. It's hypothetically possible given the size of the continent and this guy's unknown stance on socializing that they have not met, but it's deeply strange as an assumption.)

Geralt deals with this as he always does: ignoring it.

Geralt: "His heart's missing along with his liver. Only one creature I know is that picky an eater. A striga."
Triss: "Strigas are old wives' tales."
Geralt: "They're very rare. The only way to make one is through a curse."
Triss: "Someone wanted Adda dead."
Geralt: "Mm-hmm. But the curse didn't stop with Adda. It turned her daughter into a monster."
Triss: "Her daughter?"
Geralt: "Strigas are female. This striga's a princess."

Geralt and his lovely monster facts! (It occurs to me that while we only see this when Geralt has someone to exposit at, this is a glimpse into his own head. Most of the time, he probably just heads out alone, finds out it's one of the monsters that mean a fucked up thing happened, deals with it, and then brushes Roach for an extra hour.)

So Geralt was already invested in this because he needs money to get back to Roach. It's unclear if the confirmation this monster killed another witcher is a factor for him given Geralt has spent the previous two episodes explaining the way to deal with someone hurting you is to pretend it didn't happen and go on with your life but there may be a specific exception for witchers getting killed by a monster they're supposed to deal with. Then he was invested still further at the idea the monster could be saved rather than killed. But now we've found out it's a cursed princess. A princess specifically born cursed.

(I wonder if the lack of Roach has anything to do with just how badly obsessed he gets? No horse to talk to or care for. Just him and his own demons.)

Having agreed because of course, it's time to actually meet the king.

So, remember me saying I think Geralt could guess things were up with Ostrit? Look at his face here. He just figured it out. Figuring shit out is Geralt's actual job, and he's good at it. Just like Geralt does possess feelings (and knows he possesses feelings), Geralt is perfectly good at understanding other people's feelings.

Triss suggests that maybe if, you know, they could actually look at the castle? The castle where Adda lived, and the striga lives now? Where all the evidence would be? That maybe that could help, possibly. Geralt probably realizes at this point he did not need to even be here and could've just asked Triss if anyone's frustrating her attempts despite supposedly wanting the monster problem handled, then assigned blame from there.

"Except this witcher would kill the princess as she sleeps, and collect the miners' coin."

At which point Geralt is Very Done with everyone. It's time to switch from questions to deliberate provocation.

Geralt: "Call her a princess. Call her a unicorn if you'd like to. She grew inside Adda, feeding on her petrified womb."
Segelin: "Have you no respect?"
Geralt: "Mutating. Growing for years till she got so hungry...she was forced to slither out. Rotten muscle, bent bones,
two spidery legs, claws dragging in the dirt. An overgrown abortion."
Foltest: "Enough."
Segelin: "Your Highness?"
Foltest: "Leave."

Geralt has now incensed the king enough he's booting everyone.

Also, he's done it by speaking for the monster. The striga's trapped in a twisted and rotting body, moving only because of the strength of her ravening hunger, and has been for fourteen years now. And they're talking like he's the asshole who doesn't care.

This is hilarious. It also is another illustration of two things:
1) Geralt is perfectly good at dealing with people. He locks them out by acting like they're so much better than little old him that they should go first while he holds the door for them.
2) People are not afraid of witchers. They might say things about fear to justify how they're treating witchers, but their actual actions are that they're just prejudiced dicks. He's not getting treated like a roving tiger or something. No one is suspicious at his sudden bout of courtesy and they're absolutely not concerned about walking ahead of him so he's at their back.

Geralt proceeds to make it clear that yeah, he's worked this sordid little affair out.

Geralt: "Who's the princess' father?"
Foltest: "My men will kill you, Witcher."
Geralt: "Hmm. It's funny. You learn that your sister was murdered, and you didn't even flinch. But the moment I mention the girl's father... Why were you never married?"
Foltest: "You are speaking to a king."
Geralt: "That is exactly my point. Why not produce your own heir? Why not kill the striga and avoid this revolt? Why drag this all out? Between you and me...who is the striga's father?"
Foltest: "I remember hearing stories about witchers when I was a child. Is it true what they say? That the mutations that grant you your... abilities also erase your emotions? Must be. 'Cause only a man devoid of all heart could accuse a brother of bedding his murdered sister while urging him to kill her."

Ah, witchers don't have emotions. Again, a bit of a twist on Stregobor's initial statement. This time, the motives are clearer. "Why aren't you caring about my feelings?" the king whines. "I mean yeah I did fuck my sister and she was murdered and her baby is a fucked up undead maneater terrorizing the people but my feelings? Me?"

And then he says that seriously, get the fuck out of my country and never come back.

Geralt does not respond by asking if the king means "forever" or "until the next guy's in charge, because I really don't think whoever comes after you is gonna care King Sisterfucker thought I was rude", proving he actually has just ungodly self-control.

...unless he does, given the scene ends there. But he doesn't appear to have to break out of a dungeon this episode, so probably not.

He leaves the castle! For that other castle Triss was talking about investigating.

Triss: "You were told to leave Temeria."
Geralt: "But come on. These views."

Geralt continues to be perfectly capable of holding up his end of the conversation if he actually wants to.

I think he's actually warmed up to Triss. Perhaps he is defaultly positive toward mages and it was just her first appearance screamed "serial killer". Possibly he appreciated that her comment about how he's not displaying emotions to her satisfaction at least implicitly reinforced she believes he does, at least, have emotions and would react differently if he did know the guy. Maybe he's just so invested in the whole saving-a-princess thing now that any friend of the monster princess is his friend as well - that she's here outside the castle neither of them are allowed into right as he's thinking about breaking in does strongly suggest she's the only one who's actually willing to do anything to help.

He is then made to regret that.

"Are you going to kill her?"

I mean, sure, he risked getting skewered or thrown in a dungeon to grill her dad about information wholly irrelevant to killing her, but fine! Ask like it's unclear! He's just an emotionless killer apparently!

Geralt: "I don't want the miners' coin."
Triss: "Or mine, apparently. What is this girl to you? Why do you care?"
Geralt: "You first. I saw how Foltest and his boy spoke to you. Why help those who won't listen?"

Geralt. Geralt you are literally outside a forbidden castle after being told to get the fuck out of this country twice. I can understand a curiosity about exactly why and how much she's invested, asking her why she cares about the princess makes sense, but asking what motivates her to help those dicks when you yourself clearly aren't doing any of this for them? It's back to being inexplicably combative. Either she's upset him a lot by acting like he needs a good reason to help here or he's got some reason to think poorly of court mages.

He doesn't like people treating him like he just kills whatever he's pointed at, so he probably got mad at the first statement and stayed mad at her saying it's weird he's ignoring the money as if that's all he's supposed to care about. That'd be kind of unfair of Geralt, because even if you're doing things for your own reasons it's odd you wouldn't take the reward - it's basically free money at that point - but while I'm standing by my statement that Geralt is pretty good at the emotions actually, it's very likely he does have issues when it's a sore spot and we established witchers and emotions is a sore spot the very first time it came up.

Also worth mentioning - Triss said he'd get two thousand just for identifying the monster. The fact this is not about money for Geralt doesn't change that he does need money, and he could guess there was at least a chance of things going south during the castle meeting earlier. Now, it's possible Triss paid him that, then they went to the castle and he pissed off the king, then he decided to deal with this himself even though she presumably would've offered him more money for that, but that's not how she's acting. And among other things, if she'd paid him the initial sum, she wouldn't be sure that what he's doing now is free - he could deal with the striga then try to demand payment. It's unorthodox, but given how everyone's been shoving Geralt around it's not that unreasonable a witcher could decide they're better off doing this themselves first, even if it means they can't negotiate for as much money.

What I think is that as soon as the whole cursed monster princess thing lined up in Geralt's head, he figured he was going to die here. That's why he doesn't bother getting the first sum and it's why he acts so unconcerned about consequences. Given destiny's a real thing, he may even feel like he can't die early because surely it's going to be the princess who does it. I'm not sure if this is a conscious thing or if he just stopped thinking about anything in the future for reasons he didn't bother examining.

Luckily, Triss is not that into talking about feelings if she's expected to reciprocate so she abandons talking about why Geralt's doing this and the conversation shifts to breaking into the castle. Geralt does so without much difficulty, and the two are now able to examine the corpse-strewn hallways.

"Foltest and Adda. What happened to them? ... Not answering questions is a pillar of your brooding charm."

Triss continues her attempts to talk like normal people, but Geralt appears to still be cranky. When he doesn't respond to that, she just stares at him and they play chicken for several seconds, before Geralt breaks first and tells her that yeah, pretty sure Foltest and Adda fucked, see what happens when you make me participate in conversation?

They then investigate Adda's room. As Triss foolishly goes for things like secret compartments full of incriminating letters, Geralt breathes deeply while standing next to the dusty, moldy bed, then proceeds to keep what he learned to himself. Triss goes to Ostrit with her lead of their mother knowing about what was going on and telling Adda she needed to get rid of the baby and also, seriously, knock off the incest, and like, was the woman able to do black magic herself or...? Geralt interrupts that line of reasoning to ask hey Ostrit, so we know what Foltest's relationship with Adda was, but what about you?

Very normal platonic talking with each other, Ostrit claims. He really cared about her. She was such a sweetie! But she definitely did not tell him this and he totally didn't know, and oh my what if actually she was raped?

"There's only one wrinkle, though. Your scent was on her sheets."

I think we can all say we really, really did not see that one coming.

Ostrit: "What would I be doing in a dead girl's bed?"
Geralt: "I smelled what you were doing."

Did you, Geralt? Really?

Canonically, he definitely smelled something. But this is a decaying fourteen year old bed right next to a broken open window in a room so decrepit the only things not completely coated in a layer of dust are the spiderwebs. Biologically, I'm pretty sure it's impossible. Between how fast biological material degrades and the fact there's no lack of bugs in the castle and that it's straight up getting rained on regularly... It's one thing to say someone could sense any trace, it's another to run up against the question of if there's even a single molecule remaining to be sensed.

Maybe Geralt's nose is actually that good. This is a fantasy setting, maybe what he's "smelling" shouldn't require a physical component anymore than people should get huffy about how can you "see" ghosts without them being made of physical material for light to hit and bounce off of. And that actually opens up a lot of interesting space. We often see magic used to justify super senses, but I don't think I've seen much considering that those senses could work differently than a broad-spectrum enhancement. For example, what if super tracking skills involved being able to experience the area as it was in the past? That wouldn't just bypass the issue of substances not being infinitely divisible but actually being gone because that's how atoms work, it'd also mean you could get around a lot of the ways people would hide it - clean it up? It's still there in the past. And trying to confuse things with another, stronger scent might or might not work, depending on if checking the scene in the past replaced the current one or if the two were layered together. (If so, it'd add a new time component - clean the room in the present so it's no longer a distraction and then recheck the past.)

Alternatively, he's lying. We established at the start of the episode that Geralt is fine lying to people for expediency and Geralt managed to figure out the incest thing from about a minute of the king eating while other people talked. He has seen far more from Ostrit and all of it has been fishy, and acting like he has proof already is a good way to get someone to admit to it.

Triss has kept jumping to blame anyone they found involved at all - Foltest connected? Maybe he did it. The mom knew? Must've been her. But the letter text we see isn't actually incriminating, with lines like "you remain my only one, my little girl" and expressing concern for her wellbeing, and while the mom's greater concern was probably seriously you guys should not be fucking where did I go so horribly wrong, she also wanted it covered up. Adda's family didn't have particularly good motive to murder her, what motive they did have is actively contradicted by the flashiness of the result, and hanging over all of this has been the horrible cruelty of the murder method.

If Geralt is worldly enough to work out "incest baby", he's more than worldly enough to guess that it's most likely the murderer was someone with a grudge against Adda, the royal family, or both. Everything points to someone outside of her family doing this.

(If Geralt's lying, that does mean there needs to be another explanation for what he did smell, but quite possibly it was the striga. Geralt manages to predict she'll enter the room from some gap in the wall/ceiling by the bed so that she goes right for Ostrit first and then runs into Geralt later.)

Anyway, upon Geralt telling Ostrit he bloodhounded out the truth, Ostrit confesses! He was in love with Adda and jealous of Foltest. Therefore, he felt the correct solution was secretly honor-killing Adda and using the resulting fetus monster to destroy Foltest, the real villain of the piece.

What the fucking fuck, Triss keeps saying as each new piece of information tops the old, while Geralt just stands there until he's done, probably wishing he had Roach with him so he could vent about another noble murder love triangle madonna/whore curse, ugh, can't people be original just once, is that too much to ask, Roach? Is it?

"Tell us how to lift the curse."

Ostrit dramatically says no! Geralt undramatically walks up and punches him in the head.

We next see Geralt walking toward the castle gates, currently defended by about a dozen guys and two on horseback. Geralt gets closer and they go for their weapons, and he huffs in annoyance, goes to put his stuff down by the side of the pathway so it's not in anybody's way, and pulls out his sword.

Now. I mean you could maybe argue this is a bluff, but if Geralt wanted to resolve this without killing everyone involved, it'd make sense to open by saying something. It really looks like Geralt is entirely willing to kill as many of these guys as it takes to get in.

And really, why shouldn't he?

If we're looking at this in terms of deaths, the striga's killing at least once a month. Given the episode opens with someone she attacked succumbing to his wounds, and so not someone who got his heart and liver snacked on, she kills more people than she eats. And we also don't know that she eats only one person at a time. (Certainly, eating Ostrit does not make her retire for the night.)

Triss says she's been there three months and she shows Geralt three bodies...except, she says it's about to be the full moon for this month, so the striga hasn't killed this month's victim yet. In two months, then, the striga has killed at least four people and eaten at least three (it's entirely possible she ate someone else and the body wasn't recovered, after all).

At two a month and twelve months in a year, six years gets us 144 deaths, or a gross. Even assuming she was less active and always killed just one person when she was younger, that's still a lot of deaths - and while that assumption might lessen the overall total, it also means the problem is getting worse.

These men right now are standing between Geralt and doing anything about that.

And worse, they're standing between him and saving a princess.

In his description earlier, the striga does not do this because she wants to.

"Growing for years till she got so hungry...she was forced to slither out."

And it does not sound like anything else about her existence is pleasant.

"Rotten muscle, bent bones, two spidery legs, claws dragging in the dirt."

And he will, in a moment, reiterate:

"All she's ever known is...rage and hunger."

Geralt is here to stop fourteen years of suffering, and these men want to stop him. That's reason enough to think they deserve to die.

What would have happened if he'd gone through with this? He'd be not only the Butcher of Temeria, but also specifically a kingslayer. While he might be capable of just knocking the king out, I don't think he'd care enough to do so, especially given he doesn't expect to be around for whatever the consequences are. (And I'm not sure if this would get the Brotherhood involved...they honestly seem pretty ineffectual, and Foltest getting murdered now rather than in an uprising next year isn't exactly the worst outcome, but they may be weird about witchers throwing too much weight around - we know witchers are supposed to not get involved, but we have yet to see if that's a practical decision the witchers make for their own sanity or if there's anyone else actively enforcing it.)

We don't find out because Foltest steps out, willing to talk. Sadly for Geralt, it's going to involve the same dickery as before, but I'm sure he's used to it.

"Oh, so quick to violence. Strange, considering what Miss Merigold told me about you."

To reiterate: Geralt sees a dozen armored men between him and where he needs to be. Despite that, he just walks peacefully toward them until they all grab for their sword-hilts. Only then does he give a weary sigh and get out his own sword.

Does Geralt contest this? No, of course not. He lets the statement stand and just continues the conversation without argument.

Geralt: "And what's that?"
Foltest: "She told me...to trust you."

Now. I will say in Foltest's defense, while the execution is dickery, the dozen armored men are reasonable enough. He wants a chance to talk to Geralt and be reassured his daughter isn't just going to be butchered and it was possible Geralt would refuse to answer, especially since Foltest doesn't seem to have any clue how Geralt acts beyond that he's willing to anger Foltest. Also, it's already night and the striga's about to wake up, so Foltest coming here alone would've been a terrible idea.

Foltest asks if this will work. Geralt says he doesn't know.

Foltest: "Will my... will my daughter... be normal?"
Geralt: "She'll need special care. She's lived as an animal."

This is not, in other words, quite so clean as cursed or not cursed. She's going to come out of this physically human but still significantly more monstrous than many nonhumans. (And as a result of what was done to her.)

At this point Geralt makes it clear that this episode doesn't just happen to narratively be a reprise of the Renfri thing but he personally is choosing to make this be about Renfri, and hands over the broach.

"For the princess. If I can lift the curse. A gift."

This is a very meaningful thing for Geralt. It is completely bonkers to any outside observer. At best, it might be getting parsed as a keepsake for the kid to remember him by.

Foltest then points out the other relevant bit of this, namely, "You're giving me this because you do not expect to see morning."

Now, you could say this is Geralt just trying to cover his bases. He might die and not be able to give it in person so he should hand it over now. But given the overall Renfri thing, if he's trying to do everything differently than he did last time, last time, he lived through it.

"This isn't my first time trying to save a princess who others see as a monster."

Geralt confirms again he did not and still does not think Renfri was a monster, and the big moral dilemma was not if Stregobor had a point.

Much like with accepting the Butcher moniker, Geralt is a lot less concerned of outside judgement than his own. Geralt operates on an internal code.

Foltest: "What happened to that princess?"
Geralt: "I killed her."

And exchanges like this make that all really obvious. This is very much like how last episode Geralt, when given the chance to explain the Butcher of Blaviken thing to Jaskier, said only "Butcher is right".

He's not giving any context because he doesn't care if Foltest agrees or disagrees with his actions. He's not looking for external validation. (Whether this is entirely down to Geralt's personality or grown out of the fact he doesn't trust the judgement of those around him is not yet clear. After all, I certainly wouldn't feel better if Foltest said he agreed with any of my decisions.)

He's not trying to explain it to make Foltest feel better either, because fuck the guy. The way it happened, as far as Geralt is concerned, is he wanted her to live and instead he stabbed her, and if Foltest doesn't think that sounds like someone who should be handling this, Geralt's still holding his sword and feeling very good about his odds.

"I did try to resist, at first, with Adda. We both did. For all it brightens, love casts long shadows. I envy you. To live...and never have to fall in love."

Yeah, that's what Foltest took from "my plan for tonight is dying to your kid because I am drowning in guilt". Of course it is! Because:

1) It's convenient if Geralt has no feelings. It means that Foltest doesn't have to care about what happens to Geralt, because Geralt himself doesn't care. He also doesn't need to think about any of his own behavior toward Geralt.
2) It's flattering if Geralt has no feelings. Geralt's repeated refusal to coddle Foltest's precious little feelings isn't any sort of judgement but just witchers not understanding feelings so they'd act this way toward anyone, and it means as much as Foltest has fucked up he's still better by virtue of having those feelings. Foltest's nobly suffering for love, while the guy actually going in there to save his kid has it easy.

The Foltest and his men leave and Geralt picks up his witcher stuff and heads into the castle.

...he's got Ostrit tied to the foot of Adda's bed.

Little unclear what happened there. It would seem Geralt (and Triss?) moved Ostrit to the castle, then Geralt left again to get his stuff from wherever he stashed it, which was apparently surprisingly far away, then while he was doing that Triss told Foltest and the guy showed up at the castle and went inside leaving his men at the gate - did he see Ostrit or was he only just far enough in so that Geralt couldn't see him?

Given that Ostrit is also enjoying one of those knockout blows that actually keeps you knocked out for hours yet isn't fatal or even causing noticable brain damage, I guess I shouldn't sweat the logistics of any of the other parts.

Ostrit wakes up just in time to be interrogated about the curse.

Incidentally, Geralt is looking pretty upset, as usual, but he's got his back turned. Now, he doesn't appear to be trying to hide his emotions otherwise, so, is he just upset with Ostrit and doesn't want to look at him? Or perhaps sometimes when he makes expressions while facing people they tell him it's fucked up how he's playacting at emotions and he doesn't want to deal with that right now?

Regardless, Geralt is talking to a human, so he's just trying to get this done so he can move on to the next step.

Geralt: "How can I lift the curse?"
Ostrit: "No. This is not right. Foltest must pay for what he did."
Geralt: "Explain that to her."
Ostrit: "Carry me out. I order you."
Geralt: "Tell me how to lift the curse."

Ostrit explains some mage sold him the directions for the striga curse. That mage was not Yennefer. Yennefer is not to blame for every fucked up thing you notice. This different mage with a different skillset who additionally was actually bothering to hide from the Brotherhood unlike Yennefer didn't explain how it worked, but luckily Ostrit remembers not just what he did but the chant, and luckily the guy who did the conlang for the TV series has posted translations if you want to know what it means.

Ostrit: "Wh-- what is it? The-- I-- I've done what you've asked. What more can I do?"
Geralt: "Nothing, unless you can keep a striga out of her crypt until a fucking rooster crows three times."

Now, speaking of that translation, what Geralt's saying here doesn't have much to do with the chant and seems to only reference the sunrise/three crows of a rooster components. Given Geralt committed before finding out if Ostrit would have any useful information, he may have already known much of this but he was hoping the spoken component of the spell would give him a second option.

Which fits with his behavior throughout the episode. Despite knowing enough to largely guess his way through, Geralt keeps double and triple checking everything just in case. I think that's largely just how he is - he pokes around and investigates when things seem strange, and he wants to be sure he's actually right. It could also tie into his anxiety over decisionmaking, through.

Ostrit: "No. No. Come back here. Please. Please! You'd leave a man bound to die in such indignity?"
Geralt: "You're not a man."

Ostrit wasn't here to get the information. If Geralt was prioritizing that, he'd have tried to get it from him in the initial confrontation, rather than knocking him out and dragging him here first. Ostrit is here so the striga can kill him. The striga is a princess, but Lord Ostrit is a monster.

Geralt heads out the door and then the striga enters from the opposite direction, coming from the ceiling/wall over the bed to reach Ostrit. So, even if he was telling the truth about somehow being able to tell Ostrit's smell was on the bed, it really seems like he also was able to tell the striga's usual path through the castle.

They fight! Geralt chooses to wack her with a torch sconce he pulls off the wall rather than pull out his sword! They fight more!

Okay, so:

1) Geralt commissioned fancy wolf-headed custom-made brass knuckles.
2) Even though they are of silver, a notoriously soft metal, so that design is going to get destroyed at the first punch.

I propose that Geralt's issues with money have significantly less to do with people not paying him than they do that Geralt is fuckawful with money. We open with him having burned through his funds in a brothel, now we see he when he has a lump sum he's fine throwing that away at making sure his gear is wolf-themed enough.

This may actually be normal for witchers in general - they can't have more than they can carry and they're constantly risking their lives. And with their spotty reception in towns it's not like having money is any guarantee they can get supper, while between their hunting skills and the fact they chug poison professionally they wouldn't have trouble finding things to eat for free, so why save money? If you find somewhere you can spend it, you spend it, then you go kill the next monster.

Geralt, in part with the help of his punches now doing silver damage, holds off the striga. She changes back but still has claws when Geralt goes to check on her, leading to her clawing him and then jumping to try to bite his throat out. He bites her back, which convinces her that no no wait this is a bad idea and she scrambles away. Then Geralt passes out from rapid blood loss.

Geralt then spends his time unconscious mumbling Renfri's name and hearing her voice.

Renfri: "People call you a monster too."
Geralt: "Renfri."
Renfri: "You choose..."

And then he wakes up to find that he's with Triss.

"Your scars. You heal quite nicely. Your will to live is strong."

An interesting take there, Triss.

I'd say we know that Geralt was definitely willing to die. As Triss points out, he shows no interest in her money despite doing exactly what she was asking and the fact we know he has a specific thing he needs money for, and then he confirms that he doesn't expect to survive this when giving Foltest the broach.

But did Geralt merely think that was a sacrifice he was willing to make, or was he actively seeking death? Harder to say. The fact he does bite her to get her off him at the end at first suggests he wanted to survive, but the fact it's Triss attributing all this to a strong will to live when she's been wrong about so much...

Geralt: "The princess?"
Triss: "I've arranged for her to stay a while with the Sisters of Melitele."
Geralt: "But... I... Her neck?"

So Geralt does not appear to have particularly meant to do that. It was a reflex to get her off him rather than a decision to see if he could tear her throat out faster than she could tear out his and it means that after doing the opposite of what happened in the first episode, he ends with him still going for the princess' neck. No wonder he wakes up sure she's dead.

Which also illustrates a different thing to be concerned about - this establishes what's kept Geralt alive this time was reflex, while his intentional decisions involved such winners from "piss off a king for an answer you've already figured out" to "there's no need to put on brass knuckles in advance". We know Geralt is terrifically good in a fight and have ever since the first episode. Is Geralt's behavior this episode unusual or has this been normal for him since Blaviken, and it's just that witchers are hard enough to kill that even a reckless one takes a while to die?

Still - Geralt actually pulled out a win this time. He saved her. I don't think this means the problem's gone, but he's in a better mindset for the next episode.

Geralt lies back, relieved. Then Triss keeps talking.

"You should know Foltest issued a statement. The honorable Lord Ostrit gave his life to slay the vukodlak. Miners are gathering ore for a statue."

Nope nope nope! Geralt may have just woken up after almost bleeding to death, but his legs probably work so he's getting up and taking off.

Triss: "Anyone else would've killed the princess. You chose not to."
Geralt: "I'll take my coin now. I need to get back to my horse."
Triss: "Who's Renfri? Hers was the only name you uttered over and over in your sleep."
Geralt: "My coin."
Triss: "So that's all life is to you? Monsters and money?"
Geralt: "It's all it needs to be."

Geralt has processed that wait, fuck, he's not dead and that means he needs to get money for Roach after all.

We end with yet another round of "Geralt isn't reacting to me like I want, guess he's emotionless or repressed rather than stating a preference that I don't want to acknowledge". Geralt just expressed concern for the princess and now he's talking about his horse. But the fact he wants to stop talking to Triss, who he's gotten mad at repeatedly and who just told him Ostrit of all people will be remembered as a hero and now is trying to bug him about Renfri, is interpreted by Triss as him saying he cares for nothing but coin, rather than that he doesn't want to talk to Triss.

But the entire point is Geralt doesn't want to talk to Triss, so it's easier to pick a lie that will get the conversation over with. (And no, this cannot possibly be Geralt himself being in denial about what his motivations are, because the parts of this episode that are not about Renfri have been about his staggering disregard for money.)

Geralt's coin comes with a free broach, unfortunately, because for all Geralt wanted this to be a chance to redo things with Renfri and give it back, the striga isn't her.

 

In conclusion:

Jaskier's songs about Geralt either actually are accurate or are as accurate as they can be on his end, to the point of describing scars in such detail they can be told apart by someone who's never see Geralt before. Respect doesn't make history, but by all appearances Jaskier does, in fact, respect Geralt's history.

Geralt hires sex workers and seems to think decently enough of them, and the woman here doesn't seem like she's beaten-down misery. So, Geralt probably wouldn't be horrendously outraged that someone assumed a person he knew was a prostitute like this was the most horrible and offensive thing anyone could think about them, he wouldn't be horrified someone he knew worked as a prostitute, nor is he likely to make a big deal about sex as a commodity in general. We also see no evidence that sex workers dislike witchers, and definitely Geralt has slept with people who weren't fighting back their terror and disgust while barely touching him (as well as specifically being fine with his scars). It's not even that rare an occurrence based on Geralt's behavior.

Geralt is passive but that's distinct from being a pushover. If he doesn't want to do something, he just doesn't.

Geralt's interest is attracted as soon as another witcher is mentioned. Whatever his feelings on being a witcher or being made a witcher, he likes his fellows (and by implication, they probably feel the same about him rather than everyone but Geralt being emotionless and/or sadistic animals - and certainly the woman at the start doesn't seem to have had a bad experience with the other witcher. If anything, she seems annoyed the guy was boring.). And Geralt is upset one of them is dead. The first episode had Geralt valuing Renfri's life and trying to save her when he was willing to kill the regular humans involved without hesitation. The second episode has him similarly valuing the lives of Torque and the elves. Now, it's confirmed that he values the lives of everyone, not everyone minus witchers. I realize this is subtle given this is the only time we see another one and it's quite brief, but Geralt can't think his own life is worthless for being a mutant freak without believing other people's lives are worthless too. If Geralt doesn't have the best view of himself, it has to do with the choices he's made and the guilt he feels over them, not the fact he's a witcher. (That's not to say it's necessarily impossible to gaslight him into it, but if your goal is torpedoing his self-esteem it'd probably be easier to argue he, personally, is a shitty excuse of a witcher, and the actual easiest path is to say that he's a shit person and not bring the witcher thing, the one area where he knows people are just unreasonably prejudiced, into the equation.)

"Witchers don't feel emotions" and similar comments are a shitty thing people say to excuse their own treatment of witchers as well as dismissing the decisions witchers make based on the feelings they do have. For the love of god please stop uncritically and enthusiastically repeating this kind of thing when it's a show about how the people saying that are wrong, or thinking openmindedness sounds like declaring Geralt is ~not like the other witchers~ and deserves honorary person status. Similarly, Geralt's avoidance of/discomfort with human conversation is a completely understandable reaction in that context. He's not emotionally constipated while surrounded by nice people, those "nice people" are dicks to him constantly.

Witchers are normally paid in advance. I realize that puts a damper on the fun of Geralt getting constantly run out of town unpaid for extra misery, but it was the sort of plot point that was mostly poking extra plot holes given Geralt seems perfectly willing to run out of money before taking the next job as if he can be reasonably assured that there will reliably be money so long as he doesn't die. There's likely a distinction between specifically hiring a witcher and putting out a bounty. Hiring is a verbal agreement, so easy to go back on, while a bounty leaves an official record to point to if the person tries to wiggle out of the agreement. It no doubt happens, but it's not expected. (And there's no lack of other ways to have Geralt get screwed over.)

Geralt is actually really good at understanding people, especially with emotions on the line. He's got this figured out before the episode's halfway over, and much of the episode's runtime comes down to the fact he likes to take his time and verify everything. If it seems like Geralt isn't reacting appropriately to someone else's behavior, that's more likely a deliberate choice with a reason behind it than that he doesn't understand what's happening. The only possible exception is when it's something he's sensitive about, since his reaction to Triss does seem disproportionately negative as if he's interpreting her words in the worst possible light.

Relatedly: Geralt does lie, he does so without hesitation, and he doesn't need any better reason than that a lie would be marginally easier for him than the truth. (Yes, he's got good reason not to talk of Renfri, but claiming he doesn't remember women's names was not his only option.) This makes sense given his attitude toward lies of omission - just as he doesn't bother speaking up to correct people on their untruths because it'll just take longer and accomplish nothing, if lying will get things over with faster, why not?

This episode is Geralt trying to put Renfri's ghost to rest. He learns there is a cursed, monstrous, suffering princess. He brings her the man who did it and lets her do what she will. She attacks him, and he holds her off without killing her, without ever lifting his sword against her. In the end, he manages to save her. But he does not die, and so he does not manage to give back the broach, and so he still has to live with the choice he made back then.

I think this is a very relevant piece in the question of "Was Renfri fridged?" Normally this kind of setup ends with the character working through their guilt. They succeed where they failed before by using a new person in place of the old, but that means they're not really seeing the new one as a person in their own right and they're not really saving the actual person they let down either but just making themselves feel better. Here, Geralt can't do that. What he does for another person does not change Renfri's fate, but at the same time, that means acknowledging the striga as a person in her own right rather than just a prop to make himself feel better about Renfri.

And that also means that while Geralt may be repeating the circumstances, it's a sign of something he learned for going forward rather than a one-time purge of his regrets that will allow him to move on and forget this. He doesn't feed Ostrit to the striga to apologize to Renfri for not giving her Stregobor. He does it because he thinks the man deserves to die for what he did to her, and she deserves to do it.

Chapter Text

So, let's talk about Triss!

Over in Yennefer's side, Istredd tells us, "Stregobor says Temeria leans heavily on its mages." Triss says, "After Nilfgaard overthrew their king, the Brotherhood couldn't risk it happening again, so they sent me here three months ago to cure the creature."

The striga has been active for six years, and the curse killing her mother happened fourteen years ago. Temeria really likes mages. Triss has only been there three months.

So. What's up with that?

Istredd was supposed to go to Temeria but doesn't back when Adda is a kid. Either someone was shifted from a different assignment to take his instead or they didn't assign a mage to them until later on. And in the other direction, we'll later find out Triss knows Yennefer, apparently from school days together, which means she hasn't just graduated herself and must have had other postings before this.

We don't know how long mages stay at a court. Yennefer fucks off from her job a couple years before Geralt gets entangled with the striga (again: Yennefer is not behind the striga) so it's possible for court mages to stay at a single court for some time, but we don't know how representative that is. The effort Yennefer went through to get that exact posting means she wouldn't have been looking for a chance to transfer somewhere else, and it seems by the time she realizes she's unhappy she's realized she's unhappy with the whole system and that switching positions wouldn't matter.

So possibly it's normal for court mages to transfer around a lot, or possibly Triss is unusual. It's a shame Geralt apparently doesn't pay much attention to this, because this seems like something he'd have commented on if only he had an opinion and then we'd have some idea.

I think there was probably another mage who missed the initial curse (or let it happen), then found themselves unable to sway Foltest once the killings started. Triss' phrasing sounds like she was sent to a mageless king rather than that she's replacing someone else, so I think the most likely circumstance is that Foltest did have a mage but kicked them out for insisting something be done about the monster and only accepts another one only because he's promised they won't harm it. Back in Renfri's episode, it certainly seems likely Stregobor got kicked out by the king for wanting to kill infant Renfri and this episode echoes that one. And Triss at least claims she was "sent" to cure the creature, instead of deciding this herself when she got there. If Foltest rejected the Brotherhood for wanting the monster dead then he'd need to be told they were sending one to try to cure it to agree.

(Worth pointing out is that the king is a terrible, terrible king. This is not a situation where there's unrest due to outside factors. Just like with the Nilfgaard king the Brotherhood also wanted propped up, everyone would be better off with the guy gone from the throne. In the books, the king at least tries to manage the death toll by putting criminals in her path and is actively seeking a solution the whole time, and although he does value her more than the people she's killing, the other issue is when various people have tried to kill her she ate them. Here, he's been completely ignoring the problem (including even that the striga is herself suffering) and the Brotherhood is propping him up anyway because either they've drunk the monarchy kool-aid and somehow delude themselves into believing divine right is a thing or they prefer stasis no matter how much suffering there is. A mix, maybe.)

Now, Triss does seem to be invested in curing the kid, but the emphasis she puts when explaining is that it's Foltest is going to boot her right out of the kingdom and never let mages back in if the kid dies, ruining the Brotherhood's plans.

And it also seems Triss does not even know if it can be done.

She first says, "Two thousand orens if you can tell me what exactly killed these people." That might just be that she wants to test Geralt, but the conversation that follows establishes that unless she is a superb actor committing to this for no discernible reason, no, she has no clue.

Triss: "You two clearly weren't acquainted."
Geralt: "His heart's missing along with his liver."

She asked Geralt to figure out what killed them, and must have had known the evidence of the bodies mattered given she's preserved them and brought Geralt down to see that, but actually seeing that play out is disturbing her to the point she's making snippy remarks to distance herself from what he's doing. (Kindness and cruelty seem very intertwined with the mages - her discomfort comes because she cares, yet it causes her to say this.)

It's interesting she wouldn't just say witchers have no emotions but is assuming they do and then makes up a different rationalization for why Geralt would act this way. Perhaps she picked up on how he very definitely had emotions at her appearing out of nowhere after knocking out everyone else, but other characters have no issue rationalizing that kind of thing as not counting - perhaps she's inexperienced at self-serving lies? She generally seems very naive throughout this. Possibly what's going on is that Stregobor is particularly dickish by mage standards and a good chunk of them are relatively normal about witchers (as I mentioned with Tissaia, she doesn't seem to hold anti-elf prejudice, so perhaps Aretuza as a whole is turning out more reasonable mages under her) so Triss grew up taking that as a given. And perhaps it's simply that it never came up - as I said, she really does seem quite naive, so maybe she never heard much of anything about witchers and so assumes they're like anybody else.

The impression I get throughout the episode is that, for whatever reason, Triss thinks she and Geralt are in the same group while Geralt thinks she's in the human group and this causes a lot of the friction as she says stuff that lands very differently if it's in-group humor or humor at the expensive of someone else.

Geralt: "Only one creature I know is that picky an eater. A striga."
Triss: "Strigas are old wives' tales."

Triss knew it definitely wasn't an incurable vukodlak but she hadn't a clue what it was. At very most, she may have been assuming it was caused by a curse (perhaps she knows enough about monsters to know the only naturally-occurring fetus monster is a vukodlak?) but it's just as possible she had no idea at all and has just been desperately hoping whatever it turns out to be will be fixable.

Certainly she wants to get going as fast as possible, because she rushes off to the king with Geralt, even though his behavior toward her so far has been cranky with occasional glimmers of neutrality, not exactly someone you want meeting important people. As the king ignores her entirely...

Segelin: "Miss Merigold, you were dispatched to settle a family affair, not to enlist a mutant mercenary for a game of sleuthing."
Triss: "This is no game, Captain. Tonight is a full moon, and Geralt has already proved himself to be invaluable. We believe we can cure the creature."

I suspect this is a pretty good glimpse into what life as a court mage is. "You're here to unmonster the princess, why the fuck did you find someone who has information about how you could unmonster someone and then start trying to figure out how to unmonster the princess? Also, why isn't it done yet? Stop screwing around!" (And again, we were told Temeria values mages. Either that's changed or that never involved respecting them, just putting them to work.)

And Triss just has to let them yell at her, put on a good customer service face, and politely explain that yes, she is working on that.

Triss: "Perhaps if you called off your guards, if we were able to search the abandoned castle, we could find clues as to who cursed her."
Segelin: "Except this witcher would kill the princess as she sleeps, and collect the miners' coin."

Triss has been here for three months. It seems very unlikely that, in three months, she never previously brought up being allowed to look at the castle, which means they've been refusing her alone - and certainly, even after they tell Geralt to leave, they don't allow Triss into the castle by herself. I think this is her asking again because narrowing it down to definitely a curse gives her a new reason to ask and she's really hoping that the refusal has anything to do with reason.

And Triss clearly makes no progress on getting into the castle even after Geralt is told to fuck off, because the guards are still at the gates and she needs Geralt's help to get in.

Geralt: "I don't want the miners' coin."
Triss: "Or mine, apparently. What is this girl to you? Why do you care?"
Geralt: "You first. I saw how Foltest and his boy spoke to you. Why help those who won't listen?"
Triss: "I'm sure someone as legendary as you has already figured out several ways to get past Segelin's guards."

Is this a personal thing to Triss? Apparently. She's not in a rush because she brings up the topic of motivation, but ask her the same thing and suddenly all she wants to do is get into the castle.

So, why? It could be any kind of personal thing, but we know Aretuza is a traumatic experience so quite possibly as the striga is Renfri to Geralt, she's some eeled friend to Triss. That would fit particularly well with how, despite being far more open to Geralt than he is to her, she completely avoids any reference to why she cares. Because while Geralt seems to either talk or not talk based on person, Triss really is chatty, and she's happy to speculate. It's just on this one issue she completely clams up, to the point that even by the end of the season she never actually states her own reason.

(I really like what the eel thing says about the sorceresses. It's not just the threat, it's that you're complicit in it even though you actually had no say - you find out after, and you're grateful you're spared, and they're batteries now that everyone including you benefits from, and it's a secret you're not allowed to tell, and you don't want to tell because the more you understand it's fucked up, the more you don't want anyone to know you're part of that.)

"Foltest and Adda. What happened to them? ... Not answering questions is a pillar of your brooding charm."

Like I said - she's chatty, and she can't seem to figure out why Geralt isn't. She knows he can. He told her all about the striga, he gave the speech to the king, and they even managed a very brief back and forth earlier. And they're here to figure out what happened with Adda! So why is he just staring silently when she asks a completely relevant question? Perhaps a (complimentary) joke will help?

Fine, what happens is they fucked, Geralt tells her. Triss then ponders if Foltest cursed Adda, and I'm not sure why that's the first thing to come to mind.

It's technically possible Foltest did this to cover it up, yeah. But if Foltest didn't want Adda having an incest baby, he had other options, like not fucking his sister, while everyone else is at least as likely to not want Adda having an incest baby but were more lacking in non-murder ways of dealing with it.

And if Foltest was willing to kill Adda and her baby just to hide the incest, he would absolutely be willing to kill the striga to both hide the incest and also stop the murder. Killing a horrible fetus monster that's a direct and explicit threat to your rule is way easier a choice than murdering your pregnant sister who you were, if anything, way more into than you should've been, just in case someone connects the dots eventually. And that's only going to be more true if you're already the sort to use murder to solve your problems. Not to mention the only rumor surrounding her when she died, "Rumor has it she was having an affair with a young man in town when she died," is actually a perfect cover story for what's actually going on. Not exactly something that screams you need to deal with this right now. Admittedly, if it's not a cover but true, then Foltest could've killed her out of jealousy, but... Well, if rumor didn't know about the incest fucking, it's hard to trust them about her having another secret lover, and it also seems just unusual that someone killing their lover for infidelity would be completely and utterly convinced the pregnancy was theirs.

Plus, it's a bizarre curse that does not look anything at all like covering this up and specifically plays on the pregnancy that Foltest seems fully convinced was his, so why on earth would he pick this of all ways to do it? He's one of the most powerful people around, if he wants someone assassinated he's got other options. (And on top of that, if he wanted a curse his first option would be the court mage, wouldn't it? So this wouldn't be a mystery to the Brotherhood.)

Triss is really bad at this. Now as I vaguely referenced earlier, according to a deleted scene that I sure hope we see, Triss and Yennefer met while they were still at Aretuza, which in turn means Triss must not be fresh out of Aretuza right now. So not only did Aretuza not seem to teach her any of the skills she'd need here, but she's so hampered at them even years of court life haven't helped. Given how blindsided Yennefer is by court politics next episode, I think their schooling may actually impair their ability to pick up on stuff. A court mage appears to be there to patch up the obvious problems when ordered to, not actually engage with any of the underlying issues - doing that might, god forbid, actually change things, and we can't have that. And if they're capable of interacting with court intrigues, they'd be more powerful and more likely to do things the Brotherhood doesn't want/doesn't know about.

She is, at least, good at literally investigating for clues and finds the letters, but she just shifts to "oh, so it was the mom", continuing to assume whoever the most recent involved party must be the answer.

I'm not totally sure whose idea it was to go talk to Ostrit for more information. Triss is the one actually doing the talking, which at first glance would suggest her, but Geralt is about to drop the whole "Ostrit fucked and killed her" bomb.

Geralt: "She ever mention her brother?"
Ostrit: "Certainly not like this."
Triss: "She was ashamed."
Ostrit: "Or she was frightened."

If Geralt is the one who said they should talk to the guy, I wonder what Geralt told Triss, because she obviously thinks they're here to consult with an ally for more information and Geralt even plays along with that.

Ostrit: "What if the relationship was not...consensual?"
Geralt: "Hmm. You think he raped Adda, then cursed the child to cover it up?"
Ostrit: "Well, kings have done more for less."
Geralt: "True. [sighs] There's only one wrinkle, though. Your scent was on her sheets."
Triss: "Geralt."

Triss was absolutely not in on this. When Geralt finishes looming and moves back and we see her face again, she's shocked and horrified, and proceeds to become more shocked and horrified at every new thing she hears.

Ostrit: "But he didn't love her. I did."
Triss: "You cursed the woman you loved?"
Ostrit: "I cursed Foltest, not her."
Triss: "Countless are dead because of your jealousy."
Ostrit: "Countless are dead because of Foltest! He spoiled Adda with his seed. He refuses to kill this striga. He lies to his people. And yet you wag your finger in my face."
Triss: "If you wanted him to suffer, you could have just exposed the affair."
Ostit: "And hurt Adda? Never. Her memory will not be sullied, not while I'm alive to protect it."

Triss, whose entire job is supposed to be dealing with/covering up court bullshit, is flabbergasted to discover a man killed a woman over sexual jealousy or would think it's proof he cared about her more than anyone else.

Geralt, to whom this is more of an ugh, Tuesdays, am I right? kind of situation, waits until Triss is silenced by some combination of outrage and disbelief to demand information on the curse and when Ostit refuses, knocks him out.

Now, we know that Ostrit ends up tied to Adda's bed, that this presumably happens before Geralt comes to the castle alone later, and that Foltest is waiting for him but says Triss told him to trust Geralt. We don't know what Triss' part in all that was. At minimum, she didn't stop Geralt leaving with Ostrit and she told the king something. We don't know if she made any objections to feeding Ostrit to the striga, if Geralt misrepresented his plan, or if she actively approved because fuck that guy. (I think fact she's not there for the interrogation points to her knowing that the point was more getting Ostrit killed.) We also don't know if she voluntarily got the king involved, which seems like a bad move given it almost came to blows, or if the king found out about them scaring off the guards and investigating and demanded Triss explain - and apparently what she said just boiled down to trusting Geralt and letting him do his job. That she's not with the king by that point fits better with him discovering she and Geralt went behind his back to do this.

When next Triss appears, it's having patched Geralt up.

"You should know Foltest issued a statement. The honorable Lord Ostrit gave his life to slay the vukodlak. Miners are gathering ore for a statue."

Foltest has good reason to really hate Ostrit and not make him a martyr, though it is, sadly, technically possible he was more sympathetic to the honor-killing aspect than Triss was. Personally, I'd guess the issue is that Ostrit actually was on good terms with the miners, who as we know are at the very end of their rope, and while it's actually Ostrit's fault the striga killed them Foltest can't explain that without people finding out what was really going on with Adda.

It's hard to say if Triss suggested this for reasons of kingdom stability and was listened to, or if Foltest did it to smooth things over despite Triss' objections since we know he's fine ignoring her. I suspect the latter because Triss isn't saying anything to justify the action and she was clearly disgusted by Ostrit. (And while Geralt is the one who's getting really screwed out of the credit, Triss' own part in this is also gone.)

The way she says it actually brings to mind the women talking about Fergus, where she's saying something that isn't true with the expectation that everyone in the conversation knows the real situation and her real opinion. Triss is significantly more open about it, though, putting a delicately sarcastic emphasis on words.

Like I mentioned earlier, I think Triss really feels like she and Geralt are in the same group, whether it's "put-upon good-doer" or "altered humans raised for a purpose" or "people with actual jobs that nobles are dicks to". This is her being sympathetic and commiserating. Geralt responds by trying to immediately leave her presence, a hint she does not seem to take.

She again tries bringing up feelings.

Triss: "Anyone else would've killed the princess. You chose not to."
Geralt: "I'll take my coin now. I need to get back to my horse."
Triss: "Who's Renfri? Hers was the only name you uttered over and over in your sleep."

Here's a thing to ponder - throughout, Triss keeps trying to get Geralt to admit to this even as she dodges her side of things. The last time she did it, he turned the question back on her which she obviously was uncomfortable about, yet that didn't stop her from bringing it up again the very next chance she gets. Is it, in fact, because she wants to confess but doesn't feel safe to do so unless Geralt shows weakness first? She's pushing so hard because she desperately wants to talk to someone about it but can't make the first move?

Geralt: "My coin."
Triss: "So that's all life is to you? Monsters and money?"

Because Triss is so, so invested in getting him to admit to having a feeling. And if that was just because she feels the need to be helpful, she must know the easiest way to get people willing to open up to you is to offer them something of yours first.

I think another aspect of her struggling to talk throughout this is that Triss' conversational style seems heavy on making assertions she knows aren't true to get people to correct her (she can't possibly think Geralt is motivated by coin now when she was already pointing out he didn't care mid-episode) while Geralt is a big fan of silence or outright agreement if it makes the conversation stop.

Geralt: "It's all it needs to be."
Triss: "You say this is all life is to you, but there is a vortex of fate around all of us, Geralt, growing with each and every one of our choices...drawing our destinies in closer. I feel something out there waits for you. Something more."

So, overall I feel this is very similar to what's going on with Jaskier in the previous episode - a character feels like they're buddies and is interpreting Geralt as being reserved because he's just fundamentally like that, rather than grasping that it's more likely a personal rejection.

Now, let's consider one more time the question of why Triss is really here. Let's dart ahead briefly to the end of the season, when Triss tells Yennefer about this.

Triss: "His daughter was cursed. A striga. I guess I was the only one who didn't see her as a lost cause."
Yennefer: "You saved her?"
Triss: "Well, we did. I enlisted a witcher. Geralt of Rivia."

That is not how Triss presented things all episode. And it doesn't seem like she just very quickly sussed out Yennefer would be more impressed by claiming this, because she's also even voluntarily sharing credit to the point of specifically naming Geralt.

So just as Geralt lies a lot, I think it's very possible Triss is outright lying about this being the Brotherhood's plan. At most, the Brotherhood may have officially agreed to send her with the task while not expecting it to go anywhere, but given their attitude, it seems more likely they meant for that to be a cover story and for Triss to murder the striga first chance she got. Maybe they thought making a show of trying to heal the striga first might make it easier to convince him to deal with it, maybe Triss was to figure out a way to kill it and tell the king whatever she was doing would break the curse.

 

 

In conclusion:

Triss is soft-spoken, trying to save an innocent child, and introduced to us by earnestly trying to talk to Geralt while he's mean to her. That is not, necessarily, the same thing as nice. She does nothing we see to limit the deaths. She hides what happened to a witcher by slandering him, and allows a similar thing to happen to Geralt. Now, it's possible she really didn't have much control over the situation and she did the best she could, but she also does not act very concerned about any of that. Triss is very much an ends-justifies-the-means sort.

She says she's aiming for curing the princess because it's what the Brotherhood decided. Triss also grew up in Aretuza and got Tissaia's great parenting. It is likely that this episode she is taking responsibility for cruelty she had no part in and denying kindness she actually was behind because she has an inverted idea about what you're supposed to want credit for. The overall evidence points to her either volunteering for a post no one wants or deciding this on her own and then convincing them to send her. Her continued certainty that Geralt must have a personal investment in this strongly suggests that's her real motive as well, and her continued dodging of that question suggests she feels scared to admit it.

Triss is lonely and isolated. She doesn't know basic facts about the court, has no idea how to convince anyone to help her in any way, and Geralt, from one encounter, can tell she's getting habitually treated like shit. She also appears to have none of the skills she needs to navigate court intrigue and little ability to actually understand other people. She acts both friendly and relatively respectful toward Geralt, but her conversational skills are based on shared ironies and she doesn't seem to understand that's a bad thing to try with someone who doesn't know you very well and doesn't know where you personally stand on the issue - the jump from a very insular group at Aretuza to the wider world does not seem to have gone well for her at all. When these go poorly, she seems to think it's because Geralt is just closed off to everybody and earnestly suggests he try being more open to the world as a whole.

Relatedly, Triss genuinely seems to have no issue with witchers at all, but given her generally bubbly attitude, it's extremely hard to say if that's because Aretuza's current-day attitude is less prejudiced or because she just didn't pick up on the fact everyone else hates them.

Chapter Text

So, while Geralt and Jaskier interact quite a lot this episode, I'm going to do my best at separating the two metas because there's also a lot going on and believe it or not, I think it's even harder to follow swinging back and forth between Geralt's view of the situation and Jaskier's than just talking about them in parallel like this.

And, for reasons that'll be a lot more obvious on Geralt's meta, I think it's best to do Jaskier first and lay out how he sees the situation.

 

Man: "And he stood in the middle of that frozen lake like he knew it was coming for him. The ice cracked open and a selkiemore shot out! Oh, you've never seen one, but it'd take down a ship with its cavernous mouth full of devil's teeth! And it... swallowed... that witcher... whole!"
Jaskier: "Oh, this is brilliant! Oh, sorry. It's just Geralt's usually so stingy with the details."

Something to note here is that Jaskier does not appear to follow Geralt onto the field. He generally or always gets his information from Geralt afterward. And in this instance we know Geralt didn't insist on going alone given this other man was there and saw the whole thing himself, so that would appear to be a choice Jaskier's making.

Now, there may, admittedly, be extenuating circumstances. For one thing, it's snowing and the man mentioned a "frozen lake". Jaskier may have decided that comfort is the better part of valor and stayed indoors. It's also possible that Jaskier only just arrived and it's just a happy accident it happened when Geralt was mid-job. But he doesn't appear to be lamenting that he missed his chance to see it with his own eyes and "usually" sure sounds like he also usually gets his information from Geralt, rather than first-hand, even though he "usually" finds Geralt's version of events lacking. I don't think he's actually following Geralt on jobs much, if ever.

(It's not impossible Jaskier screwed around too much and Geralt decided Jaskier in particular wasn't allowed to come with him on jobs - but it seems unlikely Geralt could enforce such a boundary on Jaskier given how emphatically he failed at that in their first meeting, and even more unlikely that Jaskier wouldn't be complaining specifically about that. We also, as I got into in the second episode, don't see any evidence for Jaskier actually foolhardy and wanting to regularly risk himself.)

There is a second bit we can interpret: "so stingy with the details"

While the most likely way to take this is that Geralt just does not give enough details for Jaskier's taste, it could also mean Jaskier does get them, he just has to pry them out with question after question instead of it being volunteered in full without prompting, the way the man here is talking.

Jaskier: "Uh... and then what happened?"
Man: "He died."
Jaskier: "Eh... He's fine."

This is funny, but I think it's also noteworthy in the question of does Jaskier develop over the course of the season.

We know in his first appearance, he cheerily follows Geralt into danger while talking loudly. Even tied up he assumes there's nothing to worry about. Does he understand now that Geralt can't necessarily keep him safe under every possible circumstance? Presumably given he's fine getting his information secondhand either most or all of the time. Does he still believe Geralt himself is an unstoppable badass who can't die? Absolutely. This may be coming from a slightly more reasoned place than before, since he knows a lot of what Geralt's accomplished and that the guy's still standing, but it's still the same attitude.

It's also worth considering what this means about the common assumption that Jaskier is seeing the rough bits of being a witcher and helping out. This is not a Jaskier who's ever had to find Geralt after he's collapsed too injured to return to the inn. It's not even a Jaskier who's had to sew up Geralt's injuries or seen him in pain, because to talk like this knowing Geralt could be that hurt would be callous.

A moment later, Geralt comes in covered in gore. Jaskier laughs and spends the rest of the scene completely unbothered by this. The unnamed man asks about the stench, so we know it's unpleasant on a lot of levels, but Jaskier just looks chipper to the point he almost pats Geralt's gore-coated shoulder without thinking, and he also does not seem at all concerned some of that gore might be from Geralt rather than the selkiemore (I don't think that's callousness, to be clear - I think it's just part of his certainty Geralt's fine). Not only does this show us Jaskier seems to have a pretty strong stomach, but no, Geralt isn't taking baths for the sake of his precious bard's delicate sensibilities. Not everything is about Jaskier.

Jaskier prompts everyone to song, does not appear to notice (or else doesn't think anything of) Geralt's total lack of reaction followed by turning away and going elsewhere, and then says, "You're welcome," to a Geralt who seems to be doing his best to ignore him. Geralt then tries to drink something and spits it out. Jaskier does not react to that either.

Jaskier: "And now, Witcher, it's time to repay your debt. 'What debt?' you're probably asking yourself in your head right now. Well, I'll tell you. I've made you famous, Witcher. By rights, I should be claiming ten percent of all your coin, but instead, what I'm asking for is a teeny, teeny-weeny little favor."
Geralt: "Fuck off, bard."

I think from Jaskier's point of view, this is harmless teasing. If he really tried to ask for something as unreasonable as a cut of every contract fee, nobody would listen. The world's a fair place! And by saying something so intentionally exaggerated he makes it clear he doesn't mean it seriously. What he's really trying to do is just emphasize how helpful he's been before asking for the favor. (He may additionally have hoped for this become a back and forth where Geralt asserts that hey bard, I've made you famous, so really shouldn't you be paying me, etc. And it's quite possible Jaskier would stop if he felt Geralt was really objecting - but for whatever reason, being met with "Fuck off, bard." isn't registering. Perhaps, like fandom, Jaskier just assumes Geralt is bad at longer sentences.)

(Also, I've seen people making a lot out of the fact Geralt refers to him as "bard" rather than by name, but it's in response to Jaskier referring to him not as Geralt but "Witcher", twice. Either they both do this equally or Geralt is doing it in response to Jaskier doing it.)

Jaskier: "For one measly night of service, you will gain a cornucopia of earthly delights."

And this fits with the idea Jaskier is playing around. He claimed this is "payment" but is now going on about how Geralt's going to enjoy himself and should show up for that reason. He doesn't seem to have expected his original pitch to convince Geralt (and in fact may have been outright fishing for Geralt to reply with "lol no I made you famous" and give him an opening to preen about why yes, I am famous, and in fact you see that's why I've been invited to this party...) and generally, he seems to have into this viewing it as a negotiation and not just a demand.

In fact, his anxiety in trying to convince Geralt suggests Jaskier really doesn't think he has any actual leverage here. As he says at the start, this is a favor. He just decided to ask for a favor by talking himself up first because he's Jaskier.

Jaskier: "The greatest masters of the culinary arts crafting morsels worthy of the gods. Maidens that would make the sun itself blush with a single comely smile. And rivers of the sweetest of drinks from the rarest of-- (realizes Geralt has gotten halfway across the room) Fuck! Food, women and wine, Geralt!"

And here we see that the two of them have had enough interaction that Jaskier can tell Geralt walking off is him being passive aggressive about his hatred of flowery language. Overall, I think at this stage Jaskier can't make sense of a lot of the why of Geralt's behaviors, but he does know them.

(Did he know that food, women, and wine would convince Geralt, or did he just get lucky that for once, Geralt wants what Jaskier expects? Did it even work, or is it that Jaskier being willing to cut the flowery language is a sign he's actually serious, and that's what's really getting Geralt to consider this?)

Also - will get more into this on Geralt's side, but are "women" as on the table for Geralt as the food and wine? Unclear. Is Jaskier aware of that, if so? No. He suggests nothing to suggest the women at the party will be more amiable to witchers than usual, or, probably more relevantly, that the men there won't insert themselves into the situation.Given what's going to happen at the party itself, I think the point of this episode for Jaskier is that Geralt really does have a different experience with life than he does.

Jaskier by all appearances just follows Geralt up to the baths. Cannot overemphasize how clearly Geralt wants the bath because he personally does not like being covered in stinking guts.

"Now, now, stop your boorish grunts of protest."

For something that is getting gifed constantly, people really seem unclear on what went down here. No, Jaskier does not tenderly clean the gore from Geralt's hair and then brush it. He just dumps a bucket over Geralt's head and from Geralt's disgruntled expression and the fact Jaskier himself characterizes Geralt's "boorish grunts" as ones "of protest" about what he just did, Geralt is absolutely not appreciating Jaskier's participation here. He is, in fact, protesting and Jaskier knows it. At best, Jaskier is "helping" in the sense he's making this go faster (because he wants to get going) despite the fact that's making Geralt's bath less enjoyable.

Jaskier is not much of a caretaker. So far, he's shrugged off hearing Geralt was endangered, shrugged off the fact the guy showed up covered in gore (did I mention it's winter? and he's soaked? in winter?), showed absolutely no hesitation to bug him after a difficult fight, and now is pushing Geralt around in his bath and telling him not to complain about the fact he doesn't like it. Geralt is the one who shows affection through actions. Jaskier, as makes sense for someone whose character revolves around songs, is more about the verbal end of things.

Bear in mind that's not the same thing as Jaskier being incompetent and unable to do basic tasks. If Geralt wasn't going to be presentable for the party in some way, I'm sure he'd step in - it's most likely that's what's going on with the bucket, Jaskier's making sure Geralt doesn't take too long - but in exactly the sort of way as he does with the clothing, namely, because he has standards or a goal of some kind.

Jaskier: "It is one night bodyguarding your very best friend in the whole wide world. How hard could it be?"
Geralt: "I'm not your friend."

I think "how hard could it be?" is an important component here, just like how he insists that Geralt will enjoy the party itself. Jaskier had complete confidence in Geralt's ability to handle a selkiemore. So what's a couple disgruntled noblemen? (And he is allowing Geralt time to respond - if Geralt actually had real objections, Jaskier's not stopping him from stating them. So clearly, Jaskier's right.)

Which in turn feeds into the impression Geralt is just generally grouchy and fun-hating and likes saying stuff he doesn't mean. (And, you know, Geralt definitely does lie, and I'm sure Jaskier noticed that pretty quick.) Jaskier knows there's no actual reason to complain about any of this! And if Geralt is grouching for no reason about this, then he probably just enjoys grouching, and every other objection he raises or visible displeasure is just more of the same.

(Given fandom seems to have completely accepted this as completely true despite having access to so much more evidence to the contrary, it's hard to really blame Jaskier for misunderstanding.)

"Oh. Oh, really? Oh, you usually just let strangers rub chamomile onto your lovely bottom?"

Fandom has made much of this line, so I'd just like to throw in something I haven't seen come up: given this conversation has been about Jaskier running roughshod over Geralt and declaring how things are going to go, it is entirely possible Jaskier isn't talking about something he did but something he's going to do. It's not "you've asked me to do something that intimate before, so that proves we're friends" it's "you're not going to stop me from doing this intimate thing in a minute, so that proves we're friends".

It certainly fits with just how disgruntled Geralt looks about all this and how Jaskier seems to wait a beat for Geralt to say something (refuse?) and then when Geralt just stares at him silently like what the fuck, takes it as a victory/acceptance ("Yeah, well, yeah, exactly. That's what I thought."), and it's also the only thing he's brought up doing where he hasn't tried to suggest Geralt owes him for having already done it. Also, it's the funniest of all options, which I think counts for a lot.

"Every lord, knight and twopenny king worth his salt will be at this betrothal. The Lioness of Cintra herself will sing the praises of Jaskier's triumphant performance!"

People really need to keep in mind Jaskier's fame is something that developed over time. Calanthe didn't invite Jaskier because he's the most popular bard ever and constantly in demand - this is a big deal to him. Given he's never bugged Geralt for bodyguarding before, and given how anxious he is once there, this is probably a first for him.

And while Jaskier definitely sincerely wants someone watching his back, it is worth considering that he may also be sincere in thinking the party as a whole is a stroke of luck for them both. Did he insist on Geralt because he thinks only Geralt can pull this off/because there's no way he can drum up someone else on such short notice, or did he think this would be a win-win situation and the idea Geralt actually might not enjoy himself never occurred to him?

 "How many of these lords want to kill you?"

For example, the fact it's Geralt asking this while Jaskier's been mostly focused on how great it's going to be suggests Jaskier was trying to put the emphasis on "fun night out" and not "I'm emotionally blackmailing you into coming with the threat of my death".

"Hard to say. One stops keeping count after a while. Wives, concubines, mothers sometimes."

I realize this is small compared to the amount of canon people can miss, but Jaskier's idle commentary on all the sleeping around he does is not habitually gender-neutral. It is very clearly that he has sex with women, and the people objecting to this are those women's husbands and sons. This does not prove he's straight, but please rationalize his homosexual dalliances better! If you want a no-homophobia setting where Jaskier isn't keeping his mouth shut because it's a secret, the fact that this is explicitly a patriarchal setting so fucking people's husbands doesn't have the same consequences as fucking people's wives is a perfectly valid option. Meanwhile, if you want actual zero problematicness, you're probably going to need to cut the spouse-fucking entirely (among other things, last episode had a man horrifically murdering a woman for sleeping with someone else) because it's inherently problematic, and trying to present the situation as actually the problem is the wives going psycho bitch over all the cocksucking he does is, at best, tone-deaf as fuck. (Also: if you intend on setting your fic in Unproblematic AU Land please for fuck's sake spend a second thinking about how your narration is treating prostitutes beyond that some of them are guys.)

Also worth pointing out is that Jaskier does not say that he's intentionally going after these women. People seem to have largely interpreted this with Jaskier as the pursuer, but that's not evident in show canon so far. We don't know if he throws himself at women who are spoken for or if he's just attractive and they decide they're going to go for him. That he includes "mothers" seem to imply the issue is men don't like that women find him attractive and want to sleep with him more than adultery in particular, and that would fit with how he's generally acting like it's unfair his actions have consequences - Jaskier may reason that if women are propositioning him relatively out of the blue, they were probably going to sleep with somebody and it's unfair to blame him for it just because he was the first pick. Calanthe telling her daughter she can sleep around all she wants as soon as they're done officiating the marriage is in line with the idea that this kind of thing happens a lot.

(...also yes, it is just a tad awkward how closely linked the reasoning gets at times between "Jaskier is a homewrecking slut whose real hard-on is for adultery" and "Jaskier is bi". So, you know, toning the first part way down if you're going for the second has other benefits.)

"Ooh, yeah, that face! Ooh! Scary face! No lord in his right mind will come close if you're standing next to me with a puss like that."

Hey, remember what I said about Jaskier being colorblind? This episode is actually a really good argument for that. Sure, Jaskier. Them seeing a yellow-eyed witcher standing next to you wouldn't make them think twice, but oh no he looks irritated like he's hearing someone rattle off their many bad decisions, now we're scared.

Jaskier will shortly tell Geralt that it's crucial Geralt pretend to be mute, because apparently he thinks people are most likely to realize Geralt is a witcher by either the sound of his voice and/or his choice of conversation topics (correcting people's monster facts, asking if the party's over yet).

"Ooh, on second thoughts...might want to lay off the Cintran ale. A clear head would be best."

Jaskier does not really put any effort into pulling the drink away from Geralt, which I think suggests he's done this sort of thing before and Geralt never puts up the slightest fight. Given Geralt's general ability to put up a fight, it's again pretty reasonable to read this as friendship, because wow are there a lot of liberties Jaskier takes.

...also, Jaskier just said that Geralt should show up at this party because they had three things he wanted, one of which was wine. Either Jaskier has a very clear idea of how long it takes Geralt to metabolize alcohol and that it should be fine if he only starts drinking at the party or Jaskier has pretty much forgot about how he was trying to entice Geralt into this and is back in what's best for Jaskier mode.

"I will not suffer tonight sober just because you hid your sausage in the wrong royal pantry."

This sure sounds like Geralt was not looking forward to going, but it could be interpreted to just mean being sober would render it suffering. Plus, by this point it's pretty clear that Jaskier tunes out Geralt's complaints as him being a grouchypuss for no reason at all.

Geralt: "I'm not killing anyone. Not over the petty squabbles of men."
Jaskier: "Yes, yes, yes. You never get involved. Except you actually do, all of the time."

And we see that happening here. Jaskier knows Geralt to a degree. The selkiemore might be considered sweet for how solidly Jaskier believes in Geralt's ability, but given witchers absolutely do die, it's overconfident. This, though, is accurate. He knows Geralt gets involved a lot and it's because he cares a lot. But Jaskier seems think that means Geralt is comfortable getting involved and just complaining the whole time so people won't dock machismo points. And, if that's true, this is absolutely a good way to handle it, putting someone in the position where they can point to you and say, "Oh, I am absolutely a heartless stone-cold bastard, but that guy is making me and I just have no choice. I would never, ever do this willingly. I am holding these kittens at swordpoint, and I hate every moment of it."

"Ugh. Is this what happens when you get old? You get unbearably crochety and cantankerous?"

And indeed, Jaskier is now directly expressing his opinion that Geralt just acts cranky over everything regardless of how he feels. Jaskier only has to see an inch and he'll take a mile, then say you're welcome for him doing it.

Jaskier: "Actually, I've always wanted to know, do witchers ever retire?"
Geralt: "Yeah. When they slow and get killed."
Jaskier: "Come on, you must want something for yourself once all this monster hunting nonsense is over with."

So with all that in mind, it's Jaskier who's the one refusing to understand Geralt here, not the other way around. We'll get into what I think is going on in Geralt's head with the other meta. Jaskier's side fits well with him interpreting all of this as a front by Geralt who just likes saying dramatic stuff like this.

We know that Jaskier, at the opening, believes Geralt is unstoppable at monster hunting.

Man: "He died."
Jaskier: "Eh... He's fine."

And that's the mindset Jaskier is in when Geralt says here that witchers eventually die to some monster. That's ridiculous, because that would involve witchers losing a fight with a monster! Haha, oh Geralt, the average peasant might have that little faith in your abilities, but your faithful bard knows better! You'll be fine. So for real, what are your post-monster hunting plans, regular retirement or maybe a teaching position...? Maybe raise horses or something?

Geralt: "I want nothing."
Jaskier: "Well, who knows? Maybe someone out there will want you."
Geralt: "I need no one. And the last thing I want is someone needing me."
Jaskier: "And yet here we are."

So this is all filtered through Jaskier's lens of Geralt being "unbearably crochety and cantankerous". Jaskier, despite his love of words, isn't paying any mind to the distinction of want/need or really any of the specific way Geralt's talking. He's just taking the general content, remembering what people generally mean when they're having this sort of conversation, stripping out anything individual to Geralt as a person or Geralt's situation, then proceeding from there.

Jaskier's take, overall, is much the same as fandom's: that Geralt is just saying, "I am very badass and therefore don't have soft feelings. Also, no one would ever like me and that fact makes me sad." So Jaskier responds with "You're a nice person and people definitely like you. Also, you are right now going to be my bodyguarding at this party, because you like me."

"And yet here we are."

Fandom, and Jaskier, think this is Jaskier winning the argument. It's really, really not.

Jaskier has also snuck off with Geralt's clothing. While this is yet more boundary-pushing, this one is interesting because it actually suggests Jaskier is concerned he couldn't just bully Geralt into wearing other clothing by sheer force of personality, and given how very confident Jaskier is that he can get Geralt to do what he wants throughout this, I think it's possible Jaskier resorts to this only because he's tried and failed to talk Geralt into other clothing before. That said, given Jaskier seems to have an incomplete grasp of how Geralt works here, it could just be that he's just being practical - if he doesn't know for sure Geralt will agree, better to avoid leaving that as an option.

(Which it is actually does have longer reaching implications. Next episode will establish it's possible to make Geralt put on different clothing just by telling him to put on different clothing, so the question is if Jaskier misjudged the situation here and he could've just ordered Geralt into the different outfit or if different factors were to blame.)

"Anyway, you're not going tonight as a witcher."
...
"Right, so stick close to me, look mean and pretend you're a mute. Can't have anyone finding out who you are."

Why?

I've seen the argument that what's really going on here is Jaskier trying to take Geralt to a nice party, but there's little evidence this is really about Geralt and several pieces of evidence to the contrary, such as:

Abruptly getting serious when Geralt brings up the angry noblemen.
Taking Geralt's drink away.
The fact he's visibly anxious.
The fact he does almost immediately get cornered by an angry nobleman.

(Plus, if Jaskier is entirely motivated by doing something nice for Geralt as a date, the fact he's this off-base is far more damning than if he's mostly thinking about his own problems.)

But if he's bringing Geralt to scare people off as he says, surely having a witcher at his back is more intimidating than just a big scowling man. Why doesn't he want that? Why does he even go so far as to say that they "Can't have anyone finding out who you are."? What else is going on here?

The first thing that occurred to me was he's concerned Geralt wouldn't be allowed in as a witcher, but I think that's not too likely a factor for Jaskier because it'd mean there's a chance of Geralt being found out when they try to enter and being refused, leaving Jaskier unguarded for the entirety of the party, and Jaskier doesn't seem to be concerned about that possibility or have any backup plan. He also seems to think he'll have to force Geralt to play along, which is odd if Geralt knows playing along is required to enter at all. This is also right after Jaskier so completely does not get that witchers fight monsters until they die that he responds to being explicitly told that with "yeah yeah, but anyway, what are you planning to do next when you're done fighting monsters?" And, of course, there's the fact we know Geralt doesn't run into any problems being there as a witcher - so this option only makes sense if we assume Jaskier misjudged things as far worse than they are, which does not at all fit with him spending the episode assuming they're better.

My guess? He's going to complain about Geralt upstaging him later, and that may have been on his mind from the start. That would also match with his decision to go to the party overall. Remember -

Jaskier: "The Lioness of Cintra herself will sing the praises of Jaskier's triumphant performance!"
Geralt: "How many of these lords want to kill you?"

Jaskier is willing to risk himself for the reward of greater fame. Passing Geralt off as a normal human because it's getting more fame by compromising on safety would fit with what he's already doing.

Or that's the plan, anyway. Geralt is immediately and loudly identified by Mousesack.

Jaskier? Not looking his best. He's definitely anxious, and while I don't think Geralt being recognized actually changes much for him, it's probably not great for his nerves that his plan for the party falls apart as soon as he's done explaining it. Not really an auspicious start to Jaskier's evening, is it?

(And Calanthe, the one who actually hired him, is not there yet, which may also be worrying. If nothing else, she's the only one with any investment in him surviving long enough to play.)

(Oh, worth mentioning - is it that Pavetta's the Jaskier fan? No. She doesn't register he's there, and if it was an attempted olive branch by her mother, Calanthe would've referenced it while telling Pavetta to stop acting like this is the worst night ever. It's more likely Jaskier is has become generally well-known so he was hired when Calanthe realized she'd need somebody to entertain people and his name was put forward, especially since the moment he tries to actually sing a song Calanthe orders him to play a jig instead, and later on while everyone's clapping along to his song she's sighing up on her throne about how she wishes the stupid party was over and she's only doing all of it because the nobility down there demand it.)

And Jaskier is right to be anxious, since mere minutes later he's been cornered by an angry nobleman.

Jaskier, honestly, looks like he's about as fucked as the guy's wife. He is easily grabbed and backed against a wall, and he just waves his hands a bit while failing to talk.

"Um, well..."

Really putting that silver tongue to work there, Jaskier.

It's possible he'd do better under other circumstances, but I'm dubious.

Maybe he normally is good at bolting but feels he can't because he's been hired? But bolting and then creeping back in once it was time to actually perform would've been a smarter move, and his general awkwardness doesn't look like someone who could flee. He doesn't even manage to delay the guy's grab, it happens immediately.

I really don't think he usually fights his way out and is just restraining himself from causing a scene. Nothing about how he's moving suggests he has options and is choosing not to take them.

And he clearly can't talk his way out.

My guess is his usual way to handle it is advance planning. That's how he was trying to deal with the problem this time, after all. So he probably takes stock of windows when he's cheating and is ready to throw himself out one enough in advance of the lord's arrival to have a good head start, which does fit well with the fact this guy got a look at his ass but not his face.

"Oh, wow. Thank you. Thank you so much. First of all, you hog all the fanfare, then you go and ruin my courtly reputation."

Also - when Geralt shows up, it's pretty clear Jaskier absolutely wanted violence to be the way this was resolved, so he wasn't holding back because he wanted to avoid a scene.

Geralt tells him that saying he's an eunuch saved his life and that he's not going to do anything more. I don't think Jaskier even pauses to consider if maybe Geralt means it about not getting involved again. He does, however, probably want to avoid further incidents on the basis that Geralt just proved he'll involve himself in really annoying ways instead of the mute stabbings Jaskier was actually expecting.

The party continues and Geralt gets involved in a totally different petty squabble of men.

"The Butcher of Blaviken bleats utter nonsense."

Jaskier is bragging at the start about how his songs have turned everything around for Geralt. Here he sees with us how very fragile and conditional that treatment actually is. It was never really about Geralt's reputation. It was just a matter of being a witcher. As soon as he doesn't play along, he's no longer the White Wolf but the Butcher again. (And "bleats" is a weird word choice, so it seems likely to be a reference to the song, as if they're making the point they've heard it and still think he's a subhuman mutant.)

Jaskier knew going into this that the party would be a risk, but it's entirely the result of his own actions. He slept around with women in relationships and a lot of people are mad as a consequence about what he chose to do. Geralt, in contrast, is at risk during this party as a consequence of what he is.

Does Jaskier register this, at the time? It doesn't seem so. Possibly he does but it's overshadowed by the need to deal with the problems they're facing right now.

And how does he deal with it?

Does Jaskier leap to Geralt's defense? Does he ever not. I'm not sure what string of roulette wheel character quirks ended on the whole "feral bard" thing, but it's about as far from his actual character as you could get. He's not lunging across tables to knife people over Geralt's honor. He's not even managing words to defend him - he can't even manage the tiny risk of doing something like starting another song to distract people.

Jaskier is cautious, very aware of personal risk, and if anything, seems prone to freezing up when social situations go south.

Jaskier definitely reacts. This is bad, it's distressing, he does not like where it's going, and the only thing he can do is tell Geralt to keep his temper. This reaction seems to be what gives Geralt pause and makes him consider his words so he can get out of it without offending anyone. And Jaskier's incredibly relieved when Geralt manages this.

Now, is that reaction because he's worried for Geralt or because he's worried for himself if Geralt won't play along and get kicked out?

While I can really see why people would assume the former, this repeats when Geralt refuses to play along with story of him murdering an army of elves.

Man: "But the song!"
Jaskier, through his teeth: "Yeah, the song."

So I do see how the first time could be interpreted in other ways, but the second one is literally just one minute after the first. I don't know how anyone could manage to see one and not the other. (The gif doesn't capture this as clearly, but he's even doing a little "come on, play along for me" wink at the end.)

Jaskier is worried for himself because it looks bad if his song is a pack of lies. Geralt contradicting the song solely to say he personally got "my arse kicked by a ragged band of elves" isn't going to offend the lords in any way that's harmful to himself - indeed, Eist is happy to take it as an opening to tell Calanthe that she's better than a witcher and could've taken those elves and in fact the elves would never have tried it in the first place because Calanthe is just the best ever and everyone knows it especially him, and like just hypothetically but if married to him he would definitely be fine being the one in her shadow haha just kidding...unless...

According to the Netflix timeline, Jaskier is twenty-fucking-seven at this point.

Has his opinion changed at all on it? Between singing it at the beginning and this, not really. At absolute most, he may feel when specifically pressed on it that okay, in retrospect, it'd have been better to use a different monster but what's done is done, and when the best you can say is that he gives no outward sign but it's not explicitly proven he doesn't secretly feel maybe a tinge...well, that's not a particularly ringing endorsement of Jaskier's character.

I've seen people twist themselves into a pretzel arguing that no actually the song was to protect elves and actually Geralt was dumb because he told Calanthe that the elves were still alive and then solely because Geralt didn't understand what Jaskier was nobly doing, they all died. So: holy shit, no. Aside from everything else wrong with this from characterization to timeline to geography to the song's content itself, this requires Jaskier to have spent a decade lying to Geralt about why he wrote that song for absolutely no reason given this very incident made it clear Geralt is on the elves' side. The very first thing Geralt does when Jaskier starts composing is to say not to be an asshole to the elves and Jaskier brushes him off! Jaskier was not secretly the hero for writing a racist song.

Geralt then intentionally escalates the situation with his whole "Which is all I can hope for you, good lords. At your final breath, a shitless death. But I doubt it." and given the previous exchange was Jaskier saying to play along followed by Geralt playing along, it's hard not to see this as a fuck-you specifically because of the content of the song. Jaskier presumably notices this difference, but we have no idea what he makes of it - possibly, he dismisses it at Geralt having used up his yearly allotment of playing nice with others by saying it's hypothetically possible the lords weren't lying and this is just Geralt being "unbearably crotchety and cantankerous".

At this point Geralt gets invited up to the queen's table so she can hire/threaten him, and Jaskier presumably has no idea about any of that and is just annoyed he's been again upstaged. (In fairness, he certainly knows that Geralt isn't doing this intentionally, but it's still going to be annoying.)

When next we return to Jaskier, he's singing the Fishmonger's Daughter.

♪ For 'tis naught but bad luck ♪
♪ To fuck with a puck ♪
♪ Lest your grandkid be born ♪
♪ A hairy young faun ♪

If I'm being very charitable, I can see how this song, if someone was singing it in our world, might seem like just a string of silly words with absolutely no subtext or political meaning. (...and even then, you shouldn't be surprised if it ends up a dogwhistle.)

But this is getting sung in a fantasy world with other humanoid species who can interbreed. At a Cintran party in front of the queen whose daughter just brought up that she murders elves, in the same episode as Ciri's getting a very special lesson from Dara about how the Cintran queen genocided elves. The only possible mitigating factor is we know Jaskier sings about things that aren't real sometimes, so possibly the creatures here aren't and this is only metaphorically about how gross and terrible imaginary interbreeding is rather than about actual real people. (...but "puck" is another name for the definitely real sylvan who features in the other song as a devil, so even that much is likely giving him too much credit.)

I don't think you can even argue Jaskier is just accidentally singing about how bad miscegenation is. It's important that his character is a good bard which means he knows to write songs people want to hear and how to work a crowd, and again, Toss a Coin has him actually saying he's going to write something racist because he knows it's what his audience wants. And the song is immediately followed by Duny's arrival, to which the queen responds with, "Murder the nonhuman monster for thinking he's allowed to fuck my daughter," and the crowd goes, "Yeah, murder is totally acceptable in this situation." Is Jaskier to blame for that? No. Jaskier's just another drop of support because it's to his own benefit, and all that together adds up to the overall culture we see.

Fishmonger's Daughter is not demonizing anybody to the point of literally saying they're led by a devil, so it's still better than the last thing we heard him sing, but it's definitely not a sign there's been any positive change on this front.

Anyway, fighting starts happening, Jaskier stays very out of it. Given he's holding up his valuable lute as a shield at times, I think we can be reasonably sure he's either wholly unarmed or pretty hopeless with any dagger he does carry.

Jaskier spends the rest of the party hanging out with a woman, possibly the Countess de Stael who'll be referenced next episode, possibly not. Either way, she appears to be on her own because he's consistently with her without running into any problems, and he stays next to her as Geralt and his ability to defend Jaskier from angry husbands leave.

What happens next to Jaskier is unclear since we're following Geralt. My guess is that Calanthe does not initially know who's to blame for bringing Geralt - possibly she's too busy being shellshocked by the entire disaster, and having Mousesack convince her to let him stay and help with Pavetta's magic is another distraction, and it may not even occur to her that Geralt was brought by someone as opposed to wandering in. No one seems to question Geralt being at the banquet, witchers do talk to nobles a lot since they get hired by them, and witchers are something of a novelty. So, for all we know showing up at parties is just a thing witchers do sometimes and she doesn't even realize there's someone else she could vent her rage on.

Even if Calanthe never quite puts it together, she absolutely kicks Jaskier out of her country and bans his songs soon after. Ciri not only has no idea who "Geralt of Rivia" is, random Cintrans have no idea either. The only question is how fast she acts - it's possible, though a stretch, she only completely locks down any reference to Geralt and what happened at the betrothal after her daughter dies.

So, no, there's no way Jaskier was regularly checking up on Ciri. It's unlikely it'd occur to him anyway, but he'd also be aware if tried it'd end with his head on a pike. (At absolute most, Jaskier may have swung through once while Pavetta was still alive, but given how intensely murderous Calanthe is and how terrified he was of the ire of ordinary noblemen, I find it very hard to believe he poked that bear, and given how hard Calanthe works to keep Geralt away from Ciri, why would she let Geralt's sneaky bard near her granddaughter when she was an easily stealable baby?)

It's interesting that Jaskier never complains to Geralt about this, especially when at the start he's talking about how good it'll be for him to impress Calanthe. Either the woman he's with is the Countess, in which case he's been hanging out there until Episode 5 and it didn't matter which countries he was completely banned from since he had a cushy job the whole time, or he's just pretty accepting of people epicly fucking up. I do think it's a point in favor of Jaskier not actually holding grudges much, since it would be completely reasonable to be upset at Geralt for something with this much impact on his career and general safety.

 

In conclusion:

Jaskier is very, very pushy. He does not listen to other people and he is absolutely garbage at understanding different life experiences than his own.

Jaskier seems to have come to the understanding that witchers aren't gods and personally tagging along is a bad idea, but he remains convinced that witchers themselves run into no real difficulty and he is absolutely convinced witchers are unkillable, even when Geralt directly says they all die to monsters in the end. According to show canon, Jaskier does not appear to ever see Geralt too injured, let alone is ever in a position where Geralt needs his help with anything. Not saying people shouldn't write that, but rather, if you're writing that happening, it's a divergence, and one that'd significantly change their relationship from that point on. (And almost certainly in the direction people want it to change.)

Jaskier does not play any pronoun games in canon. If he's bi, he's keeping it a secret and no one else dares bring it up either, so if you want a no-homophobia setting with your bi Jaskier, you're going AU - it's not going to be a big change but it does require more thought than adding "husband" to the list of people Jaskier shouldn't have fucked.

There is an enormous overlap between men who are willing to hurt or kill another man for sleeping with their wife and men who will hurt or kill their wife for it. And again, in the previous episode a man horribly murdered a woman over this, so it's very much on the table in the setting. So if you're writing Jaskier positively, please, for the love of god, stop having him beeline toward the nearest married person to convince them that adultery is fun and then keep doing it until an angry mob forces him out of town. Jaskier getting propositioned by married women and going for it: more or less Jaskier just making a dumb personal decision, the women are making that choice freely. Jaskier trying to seduce married women into sleeping with him: significantly, significantly more shitty. Jaskier doing the same thing with husbands: still shitty, two dicks doesn't make a right. Note there is absolutely nothing in canon pointing to him pushing people into this. We don't canonically see him getting run out of towns. We don't canonically see him flirting with people he shouldn't be - at the party, we see him with the same woman quite openly for the second half of the party without him having any trouble. Geralt's opinion is  easily read as just to stop agreeing to sex that's an obviously bad idea.

This episode has Jaskier pushing Geralt into something that's a bad idea because witcher racism, but it's unclear if Jaskier actually registers that's what happened and that Geralt's objections weren't him being a grouchy old man after all.

Jaskier does not defend Geralt. He doesn't. He is not knifing people over Geralt's honor. He's not even going up to them to get into verbal fights. Possibly in a tavern or such where he's not feeling so worried about angry lords he'd try to redirect the conversation or something, but we don't have any actual evidence he even does that much. Now, that's not a horrible sin on his part. The fact it's absolutely not what Geralt would want means it'd actually be pretty bad of him to be flinging himself into against Geralt's wishes. But it is absolutely ridiculous to look at the canon fact he sings nice songs about Geralt and insist he spent twenty years putting his life on the line personally defending Geralt from all comers, and why doesn't Geralt appreciate all those things that never actually happened. Also, Jaskier is obviously not much of a fighter and flatly couldn't do this and survive - really, even someone who was a skilled fighter would get themselves killed behaving like this before too long.

"Toss a Coin" is a song Jaskier wrote for fame, admitted he was doing it by pandering to people's racism, and does not appear to have remorse over a decade later. At best, he wouldn't write another song like that at present, and, really can't overemphasize, by "at best" I mean "canon does not explicitly say it's impossible, only makes it clear he's still proud of the song, sings it at any opportunity, and tells Geralt he should be grateful about it". The other song we see him sing isn't much better.

Jaskier absolutely does not go back to Cintra after this and he's not Ciri's secondary dad. He is, in his favor, apparently not holding any grudge about the spillover from Geralt's actions on both a professional and personal level.

Chapter Text

"I tell you no lie, it swallowed the whole village, it did. Not a bone to be found! Oh, don't give me that look, shitling. That's why we had to call him... The White Wolf!"

So, the third episode showed that Jaskier had popularized a lot of songs about Geralt, and this one is showing it's not only let Jaskier give him a new title but actually worked as advertisement. (Does this bug other witchers? Does it, in fact, bug them way more than the Butcher business? God, I can't wait for others to show up.)

"And he stood in the middle of that frozen lake like he knew it was coming for him. The ice cracked open and a selkiemore shot out! Oh, you've never seen one, but it'd take down a ship with its cavernous mouth full of devil's teeth! And it... swallowed... that witcher... whole!"
Jaskier: "Oh, this is brilliant! Oh, sorry. It's just Geralt's usually so stingy with the details."

Oh, "usually". That word's a problem.

See, this could mean that sometimes Geralt is stingy and sometimes he's not. That's definitely what was just literally said. But people often aren't literal, and Jaskier in particular is okay massaging the truth in casual conversation, so it could also mean that Geralt's always stingy but Jaskier isn't talking precisely.

The obvious way of reading this, of course, is that Geralt hasn't a poet's soul. He simply can't give good descriptions. But we know that's false. Remember the first episode?

"Want to hear about my first monster? Wasn't 50 miles outside of Kaer Morhen. He was huge. Stinking. Bald head. Rotten teeth. He pulled that girl from the cart, tore her dress off in front of her father and said, 'It's time you met a real man.' I told him it was time he met one too. It took two strikes to kill him. They weren't clean. But they were spectacular. I turned to that girl afterwards. She was drenched in the man's blood. She took one look at me, screamed, vomited, and passed out. Yeah. I thought the world needed me too."

So something else is going on.

One option is that it's not that Geralt won't give the details, it's just that Jaskier has to pry them out of him while this guy is holding forth all on his own. Given Jaskier's about to waylay Geralt on his way to a bath, it could just be that he's bugging Geralt when Geralt doesn't want to talk right after a fight and is mistaking "stingy" for "not right now". Another, far more entertaining option is that Geralt only tells actual stories to Roach. Jaskier always gets the bare minimum but for details, he's at the mercy of what tale Geralt decides Roach wants to hear about tonight which may have nothing to do with recent events.

("Come on, surely Geralt would feel embarrassed for people to know he talks to his horse!" you say. "Surely that's a deep secret he keeps from Jaskier. Even Ciri knew to be embarrassed about it and she was not only completely alone but is a kid where that's halfway acceptable!" No. We literally see him talking to his horse in front of people and showing no shame whatsoever. Probably the only thing keeping him from doing it more is the terrible risk that nearby people might think he's talking to them and, horror of horrors, engage him in conversation. Not needing to give a fuck about acting cool and badass is possibly the only upside of being a witcher, people. Embrace the fact Geralt gives his horses the same stupid name and holds conversations with them like that's completely normal.)

Jaskier: Uh... and then what happened?
Man: He died.
Jaskier: Eh... He's fine.

At this point, Geralt arrives, covered in guts.

Now, remember that in the opening shot there's snow and the man said Geralt was attacked while standing on lake ice. Geralt did not make it all the way back to this inn without cleaning up because Geralt doesn't give a shit about cleanliness but because it is literally freezing cold. No, Geralt does not bathe only because Jaskier is as delicate a flower as his namesake. Jaskier's the one who gives zero shits about him being encrusted in gore. Geralt does not like being covered in gore. Geralt wants to take a damn bath. Not everything is because of Jaskier.

"Had to get it from the inside. I'll take what I'm owed."

He's paid beforehand in the second episode. In the third, his compatriot was paid beforehand and Geralt makes a point that taking payment after is part of it being an apology for the other witcher apparently cheating them. So, why this?

Well, the most Jaskiery answer is that Geralt has found people pay up what they say they'll pay, but it's a bit hard to see how he'd have learned that without a reason to take the risk first. Another possibility could be that, going by the opening shot, they're in a pretty empty area where Geralt can more easily intimidate anyone trying to cheat him knowing they can't have that much backup, so he doesn't have to be as cautious as he would in a more populated area. A third is that he knew he'd have to return to the inn - he couldn't leave Roach by a frozen lake and he was going to need a bath afterward anyway. So better, perhaps, to have the money stay with the guy hiring him than take it in advance only to find he was robbed when he returns and everyone insisting they have no idea where it could've gone.

At any rate, it's fine. In fact, everyone starts singing Jaskier's song.

Geralt does not look appreciative in the slightest. He heads away from the singers to get to the bar.

Jaskier: "And now, Witcher, it's time to repay your debt. "What debt?" you're probably asking yourself in your head right now. Well, I'll tell you. I've made you famous, Witcher. By rights, I should be claiming ten percent of all your coin, but instead, what I'm asking for is a teeny, teeny-weeny little favor."
Geralt: "Fuck off, bard."

So, there's the obvious here, which is that we know Geralt didn't ask him to do this, we know Geralt explicitly said he did not want to do this, and we just saw Geralt look substantially less than pleased by people singing, even if it was his praises. It's possible that in the time off-camera between his initial refusal and his current disgruntlement he was more positive about what Jaskier's doing, but...pretty odd to set it up that way, if so. In other words, on the face of it, this is Jaskier being pushy again. Whether or not he actually helped (and whatever the monetary situation, I do think a very good argument can be made for this helping Geralt's mental health enormously regardless of if he appreciates it), Geralt by all appearances is being told to pay up for something he refused.

As I said, Jaskier presumably is joking. I think, though, it's also worth pointing out there's an underlying disparity between the two.

I think from Geralt's point of view, it is probably very plausible that a human could screw him over by making unreasonable demands like this, because he can't rely on either the law or the general public to side with a witcher. He may know Jaskier well enough to understand the man's joking but it's not a joke in good taste - and it does seem like this kind of thing is a sore point like the things he reacts badly to in the previous episodes, to the degree he may have decided it's best to just assume all humans are out to screw him over rather than try to guess on an individual basis. It may not be wholly fair to judge Jaskier in part by the behavior of everyone else Geralt's met, but it's certainly unfair to insist that after everything Geralt's been through, he's the one who always has to be perfectly impartial and rational and willing to risk getting hurt yet again.

(And can he even know Jaskier wouldn't be willing to do this? If Jaskier is only joking because he doesn't know things don't work that way, would he, if he knew he could get away with it?)

Note also Geralt is, in fact, using his words to say he doesn't like this. Jaskier just isn't listening.

And also, again, he's covered in gore and visibly unhappy about this the whole time this conversation is happening. The very fact Jaskier thinks bugging him right now is acceptable does argue for it being plausible Jaskier believes what he's saying.

Jaskier: "For one measly night of service, you will gain a cornucopia of earthly delights. The greatest masters of the culinary arts crafting morsels worthy of the gods. Maidens that would make the sun itself blush with a single comely smile. And rivers of the sweetest of drinks from the rarest of--"
(Geralt walks away.)
Jaskier: "Fuck! Food, women and wine, Geralt!"

Geralt is certainly cranky, isn't he?

It's hard to be sure if this is a general preference of his or if it's the context. See, it's easy to take at face value that he just doesn't like it, but Geralt never seems to have any difficulty actually understanding different styles of speaking and is given to conversational flourishes of his own. It's similar to him complaining about Stregobor's flowery language, but similarly, the surrounding context is that Geralt wants to be done with the conversation and the flowery language is serving as an impediment to that.

(Is it positive that he directly engages Stregobor, but expects Jaskier to know what his problem is without being told? Or does his minimal talking throughout this scene suggest that he's used to Jaskier ignoring what he says?)

At any rate, "Food, women and wine, Geralt!" is apparently a better pitch.

Now, the middle one is interesting. Is Geralt expected to have the opportunity to hook up with one of those "Maidens that would make the sun itself blush with a single comely smile"? Is that an option or is this Jaskier overlooking ways Geralt's life is different than his?

As I talked about way back in the first chapter, the hostility Geralt faces seems to come in a rather gendered flavor. However, women being willing to talk civilly is not the same thing as being willing to actually hook up, and even if they were interested personally, there's also the issue that the aggression he faces from the other men could spill over to anyone with him. So, the question is if he just faces more difficulty than someone like Jaskier or if it's more of a once in a blue moon situation. The fact we see him with a prostitute clarifies little, because that was part of his three day very dull bender in the middle of nowhere. The only scrap of possibly relevant information is the prostitute does not seem to have been super concerned about exactly how much money he had, which very strongly suggests witchers don't pay inflated rates, which in turn suggests that women generally don't really see having sex with a witcher as much different than having sex with a human man.

I think it's possible Geralt could manage to hook up with someone at the party but it's not a likely event, and it's possible that just as Jaskier is concerned that noblemen will be upset about his past adventures in fucking, the noblemen might start a fight if it looks like Geralt is going to because that's above his station.

And that, in turn, suggests either just the free food and drink part is enough - at a guess, if it does take a lot of alcohol to get Geralt drunk, "open bar" would make for a much stronger incentive for him than most people.

Or else what's making him reconsider is that he can tell Jaskier is desperate. Maybe walking off in the middle of Jaskier's more florid pronouncements usually doesn't get a reaction, and the fact Jaskier cared enough to drop into plain speech and otherwise make any attempt to take Geralt's preferences into account is taken as a bad sign by Geralt.

We'll see shortly that the first thing Geralt asks when he gets to the party is when he'll get to leave, so either he was hoping to stay only long enough to drain a winekeg and then fuck off or none of that actually made him want to go and he's doing it because Jaskier is making it clear how much Jaskier wants it. The latter, though, would suggest Jaskier is being unusually accommodating here, which...does not exactly speak well for how their usual interactions go.

Geralt then finally goes to get his bath and Jaskier tags along to keep bugging him.

Jaskier: "It is one night bodyguarding your very best friend in the whole wide world. How hard could it be?"
Geralt: "I'm not your friend."

People make a big deal of Geralt's later refusal to call Jaskier his friend, but I think it's important to consider the context.

First, Jaskier doesn't think it's even possible for anything to have gone wrong during the selkiemore hunt, which means that there is no way Jaskier has been doing things like patching Geralt up after fights or riding off to find a half-dead Geralt when he doesn't come back. Those things make for dramatic stories, and I understand why people gravitate to that plot, but Geralt's behavior toward Jaskier right now is happening in the universe where none of that happened. (How exactly would Geralt act if that happened? Dunno! He wasn't too nice toward Triss who actually did patch him up and likely save his life, but Geralt was getting triggered left and right the whole episode and he barely knew Triss. Also, the whole reason he fucked off at top speed was because he needed to outrun any emotions. Lot of room to explore with someone he actually knows and will still be interacting with the next day.)

Throughout the scene in the inn, Geralt either does not like what Jaskier is doing or for some reason he thinks it's very important to act like he doesn't like what Jaskier's doing - and we know Geralt isn't that good at being stonefaced. He smiles when pretending to be grumpy in the very first episode.

Jaskier also just brought up the idea Geralt should be monetarily grateful for the songs and in the process reminded him once again that Jaskier's stated reason for hanging out with him is to mine him for song inspiration and become famous. (We'll also see by the end of this episode that Geralt is actually very uncomfortable with the idea of payment outside of specific monster contracts. It's very unlikely he sees this stuff as friendly social glue like Jaskier appears to.)

And Jaskier also doesn't appear to know anything about Geralt's actual social circle. He's going to be surprised Geralt knows Mousesack, and we also never get any references to witchers or other people Geralt knows. So Jaskier doesn't even know Geralt well enough to know if he has friends but is willing to declare himself Geralt's "very best friend in the whole wide world".

...and finally, Jaskier is saying this explicitly in the context of trying to get Geralt to do what he wants. Friendship as a transaction keeps coming up.

Which is not to say that Geralt necessarily hates him, or even necessarily doesn't think of him as a friend. But if you make it clear you're going to be charging someone for the gift of your friendship, you shouldn't be surprised when people respond by saying you're not actually friends.

Jaskier: "Every lord, knight and twopenny king worth his salt will be at this betrothal. The Lioness of Cintra herself will sing the praises of Jaskier's triumphant performance!"
Geralt: "How many of these lords want to kill you?"

Like I said, it's hard to be sure if Geralt actually cares about the "food, women, and wine" but it seems the most likely reason he agreed is that Jaskier somewhat inadvertently took himself hostage.

"Ooh, yeah, that face! Ooh! Scary face! No lord in his right mind will come close if you're standing next to me with a puss like that."

This is pretty obviously Geralt being displeased and Jaskier just does not care!

Another thing we learned with Marilka is Geralt does not have much else in his toolkit once "glower" has failed. That's another reason to be uncomfortable with the whole friendship business - from what we've seen, humans only listen to Geralt about anything when the threat of violence is on the table. Geralt isn't actually willing to hurt someone over minor things, so as soon as his bluff is called, he's out of options.

"Ooh, on second thoughts...might want to lay off the Cintran ale. A clear head would be best."

And indeed, Jaskier follows this up by straight up taking the drink from Geralt's hand.

I mentioned in Jaskier's side that it's unclear if this has any connection to how witcher metabolisms work. The third episode suggests Geralt gets something out of drinking and Geralt is about to respond by saying he's annoyed the ale was taken because he doesn't want to be sober. Possibly alcohol works on them differently than so many other poisons? ("Poison" covers a lot.) Or possibly whatever potion Geralt took for the selkiemore fight has his liver completely occupied and he's extra cranky because he actually can get drunk easily right now.

"I will not suffer tonight sober just because you hid your sausage in the wrong royal pantry."

Geralt will in fact spend the night with a drink (and quite possibly drunk, something to keep in mind), so this is not him just refusing to admit the fact Jaskier is in any way right. He wants the drink, he will get another drink as soon as the opportunity presents itself, but right now his choices are get into a physical fight with a human to reclaim his drink or give up, and so Jaskier is able to do anything he pleases.

Did Geralt put up a fight exactly once and it just resulted in Jaskier continuing to play grabbyhands with whatever it was so he gave up? Did he not attempt at all?

He then goes on to establish why it's a matter of "suffering" his way through tonight: "I'm not killing anyone. Not over the petty squabbles of men."

This is something Geralt is actually incredibly uncomfortable with! He wasn't willing to take sides in something as open and shut as Renfri vs Stregobor.

And while I think Geralt is personally good at deescalation, the fact is we can see it often doesn't work for him anyway. Some people just don't want to, nobles are probably worse about this, and just being a witcher trying to avoid a fight is often seen as provocation. He knows this could go badly and fast.

"Yes, yes, yes. You never get involved. Except you actually do, all of the time."

This gets more Looks from Geralt, and I think it's the best example of why Geralt does his best to hold Jaskier at arm's length. The more Jaskier believes Geralt cares, the more Jaskier pushes.

Jaskier: "Actually, I've always wanted to know, do witchers ever retire?"
Geralt: "Yeah. When they slow and get killed."
Jaskier: "Come on, you must want something for yourself once all this monster hunting nonsense is over with."

I've said Jaskier is kind of meta for how he views things and fandom views things, and I think this conversation is the biggest example of that.

The fandom consensus is that Geralt doesn't understand his feelings, and this is largely a matter, like Jaskier, of being the ones who don't understand his feelings and then going "no, it's Geralt who is wrong" when he behaves in a way that doesn't match up with that.

Geralt's not saying he thinks regular retirement is for wussy babies and that witchers are such manly badasses they just keep fighting monsters forever. It's not just that absolutely nothing here suggests Geralt decided this sounds like a great idea, it's being stated in response to what happens to other witchers. "Do you retire?"/"Yeah, when I slow down and get killed." could be misunderstood as him saying he's chosen to do that, but he's talking about other witchers. What he's saying is what actually happened to them and that it happened because they are witchers and that's how the world works.

This isn't just a misunderstanding, it's Jaskier refusing to hear something he doesn't want to hear, deciding Geralt must have said something else, then responding to Imaginary Geralt. That's going to be annoying at the best of times, but when you just said, "I'm going to die and I don't have any choice in the matter!" it's especially galling for the person to reply, "Don't make shit up, now what are you really going to do?"

(And "nonsense" is also a very loaded word to use here. Pretty much the only bright spot in Geralt's life is that at least his monster hunting is necessary and important, at least he's helping people like that, even if every other aspect of being a witcher is terrible.)

Which is why Geralt snaps back, "I want nothing." You could take this to mean Geralt's refusing to admit he wants anything, and there is an element of that, but this conversation has Geralt vocally expressing wants, like wanting that drink Jaskier just yanked out of his hand. In context, I think he's specifically refusing Jaskier's assumption he has a bunch of things he wants for the future and I think this is true - Geralt never considers it in the first place, for obvious reasons, can honestly say that no, he doesn't, not everyone is allowed the luxury of thinking about what they want to do when they're old, or when they're done with their current job. And because this is a deliberate choice not to think about that, he is understandably cranky about someone pushing him to do so.

Jaskier: "Well, who knows? Maybe someone out there will want you."
Geralt: "I need no one. And the last thing I want is someone needing me."

Fandom, again, seems to really want to read Geralt as deluded here when I think he's being pretty clear.

He doesn't need someone wanting him and he doesn't want someone needing him. And he has very good reason to think that!

Geralt is about to get pulled into a situation that has a very good chance of going wrong for him thanks to all this "socializing" and "friendship" stuff. People wanting him has downsides and we know this because we are seeing a downside right now! More generally, he just can't reliably be there for someone who "wants" him - it's just another demand he's going to fail at in the end. The only thing worse - the absolute last thing he would want - would be someone "needing" him, because then there's going to be horrible consequences when that inevitably happens.

Now, we can talk about how Geralt really does "need" social connection, but this isn't coming out of nowhere. There are absolutely downsides to it, and if Geralt could manage to function without it, it'd be a lot better for him.

(Also: again, no, Jaskier has not, canonically, been pulling Geralt's bacon from the fire. Geralt is not just refusing to acknowledge all the times he needed Jaskier's help him when he was injured. Geralt has, physically, been handling himself fine just like he had all the years before Jaskier.)

"And yet here we are."

Yes! Geralt is getting pulled into going to a party he does not want to because Jaskier is in danger and decided the solution was Geralt, and there is a really good chance that Geralt could fail to protect Jaskier because if a nobleman decided to attack Jaskier and then Geralt pulls out a sword then everyone else might pull out a sword and Geralt can survive it but that doesn't mean Jaskier will.

So in conclusion, no, Geralt completely got everything Jaskier was saying, which is why Jaskier reiterating it at the end doesn't get a reaction. No, this is not because Geralt is the most oblivious person to ever live or massively in denial about Jaskier. It's Jaskier who doesn't understand that Geralt completely heard what he said and is disagreeing with it.

Now, it's definitely possible to make an argument against what Geralt's saying, but Jaskier is not doing so. Geralt may be wrong, Jaskier definitely is. If someone says, "the last thing I want is someone needing me", "but I do lol" is not a rebuttal to that, it's exactly what the person was saying they don't want and likely why they just said that right to your face as firmly as possible. And given a part of why he doesn't want it is presumably that he thinks it's going to end badly for both sides, it's just further reason to respond to anyone getting pushy by working harder and harder at keeping them at arm's length. What Geralt actually wants would appear to be for people to like him without it coming with a pile of obligations he's going to fail at and then they're dead and he's to blame, again.

Geralt: "Where the fuck are my clothes, Jaskier?"
Jaskier: "Ah. Well, uh, they were sort of covered in selkiemore guts, so I sent them away to be washed."

And putting aside the emotional clusterfuck of the previous lines, on a practical level Geralt has reason to be extra standoffish with Jaskier because he pulls this kind of shit.

"Anyway, you're not going tonight as a witcher."

Why Jaskier wanted this is a bit hard to say. What's not hard to say is that if Geralt was in the slightest bit comfortable hiding being a witcher, he could change basically anything about how he usually carries himself to be less obvious and he doesn't. Geralt self-identifies as a witcher and not a human, and Geralt by all appearances prefers everyone around to know he's one even though he's often received negatively. We don't know to what degree this is a personal decision by Geralt and to what degree it's because a definite negative reaction every time is better than the incredibly negative reaction he gets when people are surprised to discover he's a witcher, but we absolutely know how Geralt chooses to present himself.

(He may also be specifically touchy about his clothing - by accident of costuming or legitimate lore, he does wear the exact same stuff across the thirty years his storyline takes place.)

For whatever reason or reasons, Geralt hates this, and that's probably precisely why Jaskier did it while he was distracted to ensure he had no choice in the matter.

It would also explain why Geralt is still wearing his witcher medallion, the thing that identifies him as a witcher, in plain sight when we see him arrive at the party. And lest you think that was in any way a compromise Jaskier allowed, Jaskier couldn't do anything about it because Geralt kept it on for the bath and so it wasn't available for stealing.

"Right, so stick close to me, look mean and pretend you're a mute. Can't have anyone finding out who you are."

I would further add that while it's hard to say exactly what part of "pretend you're a human" Geralt objects to most, one thing Geralt is very aware of and Jaskier is likely completely unaware of is that if someone very low on the social ladder pretends to be better than they are and gets found out, it tends to go extremely badly.

That said, Geralt may not actually be that worried because he also knows it's unlikely anyone other than Jaskier could mistake him for human long enough to feel tricked.

Mousesack: "Geralt of Rivia, the mighty witcher!"
Jaskier: "Oh, shit."
Mousesack: "I haven't seen you since the plague."
Geralt: "Good times, Mousesack."
Mousesack: (laughs) "I've missed your sour complexion."

While they're definitely friends, it's a bit hard to tell if some of this is also Geralt enjoying Jaskier's plan going wrong.

Now, Mousesack is a druid. Geralt already knows him, so it's hard to tell if he considers druids closer to fellow nonhumans than humans and was initially more open to a friendship or if they became friends and so he trusts the guy now. Geralt's interacted negatively with magic users so far, but in both cases he had reason for it and was still comparatively chatty. I think it might be that mages are the only people Geralt doesn't put into one box or the other immediately but actually evaluates before making a decision, so he can more easily form friendships.

But regardless of if Geralt's friendship with a druid is characteristic of his interactions with druids in general, we can definitely see why the particular friendship holds up in the present day. Again:

Mousesack: "I haven't seen you since the plague."
Geralt: "Good times, Mousesack."
Mousesack: (laughs) "I've missed your sour complexion. I feared this would be a dull affair, but now the White Wolf is here, perhaps all is not lost. "

Were the plagues "good times"? Aside from the obvious, Geralt is actually going to reference the horrors of the plague later for why he's an atheist. Does Mousesack in any way complain about Geralt's response? No. Does he try to get Geralt to act differently? No. Does he decide Geralt said something else and try to respond to that? No. Mousesack's response to Geralt being Geralt is that Mousesack has missed him and that he hopes Geralt will improve the night by continuing to be Geralt. The only thing he does comment negatively on is

"Why are you dressed like a sad silk trader?"

Which is to say, Geralt not being Geralt, in a way we know he had to be tricked/forced into.

And so we see that the problem is not that Geralt doesn't have friends, or doesn't know he has friends, or doesn't understand the very concept of being friendly. Geralt is, by all appearances, perfectly functional within his own sphere. We don't know if this kind of thing requires L5 blood brotherhood forged by mutual plague trauma or if it comes free to every work acquaintance, but Geralt evidently has some sort of standard he's holding people to and at least one person managed to meet it.

(Also no, I'm not quite sure what he means by "sad silk trader", if that's meant to mean "a silk trader and you look sad about it" or "your silk trader cosplay is sad" or just straight up "who in their right mind would pretend to be a silk trader". Given Geralt then gives a blaming look at Jaskier, I'm inclined to think the issue is with the clothes in some way. The best guess I have is that silk trader is the lowest possible social rung you can be on and still get into one of these parties.)

Also on the drinking front, Geralt has one in the next shot, so either he's already grabbed one while Jaskier was explaining the plan as they walk in or the first thing he does is grab a drink before Mousesack says a word further.

Mousesack: "I've been advising the Skelligen crown for years. A tad rough around the edges, but they're of the earth. Like me."
Geralt, with a momentary smirk: "Old and crusty."

Geralt is pretty anxious, but he manages to enjoy his own wit for a moment.

"How long before this horse trading is done? I find royalty best taken in...small doses."

Geralt is getting ever more anxious and by this point is turning his head back and forth to try to watch the whole of the room. Mousesack, for his part, does not seem to think anything of Geralt's unhidden discomfort with everything. He definitely does not dispute the fact Geralt wants to be done and tell Geralt he's being unreasonable. He just gives the information straight: "I wouldn't count on leaving before dawn." As Geralt asks for information about the party, he leads him to the side of the room, which gets Geralt away from the center and lets him watch the room without trying to grow eyes on the back of his head.

As Mousesack lays down the court gossip that Geralt directly asked for, Geralt sees Jaskier is already getting into trouble and leaves without explanation. Mousesack, for his part, responds to this by not going "hey, what are you doing?!" or "excuse me, rude!" but staying silent and not drawing attention, then looking to see what got Geralt's attention because he trusts Geralt must have a reason.

Mousesack, in sum, is not pushy. He's familiar and boisterous with Geralt, but his good cheer is entirely self-contained and he doesn't try to force Geralt into answering it in kind. When Geralt does Geralt things like barely reacting or being anxious or walking off, Mousesack either doesn't mind or trusts Geralt has a reason for it, to the point there's no issue when Geralt walks off in the middle of the conversation.

(Also - Geralt is in fact interested in what's going on! While there's story flow reasons for why it's a good idea for the new character to explain everything and do so while the camera can pan over the people involved, in-universe, it seems like Geralt either didn't ask Jaskier or Jaskier wouldn't/couldn't give him much information. I think it's possible Geralt felt he shouldn't say anything to Jaskier because expressing any sort of interest or willingness in this affair would just be held over his head.)

Anyway, Geralt is heading off to save Jaskier from an angry lord.

"Forgive me, my lord. This... happens all the time."

What I find most interesting is he touches the noble's shoulder while trying to be convincing and ingratiating - there is no inherent issue with witchers touching people. This is consistent with what we see in the previous episode where no one acts as if there's anything actually distasteful about having Geralt in their presence. Witchers are looked down on because people like having someone to look down on. Absolutely nothing suggests there is the faintest excuse of honest fear or repulsion.

Again, this show is intentionally engaging with prejudice and how people treat each other. At a certain point, I think we need to examine why it's so common in fiction to provide justifications for bigotry when it's so uncommon in real life, to the degree that even when we're handed fiction without any sign any of the oppressed groups we see did anything to provoke the bigotry, fandom assumes it must've been something and gets to work trying to figure out what.

"It's true, he has the face of a cad and a coward. But, truth be known, he was kicked in the balls by an ox as a child."

1) Geralt's preferred way of dealing with a situation is lying. He lies all the time.
2) He smirks before and after this, because he's having fun.
3) He otherwise manages to look convincingly sad about the very real and not a lie tragedy of his poor eunuch friend.

Geralt absolutely has emotions, knows emotions, and both displays his own emotions on his face and is good enough at acting to show appropriate emotions for his purposes.

And, while a chunk of this might be getting revenge on/screwing around with Jaskier...

"I saved your life. You're on your own from here on. Try not to get any daggers in your back before dawn."

...I also think a very good argument can be made that this is a great idea. Jaskier seems to think it's safe to rely on Geralt's combat ability but witchers are largely despised and he's surrounded by nobles who'll all take offense - letting the situation get to the point of violence is incredibly dangerous, and there's the possibility of reprisals even afterward. It's also the smart thing to do in terms of keeping Jaskier out of further trouble - he did outright say a perk of the party was hot ladies. Making it more difficult for Jaskier to do anything he shouldn't, tying Geralt's involvement to torpedoing his reputation, and then claiming Geralt's done with him is the best way to actually get them both through this without further trouble. (The done with him thing is obviously a bluff - not just due to overall characterization but because Geralt already said he wants to leave, if he wasn't sticking around for Jaskier he would leave - and probably Geralt even knows it's obviously a bluff, but if Jaskier even thinks there's a small chance it's true that might be enough to make him hesitate to do something stupid.)

In conclusion, Geralt can handle social situations. He is, by all appearances, miles better than Jaskier at social situations.

And now, we're about to see why Geralt can be great at this and also know it's still a bad idea. Two of the esteemed nobility start arguing about manticore slaying. Calanthe decides she wants it resolved, or is bored no one's stabbing each other and wants it escalated. Hard to say with her.

"We have a renowned guest here tonight. Perhaps he can declare which esteemed lord is telling the truth."

Poor Geralt is by himself backed against the wall and still getting dragged into this.

"Neither."

So, why doesn't he lie? I'm actually interested how he might divide things, if it's a matter of there being certain situations where you have to tell the truth (like monster facts) or if it's that there's only certain situations where lies are allowed (personal information). Unfortunately, this situation actually doesn't clarify much. Since the lords disagree, lying for one or the other would also be a bad idea even before we get into Geralt's personal issues with making any sort of choice.

"The Butcher of Blaviken bleats utter nonsense."

At this point, Geralt glances at Jaskier, who's looking quite distressed. Jaskier shakes his head and Geralt, clearly displeased, suggests that the lords both could've encountered different subspecies. (An answer tailored to not insult either and also discourage further arguing between the two on the fly, again indicating he's pretty good at knowing what to say and when he doesn't, it's because he doesn't care about pleasing people.)

Okay, so what happened there?

I think Geralt was seriously considering the benefits of just getting thrown out of the damn party, myself. He was already anxious about being there and Calanthe just indicated she knows he's there and is willing to drag him into fights for the lulz. I really doubt he needs Jaskier to tell him to keep his temper because we've seen him manage that all by himself in far worse situations. He did, however, just see Jaskier run into exactly the kind of trouble Jaskier claimed he needed a bodyguard for. Jaskier wants him to stick around, so he does.

Calanthe finds this hilarious - I really can't say too often how entirely right Geralt was to want to avoid being here - and decides to continue to pin Geralt in the spotlight by asking him to recount his own version of the bard's popular tale of Geralt Murdering The Shit Out Of Elves, Haha Fuck Nonhumans Am I Right?

And Geralt is done.

Geralt: "There was no slaying. I had my arse kicked by a ragged band of elves. I was about to have my throat cut when Filavandrel let me go."
Someone: "But the song!"
Jaskier, through his teeth: "Yeah, the song."
Geralt: "At least when Filavandrel's blade kissed my throat, I didn't shit myself. Which is all I can hope for you, good lords. At your final breath, a shitless death."
Someone: "Not going to shit meself..."
Geralt: "But I doubt it."

I think a part of this is that bringing up that damn song (...I really, really don't know how people can think Geralt secretly likes it and just complains because he doesn't want to admit it - if anything, it's more likely he's largely kept quiet about just how much he hates it) made him rethink sticking around to keep an eye on Jaskier, but mostly, as he told Jaskier back then, I'd say it's down to that Geralt does not think anything about the song falls under whatever his rules about acceptable lying are and will absolutely not take part in this. And so he goes from trying to avoid the ire of two nobles to telling everyone at the party to go fuck themselves.

"Any man willing to paint himself in the shadow of his failures will make for far more interesting conversation this night. Come, Witcher. Take a seat by my side while I change."

Unfortunately for him, Calanthe is into the feisty ones.

"Tell me, how does a witcher find himself at my daughter's wedding feast dressed like a... "

There is definitely some joke here that I'm not quite getting, because it seems to go well beyond just "silk trader when you're not a silk trader". Possibly Geralt himself isn't entirely clear given he likely doesn't follow fashion closely so he knows Jaskier stuck him in a stupid outfit but not precisely what stupid thing the outfit is saying.

Calanthe wants to employ him for his murdering skills but Geralt maintains that no, witchers only accept monster-related coin.

Geralt: "I'm not for hire as a bodyguard."
Calanthe: "You were hired just so by the bard."
Geralt: "I'm helping the idiot free of his coin."
Calanthe: "And he's the idiot?"

One of the few times when I can understand where fandom's getting the idea Geralt's utterly disconnected from his own feelings, because Calanthe's view is definitely the obvious take. (Though even there, pretty sure she means more in the "lol someone's a soft touch" sense than she means "oh, you're literally too stupid to know you care about someone". Especially because Calanthe does not make any comment about witchers not having emotions, and does this despite having a pretty good opening to do so during her rant about her feelings as a mother on the law of surprise.)

However.

Here's the thing, a major part of why events go down as they do at the wedding - hell, a major part of why events go down as they do all through the season - is that Geralt wants to keep his monster-hunting obligations completely separate from anything else anyone could ask him to do. Kill Stregobor or Renfri? Nope, he kills kikimoras, no philosophical questions for him. And for whatever reason, Geralt seems to attribute particular meaning to literally taking payment.

My first attempt to work through this reasoning is, Geralt does bring up wanting to stay out of things. If Geralt accepted payment for bodyguarding, he's agreed to be involved in conflicts between men. Jaskier points out that he gets involved all the time, but he does give his best effort to minimize that involvement, and payment is still getting him more involved than he would be otherwise. (And opening himself up to agreeing to being dragged into any number of other conflicts between men, because he can no longer say that nope, it's just a rule he only does monster-related tasks.) So long as he isn't paid, this isn't a job. He's only here because he feels like it and he's not actually obligated to do anything, which is particularly important when he really doesn't want to get into a fight here. And since he's not specifically employed to stab people causing Jaskier problems, he's free to try to intervene in other ways he'd prefer.

But we know it's not that he considers a contract inviolate, because the second episode shows he's willing to agree to a contract he suspects isn't true and has no problem lying about completing it to protect someone. He absolutely did not feel his agreement to do the job, or even the fact he'd already been paid in full, was in any way relevant to what he wanted to do. He also has significantly less issue about intervening in situations he sees happening in front of him.

What Geralt gets weird about seems to be more about earning a living for anything else because it messes with some part of his rationalizations about his role as a witcher whose only purpose is to hunt monsters until he drops dead. Maybe it's that it forces him to admit that he actually has other options. A major part of his way of coping with life is telling himself this is the only possible way it can so there's no point in even thinking about anything more.

Whatever the exact underlying reasoning, Geralt's behavior is entirely consistent within its own framework, and we see no evidence he's confused about why he's doing things. Calanthe's jibe even gets her one of his muted "hey, fuck you" stares as if to him his decisionmaking should be obvious. Possibly an element of that is also being offended that he'd need to be paid to protect someone. Whether that's primarily because Jaskier's a friend or primarily because Jaskier really, really needed help is hard to say. I think it took both given, again, how very much Geralt doesn't want to be here.

Calanthe: "I'm simply saying, surely if all goes to hell here tonight, I can count on you to strategically remove certain irritants that may present themselves? I'd do so myself, only I'm bound to uphold an artifice of decorum and... fairness."
Geralt: "Hey. I can't help you."
Calanthe: "So perilously direct."

Geralt sounds sympathetic here, and as Calanthe says, he's being very direct - nothing stops him from "hm"ing his way through this conversation as if she can count on him and then just letting whatever's going to happen happen. He appears genuinely sorry that she's in this position and doesn't want to mislead her, but also, he's absolutely not going to help.

Calanthe is, of course, not someone who often gets told "no".

Calanthe: "I could torture you so very slowly into compliance."
Geralt: "Her Majesty will do as she wishes. I'm not for turning."

Geralt gives a little smirk at this, either because he's very confident he doesn't need to worry about getting dragged down to the dungeons or he's into that. Possibly somewhat of a mix - I suppose safe-sane-consensual is less of a concern when you're superhuman.

(It may help that this is a somewhat empty threat - Calanthe can torture him after the fact for refusing, but she doesn't have the time to torture him into agreeing days from now if she wants him to help her out in ten minutes.)

And despite the fact that Calanthe dragged him into the spotlight twice and then dragged him into a seat by her throne so she could demand he do things for her and threaten to torture him if he didn't...

Calanthe: "How much more of this peacocking must I endure? This... All this because male tradition demands it. If I were a man, I could simply tell the whole lot of them to fuck off, declare outright who Pavetta should marry and have done with it. Or, better yet, let the poor girl decide her own fate."
Geralt: "Something tells me this isn't the first time you've navigated the vagaries of male tradition. In fact, I'd wager you thrive on it."

Geralt seems willing to actually engage with Calanthe, for some reason. And while under other circumstances the possibility that she seems intimidating but isn't actually that bad underneath would be plausible, her introduction to this party was how much she likes murdering anybody who gets uppity, followed by everyone reminding us that also she's a genocidal bigot, and previous episodes also involved how awful she is.

So, a few possibilities come to mind.

1) Geralt is just that into the slow torture offer.

2) Geralt is sympathetic to possible extenuating factors - that is, that as a woman, Calanthe has to prove herself a better king than any hypothetical male ruler, and as regular bloody murder is a good way of doing that and where her talents lie, that's been her main go-to. So, still a mass-murdering bigot, but probably a lot of the kings are without even that much reason.

3) Geralt is a good judge of character, and he can see something in Calanthe. We the viewers know the Calanthe we see here isn't the Calanthe of the first episode, and that's echoed in Ciri's storyline this episode, where she can't reconcile the woman Dara knows and the woman who raised her, and there is honestly a lot of depth for Calanthe just in this episode. That's not to say I think this is evidence Calanthe is, overall, a great person - I think it's a combination of there being more to her and Geralt also possessing very low standards.

It could be a combination of these - if nothing else, I feel the fact he doesn't take "I could torture you so very slowly into compliance." as a sign to clam up really doesn't have a non-kink explanation. No matter how sure you are the threat couldn't be carried through, we generally don't think well of people whose response to a simple "sorry, but I'm not going to promise to kill everyone you point at" is to threaten torture.

She asks what's up with the lack of witchers, and Geralt answers honestly and about a subject that's obviously pretty sensitive:

"It is no longer possible to create more of us, since the sacking of Kaer Morhen."

It's interesting that she'd need to ask, isn't it? Timelinewise, we know this was old news when it was referenced way back in the first episode but it was brought up by a mage, so it's not clear if it's something everyone knew and forgot over the decades or if it was a secret at the time. And this might also have something to do with the fact Cintra is presented as anti-nonhuman in general, but we haven't seen much anti-witcher sentiment (Geralt is dragged into the argument with Calanthe calling him a "renowned guest", only gets blowback for contradicting nobles, everyone is happy with him once he says something that flatters them, then is "esteemed guest" when asked to talk about elf-murder, and then gets called a "man" - and all this when it seems likely Calanthe keeps power in part by fanning the flames of nonhuman sentiment). While some of that may be down to Jaskier's songs, I think in the case of people like Calanthe, who seem to be against nonhumans because they're competing with humans, the fact there are only a fixed number of witchers may be what makes them acceptable.

And this may have something to do with the fact Geralt is willing to exchange words with her. I'm not wholly sure - bullshit claims about witchers are the thing he's shown least motivation to correct, so he might not care much, but given I think the only time he actually does correct someone, it's Yennefer when he's being very open and vulnerable, I think it's more likely it means a great deal to him and his usual behavior is precisely because it's too sensitive to want to engage with at all.

I think because Calanthe has been weirdly positive to him so far, he's willing to admit to something pretty upsetting because he thinks he's safe from her going "Great! Wish I could've been part of it myself!" or even the standard "Aren't you lucky you don't have feelings because that would sure suck if you weren't an inhuman monster with no feelings, but you are."

And, I assume riding high on her not immediately stabbing him in those feelings, he attempts to bond further.

Geralt: "Tell me, Your Majesty...why do you risk your life on the battlefield when you can rest on your throne?"
Calanthe: "Because there is a simplicity in killing monsters, is there not? Seems we are quite the pair, Geralt of Rivia."

Really, Geralt, you deserve it for thinking you could have a conversation with a human. See what happens when you do anything that even slightly resembles opening up? Just terrible.

The Toss a Coin song just came up. That was Jaskier's solution to people hating witchers, to remind them of how much they should hate other nonhumans instead and how witchers were good because they'll kill the other ones for you. And here Geralt is, facing someone being civil to him as she casually references that she enjoys murdering people because it's such an unambiguous good.

And, in the context of this episode, this is coming after Geralt says to Jaskier that witchers don't have any choice in what they do, and then directly after Geralt pointing out witchers were made and also humans then decided, quite forcefully, to stop making them. So he wants to know why Calanthe chooses violence when he has no choice in the matter.

What did he expect, though? Maybe that she'd admit she was doing it because it was necessary to keep control of Cintra? Maybe for her to offer that she regrets it? Maybe for her to just give him a good reason she thought it was right, that someone could choose to die on the battlefield even if they had other options, so he could feel more comfortable that what he had no choice about was something he'd have chosen.

Anyway, yet another interaction with a human has now gotten him burned.

Anyway Sir Hedgehog appears, as Calanthe knew he would.

Calanthe: "Witcher...kill it."
Geralt: "No."
Calanthe: "Whatever the price."
Geralt: "This is no monster."
Calanthe: "I order you."
Geralt: "This knight has been cursed."

Is this Geralt's own reasoning?

No.

This episode has shown Geralt is good at knowing what other people care about and will tailor what he says to that if he has motivation. We know from the second episode that whether someone is a human altered to be nonhuman or just born nonhuman isn't something he cares about. It is, however, a huge distinction to everybody else. Geralt's goal right now is to keep the knight's head attached to his shoulders, and "that's a human who just looks weird" works a lot better than "personally I think we should respect all sapient life".

This doesn't convince Calanthe, obviously, but by all appearances the list of people Calanthe wouldn't stab for Pavetta is Pavetta herself and maybe Eist but he's on thin fucking ice. Knowing what other people care about only gets you so far when what they care about is murder and you want them to not do a murder. Geralt did the best anyone could reasonably have done.

Geralt then watches the whole thing go down very intently. As more soldiers pour in, we see his eyes darting back and forth. He stays where he is until the last moment, though.

Why?

Two options come to mind.

One is that Geralt just desperately did not want to get involved and was really hoping things would calm down on their own. The other is that the Law of Surprise just got invoked, and in theory, Destiny is supposed to have this handled. Now, Geralt is going to disavow Destiny, but it's hard to say if this is hard atheism from him or disillusionment. Is there a part of him that does believe and he wants to prove to his satisfaction that no, Destiny has no power here and the guy would die if he didn't step in?

I think it may be the latter because Duny spends a while on the ground and the behavior of the men surrounding him is that of people sure the fight's over. Given Geralt only intervenes when the guard is mid-swing, he seems to have deliberately waited until the last possible instant when there was absolutely no other way Duny could survive it.

(Given Pavetta is about to scream exactly like she does to create the vortex later, Geralt was probably wrong about that.)

More fighting! Eist gets involved! Calanthe decides that's enough, or at least it's not going her way so she's willing to say it's enough for the moment. Pavetta runs to Duny. Duny makes another attempt to convince the queen by talking instead of violence, everyone else also tries plan talk sense because everyone is really dumb. Note Geralt does not interject, because Geralt has a reasonable understanding of the situation they're in.

Eist: "Who are we to challenge destiny? Life was saved, debt must be paid, or the whole order of the world falls apart."
Mousesack: "Honor destiny's wish, or unleash its wrath upon us."
Calanthe: "There is no us! I bow to no law made by men who never bore a child! Is there not a man amongst you who does not cower before destiny? You, Witcher, who has known monsters of every fang and claw...are you afraid too?"

So obviously a lot going on with Calanthe but this is not Calanthe's meta! What's relevant to this one is that this is an absolutely prime chance for Calanthe to tell Geralt he doesn't have feelings now chop heads off like a good tool. Instead she makes an emotional argument (fuck you I'm her mother) followed by a second emotional argument (how can a monster-hunter be a coward?).

Her attempt at negging Geralt into doing what she wants fails, but it's based on assuming he functions like any other man here and being refused still doesn't get her accusing Geralt of not caring because he's emotionless. She doesn't even pull a Triss and say that Geralt's reactions are just weird.

"No. I've seen mothers lash themselves raw over the death of a child, believing they crossed destiny, ignoring the stench of the fifty other children in the plague cart outside. Destiny...helps people believe there's an order to this horseshit. There isn't."

So yeah, he may have spoken flippantly of the plague to Mousesack, but that seems to be because he and Mousesack's in-jokes are gallows humor.

Did Geralt believe in Destiny before then, and this is the particular trauma that pushed him into atheism? Or did he never believe, but seeing people try to justify Destiny in the face of that wore through all his tolerance for hearing believer argue for it?

I propose that this is a factor in the ending disaster. Whether Geralt ever believed, he did not by the end of the plague and his associations in the present are that the horrible things then are proof anyone talking about Destiny is wrong. Mousesack is a believer and presumably that applied during the plague. Geralt has not seen Mousesack since. I suspect Mousesack going on about Destiny now is reminding Geralt of Mousesack going on about Destiny then and it's getting his hackles up because how can you still believe! Didn't you see what happened! What is it going to take before you admit it's all horseshit!

Calanthe tries to kill Duny again, Pavetta screams, vortex, Geralt and Mousesack disrupt the vortex, marriage.

Geralt attempts to skedaddle. It's been a busy night full of way too many people. He does warn Jaskier he's doing so.

"Don't grope for trout in any peculiar rivers until dawn."

Kind of unnecessary, given Jaskier's been hanging out with only one woman for much of the night, but that may be the reason Geralt thinks he can make good on his earlier threat to leave Jaskier to his own devices. Geralt may also at this point be concerned that, from Jaskier's point of view, this night was a rousing success - the guy even just said, "I think this has the makings of my greatest ballad yet." so he needs to act as grouchy as he can in the hopes Jaskier maybe won't drag him along next time.

At which point Duny gets involved.

Duny: "You saved my life. I must repay you. You've proven yourself to be the kind of man who would do the same."
Geralt: "I want nothing."

So this is clearly getting back to what he said earlier. Thing is, if this was about what Triss said last episode, about witchers caring only about monsters and money, then he could've just asked for coin.

What does Geralt really mean by "want"? What was he really talking about when Jaskier asked? About what he wanted besides being a witcher. About if he could be anything besides a witcher. It's really important for Geralt's sanity to never engage with this question.

Geralt is deeply uncomfortable with everything that just happened. He may well be beating himself up for getting involved at all - when he fails to save Duny the second time, Pavetta does, so presumably if he'd just kept seated she'd have screamed earlier and sped things up, so he didn't actually have to, and getting involved wasn't something a witcher should've done. And he definitely does not want to accept payment for non-witcher jobs.

Duny: "No, please. Please, Geralt of Rivia, do not feel like you're doing me a service. I cannot start a new life in the shadow of a life debt."
Geralt: "Fine. I...claim the tradition as you have, the Law of Surprise."

So, fandom has roundly castigated Geralt for being an idiot here, and yes, it's pretty damn obvious where this is going and only more so when we're four episodes in and know Calanthe's granddaughter is looking for some Geralt of Rivia dude who is her "destiny".

But in context, no, I don't think he should've seen this coming. Let's consider our options.

1) Destiny is horseshit people use to pretend there's any order in the world.

The odds of it being a kid are incredibly low, and also Geralt immediately adds that he doesn't care what it is, he's not going to take it anyway: "Fear not, Your Majesty, if I am seen in your kingdom again, it'll be to kill a real monster, not lay claim to a crop or a new pup." By the sounds of it his actual payment is going to be to pointedly never collect his destiny-given dues and telling Mousesack he totally wins the argument because look at how Destiny has failed to do anything, given he follows with "Destiny can go fu--"

2) Destiny is real and there is order to the world.

Well then, Destiny wouldn't dare give him a kid, would it?

Because as he just pointed out to Calanthe, you can't make more witchers. The only thing Geralt could do with a kid, the only thing any witcher could do with a kid, would be dump it at Kaer Morhen to probably die. That's no longer an option. If there is an ordered universe, it'll bend over backward to make it impossible for him to end up with one now.

If Destiny is real, it's impossible for Geralt to end up with a child surprise, and if Destiny isn't real, it doesn't matter what it is because he'll never even bother finding out, so he still can't accidentally get a kid. Check and fucking mate, Destiny!

Now, is that tempting fate? Yeah, it is tempting fate, but Geralt literally just said he doesn't believe in fate and hates the fact other people believe in fate. And we've established Geralt is incredibly uncomfortable with payment, so what he thought he was doing when he was put on the spot of having to name a reward was naming nothing, since Destiny is horseshit and the Law of Surprise is a delayed payment he doesn't have to come back from, and therefore it was a way of wiggling out of actually being paid in the face of Duny's insistence he pick something. He was so caught up in his particular neurosis that makes no sense to anyone else here that everything else was secondary.

Also worth mentioning is Geralt turns to leave as soon as he finishes speaking. If Calanthe hadn't been horrified by the sudden knowledge that her day was about to get worse and shouted at him, starting an argument, he would've left before Pavetta throws up. (What would happen then? Because Calanthe absolutely managed to completely suppress what happened. What happens if you don't even know you've got a kid? How much of Geralt's behavior in the next few episodes is Destiny fucking with his head and how much is it his own neurosis? Is his knowledge that he has the kid actually all that's keeping him away from Cintra and otherwise Destiny would've easily pushed him back to meet Ciri?)

Another point people rightly raise is that surely Geralt and his "I can smell exactly who was fucking on this bed through fourteen years of rot and rain" nose had to have known Pavetta was pregnant. Even if, as I argued, that particular claim was a lie, he does have a better nose than a human and being able to smell pregnancy is actually within human ability, we're just not good at it and don't usually try.

So what's up with that?

One easy answer is he didn't care who was pregnant so he didn't narrow it down to Pavetta. Also, the only time he spends anywhere near Pavetta, Calanthe is sitting between them, both being very distracting and quite possibly the one who's pregnant - Pavetta is a noble kid about to get married off, what are the odds she's had sex, while Calanthe may not be married but Mousesack made it clear she and Eist are a thing, and if she's pregnant from that ugh more noble drama, and Geralt didn't even want to be here, why should he have to deal with any of that?

Another possibility is that Pavetta is far enough along in the pregnancy that Geralt assumed she already knew she was pregnant - morning sickness can kick in after just four weeks, but it peaks at three months in. If Pavetta is several months pregnant, she'd have noticed, right? And that would mean he was completely safe from surprise kids because you can't have a second surprise pregnancy on top of your first. He'd only have realized otherwise when he saw her shock. Geralt may not even have the best understanding of how early women know they're pregnant, given it's not exactly a topic that comes up much, and could assume that by the point he knows they know already. I find this one a lot shakier, though, because it relies on Geralt also being sure she's told Duny already. Also, if he knew he could've sidestepped the issue by going "I...okay wait, so first let me congratulate you on the pregnancy. Okay now I invoke Law of Surprise, for the next surprise, we're all clear on how time works here." Obviously Pavetta would just turn out to have twins, but it would've been a good attempt.

A third, and wonderful, answer is that Geralt is drunk. He spends the whole of the party up until he's dragged to Calanthe's side drinking. We don't see him actually eat anything - we don't even see him near a table until he's at Calanthe's side, at which point he doesn't touch a plate - or show the slightest interest in chasing women, so that leaves "wine" as the only one of Jaskier's incentives he could possibly care about. And he outright tells Jaskier he refuses to be sober for this. Geralt is really good with a sword and it's quite reasonable he'd figure he could handle any actual fighting that happened no matter how impaired he managed to get on free booze, and he also headed off any of those problems at the start of the night so it's fine. (And possibly he has an instant-sobriety potion on him, just in case.) Alcohol dulls your senses, including smell, so it's possible that because he got drunk early he couldn't smell anything about anyone. (This fits with how he's comparatively so chatty and open with Calanthe. All signs point to Geralt being chatty but suppressing it around humans, and drunk Geralt is going to be worse at that.)

So, given what we know, Geralt definitely has the physical capability to know if Pavetta was pregnant, but he also had motivation not to pay attention to it and good reason to be too drunk to notice, as well as drunk enough to want to taunt people's beliefs/too drunk to talk his way out of a payment any other way rather than consider the possible downsides. (I mean, even if you're an athiest, there's still the risk it'll turn out to be a kid and that Calanthe will try to kill you given she's spent the night establishing she'll kill people for this.)

Mousesack catches up with the fleeing Geralt (who is in the middle of grabbing a discarded sword, evidently guessing there's a good chance he'll need to fight just to get out of there).

Mousesack: "You should stay too."
Geralt: "This has been enough partying for me. I'm getting out of here."

What would happen if he stayed? Calanthe just tried to kill Duny multiple times, so I think she just tries to stab Geralt until it takes. Mousesack seems to think he can convince her, though, and maybe he can if he spends the first hour of the conversation pointing out witchers don't marry. Alternatively, Mousesack may be thinking that Destiny will keep Geralt un-stabbed until Calanthe finally runs out of angry and is willing to consider another option. Even if she did agree to anything I feel like it'd be agreeing to lock him up instead of murdering him so Destiny is technically fulfilled. And assuming leveler heads prevail, perhaps by reminding Calanthe about how witchers stab stuff and what little girl can't use an independent dispenser of stabs, and they decide the solution is to have Geralt work for them instead, well, this entire clusterfuck just happened because Geralt won't accept any non-monster jobs, so that's impossible on his end. Geralt would insist on having no official attachment, Calanthe would insist on like fuck you will you just want to wander in and out until you see the chance to steal my grandkid... I assume there's some way to work this out but it's incredibly difficult.

Mousesack: "You can't outrun destiny just because you're terrified of it. It's coming, Geralt. Not believing won't change that."
Geralt: "Bullshit. This was just a girl using her magic to stop her mother from gutting her lover."

Mousesack accuses Geralt of being afraid of Destiny, which is our one point in favor of the theory he's the furious lapsed sort of believer rather than a straightforward atheist. That said, Mousesack just thought Geralt should stick around, so, not sure how good his judgement of people is.

Geralt makes so many facial expressions throughout this conversation, by the way! And not angry ones. He's very open and he doesn't get upset with Mousesack even when Mousesack is arguing with him.

"Be careful, old friend."

And Geralt's last line is this. Because Geralt is absolutely capable of calling people his friend.

 

So, this episode:

Geralt gets his boundaries trampled on.

Geralt heard what Jaskier said just fine. Jaskier's the one who wasn't listening in that conversation. Moreover, Geralt has perfectly good reason to feel that way and the fact Jaskier didn't understand and just merrily keeps ignoring boundaries is just further reason why Geralt is right to be concerned about relationships with others.

Which is not to say Geralt doesn't view Jaskier positively. He likes the guy enough that he does show up and is consistently invested in his wellbeing. It is possible he privately considers Jaskier a friend. But something about Jaskier's own behavior has him acting the way he does around Jaskier in particular.

The opening of this episode is Jaskier using his friendship with Geralt to pressure Geralt into something that Geralt knows could go badly, while Jaskier ignores Geralt's discomfort and his attempts to point out that as a witcher this could go badly for him. Jaskier himself is giving Geralt every reason to treat him coldly because if he pushes this hard already, how much worse would it get if Geralt was friendlier? Mousesack doesn't make demands of Geralt or try to stop him from acting on his own judgement and that probably has a lot to do with how Geralt can actually relax around him instead of spending all his time bristling.

Another important thing that I think is getting lost to fanon overwriting is: Jaskier does not habitually save Geralt's life. Geralt isn't getting mauled every last fight - no way he'd still have individual scars at that point - and when he does get injured, he presumably deals with it at the time, before venturing back to where humans are and risking a confrontation while weakened, so Jaskier only sees the end result and continues to believe witchers are unstoppable and monster hunting is easy. Would Jaskier help Geralt? Yes. Does that mean it actually happened? No. Complaining canon Geralt is ungrateful for not appreciating all the stuff that happens in fanfic is absurd.

Geralt does a great job of handling social situations, once again. Geralt also emotes a bunch and manages to perform fake emotions at people when necessary.

The prejudice against witchers is not that they're scary, or creepy, or anything that has a real reason as its seed. It's that they're an "other" you're able to abuse because no one else cares. Geralt is allowed in human society if he says exactly what people want to hear and nothing else. You do not need to make up elaborate explanations about how well actually witchers are legitimately creepy and people are super uncomfortable touching them and so on to explain why people are assholes about this, and I think we should all take a moment to consider why that's our first impulse when we see prejudice against a group.

Geralt establishes he does have some few hard limits he can enforce but they're tied closely to the nature of being a witcher, and they're largely about just going "you can't make me". Relatedly, I think it's going to be relevant for next episode that Geralt's biggest issue is people trying to force him to take a side in things.

Geralt does decide to have one normal conversation with a completely regular human for once, although why he thought Calanthe was a safe choice is hard to be sure of. Whatever his reasoning, he was definitely mistaken. Also: yeah, that is not a normal reaction to someone threatening to torture you, and it's kind of weird Calanthe suggests it in the first place given she doesn't exactly have time for extensive torture so it's very possible they're both on the same page. In a universe where Geralt doesn't invoke Law of Surprise and have to leave, he probably does get tossed into the dungeons for a night. The main question is if Calanthe actually tortures him or they just have a really loaded conversation about torturing him for five hours that makes all the guards deeply uncomfortable, and if Eist is actually into threesomes on his wedding night.

Geralt does not behave rationally at all points during this episode, but that doesn't mean there's no reason for his behavior. Instead of saying he makes no sense, consider what other element could be driving him to act irrationally. Most characterization comes down to not making an optimal choice but one based on the person's feelings and history.

Geralt is totally capable of seeing people as friends, trusting them, talking to them, not having his facial expressions on lockdown around them, and using the literal word "friend". If his behavior toward a particular person does not involve a lot of that, it points to something about that particular person rather than proof Geralt is emotionally constipated.

Geralt is almost certainly drunk for much of the party.

Staying anywhere near Calanthe was probably not an option. I don't think that's a factor in Geralt's decisionmaking and he totally deserves being called out for his handling of everything about Ciri, but if you're considering an AU where Geralt has it together enough that he's not fleeing the concept of parenthood, you do have to work very hard to explain why he doesn't need to flee Calanthe either.

Chapter Text

So.

Calanthe.

I've been avoiding Ciri's plotline and everyone related to it because it's spread across episodes more awkwardly, but the fourth episode is the center of Calanthe's character, so it's a good time to think about her. There's also the question of what the best way to present the information is - do we consider her chronologically, or in the order we're given information? While actually following the flow of time is by far less confusing, the order we're given information is, narratively, the more important one, so I'm going to make an attempt at the latter.

In that case, the earliest information we have is of Calanthe at the end of her reign.

Calanthe is being a calm and almost boring queen.

"As your queen, I grant you this commendation, which will symbolize your duty and bond as liegemen in fealty to the crown of Cintra."

Ciri was playing with other kids in disguise and gets dragged off and crammed into proper princess wear to stand around for this. Eist is also there but muttering jokes and carrying on a conversation with her.

"As members of the royal family, is it too much to ask that you exercise a modicum of respect?"

And Calanthe is the one shutting this down.

So Calanthe is a proper sort of queen.

When next we see her, it's at a party. People are dancing and not like, dramatic intrigue ballroom dancing either, just generally having fun.

Again: kind of boring! They're just all sitting there, chatting. We find out the new guy at the table can do magic but it's "Tricks and illusions to delight." so nothing really spectacular. The king is hoping to just slink off because he's bored, which, okay.

Eist: "I saw the Wraiths of Mörhogg over the channel this morning."

Calanthe: "Yes, you mentioned."

Cirilla: "Who?"

Eist: "No good will come of it. They're an omen of war."

Calanthe: "The North has been at war since Nilfgaard took Ebbing. If legend is true, the Wild Hunt's years behind the curve."

Eist: "The Nilfgaardian force crossed the Amell Pass."

Calanthe: "Headed to Sodden, if they're smart. And if not, 50 of your Skelligen ships are on the way. We have more knights. We are prepared in case--"

Eist wants to talk about spooky omens and an army and war, and Calanthe is just eh, no big deal, it's probably nothing, if we absolutely have to I've done the reasonable and levelheaded thing of preparing for it, and anyway my preparations are exactly why they'll know to leave us be, look they're obviously going somewhere else... Good lord what a boring lady who doesn't want to do anything interesting.

Cirilla continues to try to be included in the conversation...

Cirilla: "Prepared for what?"

Calanthe: "Nothing for you to be concerned about."

And Calanthe continues to not have it.

Eist: "Should we fall to Nilfgaard, your granddaughter will rule. She needs to understand the way of things."

Calanthe: "We will not fall, because we are not under attack! She's a child."

Cirilla: "You won your first battle in Hochebuz when you were my age. I've heard the ballad."

Eist: "Pretty ballads hide bastard truths."

Cirilla: "It's a catchy song."

Calanthe: (swallows, blinks rapidly while staring straight ahead) "Three thousand of my men died."

So, it would seem Calanthe is someone who inherited war. She had no choice in it, she regrets what happened, and she's done her best to steer clear of it whenever possible. Cirilla is thirteen at this point according to the official timeline - Calanthe was winning a battle, one big enough that three thousand people died, at age thirteen. A boy comes up asking to dance with Cirilla and the girl is shoved away to dance, making it clear Calanthe does not think her granddaughter should have any involvement in this. Of course someone thrown against her will into battle at a young age would want to protect Cirilla from the same, and likely hate the very idea.

And this would appear to be backed up by the conversation shortly afterward.

Eist: "Reminds me of your daughter's betrothal feast. The night you finally saw sense, said yes. Made me the happiest man on the Continent."

Calanthe: "I did it to save my kingdom."

Now, she does smile, so it evidently wasn't the greatest sacrifice ever, but this is hammering in that Calanthe prefers preparation and diplomacy and allies over conflict. Eist is apparently the warmonger, which is further implied by the fact she says the ships coming are specifically his.

Man: "Your Majesty, my scouts have returned. Nilfgaard is on its way to Cintra."

Calanthe: "I stand corrected."

And it's not that she doesn't want to talk about war because she was just irrationally certain it wouldn't happen. Faced with actual evidence, she immediately agrees with it. She looks terribly upset by this.

Eist: "You should tell the girl."

Calanthe: "Let her enjoy this night in peace. It may be her last for a while."

So, fine, we have a female ruler who's competent and all but ugh, so bland and also disappointingly not into violence, wanting to avoid it herself and keep it from her kid.

(Also, over on Geralt's side, we have Renfri talk of it being specifically Queen Calanthe who won the Hochebuz battle, not Princess Calanthe running part of the war under her parents' direction. Really points to Calanthe being thrust into this early against her will and getting out of it as soon as possible.)

When next we see them, Calanthe has very grudgingly shown up for battle. It's clear she wishes this wasn't happening but, well, here we are.

The resulting battle is...unpleasant. Brutal. The scene we get backs up Calanthe thinking war sucks. The only slight hint there's anything more to it is that as the battle progresses, Eist starts shouting they're doomed and Calanthe says they'll fight anyway, followed by Eist dying and Calanthe not, but it's mostly down to chance. And by the time we return to the castle, Calanthe's severely injured or dying herself.

She continues to be a responsible queen, asking how many people are safe in the castle, if they have enough "supplies". She tries to comfort Cirilla, who is not nearly stupid enough to believe things are actually okay.

Cirilla: "Why are you saying all this? Are you dying?"

Calanthe: "My sweet child, when I go, it will be far more dramatic than this."

This is our first real clue there's more to Calanthe than just responsibility.

Calanthe: "Mousesack. He's in the gatekeep."

Mousesack: "Destiny may yet side with us."

And then there's this weird exchange, but, while unexplained, seems in keeping with Calanthe being a levelheaded and rational person prone to extensive planning.

Calanthe: "Lesson number two. Know when it's time to stop moving."

Cirilla: "You're conceding."

Calanthe: "Nilfgaard takes no prisoners. Which means that right now, my citizens are being tortured. Their insides are being pulled to their outsides while they watch. Their legs lit on fire. Their tongues fed to the dogs."

...

Calanthe: "In the face of the inevitable, Cirilla, good leaders should always choose mercy. In the future, you will be wise to do the same."

WELL THAT GOT DARK. And it's framed around moral behavior - she defines leaders as needing to be merciful. That fits with what we know of her character so far - someone who goes to war only when necessary, and hopes to avoid it until the last.

We discover that when she said "supplies" she didn't mean for a seige, she meant for mass suicide. Still her being very practical, just that we now see the lengths she's willing to go.

She attempts to give Cirilla a pep talk and then tells Cirilla to find some "Geralt" dude who is "her destiny" whatever that means. She and Mousesack discuss the fact that Cirilla's screaming actually made things move, yet another thing she has taken extremely calmly.

Calanthe: "Mousesack. Your service...has been an honor to us all."

Mousesack: "As has yours. Your Majesty."

So in conclusion: Calanthe. Started off pretty boring, managed to spice up being a extremely reasonable and calm individual who makes totally rational decisions and has no interest in bloodshed by continuing to be calm and competent as everything falls to pieces and she's staring down her own death and passing out suicide potions. An okay character, gets a few extra points for being female and for being a monarch who cares about her people, then a bunch more for the novelty of suicide as a solution. (Personally a bit less impressed that she seems to only care about the nobles having a quiet death since we see their servants being cut down, but that's pretty typical for these kinds of narratives and probably doesn't mean anything.) Also, she throws herself out of the window rather than take one of the limited death potions, so, good for her!

Episode 2:

Cirilla: "This food was provided by the queen."

Woman: "May she rot in hell."

Well! That sure is a surprising direction we're going.

While Cirilla is similarly baffled, a boy comes up to her who sees she's well-dressed and therefore someone worth bringing home to Mother.

And he has his own accessory, a necklace, to show he's worth her time: "They're elf ears. I killed them all. Doing my part to avenge human lives lost in Filavandrel's uprising."

Cirilla: "Filavandrel?"

Boy: "The elves call him 'King.' Last year, he tried to claim Cintran land. My brother got an arrow in the brain. Every day, I make sure his death's not in vain."

So, the elves are trying to conquer Cintra, and Cirilla's never even heard about it. Perhaps the woman has good reason to hate the queen, and perhaps Calanthe went too far with the whole avoiding war at all costs thing. Maybe that's why they're such easy prey to Nilfgaard now.

...odd, though, to call an invasion an "uprising".

Boy: "Our father just died."

Mother: "Fighting to defend that wretched bitch and her wretched family."

Boy: "Mother, stop. It wasn't Queen Calanthe's fault. Nilfgaard only got past Cintran borders because of elven spies."

Other boy: "Technically, it was the elves' land first."

Boy: "Our brother died for that land."

Mother: "And your father died for Calanthe's selfishness. One conflict after another. Robbing us of our homes, our men, and our lives."

So the plot continues to thicken. Calanthe is being blamed for her bad handling of the current affair and accused of selfishly trying to protect her own family, and we've also got a reference to the fact the elves were trying to retake the area, rather than invade - and the sort of person furious about that is the same sort to cut parts off a body for trophies. "One conflict after another" makes it sound like this and the elven uprising were far from the only wars she had her people fighting, as well.

Mother: "To order and dignity. Oh, child. Your shoes. Let's get you a fresh pair, why don't we?"

Cirilla: "That'd be wonderful. Thank you."

Mother: "Abbott."

And she calls over a short man who's presumably either a gnome or a dwarf to sacrifice his shoes. When Cirilla freezes up, the woman reassures her: "Don't worry. He's one of the clean ones."

So. Cintra took this land from elves - we know it was specifically through genocide because that's clarified in the other two storylines this episode. They have other nonhumans as servants/outright slaves. Cirilla was raised ignorant of both these facts.

While we don't know for sure why the Cintrans hate Calanthe, there's a possible connection between the fact the woman vocally condemning her is astoundingly racist while Cirilla appears to just now be discovering the very concept of racism. In comparison, we don't see anyone in the previous episode actually saying Calanthe's making tactical mistakes - she's wrong that Nilfgaard will pass them by, but she spent the episode doing everything she could to prepare for a possible attack either way, and none of the people around her suggest doing anything differently, the debate is just if they should be in panic mode now or not. And the nobles within the castle appear to have a great deal of faith in Calanthe, first that she'll win the battle and then that, if she thinks suicide is their best option, she's right. They're also the people interacting with Cirilla, which suggests they may have been her supporters in the whole "maybe less genocide and slavery" idea.

Alright, so that's a bit more depth to Calanthe. She was a reasonable person trying to run a country of assholes.

Also, I think it's very interesting that you've got the son of someone racist who hates Calanthe saying, "Technically, it was the elves' land first." as if it's known fact and even his brother with his string of elf ears can't actually contradict it, just say he doesn't care. In Geralt and Jaskier's side of things, Jaskier is prattling away about the elves gifting land and living in palaces, and is utterly outraged by the idea of elves taking anything because that's like a rich person rescinding the gift to a poor one. It's possible that's simply down to the fact the elves are openly fighting in the present day and so people are more aware of their grievances, but it seems it'd be easy to suppress that sort of information and insist this has always been human land that the elves are trying to steal. That suggests Calanthe actually threw her weight behind people learning the true history.

Because you see, if Calanthe wants to suppress information? She absolutely can.

Cirilla: "I'm looking for...for Geralt of Rivia. Do you know him?"

Mother: "Afraid I don't. He's a knight?"

Now, we don't know yet why it's particularly strange for someone in Cintra of all places not to know this name. But we know at the start of this episode Geralt is infamous as the Butcher of Blaviken, and we know by the end of the episode that Jaskier has said he's going to make Geralt famous by singing all sorts of songs about him, so it's starting to be a bit odd.

We get a bit of indirect context in the third episode: Cintra hates the Brotherhood of Sorcerers for reasons they don't seem to understand: "King Dagorad has banned mages from Cintra, God knows why." They suggest that Cintra might be using "druids" or "fortune tellers" in place of that, though it seems mostly so they can mock those groups, and it's not clear if King Dagorad actually considers those non-mages and acceptable or if he just wants nothing to do with any magic user.

Stregobor: "I've heard rumors he's taken ill. Now, if the king dies, perhaps his heiress will be more pliable. Princess…"

Tissaia: "Calanthe? Good luck with that. Word is she's even more stubborn than her father is."

We don't know how long Dagorad was ill. If it was brief, then Calanthe could be thirteen at this point, otherwise she's even younger. Despite her age she's apparently already established as so hellishly stubborn in her beliefs that a massive conspiracy of ageless mages has no hope of swaying her. Jeeze.

"Oh, we'd be spitting in Dagorad's face if we send Yennefer to their biggest trade partner. The only thing Cintra hates more than mages is...elves."

So in the farthest past with Calanthe, we're told Cintra loathes mages, that Calanthe is not going to be an exception, and then that they hate elves even more.

But then again, there's other reasons to be saying that and the Brotherhood doesn't even have a clue why Cintra hates them, so who knows if this is an accurate judgement of Calanthe's character in particular? Certainly Mousesack doesn't seem much different than any other magic user, and Calanthe seems to have no problem with him.

And so we move to the fourth episode.

We'll start with Mousesack's summary of the situation:

"These suitors will vie all night for Princess Pavetta's hand."

So, at least officially, Calanthe thinks the best way to marry her daughter is for the men to show off. That's not really the best way of doing it, but Mousesack quickly clarifies that the vying is futile because Calanthe actually made the decision based on what's best for the country, because she continues to be a good, diplomacy-focused queen.

"Marrying into this monarchy is a mighty prize. Who wouldn't want to be king of the most powerful force in the land?"

We see Cintra fall in the first episode, and the second episode has people shouting about what a bad queen Calanthe was, but here we're getting a different picture. Cintra under Calanthe, at this point in time, is the dominant power in the area. We don't know how true that was by the first episode, but it's implied to still be relatively true by Calanthe saying that the smart thing for Nilfgaard to do is attack the weaker Sodden instead of them.

"That red-headed scanderlout over there, Crach an Craite, will marry Pavetta. The Lioness has already arranged it with the boy's uncle, Eist Tuirseach. No one would dare make a move on an alliance that powerful."

So not only is Cintra the most powerful country, and they're going to ally with either the next most powerful or with someone whose ability complements theirs (we know back in the future of the first episode, Eist is offering ships, so the most likely guess would be that Cintra's the dominant force on land and this will let them lock up the sea).

So, why do the nobles in the second episode think Calanthe is a terrible queen who loses all the time and is bleeding their country dry? She went from military victories at a very young age to strong diplomacy in her middle age leading to Cintra being the dominant power, then she only furthered that power by marrying her daughter into the best alliance they could get.

Geralt: "Handy with women, too."

Mousesack: "All an act. Queen Calanthe refused his proposal three times after King Roegner died, despite the two of them gliding around each other like courting swans. No, no, no. She was not for living in her husband's shadow again."

One piece I think is getting overlooked in everything else is that, while Calanthe is making a practical choice in the alliance, it actually is one that favors Pavetta as well.

We don't know much about Calanthe's marriage, but it doesn't sound particularly happy.

The official timeline has some definite problems with the more minor characters, but:

Cirilla is 13 in the present, and that's how old Calanthe was for her first battle.

Renfri dies in 1231, saying that it's when Calanthe won her first battle, so Calanthe is 13. (She'd be born in 1218 going by that.)

The betrothal party takes place in 1249, which would make Calanthe 31. And Pavetta is 15. Meaning Calanthe had her at 16 and so was most likely pregnant at 15, so she was married at 15 or possibly 14. And while there's various reasons someone might have only one child, a teenager geting pressured into sex by her brand-new husband she didn't have a choice in marrying and then refusing him as soon as she gets enough power to do so seems entirely too much of a possibility here.

Calanthe is marrying her kid off at either the same age she was married off at or maybe a year later, and that didn't go great for her, but in this case, Calanthe has Pavetta's intended husband by the balls. Calanthe is still alive and very much not giving up the throne anytime soon, he's marrying into the stronger country, and the kid's uncle is besotted with her.

(...we'll also find out she has an additional reason why she needs to get Pavetta married off right now, and that otherwise she may have been fine waiting longer.)

What a smart and reasonable woman who is doing a great job levering her diplomatic power to handle her country.

"Her Majesty, the Lioness, Queen Calanthe of Cintra!"

Huh, I don't remember one giant throne from before...

Oh. That's why everyone kept calling her a lioness.

It wasn't just some mixture of flattery or that she had any presence on the battlefield despite being a woman.

"Apologies, noble sirs. A few upstart townships in the south needed reminding who was Queen. I find it's good for one's blood and humors."

It was that, like a lioness, she enjoys reducing others to giblets.

This wasn't even aimed at another country. This is something she did to her own people. They did something - possibly not even all that much given they're "upstarts", and now she's covered in blood and gloating about it.

That sure does recontextualize things, doesn't it.

"Ready your suitor's tales of glory, good lords. My daughter is eager to have this over with. As am I."

...so...the party...which is secretly a foregone conclusion...is also something neither of them even want?

"Bard, music!"

Also, I would put money on Calanthe having no clue who Jaskier is. She told people to hire some bard for this bullshit party she had to have. The only question is if one of the people actually involved in the decision had some reason to pick Jaskier - did they think Calanthe would appreciate songs about a witcher, or songs about murdering elves? Did they make the more accurate assumption that Calanthe was unlikely to care much, and they personally liked Jaskier, so they hired him? Were they aware of Jaskier's reputation and hoping they could get Calanthe through one goddamn party, just one, without her killing someone if she was entertained by watching someone else pull a sword on Jaskier and chase him around?

We don't know. What we do know is that Jaskier gets as far as singing the single word "She" before Calanthe cuts him off.

"No, no, no! A jig! You can save your bloody maudlin nonsense for my funeral."

She may have just been reacting to the fact it sounded slower than she wanted, but "she" + "my funeral" + Cirilla's first episode comment about having heard the ballad about her grandmother's victory make me suspect Jaskier was trying to flatter her by singing about one of her battles. We don't know if 31-year-old Calanthe feels the same way about it as 45-year-old Calanthe, but... Three thousand people is a lot, and even more for the timeperiod and size of her country. Even if she's precisely as gleeful at killing opponents as she seems, it doesn't sound like the battle went all that well for her. It was also her first battle and she was thirteen, so it's unlikely she did anywhere near as well as she would as an adult.

Calanthe approaches Pavetta, who's on the verge of crying.

Calanthe: "It will be done soon. You think I wanted to marry your father? I'll have none of your waterworks here. You're the daughter of the Lioness, behave like it!"

We now have Calanthe herself saying her husband sucked, because it's pretty noticeable she did not continue the sentence with, "But then things improved." Now, no one's muttered anything about her murdering the guy, so I think we can assume he wasn't an all-around terrible person, but yeah, marriage wasn't great for her.

Pavetta is introduced to us on the verge of tears and that's contrasted with her far more forceful mother, so you'd expect Pavetta to be some shrinking violet...

Pavetta: "Perhaps I should have some starving serfs brought in to slaughter, then. Or I could decapitate some elves and have their heads hung about as a lesson to those who would defy me."

But like Calanthe, Pavetta has more to her than that.

And now we have context for more of what we see from the Cintran refugees. Calanthe didn't just inherit a racist country, and at least in Pavetta's opinion, she's not doing a great job running Cintra either. Pavetta's implying that those "few upstart townships in the south" were doing it because Calanthe pushed them to the breaking point first. Calanthe may be using the elves as a way of flexing her power - she can't slaughter humans without any reason at all but she can make a show of what she can do and get across that she's just waiting for an excuse to do it to you, so best to behave so as not to be targeted. She may also be using the elves as scapegoats for when people go hungry, though if so, she's not pulling it off well if she's still got "upstart townships".

Why, in the present, does Cirilla run into incredibly racist Cintrans? Well, it can't have helped that past-Calanthe likely killed a lot of the ones who weren't.

And yet, look at how Pavetta talks about this. The Brotherhood of Sorcerers say "Cintra" absolutely loathes elves, and certainly, they must've hated them enough to kill them off and take their land. But Pavetta is portraying what Calanthe does as a cynical show of power and/or for personal enjoyment. The elves are being killed "as a lesson to those who would defy [her]" and not "because they're evil" or even "because she hates them". It's possible Pavetta came to this conclusion all on her own, but Calanthe doesn't dispute what she's saying by saying that elves and serfs are shifty bastards, just says she shouldn't be upset about it. Calanthe either never bought into the prejudice herself and just used it as another way to keep power, or she realized better very early on, and she raised Pavetta knowing it.

The consequences for Pavetta saying this to the genocidal lioness who solves all her problems by stabbing people and laughing about it to other people is...

"I will not have your hysteria turn this night upside down."

For whatever reason, Calanthe has not been responding to her daughter objecting to how Calanthe runs the country by beating her bloody, shoving a sword in her hand, and then kicking her onto the battlefield. The relationship between them is awful but Calanthe cares about her. In fact, she's pretty much the only thing Calanthe cares about - she isn't mourning her dead husband, she's fine starving and/or killing her own citizens, and she will at least act unconcerned about her soldiers dying in the upcoming fight or the looming threat of Destiny over her whole country.

"Besides, that boorish lout is the key to Cintra holding power after I taste clay."

Calanthe's present behavior casts doubt on whether or not that battle she had at thirteen was actually necessary or only seemed like a good idea because she was thirteen and just crowned with no one to stop her, but it's clear battlefield prowess and terrorizing her own people is how Calanthe thinks you keep power. She might hope Pavetta will come around to her way of thinking, but in the meantime, she needs someone around who understands the value of killing and picking fights so you'll have an excuse for more killing and look, there's a boorish lout with good connections to lots more boorish louts in lots of boats.

Calanthe: "He's from good stock. You could do worse."

Pavetta: "I could do better!"

It's easy to assume Pavetta matches what you'd stereotypically expect from a sad princess getting married off to a boorish lout, but Pavetta isn't actually upset at the idea of marriage. Her assertion here is stronger than just that it's not fair to expect her to settle for such a bad husband, and it's our first real hint that there's something else going on here. Pavetta is already in a relationship and is facing down the very real possibility that she's about to see her lover murdered. Under the circumstances, she's holding up quite well.

Calanthe: "You can have who you want when you're married. You have your mother's blood. You'll be fine."

Like I said, Calanthe really has arranged things so that Pavetta is, at least, going into this marriage holding a lot of the cards, and she'll have the support of her mother in every aspect that is not getting to actually pick her own husband.

Anyway, the boorish lout she could do worse than marry proceeds to get into a shouting match with one of the other men about who totally for real killed a manticore and who's bullshitting. See? Good stock. You want a man who knows how to start an unnecessary fight or else you might not have enough fights in your life.

Meanwhile, someone's informing Calanthe of more interesting news:

"Your Majesty, that's Geralt of Rivia."

And what does that mean to Calanthe? Why does the woman think that's the first thing to tell Calanthe about? And is it that Calanthe didn't recognize him, or just that she overlooks him in the crowd?

It's possible that Calanthe is interested solely because she's about to need murdering done. Given how upset Pavetta looks, her mother may have been making pointed comments to the court for the past few weeks about the value of having someone around to murder other, unwanted someones who might show up. So when a good candidate to help out with that arrives, you can guess Calanthe would want it brought to her attention.

It's also possible Calanthe thinks witchers are cool. They kill whatever they want with swords all day long and nobody makes them go to stupid betrothal parties, they only show up if they want to and can leave whenever.

And yet, if she's a fan of witchers, you'd think she'd be a fan of Jaskier's songs, wouldn't you? Yet she demands a lyrics-free jig rather than that he sing a different song, one about witchers. Could her dislike of ballads outweigh any like of witchers?

"Enough!"

I think the most likely thing going on here is simply Calanthe throwing her weight around. She may well find the argument amusing but acting irritated is a way to remind everyone that when she's in the room, they'd better be thinking about her and what she wants.

"We have a renowned guest here tonight. Perhaps he can declare which esteemed lord is telling the truth."

I have no idea if she knows Geralt wants to stay out of it. That would require a very good understanding of Geralt and she's only been aware he's even at this party for about a minute. He's standing quietly off to the side, but that could be for any number of reasons, and given his status, who knows, maybe he desperately wanted a chance to correct these idiots but was politely keeping out of it until one of his betters gave the go-ahead?

Of course, "renowned guest" is getting paired with "esteemed lord" so we can't necessarily take this at face value. When Geralt calls them both liars, Calanthe doesn't back him up and tell the lords to get over themselves.

One of the things that makes the interplay here particularly confusing is that Calanthe will show she doesn't have the best grasp on Geralt's motivations, so it's hard to tell who she's being a dick to here. For all we know, she was trying to liven up a minor battle between two lords by siccing them both on a witcher, assuming he'd leap at the excuse to beat the shit out of some people for questioning him. Or, given it's Calanthe, she could also be well aware that's the last thing a witcher would want and just not care.

"Perhaps our esteemed guest would like to entertain us with how he slayed the elves at the edge of the world?"

What we do know is that when Geralt wiggles out of a fight, Calanthe finds this hilarious and continues to engage him. It seems unlikely she's fishing for another fight here, since everyone seems enthusiastic to hear it. Now, she does seem to like fights and she actually knows about fighting elves, so she could know the song is bullshit and want to see if he'll back up the lie - it is a valid thing to judge Geralt for, if he's calling the lords liars while lying about his own exploits. But I think it's supposed to be a softball. Calanthe has an actual job she needs from him and that means she needs to talk to him more privately. It seems likely she intended to respond to anything that comes out of his mouth next with, "Yeah great, come sit next to me."

Of course, Geralt just says he got beat up and then let go. And that definitely gets Calanthe's attention. She's bellowing with laughter but when Geralt starts in on his version of the story, that goes away and she actually looks serious.

Eist attempts to get her attention by kissing her ass: "It would have been your blade at Filavandrel's throat had you been there, Your Majesty. Not that any elven bastard would crawl from their lair to meet you on the field." Like I mentioned, I feel like he's trying to hint that her concerns he'll be taking over if she marries him are unfounded and that he's completely fine with their introductions being The Lioness of Cintra and some dude's she's fucking. But neither the ass-kissing or the implied please please marry me are enough to switch her attention from Geralt.

"Any man willing to paint himself in the shadow of his failures will make for far more interesting conversation this night."

Now, as I said, she was going to say something to get him up to the table. But given how much goes on every episode, I think this is best taken as her real feelings on the matter.

To return to the first episode, after all...

Cirilla: "It's a catchy song."

Calanthe: "Three thousand of my men died."

It is very unlikely to me that Calanthe truly changed her mind about this. But she can't admit it in the present. Her hold on power, or at least her perception of it, is that she can't even afford to marry a guy shouting to everyone that she's the biggest badass in the room because she thinks that simply by virtue of him being male everyone will decide he calls the shots. She has a massive throne so everyone knows she's in charge. Calanthe doesn't show feelings other than "murderously angry" and "drunkenly entertained" and she berates Pavetta for not keeping herself under similar control.

So I think it really does throw her to have someone say they fucked up. She'll compare herself to Geralt in a minute and witchers do seem, in the broadest of senses, to have some similarities when it comes to needing to worry about public opinion. In the second episode the man says he trusts Geralt to murder the devil because he's the Butcher, in the opening of this one the man says they knew they needed the expertise of specifically the White Wolf. Who'd want to hire someone who got their "arse kicked by a ragged band of elves"? And who'd follow that up, to an audience wanting to hear about how elves are scum, with, "Filavandrel let me go"?

And we follow shortly with,

Dara: "Your grandmother slaughtered my family!"

Cirilla: "No, that's not true."

Dara: "She ordered it. After Filavandrel's uprising--"

Cirilla: "She wouldn't do that."

Dara: "Her soldiers...they laughed when they did it. Killing, raping... They laughed the hardest when they were swinging babies from their legs, smashing their heads in. I was the only one left. Because I hid."

So now we have more or less the whole of it.

The Brotherhood says, "The only thing Cintra hates more than mages is...elves." Pavetta describes acting like her mother as, "I could decapitate some elves and have their heads hung about as a lesson to those who would defy me." And now Dara says, "Her soldiers...they laughed when they did it."

Cintra, as a whole, hated elves and probably all nonhumans. Calanthe's control of Cintra as queen was tenuous, or at least she feared it was. (And the fact she inherited the throne yet found herself playing second-fiddle to her husband, a man whose only other mention here will be needing a teenager to save his life, would seem to back that up.) Sending her army to wipe out elves to the last child was both a show of power and a people-pleaser.

Also worth mentioning is that Pavetta talks about Calanthe's elf-murdering as an ongoing thing needing no particular reason, but Dara attributes what happened to his family as retaliation rather than just Calanthe hating them. I wonder if Calanthe had considered moving away from running her country through constant purges, only for this to happen and then respond with even greater brutality as a way to turn something that would make people question her rule into something that instead makes them support her even more.

It's easy to understand why Calanthe wouldn't tell Ciri about the details Dara's giving, but Ciri wasn't fed the sanitized version where the Cintran army defended everyone from evil elves. She didn't even know the uprising happened. It's also interesting that every other time we've seen or referenced the Cintran army, Calanthe was leading it personally. Here, Dara doesn't say she was taking part or even that she was there. She gave the orders - he's completely right to say she's the one to blame - but for the only time, she isn't in the thick of things herself. We're not shown or even told she was delighted/pretending to be delighted on the field.

(Ciri notes that she's been isolated and protected her whole life, and assumes this has to do with her mysterious destiny. While that's certainly part of it, it seems like Calanthe was doing far more than just trying to keep Geralt away.)

Back to the banquet and the Calanthe of then, we even have her complaining she'd rather stay in armor. Personal violence, smashing heads herself and laughing as she does it is who Calanthe is.

She tells Geralt she'll need him because there's going to be some rare violence that, sadly, she will not be able to partake in.

Geralt: "I'm not for hire as a bodyguard."

Calanthe: "You were hired just so by the bard."

Geralt: "I'm helping the idiot free of his coin."

Calanthe: "And he's the idiot?"

While one may question Geralt's chain of reasoning here, let's keep in mind Calanthe's own emotional issues. She absolutely cares about her daughter, and she's expressed this by telling the girl to stop being so teary-eyed just because Calanthe is going to murder her lover in front of her before marrying her off. Mousesack also states that she's just as interested in Eist as he is in her but won't admit to it.

Calanthe, in other words, would absolutely demand to be paid. She would probably demand double just to make it really, really clear how she was only doing this because of that and it had nothing to do with being any sort of pushover who has feelings.

"I'd do so myself, only I'm bound to uphold an artifice of decorum and... fairness."

We'll shortly see her idea of "decorum and... fairness" will be ordering her soldiers to kill someone, then when they don't do it fast enough, yanking the sword from someone's hand and wading in to do it herself.

I wonder if, getting back to the emotional aspect, she understands that what she's about to do to her daughter is horrible enough without her being the one to personally kill him, and that's part of why she's trying to do it by a proxy.

Mind you, she's still discussing her plans to murder her daughter's lover with her daughter sitting to her other side.

Geralt: "Hey. I can't help you."

Calanthe: "So perilously direct. As Queen, I could command it."

Geralt: "If I were one of your subjects."

Calanthe: "I could torture you so very slowly into compliance."

Geralt: "Her Majesty will do as she wishes. I'm not for turning."

So, Geralt's reaction from here on was definitely weird, but Calanthe's hard to read because when she's furious but not able to immediately stab, she's pretty breathy. The only thing that points to this not just being sheer incandescent rage is that she's also able to keep up the conversation pretty civilly after this point.

Does Calanthe like being refused? Probably not. (More on that when we talk about Eist.) Do people normally refuse her? Definitely not. Is she planning to respect that no? Even more absolutely not. Does she think Geralt even means it?

Calanthe: "Oh, come now. Everyone has their price."

Quite possibly she thinks he's just trying to posture about how he doesn't take orders, or perhaps bargain for a bigger price. If that's the light this conversation is taking place in, it makes her other statements marginally less totally evil - she's not necessarily threatening to do this for him refusing, she's trying to head off him asking for something enormous by saying well maybe she doesn't have to pay at all so keep that in mind while we dicker over price.

And now it's time for the suitors. Lord Peregrine of Nilfgaard, who are still a joke country this far into the timeline, attempts to introduce himself and gets interrupted twice by one of the other groups.

"Make another sound, Draig Bon-Dhu, and I'll have your guts sewn into pipes and sent to your mother."

So Calanthe is at least willing to treat them with respect and -

"Cintra is indeed the jewel of the north, yet Nilfgaard remains the shit rag of the south, and that's saying something! Tell me, is it true you drink piss water and feast on your own young?"

Or not!

I mentioned back when she interrupted the manticore argument that I suspect Calanthe might act annoyed as an excuse to throw her weight around, and may have only objected to the SUDDENLY BAGPIPES interruption for that reason.

That said, it's quite possible she was entirely willing to be polite until the guy spoke.

See, for some reason, Peregrine thinks the best pitch he can make is that he'll do a good job of putting many boy baby heirs in her precious daughter. This isn't just your regular misogyny, he's saying this to a ruling queen who has a single daughter as an heir. Either it's an attempt to neg his way into the marriage or he's so far up his own ass that he thinks Calanthe already agrees with him that she's awful for failing at her one job and so will love to hear that his balls will be able to keep Pavetta from a similar fate of bearing worthless daughters.

Pavetta gives her mother such a look of outrage, too. (Another clue there's more to this than just a timid girl anxious about getting married off.) This fits with the idea Calanthe wanted Pavetta as her heir, possibly to the point of intentionally not having further children. It's noteworthy there's not even any mention by anyone else at the party that Pavetta is a disappointment to Calanthe, which is especially strange when she and her mother seem so different.

(And while this is initially just a WTF moment, we're about to jump scenes to another queen lamenting that her husband hates that all her children have been girls, followed by the discovery her husband has decided to kill her for it. And as that's Yennfer's side of the plot, it takes place before this - going by the timeline, Pavetta would've been six and Calanthe twenty-two at the time. So they know what happened to Queen Kalis, and given how easily everyone involved accepted that's what was happening, they're likely aware of other times men have done terrible things to their wives over them not producing a son. So it's not just that Peregrine is saying to a woman about her daughter that only male children are of any value, there's also the element that Peregrine is indicating he thinks so little of Pavetta that he believes even her own mother wouldn't care about the fact he's advertising himself as unsafe in this way.)

We return from powerless Queen Kalis to find Calanthe lamenting not always being able to throw her weight around.

"How much more of this peacocking must I endure? This... All this because male tradition demands it. If I were a man, I could simply tell the whole lot of them to fuck off, declare outright who Pavetta should marry and have done with it."

I'd like to take a moment to highlight how Calanthe first says this is a "male tradition", ie, this is how kings are expected do it, followed by that if she was king, she wouldn't have to. It's not that women run betrothal parties to marry off their kids and men make pronouncements. It's that men are allowed leeway to break from tradition.

Let's return again to Calanthe's husband. He has exactly two known traits: she was in his shadow, and he needed his life saved by somebody. How was this person able to overshadow Calanthe, daughter of the previous king who singlehandedly ran the country and won battles at thirteen? Because they're judged by a different metric. Because he was a king even if he did nothing beyond being one, while Calanthe, as a queen, has to do a lot more for a lot less. (Or, even if people might accept something different, it's an unknown and a risk she doesn't want to take.)

"Or, better yet, let the poor girl decide her own fate."

So, probably Calanthe is grumbling for the sake of grumbling, but I do wonder if she sees this marriage as more of a necessity than it would be if she was a king.

We know that at the end of the night when Pavetta doesn't play along with the betrothal narrative, Eist preemptively threatens anyone who might object ("React poorly, and you won't just face the Lioness, you will be facing the sea hounds of Skellige.") suggesting that not marrying Pavetta off to the right person in the right way, even after Calanthe made every effort to force that to happen, is still something people could claim offense over and result in outright war. And we know when he reminds her of it in the first episode, she says, "I did it to save my kingdom." The consequences for letting Pavetta pick are more than just not getting the right alliance. And Calanthe may have similar concerns about how willing people will be to respect the succession of power from old queen to new queen.

That said...

"Something tells me this isn't the first time you've navigated the vagaries of male tradition. In fact, I'd wager you thrive on it."

Is there a reason why as a queen, Calanthe might feel she needs to regularly kill large numbers of people to keep her rule? Yes. Does Calanthe enjoy it? Also very much a yes.

This is, murder aside, actually a very reasonable ground for a female character, and yet one we get surprisngly little of. If a society is broadly misogynist and a few women are succeeding despite that, you're going to mostly see the ones who are good at handling it, and people generally like things they're good at/are good at things they like. But that does not mean they like every aspect of it, or that they can't still resent that they're being held to a different standard. Perhaps King Calanthe would've done exactly the same things, but in his case, he'd have had the choice.

Would King Calanthe have this party? Well, Queen Calanthe keeps complaining, but it's hard to be sure she actually hates it because, like Pavetta, she's really worried about the coming interruption of the party, and that makes the entire affair more miserable. Also, Mousesack describes Eist and Calanthe as acting like they're not as into each other as they are, so I suspect she'd never admit to liking anything that Eist shows up to. But that she has other reasons to say she hates parties doesn't mean she likes parties.

"Spoken as one who has navigated his own share of fools. Tell me, Witcher, why are there so few of you left?"

It's hard to be certain given she has something she needs from Geralt, but Calanthe really does seem to genuinely like, or at least have an interest in, Geralt/witchers as a whole. This won't be the only time she draws a comparison between them. There's a couple possible angles for this. One is simply that she likes the romance of being a lone stabby wolf, since Calanthe appears to excel at violence but complain about other aspects of ruling. Another is that, like her, he's not exactly a "man", so this could be a gesture of solidarity - Geralt just had to navigate some vagaries of male tradition in that manticore argument, after all. And a third is actually somewhat taking this at face value, that she respects his ability to handle things diplomatically. As forceful as Calanthe has been, we haven't actually seen her blunder at this point in time. When she pushes people, it works and everyone else claps, and even in the later period when Cirilla's meeting refugees who hate her grandmother, she seemed to have all the nobles under her roof completely in hand. (And she certainly managed to keep Cirilla from hearing anything she disapproved of.)

(The question also establishes a certain floor on how interested she is in witchers - she knows some things (and that's probably not super common knowledge, because Jaskier's conversation with Geralt strongly implies he doesn't know witchers are dying out or really anything much about them) but hasn't been hunting down every scrap of information about them.)

Geralt: "Tell me, Your Majesty...why do you risk your life on the battlefield when you can rest on your throne?"

Calanthe: "Because there is a simplicity in killing monsters, is there not? Seems we are quite the pair, Geralt of Rivia."

So in conclusion, Calanthe doesn't seem interested in Jaskier's songs but I do think she's enjoyed hearing the odd story about witchers and daydreams about being able to solve all, instead of merely most, of her problems by hitting them with a sword. She did know Geralt of Rivia by name, which in turn suggests that she knows the songs but that Calanthe really hasn't a clue who Jaskier is or possibly that there even is one particular bard behind the sudden spat of witcher songs. She might realize something's up when Geralt tells her he's here for bard-related reasons, but if so, by that point she'd rather talk to Geralt than have someone else sing about him.

It's at this point things go south - some dude shows up and Calanthe makes it clear she was expecting this and wants the guy dead.

Calanthe: "Witcher...kill it."

Geralt: "No."

Calanthe: "Whatever the price."

Geralt: "This is no monster."

Calanthe: "I order you."

Geralt: "This knight has been cursed."

Calanthe: "You're as useless as the rest of them. Slay this beast!"

Ah, and here we get another great look into the whole "monster" thing. As a whole, this is another example of how the definition is whatever's convenient to the people in charge at the moment.

And for Calanthe herself, it's already hinted that she knew this guy was showing up and it'll be confirmed in a bit that yes, she knows damn well this is a cursed human. Her father may have honestly believed the anti-nonhuman sentiment of broader Cintra, but everything points to Calanthe using it because it benefits her. She orders the helmet off so people will see he looks monstrous, then she shouts that it's a beast and she demands it be killed. She knows if she presents this as an anti-nonhuman thing, she can keep him from having a chance to talk.

Despite her efforts, the "beast" gets enough breathing room to shout that this is a Destiny thing, which means other people start getting involved exactly like she worried they would.

(Eist, and the relationship with Calanthe, will be discussed next, because this is huge enough already and at least this I can separate out.)

Calanthe grudgingly calls a halt, Pavetta throws herself into the mess, Duny tries to explain himself, Calanthe just gets more angry.

"And you...carousing with the beast that swindled your stupid father!"

Calanthe doesn't just know someone's going to show up for her daughter. She knows the two of them have been meeting, and it's very likely she knew they were fucking, and that, in turn, suggests the real reason she's doing this betrothal party is because she knows she's got to marry Pavetta off fast. She even says to Pavetta that Pavetta can fuck who she wants after she gets married but she has to be married first.

"I waited until the twelfth bell when the curse breaks. I never intended to meet her. Just to watch from afar. Until destiny intervened...and our hearts collided. And at dawn, I awoke with her in my arms and me...like this."

Also, if she didn't know they were fucking, she definitely does now.

(Actually, how did Geralt miss that? More evidence that he's drunk, I guess.)

Mousesack: "Honor destiny's wish, or unleash its wrath upon us."

Calanthe: "There is no us! I bow to no law made by men who never bore a child!"

So this gets back to Calanthe really does seem to prioritize Pavetta over everything. It's not clear how much she believes in Destiny, but she doesn't bother arguing it's bunk, unlike Geralt, which suggests she believes it has some impact, as does the fact the argument she does make is about not being afraid of Destiny's consequences rather than that there are none.

We do know that by the end of her life in the first episode, she absolutely believes that Destiny is a real thing. She thinks she may be able to win a fight with it, the same as she's arguing now, but she's willing to take actions to play along with it too.

"I love Duny, Mother. I will marry him. I will finally be free."

I don't know what she means by "free" here - it sounds most like she means she doesn't want to inherit the country, though it could also mean getting out from under her mother's thumb.

And Calanthe stands quietly, takes note of the fact everyone thinks this is a good idea, allows Eist to take her sword, and then, when Duny lets her get close like a sucker, pulls out her dagger.

Does Calanthe love Pavetta? Yes. Does she in any way respect Pavetta's feelings? No.

Pavetta screams, there's magic.

When it fades, Eist asks, "Do you believe in destiny now?"

I don't think she does, or at least, not more, because what she says next makes it clear she didn't think what happened is all that inexplicable:

"I thought your grandmother's gift had skipped you...as it did me."

But either it was convincing enough, or for another reason, she's suddenly fine with the marriage.

(Note that both times this has happened, the response has been awe at this "gift", not oh shit a woman has power make it stop. You can get your hand-wringing about women and their uncontrolled power being so very bad absolutely everywhere else. The world absolutely does not need you to helpfully fix their scenes here to be the same.)

"It seems I was wrong. About so many things. Destiny has spoken! And I have listened. The Law of Surprise will be honored."

Personally, I think the bigger thing for Calanthe is that Pavetta demonstrated the ability to fuck shit up when things don't go her way. She was set on the marriage because she wants a strong Cintra for Pavetta. If Pavetta can take care of herself, she doesn't need to be married off.

(Also possibly Calanthe just reevaluated the odds of Pavetta murdering her assigned husband.)

Additionally, some part of these events have convinced her that actually marrying Eist does make political sense. He at least presents it as a need to make a quick alliance now that everyone else is going to be annoyed Pavetta didn't marry any of them and that could be her reasoning - at the least, that's the story she's sticking to in the future. Or it could've been that watching her kid make a murder vortex made her reevaluate how she's been dealing with her own relationships, or it could be that her issue before wasn't exactly a worry her husband would overshadow her but a worry he'd get in the way of Pavetta inheriting (and, just as Queen Kalis illustrates that kings murder queens over a lack of male heirs, Renfri establishes stepparents murder princesses over inheritance) and she thinks it's much less of a concern now.

Geralt: "I...claim the tradition as you have, the Law of Surprise. Give me that which you already have but do not know."

Calanthe: "No! What have you done, Witcher?"

To recap, Calanthe does not consider that Pavetta might be anxious about having sex but instead tells her to stop acting like marriage matters when she can still "have who you want" after this. Later she accuses Pavetta of "carousing" with Duny. And it's followed up by Duny admitting to that.

She knows the two idiots have been fucking behind her back. I don't think this is her assuming Destiny is just out to get her, I think it's her having a solid grasp of probability.

Episode Four may be Calanthe's episode, but there's still more tidbits to go.

In the fifth episode, we learn more about the actual running of her country from the dryads of all people:

"When Queen Calanthe closed the borders of Cintra, it was to protect her people. The General wants to protect us. We all make decisions."

Unfortunately it's really unclear exactly what that involved, when it happened, or how it helped. We can't even be sure it did protect people because this is a dryad's opinion and we know their idea of safety revolves around border security.

Then in the sixth episode, at a time between the banquet and Cirilla's present, there's people talking about Nilfgaard taking over the south and heading for the northern countries, including Cintra.

"No. Queen Calanthe would die before letting them take what's hers."

This is, in fact, what happens, but we can see at the time, no one believes that Calanthe could fight to the death and still lose. Cintra is a powerhouse.

In episode seven, Geralt's getting anxious about Cintra and checks up on the situation.

Mousesack: "Nilfgaard is set on sweeping the Continent. But since that night at Pavetta's banquet, the Queen's done everything she can to keep her family safe from threats. Shut the walls. Fortified the gates."

Ah, the perils of imprecise language. Does this mean she fortified the castle, or is he metaphorically talking about the country as a whole, or both? Who are the "threats" this is supposed to be defending against?

We know Geralt is a threat. Closed borders or closed castle gates don't seem to have done much to keep him out, but that could just be down to it being really hard to keep Geralt out of a place and she wanted to but just couldn't quite pull it off. I think we can assume he's part of the motivation for this. But unless Mousesack is being just insanely diplomatic, to someone who would absolutely not appreciate that diplomacy and he knows it, "threats" means Calanthe had more worries than just Geralt.

It seems likely they're connected, though, because Mousesack is saying Calanthe locked everything down after the banquet, not after Pavetta's death. My guess is Calanthe has been prepping for a war against Destiny at large - if she keeps Geralt out of Cintra, that just means that to meet him Cirilla needs to leave Cintra first, and also there seems to be a concern that picking a fistfight with Destiny leads to random bad luck just happening.

Are there any other reasons?

Well, we know Tissaia seems to believe all kids with chaos powers should be carted off to More Deadly Hogwarts, but while we know at least 2/6ths of the girls we see did not want to be there, we have no idea if Tissaia actually steals children if their parents say no. On the other hand, we do know Calanthe doesn't like the Brotherhood because she never accepts a mage from them, so it may not matter what they actually do, only what she fears - and given the Brotherhood seems to not like Cintra back, maybe they might decide to steal the heir of Cintra even if they wouldn't normally do so.

There's also the fact that Calanthe just does not seem rational about it by the end of the party. Her reaction to Duny is much stronger than just that this is a subpar match compared to the one she wants. She's behaving as if she feels Duny is here not to marry into the family but take her daughter away. (Pretty much the same as with Geralt, which is actually very strange given it makes perfect sense to worry a witcher is going to run off with your kid but a lot less that the princess' husband is going to run off with her.) Given there's magic in the family line, possibly she has some sense this is going to end badly, but whatever the reason for her initial opposition, her attempt to keep control over her daughter failed, which is exactly what tends to amp up such tendencies even further. She may not be defending against any particular threat at all but just the concept of things happening without getting her permission first.

And if she was acting like this before Pavetta's death...

"After Pavetta died, Calanthe would wake up howling in the night. The Lioness, nearly broken. Someone who's able to pull themselves out of that, they'll have my confidence till my final day."

Eist doesn't tell us if the Calanthe who came out of that was changed. We only know that there's a big difference between the Calanthe of the party and the one we see at the end of her life, and that there wouldn't be much point in telling us that losing Pavetta almost destroyed her if it had no lasting impact.

Calanthe does seem to have kept things running, but it's very hard to tell if it's been going well.

"We've taken on every pissant pretender for a dozen years. If Nilfgaard need to learn the lesson the rest of them have, we'll be ready for them."

On the one hand, she's handled it so far. On the other, why have people kept trying? And "pretender" in particular is a word you'd use for someone claiming a right to your throne. And why has this been happening for a "dozen" years in particular?

Well, Cirilla is thirteen. We don't know when Calanthe lost Pavetta, but it does seem like she was raised by her grandmother and the sooner the disaster hit, the more it makes sense for Calanthe to insist it had something to do with Destiny - "I did listen once. Let a hedgehog into my court. It got me Pavetta dead." sure makes it sound like one thing happened very sooner after another.

Twelve years ago, then, is probably a bit after Calanthe loses Pavetta. It may be that she's actually neglecting her country in her grief, it may just be that people see weakness the moment she stops riding out to stick heads on pikes for fun. This makes sense as where some of the present-day resentment comes from, if Cintra weathers repeated attacks because Calanthe's reputation isn't enough to dissuade people, and if it starts when she loses her daughter. The hatred for Calanthe keeps coming back to her family as a whole, and there's the sense that all of them share the blame .

Which may tie in to the puppet show Cirilla sees.

"Oh, sweet Cintra, you were so promising, from your spoiled princess to your stupid old king!"

This appears similar to what the woman at the refugee camp says: "that wretched bitch and her wretched family".

We have two possible reasons for Calanthe to keep her granddaughter isolated, for her own safety and to control what she knows. Everyone seems to be aware of the first one and resent that, and given Calanthe says she's willing to doom her country to unknown Destiny reprisals first for Pavetta and then for Cirilla, they have a point. The only ones who describe Calanthe as caring about her "people" are the dryads. Everyone else says Calanthe is doing this to protect her "family".

It's also possible it was first one and then the other - Calanthe at the very end of her life does act concerned with what happens to Cintrans as a whole and advise that's part of being a good ruler, and possibly it's just that everyone assumed she was only concerned for her immediate family because that's how she acted for most of her life and because she was never big on explaining herself. At the least, the nobles we see at the castle thought she had their interests at heart, it's just none of those people survived.

Cirilla's non-noble playmate seems far less enthused when he shows up, of course, and given Calanthe decided a painless death was only a priority for nobles, it does seem like even at best Calanthe had a pretty narrow view of who mattered. (She also tries to send Geralt off with a different kid. Though in her defense, I'd guess she figures he probably won't kill the kid when he realizes he was tricked, and since he only wants the kid due to destiny, might even willingly return her. So it's possibly not exactly condemning another kid in Cirilla's place and arguably he's more likely to bring this one back than one Destiny says is his, but on the other hand, it's possibly getting the kid straight up murdered by an angry witcher or abandoned in the middle of nowhere.)

It's unclear if the stupid old king is Eist, who admittedly did seem irreverent and there may have been concerns about divided loyalties, Calanthe's first husband who got them on Destiny's radar (it's not clear if people have any idea what happened at the party, but that half of it doesn't need to be kept secret and is going to be a lot more noticable given you need some explanation for why Pavetta married an unknown guy) or even Calanthe's father who died and left the country in the hands of Calanthe.

It also doesn't sound like Calanthe's decisions are well-regarded by the Brotherhood. We know they don't like Cintra just for not letting them in, so it's a bit hard to tell if Cintra's actually being run badly or this is just an extension of Stregobor's enthusiasm for the current king to die in the hopes the next ruler will do what he wants. And we know Fringilla thinks she can convince the Brotherhood that they should let Nilfgaard attack by saying Cintra is a mess.

"In Nilfgaard, we know what it's like to have corrupt leaders. But under our new leader, Emperor Emhyr, we've changed. We've strengthened trade. We've funded research. We have torn down walls, whilst Queen Calanthe has done nothing but put them up."

Of course, it's also possible the Brotherhood, given they don't belong to any single country but are trying to manipulate all of them, is just inherently in favor of weak borders because it makes their lives easier. We know the Brotherhood doesn't care if a leader is hurting their own people, just if it's being done so in a way that creates too much unrest.

It's even possible the Brotherhood doesn't have any opinion about how Cintra's being run and Fringilla isn't trying to convince them by finding common ground on why Cintra should fall, just that Cintra and only Cintra has this trait that Nilfgaard dislikes, therefore they definitely won't attack anyone after they take Cintra so don't worry about it. Going off about the import of trade and research and tearing down walls to an audience who can't imagine giving a fuck and already thinks you're crazy zealots might actually be a good way to convince them that no really, you only care about attacking this one country and not all the other easy targets too.

So, that was the events as they unfolded across the episodes. To summarize what I think the actual timeline was:

Cintra is a racist shithole where people hate elves and keep other nonhumans as slaves. This may be related to why they distrust the Brotherhood, or it may be that the Brotherhood did something and was caught, or it could be unrelated. It's also unclear if they're an unusually racist shithole. Our only point of comparison is they hate elves more than Aedirn does, and Aedirn was fine massacring elves too.

Calanthe's father bans mages from the country. He dies. To our knowledge, there's no connection between these two events.

(There is, in the Netflix timeline, an issue that this is happening when Yennfer is leaving Aretuza, but Renfri references Calanthe and that takes place much later. In order for both things to be true, the Calanthe we meet would have to be Calanthe the 2nd.)

Calanthe, age thirteen, wins her first battle. Three thousand of her soldiers die in the process. We don't know if this was a necessary battle, and we don't know if the three thousand was unavoidable or a misstep on her part. We do know that while everyone around her speaks well of it, when Cirilla brings it up near the end of her life, she finds it upsetting.

At some point between thirteen and fifteen, Calanthe marries. The relationship does not appear to have been outright terrible, but Calanthe explicitly says she didn't want to marry the guy, does not go on to say "but I came to realize I was wrong" so it sure seems she kept resenting having to marry him until he died and possibly after, and at the least we know she was stuck in her husband's shadow and it convinced her to never remarry. (And her response to the law of surprise being over saving the guy's life is that he should have died then.) Also, they only had a single child. That child is a girl, and Calanthe's overall storyline makes it clear girls inheriting is unusual, suggesting either something prevented them from having more children or Calanthe refused to have more to make sure her daughter would have a clear line of inheritance. This may also be part of why she doesn't want to remarry.

(She is, after all, extremely devoted to her daughter, even if it largely manifests as repeatedly trying to kill a man for her over her daughter's own objections.)

Calanthe's rule of Cintra is a violent one. We don't know if there's greater inequity than other countries - Pavetta talks of starving serfs, but dumbass kings starving their people comes up a lot - but we know her solution to the problem is to pull out a sword. Maintaining military power is extremely important to her. There is also a racial component with her killing elves in particular as a periodic show of force/play to her racist power base. It's not certain, but it seems very possible Calanthe inherited a shitty country and actively made it shittier by killing people who objected to these sorts of things.

Marrying Eist, and possibly Mousesack being around, seem to have made her reconsider at least some of this. Certainly, losing Pavetta was an enormous blow and likely made her rethink things. However, if she did stop using elves as a punching bag at some point, that went out the window with the elven uprising, at which point she ordered them murdered to the last infant. She may or may not have personally taken part in that, but that we're given a description where for once she isn't present suggests some greater separation from the act than when she rolls into the betrothal party covered in blood and gloating about what she just did. Her not being on the battlefield at all could also fit with how the woman Cirilla meets thinks Calanthe is selfishly throwing her soldiers' lives away, though she includes the Nilfgaard fight when we know Calanthe was on the field for that. There's the possibility that halfhearted attempts to dial back the racism were getting her into conflict with her nobles, so when something happened that could be blamed on those policies, she panicked and tried to regain control by amping things up to new and horrible heights - especially if she'd already screwed up by spending her early years empowering the kind of people who want to murder babies and killing those who disagreed with wanton slaughter.

Calanthe raises Ciri ignorant of all of this. Ciri's surprised by how the dwarf (?) is treated by the wealthy Cintrans, so the castle itself appears to have been kept slave-free, and the nobles who visited either had to leave theirs at home or didn't keep them in the first place. She has no opinion on elves and she doesn't even know Filavandrel's name, let alone any of the things that happened. It's possible this started with Pavetta, who seems vastly more liberal-minded, and Calanthe wanted to honor her daughter's wishes in the matter, but whatever the initial reason, Calanthe went to an absurd degree to keep absolutely everything bad about Cintra from Ciri, including things she seems to have once been proud of.

For the final dozen years of her reign, she seems to have become more reactive, fighting against "pretenders" showing up rather than finding excuses to kill people. This does not seem to endear her to her people, but it's hard to say if it's really her fault and things would've been better if she'd been more proactively violent, or if it's more an optics thing - easier to sing about a war she chose to have and then won than a war she was forced into, even if she actually was keeping the death toll lower. It's also possible that part of the issue was she stopped being quite so into murdering all nonhumans and people took that for weakness.

We have a reference to her closing Cintra's borders but not a clear idea of when/how/why. The one reference to time is Mousesack saying it was right after the party, so the most likely answer is that she closed everything down then rather than bit by bit. We also don't know what precisely the borders being closed involved but at the least, it's going to be an expense (if you object to people moving across your borders, you need other people to patrol them to enforce that) and going to hurt your economy through slowing or stopping trade, as well as making whatever does get through more expensive due to the hassle. And the amount of control it's going to take to keep even songs from crossing your border... The dryads characterize what she did as protecting her people, but it's not clear from what, and also the dryads are obviously big fans of closed borders so they may not be the most objective about its effectiveness, and furthermore I'm suspicious of how much they even know about how the outside world works. Fringilla claims that Cintra is being attacked because Nilfgaard hates corrupt leaders and the example she gives is Nilfgaard tearing down walls while Calanthe puts them up, so the idea this was bad for Cintrans is at least plausible.

(While not suggested in any way, it's also just very, very hard to keep such a lockdown on information that no one, even people who hate her, even knows Geralt's name and so it seems really likely she enforced that on pain of death.)

Calanthe was calmer in her old age, but not necessarily more levelheaded. On the other hand, when Geralt tries to reason with Eist about honoring the Law of Surprise with Cirilla, Eist says that he now completely sees Calanthe's point about fuck you that's my kid, so maybe she's not that unreasonable about it.

We do know that to the very last she prioritizes Cirilla over everything, given one of her solutions is to take someone else's kid and try to hand that to Geralt.

Also, just to repeat: Calanthe thinks the magic scream powers are awesome. Her kid having so little control she wrecks the room while defying her mother and ruining all the carefully laid plans still ends with Calanthe thrilled that wow, Pavetta inherited the power after all! Cirilla similarly manifesting for the first time during an argument is only upsetting because Calanthe's worried the Nilfgaardian soldiers might agree it's great and be coming for Cirilla in particular because of it.

 

Chapter Text

As media has so extensively shown us, there are very, very many potential pitfalls when portraying a relationship. When people bring up what's nice about this one, they often say that Eist actually likes Calanthe, and while that is definitely a thing you want, that alone isn't enough.

When we're first introduced to Eist, he's playing Fun Parent with Ciri while Calanthe is serious. It's kind of your typical sitcom setup of Competent Woman and Dumbass Husband. But, like Calanthe, his introduction isn't really how he is, and as soon as he's not making smalltalk with Ciri and is actually talking to his wife, he's far more serious. In fact, he's the one fretting about the army's approach and ill omens while Calanthe says it'll be fine. This could have veered into Eist actually knowing war while Calanthe just isn't good enough at it, but that too is avoided as he doesn't actually advise Calanthe to do anything differently. The discussion is entirely about emotional responses - Eist is being more emotional, and he turns out to have been right to be worried, which is an unusual way to frame things to start with, and also at no point would Eist being in charge have actually changed things, since they agree on the concrete things.

At the chronological earliest point in the series, Mousesack explains the situation between the two as, "Queen Calanthe refused his proposal three times after King Roegner died, despite the two of them gliding around each other like courting swans."

What we're told is that there's mutual interest between the two. Not only that, but specifically the metaphor chosen is swans, where the behavior looks the same on both sides. This is really, really important when it's a plotline about a man pursuing a woman who's repeatedly said no. There's a lot of animals where courting is the male displaying at the female and her remaining in the vicinity is considered reciprocation, but swan courting involves mirroring each other's displays and synchronizing their motions.

And we're told this over Eist showing off how good he is with daggers, while Calanthe will shortly swagger in covered in bloodsplatter.

Mousesack adds there's a specific reason Calanthe refuses, that "She was not for living in her husband's shadow again." So it's more than just your usual strong woman doesn't want to admit to an emotion. She's refusing the marriage because it makes sense to.

As I referenced in the previous metas, Eist may be trying to indicate he doesn't have any intention of overshadowing her by loudly telling everyone about how she's very amazing ("It would have been your blade at Filavandrel's throat had you been there, Your Majesty. Not that any elven bastard would crawl from their lair to meet you on the field."). This is absolutely something Calanthe appreciates - she smiles, he grins back. That part is fine. But it's not working to change her mind about actually getting married and honestly, Calanthe would be right to distrust it. "Lioness of Cintra" seems like a title she's had for quite some time and we know everyone was amazed by her first battlefield victory at thirteen. That evidently didn't keep her out of her husband's shadow once they were actually married despite, as I keep mentioning, how we have heard absolutely nothing to suggest he accomplished anything at all.

Eist is still on her side when she starts picking a fight with Mystery Knight.

Calanthe: "A knight...of no renown...from a backwater hamlet...who dares to enter my court without revealing his face?"
Duny: "I apologize, Your Majesty. A knight's oath prevents me from revealing my face until the sounding of the twelfth bell."
Eist: "Bollocks to that."

Now, Geralt is giving her a suspicious look the entire time. He can tell something's up. Eist actually knows Calanthe, so it seems extremely likely Eist can also tell something's up, and even the viewers, who barely know her, can see there's a difference between how she cheerily mocks the previous suitor and how she's actually upset about this, despite the fact this knight should be an even safer target. It's possible Eist is acting just because he's also invested in the wedding happening, but he knows the plan's already set and nothing about some minor knight or the way Calanthe clearly loathes the guy should be a threat to that. It's very unlikely he's acting because this pings as any sort of threat on his end.

And the thing is, the wedding plan? It's not what he wants in the first place. He'd like their countries to get along, but he'd much, much prefer this being done by him marrying her. He had motive not to agree to this marriage, and, even if he felt that Calanthe would refuse if he directly tried an ultimatum, he still has good reason to want it to fall apart.

Instead, when Calanthe is reacting suspiciously badly to this guy, Eist picks up on this, decides to get involved, and acts on that fast enough that he's over there slapping the helmet off soon as the explanation finishes.

I would argue this is actually more important than him kissing up to her earlier. Words are cheap. But Eist here is jumping in to do what she wants done.

Then, only after Eist has shown he's sincerely done his best to keep to Calanthe's original plan, the Law of Surprise gets brought up. As Geralt and Duny start trying to fight off Calanthe's soldiers, Eist now enters the fight for Duny.

"The Law of Surprise has been called. You kill them...kill me."

This is tactically a terrible decision. Now, supporting Calanthe in tempting fate is a bad idea - whatever backlash Destiny decides to throw around might include anyone else who aids her. But staying out of it? Absolutely the winning move. The marriage and therefore the alliance is off already since even if Calanthe kills Duny everyone can guess something horrible will happen to anyone involved with Pavetta. If Calanthe wants Cintra to get cursed, that's not their problem and may even be to their benefit. Acting to keep Calanthe at the height of her power while painting a massive target on yourself by doing so? Idiotic.

Which means the reason to do so is if you're actually concerned about the consequences for Cintra and Calanthe.

Calanthe, seething, gets up, takes a sword from one of her half-fallen knights and kicks him to the side, then stalks toward Eist, who's starting to get overwhelmed.

Instead of trying to block her attack, he ducks and she swings over his head to strike the man coming at him from behind, then she heads for Geralt to tell everyone to stand down.

So - was Calanthe impressed that Eist defied her?

No. God no. We know she was already interested. They were already "gliding around each other like courting swans". She wasn't disappointed he was being too nice and waiting for him to prove he was a real man by deciding he should be in charge, and someone else deciding they're in charge is in fact her biggest concern in a relationship.

And this is reinforced by the fact they don't actually physically fight. Eist does not actually cross blades with her and show off his fighting skill against her own while shouting that he's in the right here - and if he had tried anything like that, he'd have been killed by the guy coming from behind. He survives by getting out of her way instead of going against her.

When Calanthe starts berating Pavetta, Eist speaks up.

Eist: "'Tis no swindle. Asking for payment with the Law of Surprise is as old as mankind itself."
Calanthe: "Don't lecture me, Eist."
Eist: "It's an honest gamble. As likely to be rewarded with a bumper crop as a newborn pup. Or...a child of surprise. He could not know. Destiny has determined
the surprise be Pavetta."

This is a really delicate thing, because if you're going to have imperfect female characters, they're going to be making bad decisions, which means other people around them are going to go, "Hey, that's a bad decision." Because it is! But then you have the levelheaded man explaining things to the irrational woman who can't be trusted to make her own decisions. (There are so, so many ways we have found to do this badly, aren't there?)

The way it's handled this time is in two parts. The first is what we'll see right now. Calanthe is not in fact swayed by his opinion (and indicates she already knows all this anyway - "Don't lecture me, Eist.") She does, however, react calmly. He continues to talk: "Who are we to challenge destiny? Life was saved, debt must be paid, or the whole order of the world falls apart." and she's still calm until Mousesack pipes up, at which point she loses it and shouts that fuck off it's her kid.

So there's this balance here - Eist is the one whose opinion she's willing to consider. Him entering the fight makes her decide maybe an actual pitched battle is a bad idea, or possibly that fuck you it is a good idea but ugh fine she doesn't want Eist to get himself killed and she thinks well enough of Eist that she doesn't assume he's got bad motives for this. He's the one she keeps looking to because it actually means something to her that he's disagreeing with her about this. And he's the one she manages to respond to normally. But that doesn't mean she actually changes her own opinion.

The second is what we're going to see later, when we see Geralt's side of the first episode's events.

Geralt: "I remember when you honored the Law of Surprise. What changed?"
Eist: "I had a granddaughter."

When the kid is Eist's, he finds himself agreeing with Calanthe.

Whether or not this was the right decision, this exchange reframes Eist being rational and Calanthe irrational to it being a matter of having a kid, regardless of gender or even biological relation. Calanthe accuses the others of not getting it because they hadn't born a child, but Eist still hasn't but being around Ciri was enough to convince him. (Which is also pretty important to the general point the show's driving at regarding family.)

Back at the banquet, Pavetta explains that this is what she wants. Calanthe looks to Eist who is desperately hoping that she'll accept this. She holds out the sword for Eist to take, he takes it...

...and she goes to stab Duny with her dagger, having not actually been swayed by Eist. She trusted his judgement enough to hand him her weapon but not to actually give up on fighting Destiny.

It's unclear if she and Eist manage any sort of conversation during Fine If You're Going To Be Like That Now There's A Goddamn Tornado In Here. We do know that when it ends, he says, "Do you believe in destiny now?" but that could as easily be the most important thing he wanted to say as soon as the wind died down enough he got the chance or the capstone of a discussion they were having the whole time.

The next thing he does is jump in after Calanthe finally agrees that okay Pavetta marries who she wants, following it up with, "React poorly, and you won't just face the Lioness, you will be facing the sea hounds of Skellige. Because Queen Calanthe...has agreed to my proposal of marriage."

Did Calanthe agree to this during the period we don't see?

It's possible. It seems Calanthe accepts Pavetta gets to marry who she wants once the magic hits, and that's who she's focused on when the wind dies down. She'd know she needed to do this.

But it's far, far more plausible he says this hoping Calanthe will agree if he acts like it's already done, since he gets much quieter and less confident on the second sentence and the two of them look at each other.

So he almost certainly just announced this without actually getting her permission, and even if he didn't, it's happening because she doesn't see another way out of this.

That's why it's particularly important that the opening emphasized the "courting swans" thing, and furthermore that we're told Calanthe's opposition to marrying him has nothing to do with him but concerns from her last marriage and the generally misogynistic culture she lives in. It's also why it's important we not only see Eist talking positively about Calanthe, but initially acting in support of her rather than doing anything that could be read as trying to maneuver her for his own gain, because we know what ends up happening is what Eist wanted and which on Calanthe's agreeing to only because she got backed into a position where she has to say yes.

And Calanthe would absolutely not have married him otherwise, is the thing. Thirteen years later, in the first episode:

Eist: "Reminds me of your daughter's betrothal feast. The night you finally saw sense, said yes. Made me the happiest man on the Continent."
Calanthe: "I did it to save my kingdom."

Now, you can argue the exact balance of how much is Calanthe not wanting to admit to non-aggressive emotions vs how much she hates marriage as an institution, but even with the marriage working out fine and her concerns that he'd usurp her unrealized, and even though she'll howl over his corpse, she's still, more than a decade later, sticking to her guns about only agreeing because she had to. With that true on her end, there needs to be a lot to counterbalance it from Eist.

In conclusion:

There is a really delicate balance to walk here! If Eist only backs Calanthe up and never has any distinct thoughts of his own, he's not really a character. If he opposes her and is wrong, then he's yet another incompetent man dragging a woman down because woman just have to put up with shitty spouses. If he opposes her and is right, then it's yet another story where the problem is women making their own choices.

A big part of what helps here is that they pack a lot of actions into a small space. Eist screws around with Ciri. He talks to Calanthe. He interjects himself during the betrothal party several times in different ways. He changes his mind about things - backing Calanthe, to backing Law of Surprise, to backing Calanthe again. And he's emotionally involved throughout, rather than it ever being cleanly the right choice.

Chapter Text

Before we jump into the many things going on with Yennefer in the fourth episode, let's have a brief chapter on what little we know of Kalis. It's unlikely anyone else will be mounting a defense of her, so it falls to me!

We know she's had other children already - I would say at least three, and probably more. Kalis still looks young, so she's had those kids in close succession, and must have been even younger when she first married. Even in good circumstances, that alone is likely going to take a large mental toll. And she is not in good circumstances. She thinks her husband cares more about his dogs than he does her, and she's about to find out that's significantly overestimating his goodwill toward her. She is being shipped off to another castle and she's going only with her most recent baby and not her older daughters, and with no other companions. The only reference she makes to people at court is that they're pitying her behind her back. She's lonely and isolated. She tries to engage Yennefer and asks for Yennefer to stay with her. She also expresses that she's miserably bored with her life. And her behavior with her baby is worryingly detached, especially when there's nothing else distracting her.

Now, that doesn't justify ultimately offering the assassin her baby in the hopes of sparing her own life. But like all the other characters, it's pretty clear that her behavior is not coming from a rational and measured place, especially when it's not even a response that makes any sense - this is clearly happening because her husband wants her gone so he can remarry, and the baby is just collateral damage.

It would have been better of her to ask for the opposite. To beg for her child's life instead of her own. But that kind of behavior is heroic, and to treat it as expected cheapens it. Moreover, in terms of narrative, it is something very often treated as expected in the real world. It's not good of Kalis to do this, but it is narratively better to have her allowed to behave selfishly. It is rare in fiction to see a mother exist in any other capacity, and when a woman does it's because she either never cared or maliciously wanted the kid dead, not that she cares enough to try to save the kid as well but when pressed enough chooses herself over them.

(And the show overall is quite unusual for how much mothers feature and the many ways they're imperfect. In this season, we have Calanthe and Pavetta's relationship is on display at the banquet this episode, where Calanthe is willing to move heaven and earth for her daughter but not listen to her daughter's feelings, and Calanthe and Ciri, where Calanthe's desire to protect Ciri endangered her. In the first episode we have Marilka and her mother, Marilka feeling stifled by her mother's insistence their smalltown life is good enough and rejecting her mother's teachings in response, and we have Renfri and her mother and her stepmother. Yennefer's mother tried to protect her but didn't succeed - perhaps she did her best, and perhaps she could've done better. Tissaia both saved Yennefer and fucked her up further. And at the end we see Geralt, who has spent the season telling everyone to get over it and let bygones be bygones, snarling at his own mother for abandoning him.)

Chapter Text

Alright. Now it's time Yennefer's side of the fourth episode.

Yennefer and Queen Kalis are in a coach together.

Queen Kalis is lamenting her situation, and Yennefer is largely ignoring her.

"I know what they say, "Poor Queen Kalis, another girl."
...
"Why don't you stay in Lyria? Keep me company."
...
"I envy you. Truly. A king's mage. How splendid!"
...
"Oh, come, now. We've been traveling together for days. Speak freely."

Kalis must've been queen for at least a couple years but Yennefer seems to barely know her. Why? Some possibilities:

1) Kalis was initially hostile/avoidant. Whether or not Yennefer and the king actually were fucking, Yennefer says that's how at least one king sees it and the sorceresses are all "works of art" who get introduced to their future employers by dancing with them at a party. (The one other king we see doesn't seem interested in his sorceress, but that's a guy where it's a plot point he's not interested in anyone due to holding a torch for his dead sister.) At the least, it's probably what everyone assumes is true, and even if Kalis was marrying for entirely political reasons, she could still be uncomfortable with it, especially right after marrying and arriving at the court. (And given she goes on to say, "Bastard cares more about his hounds than he does me." it does sound like she expected and wanted at least some degree of an actual relationship.) But by this point it's become clear that it wasn't a matter of her husband liking someone better but her husband not giving a shit about her, so she doesn't have a reason to resent Yennefer.

2) Kalis is not an actual player in court politics and doesn't know anyone. If she's already had enough children that people are gossiping about how none of them are male, she's also likely spent most of the time at court pregnant or recovering from a pregnancy. She evidently hasn't been asking things of Yennefer or causing problems Yennefer needed to deal with, and the fact she thinks she has to say "I know what they say" sounds like someone who's isolated and sidelined. (The fact she's being sent off with only her newest child and not the rest of them would fit with the idea she has no particular say in anything and is considered irrelevant by everyone else.)

3) Yennefer had largely stopped interacting with any of the court by the time Kalis arrived. We see here she's barely engaging with Kalis and everything she says during this episode suggests her depression, and the withdrawal that likely went with it, has been going on for a while already. It's hard to say how old Kalis is, but she certainly looks young, and as this is the only time she appears it seems less likely this is a matter of casting someone able to play the earlier scenes and then forgetting/not wanting to put on makeup to age them them in later ones.

Worth emphasizing is that "We've been traveling together for days." means whatever other factors were in play for Kalis, Yennefer's been sitting around silently even when there was nothing else to do but talk. We don't know if this was true for the entire time Kalis was at court, but by the present, Yennefer is extremely withdrawn and it's likely she either hasn't been interacting with anyone or, if she has, it's been limited to people hunting her down and making demands.

Let's recap what Yennefer said she wanted in the third episode. Istredd accuses her of three things. She agrees to two of them, disputes one of them, and adds another of her own.

First,

Istredd: "I was going to Temeria for you."
Yennefer: "That was your decision."
Istredd: "You really think I wish to waste my days gossiping at court? That's your fetish, not mine."
Yennefer: "A true man would state his desires."

So, gossiping at court? Yes. Yennefer wanted that, and is unashamed enough to tell Istredd that how the fuck was she supposed to guess anyone wouldn't want that.

Shortly after,

Istredd: "You're just angry because you lost your chance to be beautiful!"
Yennefer: "I want to be powerful."
Istredd: "Seen and adored with everyone watching."
Yennefer: "It is what I'm owed."

Yennefer wants to gossip at court, to be powerful, and to be the adored center of attention.

I won't say it's surprising, exactly, that people keep trying to interpret Yennefer as someone who hates being around people (and just from a logistical standpoint, it's simply easier to portray) but Yennefer really likes being around people. We're first introduced to her reaching out to another person and suffering for it. Despite how poorly her father treated her all she wanted was for him to like her, and she desperately wants to stay with her family even when she's not allowed under the same roof. She latches on to first Istredd and then Anica. As soon as Tissaia gives her any positive attention, she throws herself into pleasing Tissaia - it doesn't matter how Tissaia treats her so long as Tissaia likes her.

Moreover, what did she mean when she says "powerful"? She was graduating. She'd already learned magic. But when she brought it up about Nilfgaard, she meant in the social sense - "There's no power in puppeting fools, especially one who'd sooner fondle his sorceress than listen to her!" At the point she's graduating Aretuza, her skill with magic is just the reason why she's going to be allowed to do the actual important thing of being installed at a king's court.

Everything comes back to Yennefer wanting to matter to other people.

That's the deal Yennefer made. She'd do what she was told at Aretuza, and she'd let them make her into whatever they wanted, and in return people would want her.

And when we see Yennefer now, she's miserable. The topic of conversation right now is how Queen Kalis thinks Yennefer is amazing for her power and it's still not getting any traction. Isn't this exactly what she wanted?

There are, broadly, two camps of thought on Yennefer.

Camp the first: Of course Yennefer is miserable. That's what she gets for wanting beauty and a fancy position, and what she deserves choosing to make that deal. And she will and should stay miserable until she realizes the problem was with her shallowness and then suffers to make up for it, if it's even possible to ever be redeemed after making a choice like that.

Camp the second: Why the hell is Yennefer miserable? How fucking dare this story go from Yennefer going through Hell to get what she wanted and triumphing to lol no once she actually gets it she realizes it's nothing compared to the joys of being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Why can't a woman get things without some shitty plotline pretending pursuing what you want and actually having goals will end with you sad, alone, and lamenting that time you made your own choices?

But the third episode was not actually about Yennefer choosing to be beautiful or even getting a great job. Yennefer says the first part herself and we the viewer see the various ways her supposedly great job is fucked up, from the Brotherhood discussing how the purpose is just to keep everyone pacified to how the only thing we see from the king is him being an asshole to Fringilla. (Also, we know from Mousesack, and this episode will go into more detail, that you don't have to work with the Brotherhood to be an important magic user, or even specifically to be one who advises kings and queens.)

The reason Yennefer will be spending the rest of the season insisting she was lied to is because she was lied to. This is not what she wanted. It's not what she asked for and it's not what they said she would get.

Yennefer is riding with a woman who is living a very different life than Yennefer's.

"I know what they say, 'Poor Queen Kalis, another girl.' I mean, I'm just a womb to him. No more than a fleshy contraption for squeezing out heirs. Bastard cares more about his hounds than he does me."

Yennefer is not particularly engaged in this conversation, but I think it's a misreading to say she actually disagrees and thinks Kalis is whining about nothing. Yennefer is depressed, she's going to say in a moment that she too hates her life, and at the end of the episode she's going to say the only way to win life is to be dead. What's probably happening here isn't that Yennefer thinks Kalis is dumb for hating her life but dumb for thinking there's anything special about hating your life.

Yennefer responds to Kalis saying being a king's mage seems better by saying that everything sucks: "I love...that I traded everything to get my seat at court. I love that I believed that it would all be worth it, that this would be my legacy. The greatest mage to have ever graced a court. And I really, really love...that instead, I've gotten to spend the last three decades cleaning up stupid political messes. Glorified royal arse wiper."

I think the fact it's been three decades - thirty-five is the official number - and Yennefer's still there is worth consideration. We don't know exactly when she realized this wasn't what she wanted, but we can tell it's not a recent revelation. Yennefer's general desperation for any sort of connection and permanence seems to include places. She wants to go home when she's first taken to Aretuza even those she's miserable and abused by her family. She goes to enormous lengths to go back to Aedirn when she finally leaves, and when she finds herself miserable? She stays.

(Admittedly, a part of that may be that she's afraid of the Brotherhood, but she presumably had more options than staying forever or going rogue.)

Kalis does try to compare the two of them: "I have it far worse. People look at you for who you are, not for what you can give them."

What Yennefer's feeling is that no, no one looks at who Yennefer is either. It's just what she can give them is less concrete than babies.

Kalis also adds, "You made the right choice, giving all that nonsense up." And again, if you look back to the third episode, the issue is that Yennefer was happy right before that. She already had her magical power, and she had people who cared about her. Everything after that point gets worse - there's not really a direct connection between the two, but it's still true. Yennefer will ultimately end up talking to Istredd again saying he's the only one who ever saw who she is, followed shortly by returning to Aretuza chasing Tissaia's approval.

Yennefer's unimpressed by what Kalis is saying because it's what Yennefer believed back when she was Kalis' age.

"To this baby, I am the whole world. If only it weren't so boring."

So, Yennefer is, again, very very depressed. Kalis is expressing a completely reasonable desire, to matter to more than one baby, but Yennefer has tried that and it didn't work. From her perspective, they're both equally ignored except Kalis has a baby paying attention to her. Moreover, and this is why it's important to keep in mind things like Yennefer's attachment to people and that she loved her family, Yennefer has been on the other end of it and those people discarded or betrayed her. Kalis is bringing up that if you're the mother, you can get that relationship and actually keep it, because this time you're the one with the power to end it and you can just not do that.

Being handed the baby gets mild interest from her, which is notable given she's so checked out otherwise throughout the scene, but then the baby fusses and Kalis takes it back and Yennefer disengages again. I think it's also worth pointing out that Yennefer doesn't really react to the baby fussing, something that also goes in line with severe depression and the baby not actually pulling her out of it.

If nothing further happened, Yennefer might have just forgotten about this. (...possibly literally, as depression can shut down the ability to form memories.) And if she did end up eventually deciding the solution to feeling life was pointless was a kid, she'd probably be doing so in a more rational manner and, say, get an orphan. (There's possibly an issue that her relationship with Tissaia was such a clusterfuck she's left thinking adoption isn't a valid bond, but on her end she's still desperately invested in Tissaia and it was Tissaia failing her that was the problem while she seems to have given up on her birth mother entirely, so I think it's more likely not a factor.)

But, of course, further things happen.

Once again, what does Yennefer say is important to her? Back in the second episode, she tells Istredd, "I want to be good. Good at something."

And what happens next is a bunch of Yennefer failing.

Yennefer tries to deal with the attack by running away. There's a couple ways to read that. We know from the second episode that running away is Yennefer's first reaction to a bad situation. (The other spell she does, the slowing, is in the same line as focused on getting away from the problem rather than resolving it.) We also know the first magic she does is a portal and she shows talent with the special portal, so this is also likely something she's good at. That she chooses flight over fight can be taken to mean she does not know how to defend herself.

Personally, I think all those elements are in play here. She initially goes with portals because that makes sense in the situation, but she keeps using them when it's clear this isn't working. In a couple episodes she'll say Aretuza's education left out the fun things you can do with plants and I suspect that's not the only hole. We don't see evidence mages are supposed to be used in combat by their kings and training them to fight would mean they could fight back against older mages. We can say, at the least, that she definitely wasn't trained to deal with this kind of thing in any other way - she manages to do something different when she gets a chance to catch her breath and choose to return to the situation, so that was an option, but only one she could manage once she was able to think instead of react.

I would add that the amount of dead people on Yennefer's head here is a lot more than just one baby. She failed to notice/prevent the initial slaughter, the surviving guard is killed next because she didn't realize they were being tracked, then she fails to figure out how they're being tracked in time to stop it.

(Also a point to bring up - the king appears to be going for plausible deniability here by killing everyone. Is Yennefer dying an acceptable sacrifice to make it look more believable, or is the king sick of her? Is she supposed to look at the situation, realize it's being done on the king's orders, and leave, and this is some sort of loyalty test? Has the Brotherhood, or at least someone in the Brotherhood, promised there won't be any questions if she dies?)

"Get up, you useless witch. How could you not foresee this? You were supposed to protect me."
...
"Oh, you horrible, useless bitch!"

I've seen people interpret this as Yennefer deciding that fuck it, she's not dying for Kalis, and that she then decides to come back for the child. I think that's wrong because I think if Yennefer felt she was in control of any element of what happened, she wouldn't have been quite so badly messed up by what happens.

I think telling Yennefer she was a failure on top of everything else pushed her over the edge. She gets herself under control and comes back, at which point the queen's already dead. She manages a brief success in killing the assassin's pet murderbug...so she grabs the baby and, again, attempts to run, because that's Yennefer's preferred solution, and which turns the affair back into an unqualified failure. The kid dies, stabbed through when she is, and although she tries to fix it with magic, that too fails. Yennefer managed some impressive feats along the way, but the final outcome is her magic failed to save anyone.

If Yennefer did decide to leave and come back, or looked at the situation and decided that she was better off with another portal than trying to kill the assassin, she could look at this and think there were other possible outcomes based on her own choices and ability. She would believe she had any control over what happened.

Instead, we end with her on a beach talking to no one. As a bird circles overhead, ready to scavenge, she asks, "Which one of us are you here for?" - she's alive and the child is dead, and she doesn't see much difference. She begins talking to the corpse.

"I'm sorry you didn't have a life. But if truth be told, you're not missing much. I know it's easy for me to say with warm breath in my lungs, and you with nothing. Still... what would you have had? Parents? Well, they're the ones who wrote your last act, so not much lost there. Friends? Most likely fair weather. Lovers? Fun for a bit, I'll admit, but all eventually disappoint."

Yennefer is specifically laying out relationships here. Life isn't worth living because no one actually cares about you.

In the third episode, Yennefer makes a big deal about wanting to go "home" to Aedirn, and one thing I'm not sure of is if she originally intended to see her family again and if she actually did. The end of the third episode involves the two other relationships Yennefer's managed to make falling apart, so it's possible that she was going to but that convinced her not to try. It's also possible she did attempt it, but if so, something went wrong, because the one thing we know for for sure is that she does not successfully re-establish a connection with her family. She doesn't get closure for her father selling her and she doesn't have a relationship with her mother or siblings to fall back on. Her father hated her, her mother didn't save her, her adoptive mother first failed her and then tried to stop her when she acted on her own. And here a similar thing played out for this child - a father who wanted to get rid of her and a mother who didn't protect her.

Her first friend, Istredd, gives up her secret. Anica, her second, is killed. She was likely close with Fringilla after four years together, and yet Fringilla is willing to take the Aedirn post from her. And from how she talks about court none of those people saw her as anything but a means to an end. It's possible that's because Yennefer was holding people at arm's length after what happened, but Yennefer bonded with Istredd and Anica quite quickly, one of her wishes is to be adored, and the reason she pursues the Aedirn posting so doggedly is she believes it'll give her what she wants. It is terribly likely that she made friends when she arrived only to be let down by them.

Her final bit, about lovers, is ambiguous in a concerning way. The way it reads by itself is that she got bored with it and just means that it's not worth sticking around for the sake of hedonism, but she doesn't say boring but "disappoint". We know she breaks things off with her first lover because he betrays her and we know after she thinks Geralt, her last one, betrayed her, she tells Triss, "You should be wary of his kind. They're so often disappointing." And, of course, she's saying this to a baby whose father ordered her mother killed, and Yennefer probably slept with the guy as well and he was either willing to sacrifice her or wanted her dead too, and when Yennefer describes the job of a court mage, she says it's helping "murderers and rapists keep their crown." which strongly suggests she's seen other people's relationships go extremely badly during this timeperiod as well. "Disappoint" seems to be much closer in meaning to "betray you in such a way as to sour any happiness you ever had with them".

With both friends and lovers, it's quite possible she sabotaged some of it by expecting the worst (or being pretty manipulable so the people who wanted things put more work into taking up her time and pushing others away) but that it's been thirty years and she hasn't managed one decent relationship in that time is still a pretty good argument for her side of things. (She's presumably seen at least a couple functional relationships during this time, but there must've been enough seemingly good relationships that ended horribly or had some horrible secret for her to assume that was universally true.)

Note also that Yennefer's listing every relationship available to her. The only one she hasn't tried is the one she was prevented from ever having.

Yennefer then goes on to elaborate that there was never a hope of things being better.

"And let's face it, you're a girl. Your mother was right about one thing. We're just vessels. And even when we're told we're special, as I was, as you would've been, we're still just vessels...for them to take...and take...until we're empty...and alone."

An aspect of the "vessel" could also tie back to the "work of art" statement. Yennefer is transformed for the purpose of being used, and so has even more reason to be bitter about being a container.

"So, count yourself lucky. You've cheated the game and won without even knowing it. ... Sleep well."

This is, again, a conversation Yennefer is having with the corpse of a baby. As apparently some people point to the fact she is monologuing at a baby corpse calmly instead of crying as a sign she's a bad person who you can only like if you like how evil she is, I will point out that staring at nothing while monologuing at baby corpses about how sorry you are they're dead but if you think about it isn't being dead better is not a thing people do when they're fine about what just happened.

In conclusion:

Yennefer is depressed, not in the feeling sad today sense but the clinical sense.

Left to her own devices Yennefer stays put, even when miserable. It's probably some mixture of wanting permanence and familiarity, assuming changes are always for the worse, and stubbornness.

While it's not clear if Yennefer was making decisions about anything that happened, I think it's most consistent with the overall setup of both this episode and Yennefer's overarching storyline that she was almost entirely reactive.

The fact no one else in-universe gets why Yennefer's so obsessed about being able to have children is understandable, because it's irrational and only makes sense in the context of a response to traumatic events. We do, however, have the context, and it's not that hard to draw a line between experiencing someone tearing your uterus out and then watching it used as raw material for your even more agonizing transformation -> being told a baby will at least care about you after you've spent fifty years establishing no one else will followed by your magic, the only thing anyone else wants from you, not being enough to save even one baby -> fixating on uterus and baby.

Chapter Text

I don't want to be sidetracked too much on this in the individual character metas, and I'd also like for anyone commenting not to get sidetracked away from all the other stuff I'm going to say, so before we continue, let's just do this quick.

No, Yennefer did not mass rape the townspeople. Believing that requires:
1) Finding some other meaning to the title.
2) The scene in the magic shop being irrelevant to both her character and the rest of the story.
3) The scene with the guard saying it's pay to enter also being an irrelevant bit of wasted time.
4) The part where everyone's wearing masks like they intentionally prepared for an anonymous orgy being some sort of costuming snafu.
5) A reason why not one person reacted more strongly to waking up with a surprise dick in them.
6) Dismissing not only that Yennefer claims it's consensual but that Geralt's retort is that yes but she's in it for the money and not because she just wants to make people happy.
7) Explaining away the plot point that the people who Yennefer dislikes are emphatically not in the building or under her spell.
8) That Geralt "the first monster I killed was a rapist" is so completely fine with her raping people he risks his life to save her twice.
9) That Jaskier is willing to insult her for all sorts of things, even just that she's had sex, but is so incredibly pro-rape himself that he sees no way to say she raped people in a way that he thinks would reflect badly on her.
10) That although on-screen rape has been studiously avoided throughout the season in every other instance, everyone in the show felt like they should make the one exception to a subject they're clearly taking seriously be something barely noticed, treated as a joke, and never addressed again.
11) That the show would make a rapist one of their protagonists and the hero of the battle in the finale.
12) Ignoring that Word of God said she did not mass rape the townspeople.

I'm sympathetic to people being sensitive to any sign of distress in a sexual context and feeling concerned but that should be followed by examining the rest of the situation to work out what's going on so you know for sure. And it's also very clear that majority of this discourse is not based on that understandable reaction but on whatever particular motivation someone would need to pop up every time Yennefer's name comes up to insist she's a rapist but not chime in that Jaskier's one for using his wish to force a woman to have sex with him - to say nothing of book!Dandelion, of "the show ruined everything by not being more true to his character in the book" fame, who uses his wish to try to force someone who's refused all the men who've asked to fuck him precisely because she didn't want to. (The same motivation, presumably, leaves people more upset she told Geralt to take a bath than that she almost got him killed.)

Please, let us focus the discourse where it belongs: on how incredibly and astoundingly irresponsible Yennefer is.

Chapter Text

I was intending to talk about the Brotherhood and rogue mages as they relate to Yennefer, but examining this episode I was left with the impression Yennefer isn't aware of most of it, so I've decided to split this off as well.

Hemet: "Lucky for you, you found your way to an intolerant kingdom. For quick coin, head to the nearest town in any direction. Your skills will be rewarded."
Yennefer: "If it's as you say, then why aren't you out there taking advantage? As you're so inclined."
Hemet: "Because my customers...come to me."

So, this is our first look at a non-Brotherhood mage. His business practices are suspect, you may suspect already he's stringing Yennefer along and that'll be confirmed by next episode, and we know he's working for other rogue mages and similar clientele so he can stay out of sight personally. After Yennefer follows his advice about getting some quick coin, Tissaia shows up to say the Brotherhood is pissed and coming for her. That's the reason he's not out there.

Tissaia: "You remained hidden for a while, but now, you're making noise. You're looking for something. You're wasting your time. The so-called mages you're enlisting will not help you with your problem. And if you're not careful, you will become just like them... irrelevant. You are pure chaos right now. You want a cure, and it's making you sloppy. The Brotherhood left you to your own devices once you abandoned Aedirn. But this behavior, flaunted in direct conflict with their agenda, will not be tolerated. They will come after you."

As I said, there's been a gap of sixteen years. Yennefer was left alone for that period but Tissaia is claiming that was only because she wasn't doing anything.

Here's an important question: which behavior won't be tolerated?

Yennefer is not paying taxes on the boner smoke and magic!esctacy orgies she's selling to get money to grow new ovaries. How exactly that's in direct conflict with anyone's agenda is unclear. Possibly the issue is that she's doing magic in a kingdom where you're supposed to pay a tax and this is reflecting badly on the Brotherhood - perhaps they have an agreement with such kings? But also at this point Yennefer is living with the mayor, so the legality of the situation is probably getting covered up for her. Also, if that were the problem, Tissaia could point out that Yennefer could just pay the damn tax like a responsible citizen.

Tissaia is emphasizing the problem is Yennefer's desire to fix herself is "making you sloppy" which sure sounds like it's less about exactly what she's doing than how publicly she's doing it. I think this suggests that even if Yennefer had been in a more magic friendly kingdom, or paying all the taxes, or whatever else, the real issue is being publicly visible without being a Brotherhood member.

There's the separate question of if there's other things Yennefer would have to agree to in order to be actually reinstated. Yennefer will say later that the uterus thing is a deliberate part of the Brotherhood's agenda, and while given how bitter she is it's hard to say if she's right about their motivation, it seems very likely that spending your time trying to undo something the Brotherhood did to you is not going to be looked at favorably. This may be why Tissaia's complaints are so broad, they've covering both what the Brotherhood will actually go after Yennefer because of and what Yennefer won't be allowed to continue doing if she goes back to Aretuza and working for the Brotherhood.

Further complicating matters is that Tissaia has proven herself an unreliable source of information. Given she's showing up now, we know that she doesn't want the Brotherhood hunting Yennefer, which means that when she claims "the Brotherhood" left Yennefer be this long, it may be because Tissaia's been arguing this whole time to leave Yennefer be and the recent events have led to her being overruled. Tissaia has trouble telling the truth and we saw her lie when she and the Brotherhood disagreed before. In this case it's not even a bad idea to do so - it's reasonable to guess Yennefer's going to be more willing to return if Tissaia claims the Brotherhood was fine with Yennefer and is only just getting fed up than if they've been one vote short of killing her this whole time. And Tissaia hates admitting any sort of emotion and is doing her best not to admit she's trying to help Yennefer here, so she has a personal motive to keep anything she's done for Yennefer a secret.

It's also possible the Brotherhood's honestly been fine with Yennefer going AWOL on them. (They may even be a bit peeved it took so long, given they presumably didn't like having a king reject their pick and choose a different mage.) Mages seem to live forever so it's possible they take little issue with someone going on an unannounced decades-long sabbatical so long as you come back but doing anything while you're on your own isn't allowed. (It's also possible that the real issue is Yennefer's heading toward the end of an acceptable sabbatical period.)

And finally, it's possible the Brotherhood hasn't said anything and Tissaia is just trying to get Yennefer back by threatening her with them. Possibly just because she wants her back, and possibly because she's concerned Yennefer is in danger from herself - "You are pure chaos right now." from someone who believes mages have to keep their chaos under control or it'll destroy them. She could be saying that to try to scare Yennefer with the idea that she's moving toward being worth more as an eel, but she could honestly be scared for Yennefer.

I think we can reasonably assume that, whatever's going on, Tissaia has been trying to protect Yennefer. But we also know that Tissaia is very limited in her ability to protect Yennefer, and the rest of the Brotherhood is, if anything, biased against her. With that background, it seems unlikely Yennefer's getting away with murder...or, at least, that if she's getting away with murder it means any rogue mage can.

Which brings us to our third data point for rogue mages, the one who sold the striga curse.

"Sh-She was hiding from the Brotherhood. She sold me a lamb. Sh-She told me to wait until a full moon, to wait and then to kill it. And then I recited some silly chant. And then I bathed in the lamb's blood until sunrise. Until the rooster crowed three times. And that is all."

Now, there's always the question of if the dialogue is just said a certain way to make sure the listener's clear on worldbuilding elements, but let's consider the phrasing anyway.

He describes her not as a rogue mage, someone who's defined as breaking away and doing what they want, but as someone in hiding. And that she was in hiding doesn't seem relevant to what Geralt was asking. Then, rather than saying she sold him the curse, he says she sold him a lamb.

So, perhaps what this means is "I knew this witch was being hunted by the Brotherhood for the horrifying magic experiments she does, but I went to her anyway. She had piles of baby animals around for all that evil magic experimenting, and she prepped one with the curse."

Perhaps this means, "Look, I know you're not supposed to go to the people the Brotherhood says are bad news, but yeah, I did. For legal reasons, the money I gave her was for a lamb and she threw in a free curse with purchase."

And perhaps this means, "She was living quietly herding sheep and I told her if she didn't give me a way to curse Foltest, I'd tell the Brotherhood where they could find her."

When we hear about it back then, it seems like there's probably a link between the sort of person who hands out horrible curses and the sort of person who has to be in hiding. But we see now with Yennefer that either any mage using their magic has to be in hiding, or possibly any mage at all and Yennefer's just had a bit of a grace period because of Tissaia going to bat for her. There not only isn't any sign of a moral component to who the Brotherhood goes after, but there may not even be a way for an unaligned mage to be left alone. (And even if the Brotherhood really would leave them be if they do no magic, what other things does someone who spent their life studying magic have to offer? So they're going to end up using the skills they have, and then the Brotherhood has an excuse to go after them. And maybe you decide you'll do anything just to be left in peace and learn to herd sheep, only to find that's left you no safer than any other poor and isolated peasant.)

This seems to be designed to push the rogue mages into doing things that'll justify the Brotherhood's persecution. We see from Yennefer that you can make a lot of money by telling everyone you offer many little spells cheaply...but you'll get caught immediately. The ideal mage client is someone who's motivated to come to you where you're hiding and pay a great deal for one spell because every spell you do is a huge risk to yourself, and who'll take the fact they bought a spell from you to their grave. Those kind of people are a lot more likely to be asking for unpleasant things. There's also the possibility that, given Yennefer seems unusually powerful, the average mage can't spam cheap spells like she can. The curse was certainly effective, but it doesn't seem like it required anything on the mage's end, and in the book, the striga curse requires strong emotion from the caster to power it. So if you're a weak mage looking at a business model that requires providing really powerful spells...well, things like curses may be your only option. (Curses are also, evidently, not trackable, so it wouldn't let them find you.)

We know stuff like striga curses aren't taught at Aretuza. Triss didn't even think striga were real. That's a point in favor of that mage just being really evil, to have learned something like that, but it could also suggest that she may not have had a lot of curse options to pick from when someone showed up demanding one. The striga curse seems extraordinarily cruel to choose of all the ways it'd have been possible to punish the king. If you only knew a handful of curses, though? It could be the only one that even slightly fit Ostrit's demands.

(And if the average rogue mage is just a mage, but the average person thinks of them as where you go to get forbidden evil magics, there have probably been a number of times where someone walks out with an unnecessarily sadistic spell because it's the only thing the mage knows, which just furthers the belief.)

The assassin rogue mage is more straightforward - he was hired to kill people, and he's killing people, and by all appearances he trained specifically to kill people. It's unclear if he was told to kill everyone involved to ensure a proper coverup or if he just decided he wanted to do it like that, but either way he shows no inclination to minimize the death toll. At the same time, there's also no indication that anything he's doing is considered wrong. (Possibly his little critter is forbidden magic, but given it doesn't do anything other than kill people it's supposed to kill, that would be more evidence that there's no correlation between what the Brotherhood bans and what's actually evil.)

And then there's our fifth data point, Visenna. We know pretty much nothing of Visenna and what her situation is, but she identifies as a mage (specifically drawing a comparison to those at Sodden Hill) rather than a druid and says magical healing is her profession and only real talent, so she's either still of the Brotherhood and allowed to live her life in peace, or she found a way to be allowed out and still do magic. The Brotherhood doesn't have a monopoly on magic and given their derisive laughter about druids, it's not because those are a rival guild about to hold their own but because they don't care. This suggests it's possible to do magic and be left alone, but we have no idea what the criteria for it are. It's possible the Brotherhood's possessive of what they taught and don't want their secret techniques getting sold, but given how Yennefer talks while she's handing out drugs to teenagers, she did not learn the stuff she's selling now from her time at Aretuza and they still object to it. It's also possible the Brotherhood's just possessive - given everything about Stregobor, it seems like with enough seniority, you can do what you like while a member, but you can't decide not to be part of it. That would also fit with the fact their overarching goal appears to be stasis and keeping things running the way they want to, with everyone under their thumb.

Overall, I don't think there's any moral code in play with the Brotherhood. We know the Brotherhood bans certain types of magic, but we've seen no evidence any of the rogue mages are violating that rule and there's some implication they're not - Tissaia says they're "irrelevant", not criminal, and Stregobor's own princess murder spree is well known.

That Triss is trying to deal with the striga on her own without anyone higher up even mentioning it must've been a curse strongly suggests that even really egregious stuff like that doesn't interest the Brotherhood. It's possible they don't care at all and it's possible that cursing Adda was considered in line with the Brotherhood's interests since it avoided a mess, and the mage isn't blamed for the fact the king would end up refusing to let anyone kill the striga and risking his reign over it all over again. Similarly, Tissaia doesn't make any reference to the assassin Yennefer ran into being caught or that the Brotherhood was unable to find him. They really don't seem interested in actually policing what mages do.

It's not clear exactly what life is like for the average rogue mage, but I would guess the Brotherhood is less concerned with stamping them out than making sure they're still, in some way, deferring to the Brotherhood by keeping their heads down and living in fear of the repercussions. It's quite possible they don't actually go after mages so long as they keep a respectfully low profile, even if they're easy to find. It's also possible they periodically single out someone to make an example of to keep the rest in line, but I suspect a great deal of the Brotherhood's control over mages comes down to the emotional impact of raising them to believe the Brotherhood is very scary and should never be defied. Given years pass between the warning this episode and Yennefer still being on her bullshit next episode, I'm not sure if the Brotherhood's threats mean anything at all. At most, it might be that the key issue was Yennefer staying in one place which both looks worse for the Brotherhood and makes it easier to go after her, and once she's moving around again the Brotherhood's interest in doing anything drops off a cliff again.

The fact Yennefer can just show up again at Aretuza during a giant mage meeting without anyone even suggesting there should be consequences for her strongly suggests that there aren't any. That matches with how Fringilla can enter and say outright that she's left the Brotherhood and founded her own group, and yes it does have blackjack and hookers banned magic, and in fact she's been loudly telling anyone and everyone she sees that actually, so-called banned magic is great and everyone should use it all day long.

Finally, there's the option that the Brotherhood, for all it's into stasis, can't even maintain itself. We know for whatever reason, Aretuza is struggling. Tissaia and Stregobor hate each other and are raising their respective genders of mages. Stregobor himself didn't have the clout to get help to deal with Renfri. Nilfgaard is doing whatever the hell they're doing with mages without the Brotherhood stepping in, suggesting the organization was already a paper tiger before Nilfgaard's ascendancy. Quite possibly the Brotherhood used to hunt rogue mages but by the time of the show the Brotherhood no longer does, and it's just taking a while for people to register that things have changed.

Among other things, from what we've seen of Brotherhood members, who'd actually go after these rogue mages? We know Aretuza doesn't teach their current graduates any fighting skills and it seems strongly implied the male mages don't spend time on that either. More experienced members don't seem to be taking orders much, so they're unlikely to agree to risk their lives. And of your limited pool of experienced mages who are good in a fight, plenty might not want the job of going after runaways because they sympathize with their fellow mages, at which point you'd need people willing to go after the refusers and hurt them, which runs into the same problem... You need people willing to enforce the decisions of the Brotherhood and we see no sign they've actually got that at this point in time. What we do see the one time the Brotherhood decides something is the people who disagreed just go off to do it by themselves. Quite likely, had the vote gone the opposite way, we'd have seen the other side walk out and refuse to help.

In conclusion:

1) I'm pretty sure rogue mages' fear of the Brotherhood is the main thing that shapes their behavior. The Brotherhood doesn't seem to kick people out for doing bad things but once you've left you're in a situation where you're more likely to do them.

2) I'm pretty sure the Brotherhood can't actually back up their threats. I suspect they were able to at some point, but haven't been for a while. And given magic can actually be dangerous, and the Brotherhood's banned magics seem to be more based on what's dangerous for them to use, it's also possible that the only policing has been rogue mages occasionally blow themselves up and then the Brotherhood taking credit.

Chapter Text

Let's start with Jaskier again.

"Geralt! Hello. What's it been, months? Years? What is time, anyway? I heard you were in town. Are you following me, you scamp? I mean, I'm flattered and everything, but you should really think about getting a hobby one of these days."

This is the third of Jaskier's four episodes. The first time he appears, he acts bold but there's definitely an aspect of putting on a front given how nervy he acts after getting punched. He's a lot more confident the next time - he does have to bully Geralt into coming to the banquet with him, but he doesn't hesitate to do things that annoy Geralt, even down to taking the drink from his hand, so he's certain Geralt will do it.

This time? I think Jaskier's uncomfortable. I think at least as far as he knows, Geralt doesn't ever seek him out. Either he makes excuses for that (Geralt does go places because Jaskier's there but always pretends it was a coincidence) or he's been ignoring it. It could be that this has been an ever-growing source of anxiety for Jaskier that's only coming out now because of an additional rejection pushing it over the edge, or it could be that Jaskier really was fine with it because he was feeling generally confident in himself but he's now questioning if he was right.

Either way, what's about to play out has a lot to do with the countess.

Jaskier: (takes a swig of mystery liquid, because Jaskier is drunk and set on staying that way.) "Ugh! Do you want some? "How are you doing?" I hear you ask."
Geralt: "I didn't."
Jaskier: "Well, the Countess de Stael, my muse and beauty of this world, has left me. Again. Rather coldly and unexpectedly, I might add."

Jaskier is upset about this. Now "left me. Again." paints a picture of an on-again, off-again relationship, where this sort of thing isn't necessarily such a big deal, and his whole "my muse and beauty of this world" thing is so over the top it wraps around to a joke.

But "Rather coldly and unexpectedly, I might add." is, I think, key. It's not at all a joke. Jaskier doesn't know why she got sick of him. He didn't see it coming. He's badly hurt.

And this is where OTP purity fixations cause a problem. Though the countess is only relevant for how this is going to impact the relationship between the two of them, it still requires Jaskier to have a relationship with the countess that he was invested in and is hurt over losing. If you want to make the countess solely about Geralt/Jaskier, Jaskier's side of this falls apart. The countess can't have not been a relationship, because then he wouldn't care why. The countess can't have dumped Jaskier because he wouldn't stop mooning over Geralt, because then he'd know why. She definitely can't have nobly given her blessing to the two of them and sent Jaskier on his way, because then he'd not only know why but be happy about it.

In order for Jaskier's other relationships to impact his relationship with Geralt, he has to be allowed to have other relationships. Remove that, and Jaskier's upcoming behavior here would be inexcusably awful. Really, even what he's done already would be inexcusably awful, because Geralt is also a mess right now and the only thing that excuses Jaskier missing it is that he's wrapped up in his own misery.

Now, will Jaskier himself admit that? No.

Jaskier: "I fear I shall die a brokenhearted man. Or a hungry one, at the very least, unless somebody fancies sharing a fish with an old friend?"

Jaskier tries to minimize how upset he is about what happened. It's unclear if Jaskier's the kind of person who does it because he needs some indication from the other person that he's allowed to be admit he actually is pretty hurt before he goes further or if Jaskier would be doing this little song and dance regardless because he prefers handling things by acting like it's fine and moving on to the next distraction.

Jaskier: "Oh, are we not using "friend"? Yeah, sure. Let's just give it another decade."

Either way, what Jaskier can't take right now is the idea Geralt doesn't care about him either. And that's going really badly. Jaskier is sensitive enough he'd probably be second-guessing even a normal interaction, and this isn't a normal interaction because Jaskier's being unusually vulnerable, but Geralt is still brushing him off.

Now, one problem with how few episodes we have is we don't know if this is the first time Jaskier's tried to ask for any sign Geralt doesn't hate him. You could easily argue that Geralt is acting the same way he always does and it's just that's not good enough for Jaskier. On the other hand, Geralt's under a lot of stress of his own, and he's certainly about to do something unusual on his end. I think it's quite possible they do get along better at times, because, "the Countess de Stael, my muse and beauty of this world, has left me. Again. Rather coldly and unexpectedly, I might add." is a situation where a relationship he thought was okay went sour. So if Geralt is acting more coldly toward him than usual, that's precisely in line with a fear that people get sick of him.

That said, we can tell even if Geralt is normally a bit warmer, he's never called Jaskier his friend. I think it's pretty plausible Geralt would normally hand over a fish and Jaskier could take that to be a sign, but because he's not actually fishing, he doesn't do that either.

(As an aside, for those trying to keep track of the timeline, "let's just give it another decade" establishes that at least one decade has already passed, and while it isn't solid, I guessed it meant that the next time we'd have reached the second decade because it's bringing up the idea of seeing how things look two decades in.)

Despite how badly this is all going, Jaskier does manage to pull out of it rather than let it get worse!

"Geralt, you're fantastic at a great many things, but clearly, fishing is not one of them. Have you caught anything today? What are you fishing for, exactly? Is it cod? Carp? Pike? Bream? I'm just-- I'm just listing fish that I know. Zander? Is that a fish?"

He seems to have registered that he shouldn't feel too rejected Geralt didn't offer him a fish because Geralt doesn't have any fish. He may also be assuming that if Geralt really doesn't want him around, he'll be punched (I'd hope that by now he's worked out what actually happened there, but given fandom missed it despite being able to replay the exact scene, something human brains can't do with things they merely lived through, it's completely believable he never re-evaluated what happened there) so the fact he's been chattering away at Geralt this long without a definite rejection is still enough to make him feel a bit better.

As a side note, he doesn't seem to know much about nature if he just lists a couple random fish. On the other hand: he's drunk, so it's not definite proof sober Jaskier also only knows four and a half fish.

Geralt: "I'm not fishing. I can't sleep."
Jaskier: "Right. Good. Well, that-- that makes sense. Insomuch that it sort of...doesn't. What's going on, Geralt? Talk to me."

This is a very interesting exchange, I think.

I argued that Jaskier's fourth episode behavior was not him doing a particularly good job at the whole friendship thing. How much of that, though, is that Geralt is usually too guarded for Jaskier to have any opportunity?

It took Jaskier a bit to realize Geralt was acting odd - again, Jaskier's drunk - but as soon as it does register, he drops his own problems and offers to help.

And Geralt actually takes him up on it, a bit. Geralt explains he's looking for the djinn, which, unfortunately, Jaskier doesn't take very seriously - but once again, drunk. I think we should judge Jaskier by the well-meant attempt rather than the fumbled execution.

Jaskier: "I don't mean to play priest's ear or anything, but has it occurred to you that maybe we're merely rubbing salve on a tumor? Not exactly addressing the root cause of the problem?"
Geralt: "Hm?"
Jaskier: "I mean, maybe, just-- just maybe, this whole sleeplessness-ness has got something to do with what the druid Mousesack said to you in Cintra? You know, the Law of Surprise? Destiny? Being unable to escape the child that belongs to you, et cetera, et cetera?"
Geralt: "No! It's not that."
Jaskier: "Yeah, you're probably right. But what if you're not?"

Not only is Jaskier sincerely trying to help with what Geralt's upset about, but it also shows how much attention he pays to Geralt. Jaskier's referencing the events of the banquet at the time, not any more recent conversation about it. This was years ago, but Jaskier picked up on, and remembers now, amid all the chaos of the actual events, how someone else said things to Geralt implying that Geralt was really distressed about the child surprise thing, and he works out it's probably been weighing on Geralt the whole time.

So, what Geralt said to Jaskier in the bath didn't get through but what Mousesack said about Geralt did. Unfortunately, the two situations are so different I don't think we can tell anything more precise there other than that Jaskier sometimes doesn't understand what's going on with Geralt and sometimes he does. That said, possible factors:

1) Something Jaskier really didn't want to hear vs something he had no such personal investment in, as "I'm going to die a miserable death" is a lot harder to swallow than, "Oh fuck, I'm not ready to be a father".
2) Third party rather than the person. This very conversation shows that Jaskier himself is not a very reliable narrator of his own feelings, and he also feels he personally is a better judge of Geralt so why wouldn't another of Geralt's friends be more accurate than Geralt himself?
3) Jaskier being more easily able to put himself in Geralt's shoes when it comes to surprise child anxiety - I doubt he'd be in near this amount of stress over it, but I'm sure it's not that hard to imagine being uncomfortable to suddenly be a dad and even more so when you're co-parenting with a mass murdering queen who has established she's extra enthusiastic about murdering anyone who thinks they have a claim to her family members.

(Also if Jaskier was eavesdropping on the final conversation between Geralt and Mousesack, he knows Geralt had no issue calling Mousesack his friend. Quite possibly his bit about "Let's just give it another decade." is not just a general discomfort but him wondering if that's actually the issue, that Geralt is the sort of person who thinks you have to know someone for a long time first and he's not interested in adjusting that timetable to take into account that Jaskier's human.)

Jaskier: "You know, the Countess de Stael once said to me that destiny is just the embodiment of the soul's desire to grow.
Geralt: "Did you sing to her before she left?"
Jaskier: "I did, actually, and she...Why, what are you implying? Oh... (laughs) We are so having this conversation. Come on, Geralt. Tell me. Be honest. How's my singing?"
Geralt: "It's like ordering a pie and finding it has no filling."

Ah, the pie exchange.

This is absolutely not Geralt stealth saying he actually loves Jaskier's singing because he prefers crust. Among other things, what sort of raging asshole says something that's technically true in such a way that it's going to be misinterpreted like that? And we know full well at this point that Geralt does not value honesty in conversations, technical or otherwise. He says whatever works.

Does the simile have any other deeper meaning?

Probably not, honestly. I say this at over 100k words into every bit of meaning I can wring out of this show. But look at Jaskier's reaction:

"You need a nap! I mean, are you trying to hurt my feelings, Geralt? It's... It's down-- downright indecorous of you, if I'm completely honest, and--"

Jaskier not only asks for and has no issue with Geralt's second episode criticism, but also gets pelted by food as people scream at him to shut up and takes that fine. I don't think his bad reaction here is down to being in a worse mental place. He's outraged because he knows Geralt is intentionally kicking him while he's down for the sake of it. Geralt paused and thought of exactly what to say to upset Jaskier and then he said it. And he's doing this in response to Jaskier showing concern for him and trying to help.

Which leads, quite understandably, into Jaskier going for the bottle.

Geralt: "The djinn."
Jaskier: "Do you mind if I-"
Geralt: "Jaskier."
Jaskier: "Take it back about my fillingless pie. Take it back, you get your djinny-djinn-djinn."

Jaskier is not upset about if his singing is bad. I'm sure he's not feeling great about it, but this isn't a reaction to Geralt not liking his singing, because an actual feeling can't be taken back. He's demanding Geralt admit that he was being a dick and apologize for that.

But then it seems like there is a djinn! And Jaskier goes for that instead.

"Djinn, I have freed thee, and as of this day, I am thy lord. Firstly, may Valdo Marx, the troubadour of Cidaris, be struck down with apoplexy and die. Secondly, the Countess de Stael must welcome me back with glee, open arms and very little clothing."

We know nothing about Valdo Marx and possibly the guy actually deserves it, but I will say that it's a rather damning Jaskier identifies him as "the troubadour of Cidaris" and not "that wife-beating asshole" or such, as if Jaskier's beef with him is tied to his profession/status and not any legitimate crimes he's committed. Also, if Jaskier thought to use the wishes to kill actual horrible people, you'd think he someone as well-traveled as Jaskier would be able to think of more than just one person.

I previously drew a comparison between his second wish and the orgy, but to elaborate, I think magic like this is not really comparable to any real-world thing. "Glee" especially suggests Jaskier is not aiming for the countess to be puppetted through the motions against her will or otherwise made miserable by this, and the "Again" means he has reason to not think the dumping was intended as a permanent thing in the first place, since she's changed her mind before. Where, on the roofies to normal sudden infatuation scale, does this fall? In a setting with established love potions I'd expect people to have thought this through (and to have enough people with first-hand experience to form a consensus) but that doesn't appear to be true here, so Jaskier isn't asking for something he'd know was harmful. He's just saying something selfish, and in a way that continues to reinforce the fact that he's upset about what happened and doesn't understand why it happened (he doesn't wish to undo a fight they had, or make her like something about him she hated, or otherwise actually solve the reason for it, he just wants things back like they were).

But these are not good wishes. Possibly they're not even the kind of wishes he'd be making on a better day, he might not even be taking them seriously because he's still pretty sure djinns aren't real and he's just being annoying here, and certainly they are deeply unwise - there is no way, at all, that this is Jaskier helpfully trying to burn through the wishes before Geralt makes a dangerous wish of his own. (They're also far too lengthy if Jaskier's plan was to prevent Geralt from making wishes. Seriously, just accept he really is just making wishes.)

Jaskier: "Thirdly-"
Geralt: "Jaskier!"
Jaskier: "Wha-"
Geralt: "Stop! There are only three wishes."
Jaskier: "Oh, come on, you always say you want nothing from life. How was I to know you wanted three wishes all to yourself?"

This is the point at which Jaskier's definitely flipped trying to interpret Geralt in a positive a light to a negative one. Geralt waited for Jaskier to say two wishes and intervenes only on the third, but Jaskier responds by saying Geralt's demanding all three wishes. He is really, really mad about the pie thing, and no, it's not the particular metaphor, it's that Geralt still hasn't apologized - either he didn't realize Geralt waited to let him have those wishes and thinks he just got them out too fast for Geralt to react, or, just as Jaskier shows affection largely through words rather than actions, he's also much better at understanding the word kind and he's just too caught up in waiting for Geralt to say something to consider what it means that Geralt let him make two wishes without issue.

In response to Jaskier's really unfair accusation of Geralt demanding all wishes after he let Jaskier have most of them, Geralt, at the very end of his rope, shouts he wants peace, and Jaskier finds himself choking.

And really? The blame goes to Jaskier here. He got into a fight over the jar, then was shouting wishes, then he capped that all off with shouting more at Geralt who he knew was in a bad way until Geralt snapped at him and said something that accidentally triggered the djinn - Geralt doesn't even use the word "wish" when he says it, let alone say anything that could be reasonably interpreted as targeted at Jaskier. It's not only an accident, but Geralt isn't even behaving in an irresponsible way. At most, we could argue that if Geralt was aware djinns twist wishes he should've been more careful about saying anything, but not only did Geralt not believe he had control of the djinn so he lacked any reason to be watching his words, but also, his actions throughout are in line with someone who doesn't actually know much about djinns. I don't think he'd have let Jaskier start on a first wish without giving him a warning if he knew it was important to rules-lawyer everything you say.

At this point, with neither of them knowing Geralt even did anything there, Geralt throws himself into trying to find help for Jaskier. Jaskier's still lucid at this point.

Chireadan: "He could die."
Jaskier: "Fuck! Geralt."
Geralt: "Uh...Yeah, we won't let that happen."

I understand some people find this a bad response from Geralt. It's also completely in line with Geralt's normal behavior. If Jaskier, after knowing him for more than a decade and knowing this is him sincerely saying he will make sure Jaskier's okay no matter what it takes, thinks that's not good enough, then they probably shouldn't be friends because at a certain point you're really saying, "I'd like you if only you were somebody else entirely."

Luckily for the actual characters, Jaskier seems to find this perfectly acceptable. We know he's following the conversation with Chireadan, and he seems lucid all the way to Yennefer. He doesn't put up any fuss as Geralt carts him around, evidently trusting that whatever is happening, Geralt is going to make things work. It's possible he doesn't remember all of the events, but it seems most likely he's only confused about what happens after he goes unconscious.

The events that occur next, which Jaskier probably remembers:

More horse riding because Geralt's rushing.
Geralt assaulting a man for getting in their way.
Geralt carting him into the building.
Geralt bringing him to the mage and making a deal with her. - "Fix it, and I'll pay you. Whatever the price."

After this, Jaskier is unconscious, a lot of stuff happens, and then he wakes up.

"Oh! Where am I? Whew! Um... Right. Good. Good. Um... Not to be... untoward or anything... but... ...did we... you know... ...do the, uh... Ooh, Go-- Oh, no! No! Definitely did not butter that biscuit. Look, I am so sorry, but I've just remembered I left my...cat on the...stove. I-- I really must be going."

Jaskier seems to know immediately that Yennefer is bad news. He doesn't seem particularly cheery about waking up in bed to see a half-dressed woman, and as soon as he sees her face he moves from uncertain to terrified. Why, exactly? Most likely, it's down to Jaskier having a pretty good idea of how people normally act and reacting to the fact Yennefer's behavior isn't just intentionally threatening but also really off - and someone acting in ways you don't understand and which are very unusual is dangerous. The main thing that's odd is how fast Jaskier reacts, but Jaskier has experience needing to flee situations and is smart/shameless enough, I think, that he's not going to pretend to be comfortable because it'd be rude to react badly on little evidence. He trusts his gut.

At any rate, Jaskier fears and hates Yennefer on sight. She's about to hold a knife to his dick and it does little to escalate things because Jaskier went from zero to max panic just from Yennefer herself. Some of this reaction appears to be startlingly accurate - she's about to hold a knife to his dick, after all. Some of it doesn't - Jaskier believes she'd kill him, but going by what Geralt says, she could've killed him while he was still asleep. I suspect one issue could be that Yennefer wants to present herself as terrifying and is trying to add in extra to counterbalance the fact she feels people tend toward dismissing her, while Jaskier does not have any hangups about being afraid of her, so she's overshot. He might also be picking up on incongruities in how she's presenting herself but is assuming that if this is an act, it's hiding something even worse.

Would Jaskier have sex with her anyway?

No. Jesus. He's flinging himself out of bed at the sight of her. Jaskier may make poor decisions, but the evidence of the past episodes is that he doesn't kink on danger and that's confirmed here, and we've also seen no sign he's invested in fucking the hottest person he can find, which is about the only reason to consider it worth sticking your dick in someone who threatened to cut it off. In order for Jaskier to reconsider Yennefer, he'd need to be in some situation where her bluff is called and he sees she doesn't actually go through with it - and again, she put a knife to his dick. Yennefer is a lot better at bluffing than Geralt was. At this point, either something outside either of their control needs to trap Jaskier in the vicinity of Yennefer and somehow do it at a time when she isn't reacting to being trapped herself by frothing up like a cornered raccoon or Yennefer needs to extend the olive branch (more likely a lot of olive branches) herself.

Jaskier says something that's plausibly a third wish and Yennefer lets him go. Further showing just how scared of her he is, after getting out of the place and seeing Geralt, he says, "Oh, Geralt. Thank the gods. I might live to see another day." - so, he thinks Yennefer will reappear to murder him at any moment.

Geralt: "Jaskier, you're okay."
Jaskier: "I'm glad to hear that you give a monkey's about it."

From Jaskier's point of view, Geralt was warned the mage was dangerous, knew Jaskier was really badly hurt...and then Geralt fucked off and left him to his fate.

Now, I'm pretty sure Jaskier gets the rest of the story after this, so I think he drops the resentment. Unfortunately we can also assume Geralt doesn't get into how far he was willing to go to convince Yennefer to help, so it won't address Jaskier's original issue, about if Geralt truly cares about him. Jaskier can probably fill in some of it, but he's also about to see Geralt charge into a building and almost die to save someone else.

Also, Geralt's response to Jaskier sarcastically saying that and once again showing he's concerned about if Geralt cares is, "Let's not jump to conclusions." so yeah, really not helping Jaskier's underlying fears.

Jaskier then describes Yennefer: "Well, black hair, devilish eyes, was painting an amphora on her abdomen."

I believe this is confirmation that Jaskier is colorblind because he gives the color of her hair, which is ordinary black, and is paying close enough attention to detail to notice exactly what she was painting, but does not think purple eyes are worth bringing up as an identifying feature. The alternative is that purple requires elven genes and Jaskier knows it, in which case he's being an awful, awful person to use "devilish" to mean elven (it also would open up the also awful possibility that the reason he said he definitely hadn't had sex with her wasn't that she doesn't look happy to see him, but that he would never lower himself to have sex with someone of mixed race). But that seems really unlikely given what we've seen is it's possible for Yennefer to keep her ancestry a secret. The evidence points to Jaskier just not having any idea what color her eyes are. By interesting coincidence, any colorblindness that would render Jaskier unable to distinguish between yellow and green would also see purple and blue as the same color. (Protanopia, deuteranopia, or fully black-and-white achromatopsia.)

Geralt: "She wants to be the vessel."
Jaskier: "What, you know this woman? Of course you know this woman."

"this woman" would be the mage they were looking for. Assuming he remembers events up to falling asleep, he'd know Geralt talked to Yennefer about healing him. Either he doesn't remember getting that far or he's just so freaked out from what's happened that he isn't thinking straight. I'm inclined to think he's just too panicked to think at this point, because we know he was paying attention during the initial conversation about them needing to find a mage.

Geralt: "She wants to become more powerful. But she'll die."
Jaskier: "Well, let's pray for her on our way out of town."

That Jaskier isn't thinking straight makes it hard to know quite what to make of this. Jaskier definitely is fine with Yennefer dying and possibly considering that actually desirable, but also, I think as far as he knows she's a serial killer and they're next.

He objects to Geralt heading into danger - "Are you perhaps short of a marble?" and then, "Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Do not tell me that this is finally the moment you've decided to actually care about someone other than yourself?"

This is hugely unfair, not just in the context of the rest of the episode (no matter how confused Jaskier is, he should at least be clear on the fact he was choking to death on his own blood and Geralt got him into town and searched for someone to help) but the context of everything else we've seen between the two of them. It is, however, completely in line with Jaskier feeling like Geralt doesn't care about him, particularly if that's just taken another blow because he thinks Geralt abandoned him while he was near death.

"Leave the very sexy but insane witch to her inevitable demise!"

Jaskier really, really does not like Yennefer. As I said, I would think he ends up getting the full story from Geralt, but while "I insisted on staying by your side in case she tried to pull anything, so I got mind-controlled and then woke up in jail but luckily someone decided to beat the shit out of me before my execution so..." certainly puts Geralt leaving in a better light, it's absolutely not going to improve Jaskier's opinion of her.

"She saved your life, Jaskier. I can't let her die."

I think this confuses the issue of if Geralt cares about Jaskier even more.

Remember, the first time they met, Geralt does everything he can to save Jaskier, including offering his own life up. He also expresses concern and compassion for the people intending to kill them. Here we have a similar situation - Geralt is indicating he values Jaskier's life, but also he's about to risk himself for someone else who Jaskier thinks is some terrifying monster. So, does Geralt care about Jaskier? Did any of that mean anything, or would Geralt have done that for anyone, even someone he hated?

And we know that Jaskier directly says he doesn't understand: "Why did Geralt go in there? It doesn't make any sense. What, to save a mad fucking witch? Why?"

At this point there's not really any good answer for Jaskier - either Geralt died viewing Jaskier as a nuisance, or if he did care and that's why he felt he had to help the mage, then Jaskier managed to get him killed.

"What am I supposed to do now, hm? It wasn't supposed to go this way. I'm gonna write you... the best song... so that everyone remembers who you were, what we did, everything we saw. And I will sing it...for the rest of my days."

This is really sweet. I think it's especially meaningful that he says he wants people to remember Geralt specifically - the we is about the things they did together, but it's only one person he wants to make immortal here, when other times he's talked about his own fame.

"He always said I had the most wonderful singing voice."

Now, this does seem like the general trope of characters misremembering things to put everything in a better light after an apparent death. That said, it's entirely within reason that Geralt has said complimentary things about Jaskier's singing. And it's almost certain Geralt's done something, probably a lot of somethings, Jaskier could reasonably infer was approval. We know from this and the previous episode that Geralt does intentionally act closed-off around Jaskier or pretend he doesn't like things he actually does, so Jaskier's right to think he needs to read between the lines to know how Geralt really feels. The third episode establishes Jaskier has gotten a ton of songs out of Geralt, all of which would have been sung a lot during the creation process, and even if Geralt tried his hardest, he would've reacted at some point. (There's also the fact that good lord Jaskier does not shut up. I think we can infer that, no matter how much of a doormat Geralt may be, if Geralt had any issues with Jaskier's voice he would have snapped by now.)

Finally...

"Oh, they're alive. They're really alive! Whoo!"

Jaskier is not broken up to see Geralt fucking someone. (And it would be not only absurd but awful of him given he was fucking the countess and used his second wish to try to go back to fucking the countess, and also thought it plausible he'd had sex with a stranger when he woke up in her bed.) More interestingly, he doesn't seem particularly concerned Geralt is specifically fucking the "very sexy but insane" "mad fucking witch". Jaskier has previously been very confident that Geralt would be fine no matter the situation, but moments ago he was willing to believe Geralt dead. It's possible discovering Geralt has miraculously survived has put him back in the mindset of Geralt being an unkillable badass. There's also that "Um... Not to be... untoward or anything... but... ...did we... you know... ...do the, uh... Ooh, Go-- Oh, no! No! Definitely did not butter that biscuit." implies that Jaskier assumes anyone you sleep with would certainly be friendly afterward. While he's going to be very negative toward Yennefer next episode, I think Jaskier defaults to sex = everything's fine between us for the foreseeable future at least. (Which would mean Jaskier not only isn't into hatesex personally, but does not understand it exists.)

In conclusion:

Jaskier is having a really bad time of it this episode! He's not just sad about being discarded by the countess, he's upset about what if everyone feels that way about him and is looking for reassurance. That Jaskier is drinking something gross while mentioning he has no food or money for food means Jaskier's been more concerned about drowning his sorrows than taking care of himself. Given all that, while Jaskier does a lot wrong this episode, it's wholly understandable.

Despite how rough things are for Jaskier, we can see he really does care about Geralt - he tries to talk to Geralt about Geralt's own problems as soon as he realizes anything's wrong, he tries to talk Geralt out of risking his life, and he's devastated by Geralt's apparent death. He also shows that, despite the misinterpretations he's made about Geralt's behavior in the other two episodes, he does pay close attention to what's going on with Geralt. If he doesn't understand Geralt, it's not for lack of trying.

But he's really insecure this time. He loses his temper easily, and while he trusts Geralt to save him while Geralt's there, after he wakes up to find Geralt gone, he doesn't question Geralt's apparent abandonment of him. Even Geralt showing up (clearly about to enter the place he just left) and expressing relief he's okay doesn't get Jaskier to change his mind on that because it's based on how Jaskier feels like he's easily discarded.

As rocky as their relationship is here, if we compare it to, say, Yennefer and Istredd's fight, you can see it's still overall a decent one. Jaskier tries to get more from Geralt but things don't spiral out of control when Geralt doesn't react the way he wants, and even the actual fight manages to stay restrained rather than lashing out worse and worse with each exchange. And this is with both of them starting off extremely upset and significantly impaired by alcohol and sleeplessness.

Jaskier wants nothing at all to do with Yennefer. Not only does he have the most upsetting interaction with Yennefer of everyone, but he finds her terrifying even before she does anything. I think it comes down to that Jaskier is really observant and likely picking up on things others miss about Yennefer, but he doesn't have any idea what it all means (just like he can't make sense of so much of Geralt's behavior) so he's getting "looks like a person but doesn't act like a person" and panicking. Combine that with the fact Yennefer is legitimately quite dangerous, and that he can't possibly predict what she'll do next? Yeah, getting out of there and hoping she explodes herself is a smart reaction.

Jaskier seems to have some almost naive expectations about sex where the other person is always happy to see you the next morning, which suggests he must be at least reasonably selective about who he's been having sex with. To go back to the fourth episode for a moment, the people Jaskier gets in trouble for having sex with are "Wives, concubines, mothers sometimes." Notably lacking? Daughters. Jaskier seems to have been sticking with experienced people who know what they want. This may be intentional or it may have just happened because Jaskier gets sex by saying he's available and then going with whoever responds first, which is not a method that gets you a lot of blushing virgins.

Chapter Text

Alright, now for the tangled mess that is Geralt's side of this episode.

Jaskier: "Ugh! Do you want some? "How are you doing?" I hear you ask."
Geralt: "I didn't."

Let's take a moment to talk about what Jaskier didn't do here, which is ask how Geralt was doing and give him a chance to ask how Jaskier was doing. Jaskier is, in fact, the one who opens this interaction rudely by rushing straight for saying he wants to talk about himself.

I don't think this is rude of him, to be specific. I think this is totally within normal conversational tolerances for someone you've known for a decade. You know what's also within normal conversational tolerances, though? Geralt's reaction. Geralt is not only being about the same amount of rude, but he's doing it in response while Jaskier is starting it.

Now, as I said on Jaskier's meta, Jaskier, being drunk, has a good explanation for why it takes him a bit to realize anything's wrong with Geralt. Unfortunately, the same applies to Geralt realizing things are wrong with Jaskier, which makes it very hard to tell how much is him choosing to be an asshole and how much is accidental.

Jaskier: "Well, the Countess de Stael, my muse and beauty of this world, has left me. Again. Rather coldly and unexpectedly, I might add."

Furthermore, while we have Geralt pushing Jaskier away, in line with previous interactions we've seen, he's doing it before Jaskier drops the fact he's unusually sensitive about rejection right now.

"I fear I shall die a brokenhearted man. Or a hungry one, at the very least, unless somebody fancies sharing a fish with an old friend? Oh, are we not using "friend"? Yeah, sure. Let's just give it another decade."

So, that was certainly not the reassurance Jaskier would like. It's a lot better than Geralt saying, "I'm not your friend," again, but we don't know if that's Geralt trying not to be an asshole right after Jaskier said he's sad about getting dumped or because Geralt already said two words and isn't planning on returning to the conversation so soon.

I personally think Geralt is trying to be relatively friendly at this point. Once Jaskier gives him a chance to get a word in edgewise, he starts talking again and while it's curt and monosyllabic, it's volunteering information to continue the conversation rather than just trying to get Jaskier to stop talking. It seems in line with his initial interaction with Renfri where he's not trying to freeze the other person out. Overall it seems like Geralt isn't saying much because he's having trouble talking. That's normal for someone who's exhausted and it's normal for someone who hasn't been talking to anyone for a while, and in Geralt's case, as I've argued previously, he's also very wary about what he says around Jaskier so there's an additional layer of effort before he speaks.

And he does seem to be trying. Instead of refuting that they're friends, he just doesn't respond, and then when Jaskier rambles on with fish and ties that to friendship, he says he's not actually fishing in the first place - ie, that the lack of fish is not because Jaskier, as a non-friend, doesn't get his fish, but because he doesn't have any fish to give Jaskier.

Geralt: "I'm not fishing. I can't sleep."
Jaskier: "Right. Good. Well, that-- that makes sense. Insomuch that it sort of...doesn't. What's going on, Geralt? Talk to me."
Geralt, doing a dramatic sigh: "A djinn."

So Geralt is participating in conversation today, and doing so despite the fact he's stressed and distracted.

It's very hard to tell if this is because he wants to be (Jaskier does not see like he'll go away if Geralt doesn't want him here) but the focus on fishing dials down for a moment in a way that suggests it's making him feel a little better to try to talk about it.

Jaskier: "A what?"
Geralt: "I'm looking for a djinn."
Jaskier: "For a dj-- For a djinn? A dj-- Like a genie? (laughs) The floaty fellas with the... the bad tempers and the banned magics, that kind of genie?"
Geralt: "Yes. It'll grant me wishes."
Jaskier: (laughs more)

In response, Jaskier laughs about it. I don't think it's badly meant. I'm not sure if Geralt even takes it as badly meant. But even at best, Geralt's at his wits end, and Jaskier does not get that he's serious about this, and Jaskier not getting that he's serious about things has kept coming up - Jaskier assumes he was just pretending to be ready to die to the elves, Jaskier brushes off his statement about witcher retirement being death. And further, it does seem like Geralt is used to taking everything people say to him in the worst light.

Geralt loses his already frayed temper. (...quite possibly because for a moment he wanted to try to talk to Jaskier and thought it'd help, and he's upset he doesn't even get to have that.)

Geralt: "It's in this lake somewhere. And I can't fucking sleep!"

So, remember how I complained about the idea Geralt only takes baths because Jaskier cares about it and that Jaskier's the one making sure he actually cleans up? It isn't just that the events of the fourth episode show the opposite. It's that every time you make something about someone else about Jaskier instead, you no longer can get any information about Geralt from Geralt's own behavior, which renders progressively more of the story incoherent.

Geralt here is wild-eyed and disheveled. We'll learn from Yennefer that he also stinks, despite the fact he's right next to a body of water and that what we see of him is that he actually values being clean and well put together. Look at the third episode, where Geralt takes the time while being kicked out of his room to clean up and do his hair before he'll actually walk out.

So by this point, if we're at all paying attention to Geralt instead of assuming everything he does is on Jaskier's puppet strings, you can tell that something is very wrong with Geralt. If we're not, then it means nothing - of course Geralt is a mess, Jaskier only just showed up, this is just Geralt's natural state.

(Also, if Geralt's greatest joy in life is rolling around in mud and filth and he has to be forced to clean up, it additionally means it's no big deal that human prejudice happens to be forcing him into a life of mud and filth because really the oppression is having to occasionally come indoors and act like he's people, and if you think about it, aren't the people refusing to rent him rooms doing him a favor by letting him sleep in the dirt instead?)

It also means you miss the contrast between Geralt this episode and Geralt when Calanthe locks him in her dungeons, where he's sitting in the cell calm and well-groomed because he's finally accepted his connection to Ciri rather than flailing against it like he is here.

Jaskier: "I don't mean to play priest's ear or anything, but has it occurred to you that maybe we're merely rubbing salve on a tumor?"

Can you really say Geralt has reason to take Jaskier up on this?

We know Jaskier cares about Geralt. I think Geralt knows it as well. But we've seen that past conversations with Jaskier have not gone well for Geralt, and just now Geralt trying to open up was met with laughter. At absolute best, talking to Jaskier is a minefield. Geralt has difficulty with it on his better days and about less upsetting topics.

Jaskier: "I mean, maybe, just-- just maybe, this whole sleeplessness-ness has got something to do with what the druid Mousesack said to you in Cintra? You know, the Law of Surprise? Destiny? Being unable to escape the child that belongs to you, et cetera, et cetera?"
Geralt: "No! It's not that."

Is Geralt lying?

Honestly, I don't know for sure. You can make an argument either way. The problem is that child surprise isn't just "oh fuck a kid", it's a whole pile of things that Geralt has issues with. We'll learn more about those in the upcoming episodes, so at the moment we only know he's definitely upset.

I do think even if he's lying about not knowing he's upset over the child surprise, he's truthful about wanting to use his wish to be able to sleep instead of solving the problem that's making him too stressed to sleep. This is a bit like "why doesn't Yennefer just grab a baby?" - if a character seems hellbent on not taking what seems like the obvious solution, we should ask what that intentional decision means, instead of saying they should have done things differently.

And I think it's very plausible he actually won't admit, even to himself, that the problem is stress over Ciri. Because there's no solution to that. No matter what he does it's some form of child abandonment. If he accepts the kid, their family is forced to abandon them. If he severs the bond instead, he's abandoning the kid. Add in that he also hates Destiny and if Destiny isn't real he should be able to just not care, he's never even met the damn kid, so he doesn't, because Destiny is stupid dammit, and he's a witcher what the fuck can he even do for this kid he definitely is not tying himself into knots over?

This is also likely not his first rodeo with stress-induced sleeplessness, and he really doesn't seem to actually deal with anything that upsets him, so it could be genuinely ambiguous exactly which thing or things he refuses to think about has pushed him over the edge this week. Identifying it as Ciri would involve not just actually thinking about his child surprise, which, nope! but also actually thinking about all the other possible options in order to rule them out, which nope! nope! nope!

(And why is he having this breakdown right now? Possibly because he learned Ciri's parents are dead. Did he do that by trying to stay away? Is he going to get the rest of her family killed if he stays away? Does she need him? But being concerned that maybe by not going there he's going to make her lose her entire family doesn't mean going there and forcing her to lose her entire family right now is a good solution!)

Some people have argued Jaskier's interference is because wishing for a nap seems like a great way to end up Sleeping Beauty-ed. While Jaskier's clearly not considering anything like that, I would argue it's possible Geralt might know but actually find the risk appealing - it'd resolve the kid problem, and do so by rendering Geralt unable to make any decisions for the foreseeable future or possibly ever. Geralt doesn't seem able to directly contemplate suicide but he sure does keep hovering in the vicinity. "If I don't sleep I will die," Geralt might reason. "Therefore 'accidentally' going into a centuries-long psuedo-death state due to a wish is actually me doing my best to keep being a witcher if you think about it."

In either case, though, we know he doesn't want to think about the subject, and given how his conversations with Jaskier normally go, he has even more reason not to want to talk with him in particular.

In fact, let's take a moment to ponder how the conversation would go, since people tend to castigate Geralt for not using his words.

Let's quickly jump ahead to him using his words with Yennefer in the sixth episode:

Geralt: "the people who made us, they made us sterile for a lot of reasons. One of the kinder ones is because this lifestyle isn't suited to a child." ... "I've thought about this. Often. And I'd rather use my Child Surprise as bruxa bait than subject it to this life!"

Now, let's go back to the fourth episode when considering how Jaskier might respond.

Jaskier: "Actually, I've always wanted to know, do witchers ever retire?"
Geralt: "Yeah. When they slow and get killed."
Jaskier: "Come on, you must want something for yourself once all this...monster hunting nonsense is over with."

Jaskier would probably respond to Geralt with, "That's not true, stop making up ridiculous excuses and give me the real reason".

Even if you want to argue that Jaskier has learned better, perhaps after seeing how fast people turned on Geralt at the banquet (no sign of it, but not impossible he thought it over later), it is completely reasonable for Geralt to look at his past experiences with Jaskier and expect more of the same. Given how particularly sensitive this subject is, it would be understandable for Geralt to be wary even if Jaskier's behavior improved immensely between the last episode and now - and I really can't overemphasize we have no evidence of that. Geralt isn't obligated to keep offering himself up for Jaskier to hurt just in case Jaskier has finally come around to being decent about this.

And even the very best case scenario for Geralt, with Jaskier not arguing even a single point, is still going to involve Geralt needing to explicitly say each and every piece of his reasoning simply because Jaskier clearly doesn't understand the problems he faces as a witcher. Geralt doesn't like dwelling on all the ways his life is horrible but there is no way to explain why he's upset about getting a child involved in it without doing so. Even if Jaskier did everything right on his end, this is still demanding something painful from Geralt.

Worse still? While it's possible Geralt would have lashed out regardless due to stress, we know that he didn't have any other way of dealing with this. Telling Jaskier to drop it wouldn't work, because Jaskier doesn't listen to him. The only way out Geralt had is to start a bad enough fight that Jaskier either forgets he was concerned about Geralt or is mad enough he no longer cares about Geralt.

And that's before we consider that the other thing that happened last episode is Geralt reacted really, really badly to talk of destiny.

Jaskier: "You know, the Countess de Stael once said to me that destiny is just the embodiment of the soul's desire to grow."

We don't know for sure if Geralt has been personally fucked over by destiny or just seen a hell of a lot of victim blaming. (Geralt specifically brings up children dead from a plague back then - guess their souls just didn't desire to grow! Ever again! Because they're all dead!) But while we may not know why, we know he reacts really badly to this sort of talk. (And in one of the short stories, he'll also mention that witchers think destiny is a big deal in combination with their whole hellish trials that kill most of those children thing - "Guess Destiny felt your friends didn't want to grow up hard enough!" would sure sour me on the concept, and it's possible his being the only one to survive the second round of them also got some Destiny talk.)

So, Geralt is already on edge. He really doesn't have any way out of the conversation but a burst of cruelty. And Jaskier isn't just pushing him on a topic he's not willing to talk about, but bringing up another topic that also sets Geralt off and leads him to make bad decisions.

It is in this context that Geralt does something cruel.

Geralt: "Did you sing to her before she left?"
Jaskier: "I did, actually, and she...Why, what are you implying? Oh... (laughs) We are so having this conversation. Come on, Geralt. Tell me. Be honest. How's my singing?"
Geralt: "It's like ordering a pie and finding it has no filling."

Okay, I know metaphors are really, really fun. I too think there are so many ways you could try to argue which parts of a song are piecrust and which parts of the song are filling, and does this have to do with Jaskier's subject matter and honesty and so forth.

But seriously, Geralt's just being awful here. I don't think he's trying to be awful and also have a clever metaphor, I think it's solely concerned about what will best upset Jaskier. After all, Geralt's already decided he'd rather find, as Jaskier puts it, "The floaty fellas with the... the bad tempers and the banned magics" because he would rather ask someone someone with a bad temper to do banned magic to him than even admit in the privacy of his own head he's upset about something, but Jaskier thinks he's up for an actual conversation about it?! No. Geralt, as he is demonstrating right now, will do almost anything to avoid that.

Jaskier is, in-universe, talented. Within a few years everyone knows about the White Wolf, friend of humanity! He's invited to sing at Pavetta's betrothal and going by the reactions of the crowd does a great job of it. Even if Geralt personally thinks Jaskier sucks this much at singing, he knows it's incredibly, incredibly unlikely that the countess threw him out because he's just so bad at it. But Geralt would know it'd hurt to say that.

"You need a nap! I mean, are you trying to hurt my feelings, Geralt? It's... It's down-- downright indecorous of you, if I'm completely honest, and--"

Which is why Jaskier's response assumes that Geralt is saying this to hurt his feelings because he's stressed and angry. "I need a nap." "Or we could talk about your kid." "You're a failure at your life's work and everyone hates you." "Fuck, you do need a nap."

(I would also say, though there's nothing really solid, that I find it doubtful Geralt actually hates Jaskier's singing that broadly. He could get away from Jaskier if he wanted to, we know he's capable of refusing to give Jaskier information because he kept Renfri a secret, and also, if he just finds Jaskier as a whole annoying, it doesn't mean anything for him to cause a scene at the banquet only when Toss A Coin To Your Elf-Murderer gets brought up.)

Geralt then finds the jar. And Jaskier grabs it. Unlike his ale last episode, Geralt doesn't just let Jaskier take it without a fight...but like every previous encounter with Jaskier, he's still largely passive. It's hard to believe Geralt, a trained witcher, had no way to separate Jaskier from the jar. Even if we limit ourselves to ways that don't involve hurting Jaskier, it still isn't that hard to, say, grab his wrist with Geralt's other hand and pry him loose. Geralt really seems to be trying not to escalate things again - either he already regrets what he says, or he at least isn't up for pushing Jaskier any further.

Jaskier: "Do you mind if I-"
Geralt: "Jaskier."
Jaskier: "Take it back about my fillingless pie. Take it back, you get your djinny-djinn-djinn."

I wonder if Geralt would've if the jar hadn't opened right then. Apologizing risks Jaskier being mollified which risks Jaskier then returning to the earlier conversation regarding child surprises, but Jaskier can't bug him about why he needs a djinn to sleep if he's asleep, so he really only needs a couple seconds. Besides, an apology under duress is probably how Geralt would prefer things since it'd let him do so without while being able to make the excuse he doesn't really care and was just saying it to get the jar back...and given Jaskier's having his own little breakdown about if they're friends, Geralt might also feel worse than usual about refusing any sort of niceness.

Jaskier: "Thirdly-"
Geralt: "Jaskier!"
Jaskier: "Wha-"
Geralt: "Stop! There are only three wishes."

This is a big part of why I think Geralt really only wants a nap and not an actual fix for his problems. There are a lot of things Geralt could wish for, not just selfishly but also all bad things he's encountered over the years. Instead he's fine with letting Jaskier waste two wishes. The only way that could be true is if Geralt can't let himself think about what he actually wants.

Jaskier going for all three wishes? Really a dick move that underlines why Geralt doesn't, and shouldn't, trust him. Jaskier cares about Geralt enough to want to help with his concerns over his child surprise, but he does not appear to have the slightest sense of scale between the kinds of problems Jaskier, a well educated human man born to nobility who gets along well with those around him, has, and those Geralt has. It's very likely Jaskier has no clue why Geralt is reacting so badly to the child surprise and is assuming it's Geralt working himself up over nothing.

"I just want some damn peace!"

I think we should take a moment to consider how fucked up it is that this and nothing more is Geralt thinks he should use reality-altering magic for.

Geralt is unhappy because of problems with the world around him, but the most he's able to articulate is he wants a better reprieve from the crushing awareness of it.

I will say it's an open question what he'd actually do with three wishes if he knew he had them. Given what he ultimately uses his final wish for, it's not like he's incapable of making big wishes. It's plausible he'd stick to the plan of a nap for the first one, because I think he's genuinely miserable and probably struggling to think, so he'd probably do it before he had time for second thoughts. What he'd do when he woke up with another two... He might not want to know what he'd do, for that matter - I wonder if Jaskier taking the other two wasn't just Geralt being nice but something of a relief.

Jaskier is attacked by the djinn after Geralt says this. Geralt, believing Jaskier was attacked because he's the one with the wishes, making this entirely Jaskier's fault as far as he knows, promptly grabs Jaskier, gets him on Roach, and heads for town at a gallop.

Chireadan: "A djinn in a bottle? It's like a fairy tale."
Geralt: "Without the happy ending. Can you help him?"

And so Geralt begins his fifth episode adventures of "yes yes chatty dialogue do you not realize we're in a hurry here".

Chireadan: "He could die."
Jaskier: "Fuck! Geralt."
Geralt: "Uh... Yeah, we won't let that happen."

This is a completely adequate reassurance. Geralt has come through for Jaskier before. Yes, it could be longer and more elaborate, but this way he can go straight to asking after a mage, the better to actually help Jaskier.

Chireadan grudgingly admits there is a mage who could help.

Chireadan: "The mayor himself has made the catch and has imprisoned the mage in his house."
Geralt: "That wasn't so fucking hard, was it?"
Chireadan: "Be careful. The mage is powerful and malicious. And quite cunning."

This implies a very different situation than we see - you're more likely to take this to mean someone chained up in the dungeon who you have to negotiate to get anything done as they try to trick you into freeing them.

I'm not sure if that's what Geralt's picturing, though. He has a much broader picture of mages than we do, as well as having a lot of experience with how third parties talk of mages. That a mayor could successfully imprison this mage suggests either they're not much of one or that they're pretty easy-going. Chireadan's also said, "The mayor says they are dangerous." which brings up the question of his and the mayor's judgement of who's malicious and should be locked up. Geralt may be assuming they're just a bunch of assholes.

That said, Geralt's previous interactions with mages haven't gone very well - he was visibly afraid of Triss when she appeared, and possibly he only handled himself so calmly around Stregobor because he had advance warning and is good at hiding emotion when he has to. So perhaps if Chireadan had sounded a bit less biased, Geralt would've tried to get Jaskier to the next town instead rather than tangling with a definitely evil mage, but given Jaskier's condition and the fact Chireadan can't assure him anywhere nearby has a mage at all, he could be completely convinced this mage is pure evil but he'll still do it for Jaskier.

"I'll go find him."

Geralt doesn't seem weirded out by women existing, but he does have an odd tendency to assume unknown people are men. His mistaken assumption about Ciri by itself could be taken as evidence he does believe Destiny's controlling things, since girls can't be witchers, but given he's doing it here when he knows sorceresses exist, it seems more likely that he always acts this way. Possibly it's a side-effect of growing up surrounded by men and then, pre-witcher-decimation, having most of his socializing be among other witchers, but that seems completely at odds with how casually he interacts with women. And he's certainly familiar both with women being described as horrible monsters, as we see in the first episode, and conceiving of them as actually being horible monsters, as we see in his initial fear of Triss.

Geralt then rides off to the mayor. The guard tells him it's pay to enter. (Worth briefly mentioning - there does not appear to be any issue with allowing a witcher into the orgy, though it's possible Geralt wasn't identified.) "I don't make the rules, but money opens all doors." So Geralt wallops him with his coinpurse.

From the first chapter of this, I said that a question is whether or not Geralt will hurt humans for his own benefit, and we continue to not get a definite answer. What we do see is that Geralt is quite willing to harm humans to solve a problem. Geralt is doing this for Jaskier, but he was not in a position where his choices were to assault this man or let Jaskier die. It may be that Geralt would not have done this if Jaskier wasn't in the picture, but that he would have really wanted to, and saying he's doing it for someone else is giving him an excuse not to second-guess his behavior like he normally would. (If so, that'd be another benefit to Jaskier being around, while at the same time meaning Jaskier is seeing Geralt at his least dysfunctional.)

Geralt proceeds to drag Jaskier around by holding the back of his collar, which is not a loving hug thing but I think is being done because it's a way of holding him that doesn't put any pressure on his lungs.

He then finds the naked mayor, who says he's getting the apple juice for a "she". Geralt seems initially flummoxed rather than understanding this means the mage is female, though given we open seeing Geralt is not in the best of mental shape, it's hard to tell if this is a sign he's particularly resistant to the idea or if it's just that his sleep-deprived brain is lagging a bit as it tries to update based on this new information.

"She wants some. And she always gets...what she wants."

Jaskier seems to believe it - it's not clear if he remembers this particular instance, but it's probably come up any time they run across each other, or even when he hears about her. Geralt, though?

It's not that Geralt doesn't pay attention to what people say about others, but he seems to always remember this is what someone's saying. It's saying something about themself at least as much as anyone else. By this point, we've seen multiple people say to his face that witchers have no emotions. So while most people - Jaskier, the viewers - are compressing this down to "she always gets what she wants" Geralt, presumably, is getting, "this person is saying that this other person always gets what she wants". That she was able to get someone so very compromised to fetch her something is a point in favor of it being accurate that she can make people get her what she wants. That it's apple juice, though, is a pretty modest want (though more than it would be for us - apple juice is going to ferment quite quickly). And is she imprisoned or not? Being imprisoned is generally not getting what you want, but then, being able to coerce your supposed jailer to fetch you a drink in the middle of the night suggests you're probably not imprisoned anymore.

"I, uh...brought you apple juice."

I'm honestly not sure if Geralt actually figures out the mage is a woman before seeing her or if he just figures if somebody wanted apple juice showing up without it would be starting off on a bad note. It could've been a woman the mage was with making these demands - the mage is still likely going to be in a better mood if you deliver the item.

Also, Geralt deposits Jaskier before getting anywhere near Yennefer. This suggests he's concerned about what she might personally do and doesn't want Jaskier at risk of getting caught in the crossfire. It also means he views the orgy spell as harmless - throwing someone injured and specifically with trouble breathing into a pile of people who won't take no for an answer is a spectacularly bad idea, so we can infer Geralt is confident that isn't the situation. (Whether that's because he recognizes it or just gets lucky, he sure seems to be right - Jaskier isn't swarmed, and while some people reach out for Geralt himself, they're very gentle and make no attempt to hold onto him.)

I'm not sure if it's particularly meaningful that he's showing concern in confronting Yennefer. He's been told a bunch of things about her, but he's also been quite guarded with both mages he's encountered so it's hard to say if he currently believes them but is willing to consider it might be wrong or if he's been completely ignoring everyone's claims and he'd be acting the same if everyone was singing of her kindness and generosity.

"And quite a bit more."

Anyway, Yennefer responds by hitting on him.

She also observes he's "immune" to the orgy spell, though people aren't given to precise RPG-mechanics language when saying things like that so it's very hard to tell if that's an actual immunity, that he's resistant enough it has little effect but could be if there was more power put in, or even that it'd take a longer time to affect him so he's presently not impaired.

She does not work out he's a mutant from this, which suggests she's just observing the spell isn't affecting him. (That the spell not affecting him alone isn't enough to make her assume he's a mutant suggests either that what Geralt and Stregobor say about only mutants resisting magic isn't common knowledge or that Yennefer and presumably a good chunk of other people simply don't consider having a magic-resistance mutation to be a big enough deal to warrant declaring people "a mutant" over. Both Geralt and Stregobor are older, so possibly that's a sign things are getting more progressive in some ways - also, possibly, as time goes on more and more people are diverging from baseline given we know humans showed up in this world a while ago, mutations keep happening, and mutations are heritable. It's possible that resists magic is a bit like sickle cell or something in our world, where it's going to hit an equilibrium point in the population based on the odds of getting attacked by magic compared to being healed by it.)

Geralt: "You must be the mage."
Yennefer: "Yennefer of Vengerberg."
Geralt: "Hm. Chireadan didn't mention that, uh..."
Yennefer: "What did he fail to mention?"

Geralt is really, really struggling with the fact she's female, to the point he can't stop himself from bringing it up. Again, there is the issue that Geralt is not his best right now, but with his complaint that Chireadan should have said something, it seems like Geralt is just being more open than usual about his thought process.

Instead of explaining he assumed she was a guy for some reason, he either realizes that's a bad idea or just gets distracted by remembering he heard it when asking about Jaskier and right, Jaskier! He tells her they need help.

It's at this point she reports that his heartbeat is super slow - canonizing that aspect of witchers to be true to the show - and that he's therefore a mutant.

Yennefer: "The famous White Wolf! I thought you'd have fangs or horns or something."
Geralt: "I had them filed down."

Okay, so this is a joke.

(Maybe you think fangs and horns are actually pretty neat! I sympathize. But when you've got a story about the unfairness of prejudice, going "but what if the mistreated and demonized minority really were scary looking and people had good reason to act like this!" at every turn is a really bad idea.)

That said, Geralt has previously seemed pretty cranky about such assumptions, so why not here?

One possibility is that suggesting physical mutations is just not a sore spot the way saying he's emotionless is - he does have physical mutations after all, they're just discussing which ones. (Though he'll express issues with people poking his scars in a minute, which does seem similar.) There's the possibility that nobody actually thinks witchers have fangs or horns, in which case even a pretty bad faith interpretation could still tell she's joking. Another is that, while he doesn't trust mages, he might be treating this more as interest from one nonhuman to another. And there's the possibility her making comments about how closely she's observing his body is just getting received better because he wants that interest due to his own attraction to her.

Yennefer continues to be interested in his novel features - "First time I've seen a witcher up close. What little spells can you cast with your hands?" - without making any statements about his personhood. It's at this point Geralt goes back to his actual reason for being there.

"Please, Jaskier here needs immediate attention."

Followed by,

"And then, if you'd like, I'll indulge your curiosity all night long."

Is Geralt acting like this because he wants Jaskier to get help? Yeah, he's definitely trying to leverage her interest into getting her to agree. Geralt may not believe what he's been told about her is certainly true, but it's all he has to go on, and also Geralt's shown to not trust mages much, so he has to proceed with the possibility she won't help out of the goodness of her heart.

Is this coercion? Definitely a better case for it than the orgy, but I'd point to the interaction with the guard. While we don't know for sure how Geralt would handle this entirely alone, we definitely know he's capable of saying no and forcing the issue through violence without exhausting all his other options. Geralt could try to intimidate her into doing what he wants, and while we don't know for sure that when it's a witcher vs mage fight the witcher wins, the first episode pretty strongly implies it. Also, nothing stopped him from trying to negotiate this normally before moving to offering sex. He has options and we know he's willing to take other options. Geralt could have discouraged it, or he could have stayed neutral and waited to see if she insisted, but he's instead chosen to engage with her interest and try to use it.

Does Geralt think this is payment? Not exactly, I think.

Geralt: "He was attacked by a djinn."
Yennefer: "A djinn?"
Geralt: "Whatever's wrong with him, it's spreading. Fix it, and I'll pay you. Whatever the price."

It seems more likely that, since he's fine with having sex anyway, he's going to see if he can use the fact she's interested to make her feel more positive toward him in general and get a discount, or possibly that he's afraid she won't think it's worth her while to do it at all otherwise given how little he can actually pay. The anxiety he's showing about what she'll ask for is because she's gotten less flirty/friendly as she switches her attention to Jaskier and takes in the situation. Now, we know - or at least, you should if you're paying attention - that what's really going on is that she's interested in the djinn, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't occur to Geralt, so to him, the most likely reason for this sudden intensity is that the situation is serious and she's going to be charging him a lot.

And indeed, Yennefer confirms those fears in her response: "You'll have to do better than juice."

(I would emphasize Geralt's probably extra uncomfortable with an unknown price, for similar reasons as I suggested that in the fourth episode he likely isn't a fan of Jaskier teasing him about money. If someone demands an unreasonable price from Geralt, there's not much he can do about it.)

The scene changes to Geralt back in the kitchen area he came into originally, pacing. Yennefer comes down to report Jaskier's in a healing sleep. Geralt asks how long and doesn't get a real answer for this either. Instead she tells him to bathe and plunks some clothing down on the table.

He tries to get out of it - and this is the point that trying to make everything all about Jaskier has gets to the point it's hamstringing even Geralt/Jaskier moments, because Geralt presumably would, in fact, like to take a bath and his refusal has to do with concern for Jaskier when he still doesn't know what's with Yennefer.

"I insist. I can not only guess the age and breed of your horse, but also its color...by the smell."

While this is generally shortened as Geralt being filthy, her specific complaint is he smells like horse, not himself. This is of course a witticism, but that doesn't mean we can't take it entirely too seriously. I can think of two possibilities off the top of my head.

1. Geralt was well away from here when he heard about the djinn and has been riding hard for days just because some old story said there was a djinn here. This has been a problem for a good while and he's even more desperate than we've seen so far.

2. Geralt has been trying to deal with the insomnia by cuddling up to Roach.

In both cases, I would still like to remind everyone that Geralt was right next to a body of water and could have taken a bath, but that does not mean he hates baths. Rather, it illustrates just how bad of a mental state he's currently in. Also, the other times we've seen him messy he makes sure to clean up. Possibly he would have done that this time before venturing into town but Jaskier choking to death on his own blood got in the way of that. Possibly he's actually in such bad shape at this point it wouldn't matter.

We next see Geralt actually in the bath while Yennefer lurks to the side. He's not particularly enthusiastic, but neither does he seem all that bothered and he's holding a conversation with Yennefer just fine.

Yennefer: "Fishing for a djinn seems an extreme measure to remedy sleeplessness."
Geralt: "When extreme measures seem reasonable, yes, I'm desperate."
Yennefer: "And yet you didn't ask me to help with that."
Geralt: "Looming death kind of jumped the queue. Now I'm wondering if I can afford you."

Geralt is concerned about price. He's been concerned about price this whole time, and Yennefer keeps not giving him a straight answer. He is, obliquely, suggesting he would indeed like help with the insomnia too, but so far she's been doing things before she tells him the price and he doesn't want to get further into that sort of debt.

"Have I accidentally agreed to indentured servitude?"

Geralt is not worried about her ~taking advantage of him~. He's worried she's going to take advantage of him. His concern, or at least the concern he's willing to voice, is about how much she'll ask and how long it'll take. If he is concerned about the specifics, he keeps quiet about it, and I think it's unlikely he'll be honorbound to collect baby hearts for her or something else super evil because Geralt really doesn't seem to truck with honorbound anything. Geralt is only going to be under active duress during the period Jaskier is here. Past that point, skipping out on his tab is an option. However, that Geralt is concerned what he's agreed to suggests running off isn't something he'll do lightly. This also suggests that while Geralt doesn't feel obligated to kill somebody just because he took payment to do so, he does have his own rules about following through on agreements. (It's possible he's concerned because getting a reputation for not paying would be bad, but Yennefer's been around almost half a century and this is the first time they've crossed paths, and it's not clear how much of a grapevine rogue mages have. Geralt also generally hasn't shown much concern for his reputation.) Or, it's possible that he totally will run off if he can, and she might realize that, and then she'll keep Jaskier around to make sure he does it.

And her continued refusal to tell him is pretty ominous. I think Geralt's had the time to get his head back in the game here and has worked out it's not going to be a matter of just paying, but either this is too far from his usual experiences and not yet another monarchs being monarchs like th e third episode so he can't guess, or it's the insomnia keeping him from making the last jump to realizing she's after the djinn. (Or possibly his experience with mages is that they usually avoid danger personally so a mage is the last person he'd expect to be interested in one.) That she also avoided the question of how long it'll be is even more ominous and suggests she may have already decided to use Jaskier as a hostage.

Geralt handles the bath with Yennefer staring at him with only moderate disgruntlement, until she starts staring at a particular scar.

"Go ahead, ask about them. Everyone does."

Geralt does not have to admit that he doesn't like the attention his scars get. Given "everyone" does it, it'll happen whether or not he says to do it. Instead he's telling her this is a sore spot. I'm not sure if this is an intentional test where he's seeing if she'll insist on doing something he's said he won't like but made it clear he'll do it anyway, or if he's just being passive aggressive about something he feels is inevitable because he might have to do it but he's sick of people acting like he's supposed to be enjoying the attention.

Yennefer does tell him to look away from her when she strips after she's been staring at him, and then magically moves a mirror away so he can't see her in there either. Geralt complains about the last part: "That's cheating."

If you are reading this as Geralt being utterly miserable to be in the presence of a naked woman, you are objectively wrong.

One of the things I've found is that there's a couple scenes that keep coming up in fanfic but  fanfics often gloss over all the actual details of the scene with heavy use of summarizing, saying the character wasn't paying attention, and a whole lot of "this event happened and I don't know why I did it". "Why did Geralt punch Jaskier?" "He was just suddenly punching Jaskier without any conscious awareness of how it happened, he didn't even hear a word Jaskier said he was just so stressed, and then he felt horrible." "What was happening in the bath scene with Jaskier?" "Somehow Geralt found himself taking a bath and Jaskier was doing his hair." "What was going on in Geralt's head when Yennefer orders him to take a bath?" "It's a haze of disassociation and all he could think of is his love for Jaskier."

In addition to Geralt wanting to have sex with Yennefer, I think it's also a big relief that she's acting in a more understandable/less ominous way. Everything that's happening in this scene ties into her finding him attractive but wanting to control the encounter - she tells him to get in the water, she stares at him, she gets in the water but tells him he can't look. If she's just got control issues and is being cagey about how long Jaskier needs to heal because she wants Geralt to stick around long enough to have sex without directly saying so, that's a lot better than that she has another reason for not telling him the price or how long it'll take.

Yennefer: "Tell me, are all witchers similarly blessed? Come now, you promised."
Geralt: "Hm. I haven't conducted a survey, but I'd hardly say we're blessed."
Yennefer: "Oh, don't be so grim. You were created by magic. Our magic."

It's interesting Geralt doesn't seem to take offense to that! See, there's two components - the being altered by magic part, and how it works really badly and most of them are just killed by magic instead. With that in mind Geralt's response, a sarcastic, "Thank you. Made for a magical childhood." is pretty mild. Which I think goes back to the "you promised" - the agreement was he'd indulge her curiosity because she doesn't know much about witchers. In other words, she wasn't involved in it and isn't aware of the details, and that's informing his response here, when with someone else he might think they did know and take it to mean that as an emotionless witcher there's no way he cared about all the other dead children.

That said, he does not actually like hearing this, and what she's saying is relatively mild compared to the usual fic where someone tells Geralt that it's cool how while the mages were putting preteen him through horrific experiments that nearly killed him, they made sure to take the time to also give him a huge dick. That's incredibly fucked up and I don't know why people think Geralt or anyone would find it fun sexy talk.

Yennefer: "Happy childhoods make for dull company."
Geralt: "Judging by your wrists and your wits, your childhood was very happy. But Aretuza fixed you up nicely."

This is actually a fun little bit of ambiguity, in that Geralt could be referring to her childhood pre-Aretuza or Aretuza itself, given the actual fixing happens upon graduation. It seems likely, though, that he's assuming the bad childhood came first and then Aretuza was an improvement, since the subtext here is that she was deformed and that one particular type of abuse wouldn't be a big thing once she was learning to be a mage. And that would fit with how while Geralt usually knows what's going on around him, with Yennefer he's prone to only getting part of the picture. (And knowing facts about it but not the exact situation would fit perfectly with not really getting Triss' behavior either.)

Geralt: "What was your ailment before? Clubbed foot? Split ends?"

Just as Geralt is taking things pretty well, this seems like it's intended not to be a particularly cruel jab despite being a sensitive subject. Severe deformity followed by a nonissue is a bit "arson, murder, and jaywalking" - and going the other way could be taken to mean he's fishing for exactly how bad it was so he knows how much he should judge her, but this way does a good job of saying the opposite. And we see it successfully gets a smile out of Yennefer rather than frostiness, even if she then tries to deny it to him.

Geralt: "You seem to find coin pretty charming yourself. Clearly capitalizing on the political situation here."
Yennefer: "I'm serving the stifled people of this town. Filling a need. Ever heard of it?"
Geralt: "Hm. It's fine to fly in the face of overzealous authority, but to pretend it's anything other than making a profit..."

This is pretty obviously not Geralt judging what Yennefer's been doing, particularly when "overzealous authority" makes it clear he's not merely neutral but does think this is a good thing. He's just saying she doesn't get an extra cookie for doing it out of the goodness of her heart. It's like someone saying they're feeding hungry people and you point out that yes, that sure is what a restaurant does. (And to further this metaphor, many people do indeed run restaurants because they like hungry people getting food they'll enjoy! Restaurants are fine. But you'd still roll your eyes at someone saying they're in it to serve the people of the town when it's very much a for-profit enterprise.)

Geralt is judging Yennefer for being into money. And possibly not all that much, since he's only bringing it up in response to her suggesting he only thinks he's charming because he pays women to put up with him.

(He may also be saying this in particular because he wants her to tell him what the price is already. She brought up him paying people. He does indeed have coin! Yennefer appears to like coin. Will she please just put a numerical value on Jaskier's life already. Especially since he probably can't pay up and he really wants to be able to move on to the next stage of anxiety already.)

It's a bit interesting that Yennefer does not accuse Geralt of only caring about money. Then again, Triss also seemed dubious that was his biggest motivation, none of the people in the first episode seem to think the solution to Geralt is to pay him so he'll go away, and even Calanthe doesn't say that Geralt has to do what she says for a price because he's a witcher, she says that everyone has a price, and also that Geralt personally has already shown he'll do bodyguarding.

So this could be indicating it's not a witcher stereotype that they're particularly money focused but maybe they care about money a normal amount and just care about everything else even less, or it could be that due to prejudice they're getting hit by contradictory and self-serving stereotypes - consider how poor people are poor because they're lazy idiots, but also are capable of scamming a fortune out of the government and controlling politicians to keep the money flowing.

Yennefer: "And to pretend you're after a djinn to cure insomnia?"

While you can take this to mean that Geralt was really going to use the wish to break the bond or something, I think it's better read as her knowing there's something missing from what he's told her, just as Geralt is sure there's something missing from what she's saying.

This is the one thing that does get Geralt's back up and he retorts, "Fortunately for you, once I've paid for your kind services, it'll be none of your concern."

Yennefer: "Fortunately for you, I've determined your company and conversation payment enough."

This gets Geralt scowly and he leaves the tub. Possibly just because he's annoyed that after all that, still no sex. But I think most of it is because he thought he knew where things were going but now it's moved from her not saying what the payment is to her lying about what the payment is. Planning to spring the price on him once he can't back out is bad. But lying about what the price is? Way, way worse.

Geralt gets dressed and heads back to check on Jaskier, both because he's generally concerned for Jaskier and because he's now got even more reason to worry about why she's doing this -

Yennefer: "Do you doubt my capabilities?"
Geralt: "No. Just your intentions."

- after all, Geralt was offering "anything" for her to help Jaskier, and then doubles down when suggesting he may have already agreed to being an indentured servant, so why would she try to hide what she's going to do? The most likely option at this point is that it's something that'll hurt Jaskier, since that's the one form of payment it's obvious Geralt would object to.

(Geralt also complains about his magically provided new set of clothes being tight, meaning either he considers wearing them part of doing what Yennefer demands or he really doesn't want to have to put unwashed clothing back on.)

Geralt: "I said some things to him. He's a..."
Yennefer: "A friend?"
Grealt: "I'd like it not to be the last thing he remembers."

I think this is more Geralt trying to get his thoughts in order. What he's saying here is significantly more damning than that the guy's his friend. I suspect also that, just as he tries to watch his words around Jaskier, he's hesitating because he doesn't know if he's better off emphasizing his loyalty to Jaskier or denying it because he still can't get a read on Yennefer.

Yennefer: "He won't remember much if he's dead. (chuckles) It's a joke. He will survive. And recover his vocal talents."

Prior to this, Yennefer and Geralt seem to have been mostly on the same page, but I think Geralt's back to his usual "worst interpretation of everything" mode after she lied to him about payment. Geralt's reaction is in line not with thinking Jaskier is in continued djinn peril, but that Yennefer is going to kill him.

Yennefer: "Does that satisfy you?"
Geralt: "Not in the slightest. But don't reproach yourself for it, Yennefer. I'm not easily satisfied."

Now, this has to be here because it's a popular bit of the book. But it also fits with Geralt's view of Yennefer having changed abruptly after she lied to him about payment. He's much more combatant, which makes sense if he thinks he's about to go into a fight.

He then sees the djinn seal - which she presumably got out of his clothes which she got by getting him to bathe, so Geralt was quite right to be hesitant there - and finally puts together what's going on.

While Geralt doesn't like this  - "I'll be taking Jaskier now." - he gets less aggressive, because bad as it is, it seems it's a lot better than whatever absolutely worst case scenarios he had, or possibly it's just as bad but he's just calmer for knowing what's happening. I think it's possible that part of what was making him anxious is he couldn't see any rational reason for her to want to keep Jaskier, which made him increasingly worried she was planning something horrible because she just likes doing horrible things. Now he knows that Jaskier is incidental.

Unfortunately, Geralt's fears of a hostage are realized.

"If you wake him before he's healed, the spell won't take. That's no way to treat a friend, Geralt."

And we see here that Geralt is completely right to be uncomfortable admitting he cares about others. If she thought he didn't give a shit if Jaskier lived or died compared to stopping a djinn, she likely wouldn't have set the spell up that way. She might even have not attempted this at all.

Geralt: "You want the djinn, but the amphora's broken. The djinn's already long gone."
Yennefer: "Do go on. Tell me how stuff works. The djinn is tied to this plane and its master. How many wishes did the bard express before he lost his voice?"
Geralt: "You need Jaskier to make his last wish so you can capture it."

Since we know he's not exactly a djinn expert, it's hard to tell if he's wrong with his first claim and then realizing when she explains or if he was lying in the hopes she'd stop and gives up on that when he learns she knows better.

Geralt: "The djinn will fight you. If you try and bend it--"

At which point she demonstrates she's certainly able to bend Geralt to her will.

Now, here's a question - did she need to do that? The only reason he's been suspicious is because she's been avoiding giving him any idea what she wants. If she'd just said she wanted him to go beat some people up for being assholes, well, I again point to how he had no problem walloping the guard on the way in.

We also know for sure that he doesn't seem to hold a grudge over what she made him do - but, that doesn't actually prove he'd have done it of his own free will.

Looking at the first episode, it's easy to view Geralt as someone who values his choices and doesn't want to be used as a tool for others, but from the fifth episode, we now have the context to look at Geralt spending the episode trying to avoid getting used by either side as him really and honestly having issues with being asked to choose. He also doesn't want bad things to happen, but that's not where his focus is. 

So, why isn't Geralt mad about the mind control? Probably because he doesn't actually mind the mind control. His issue is feeling guilty for making the wrong choice, which is why he keeps trying not to make any choice at all. Mind control means he didn't have to choose. It makes it not his fault. While he might've been scarred over Blaviken no matter what, I would guess if Stregobor had pulled this off and forced him to do it he'd have been less fucked up than he is for choosing it.

Although it may help that here he doesn't care much about the things that happened.

"You...attacked a pawnbroker in his shop, kicking him in the delicate places. You also dragged the apothecary into the street, pulled down his pants and thrashed his arse with a belt."

So, assault but not murder. And Chireadan goes on to say that they're on the town council, and Geralt earlier indicated he's not really a fan of how the authorities run things around here.

Chireadan goes on to explain they're super, super fucked, because the council members are also the ones who sentence people.

Chireadan: "It is sure to be death."
Geralt: "I suppose that's one way of getting some rest."

Here's something to consider - Geralt has learned an unknown amount of time has passed since Yennefer made it clear she was going to summon the djinn. I think he assumes Jaskier's likely dead and that's informing his acceptance of the situation. It could be intentionally because that's the safest/easiest way for Yennefer to resolve the wish issue, as a result of something going wrong with the djinn summoning, or because Yennefer was only keeping Jaskier alive in the first place because she needed time to hit Geralt with the spell.

Chireadan then says he's in love with Yennefer and says Geralt's the same, then they're distracted by the guard coming in.

"Did not know you were a witcher. I've always wanted to play with one."

Is the guard able to do this because Geralt's a witcher, or is this a normal perk of the job and it's just the guard chooses him right now because of being a witcher?

The guard proceeds to beat up Geralt while telling really horrible jokes, and at least one of those two things pisses Geralt off (this is a departure from the short story, incidentally, where Geralt just wants to stop getting punched and decides baiting the guy into hitting him in the head so he can pass out is his best option). Anyway, Geralt tells him to burst, he does, he realizes he's got the wishes.

This gets him moving, because if he's got the wishes Yennefer's attempt to bind the djinn has gone from a bad idea to an impossible one.

Jaskier: "Oh, Geralt. Thank the gods. I might live to see another day. We need to go."
Geralt: "Jaskier, you're okay."

So, like I said, I think Geralt's behavior in the jail is informed by the fact he thought it was likely Jaskier was already dead. He's here just in case.

It may also be the reason he shows up with his wish unmade is that he expected to have to burn it on saving Jaskier.

Jaskier: "I'm glad to hear that you give a monkey's about it."
Geralt: "Let's not jump to conclusions."

Geralt uses both his words and facial expressions to reflect his feelings. Jaskier brushes that away. Geralt loses his smile and goes along with it.

I think, in general, it makes most sense to read Geralt as making little to no effort to communicate his feelings, because he's learned there's no point. People will decide how he's feeling (or not feeling) based on what they want. But he doesn't seem to work at being particularly closed off. He doesn't need to be when displays of emotion routinely get ignored.

Now, at this point, Jaskier is heading away from the tower and Geralt is following him. He doesn't, yet, seem to think he needs to worry about what's happening with Yennefer. Quite likely, he thinks that Yennefer let him go because she tried and realized it wasn't working, and now she's given up.

He asks what was going on in there and Jaskier tells him what he saw, which convinces Geralt that Yennefer's plan is even worse than whatever he was previously picturing.

"What, you know this woman? Of course you know this woman."

This is a really interesting line! We haven't actually seen Geralt meet Yennefer-like characters before and even the ones that are mildly similar seem to be people Jaskier wouldn't know about. We know Geralt doesn't tell Jaskier about Renfri, it's unclear if he passed along the story about Ada (or Triss' part in it), and it's really unlikely Jaskier means Calanthe here. From this, however, it seems that while off-camera Geralt has been running into morally ambiguous, scary, and powerful women all the time while Jaskier groans in the background about Geralt's terrible decisions. If either of them are getting run out of town over women, it's probably not Jaskier, it's probably Geralt.

"She wants to become more powerful. But she'll die."

That's right, Geralt says a woman wanting to become more powerful is not, in fact, something worthy of death. The fact she will die is the problem. It is a bad thing he wants to prevent. I know it's a subtle, subtle message, but it's there.

Chireadan, taking his arm: "You have to go in there, don't you? I recognize the look. I know how you feel."
Geralt, shaking that arm off: "You're making me uncomfortable."

There are many ways you could interpret this.

Geralt may find Chireadan's "I love her! She's pure evil." to be something of a red flag. We don't really have the space to develop the situation enough that this reaction is understandable based on Yennefer's actual actions, which makes it come off as Chireadan possibly blaming her for the fact he's attracted to her.

Geralt could just really not want to have a feelings jam right now. Chireadan is way too open about his feelings, he doesn't even know this guy, he definitely doesn't want to be open back and it's clear Chireadan expects that...

And Geralt might think this is going in a "mutual pity handjobs while talking about how great Yennefer is" direction and he's just not into that.

Jaskier: "Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Do not tell me that this is finally the moment you've decided to actually care about someone other than yourself?"

Jaskier being mad about Geralt caring if he's okay or not this time could at least be down to a misunderstanding. But this is a lot bigger. This is Jaskier dismissing everything Geralt's ever done for him.

And Geralt does not defend himself at all.

I don't think he believes Jaskier when Jaskier says they're friends. I think he believes it's a much shallower, and fairer-weather, situation on Jaskier's end than it is on his. That Jaskier's not lying, exactly, but he doesn't mean the same thing when he says "friend'. So Jaskier turning on him as soon as things don't work out right? Yeah, of course. He's not going to be upset and argue because he already believed Jaskier feels this way about him.

Jaskier: "Leave the very sexy but insane witch to her inevitable demise!"
Geralt: "She saved your life, Jaskier. I can't let her die."

Now, there are several different ways take this statement.

1) She saved your life. I have to pay her back by saving her.

2) She saved your life. She's not someone who deserves to die.

The first is the more obvious one, but I think it's worth considering that Geralt has spent the episode trying to figure out what Yennefer's angle is. First he's anxious she won't help if he can't pay enough. Then he's anxious she's planning something horrible for Jaskier. Then I think he fears she outright killed Jaskier once he was no longer of use for her djinn plan, or at the least, that all she'd done was knock Jaskier out and she hadn't bothered healing him.  He's so happy and so relieved to see Jaskier alive and whole.

Now, "did not kill someone when they could" is not a super high standard to be holding people to. But we just saw Geralt with Calanthe last episode. He doesn't have high standards. (I think there was actually pretty good reason why Yennefer might've killed Jaskier, which makes not doing so more meaningful, but given Geralt's understanding of djinns and wishes I'm not sure that'd occur to him.) And from the fact he's initially moving away from the tower, I do think he originally believed Yennefer was going to use Jaskier in the djinn spell in some dangerous way, and now he's realizing she was telling the truth that Jaskier was just taking a while to heal because as soon as he did, she sent him out.

There's also that Geralt does not seem to care about holding to agreements, which generally correlates very strongly to more general "I have to do X because Y happened" mindset.

And 3) She saved your life. You shouldn't want her to die.

It's certainly worth considering who Geralt is speaking to, and that he may be choosing his words not necessarily to outline what he considers most important but based on what he thinks the other person does.

Geralt then heads in and finds Yennefer. Just as she did with Jaskier, she wants him out of there presumably because things are going badly, which proves Geralt right about her motives, which in turn means he can't leave. He explains he wants to help her.

Yennefer: "You seem to want to meet your end."
Geralt: "As do you."

Now, Geralt's right. At this point, Yennefer's tried to kill herself once, monologued about how death is the only way to win to a dead baby, and as will be covered more thoroughly in her side of the meta, engaged in a ton of risky behavior this episode.

The bath scene involved Yennefer drawing parallels between the two of them, and she's about to invoke another parallel when she claims "True transformation is painful." - something that did not apply to her fellow mages but does apply to witchers.

So from that, Yennefer's presumably right as well.

Like I said near the start, I think he knew a djinn wish would be dangerous. Getting mind-controlled by someone he's been warned is evil makes him mumble about a nap and his response to being told he's going to be executed is that it'll fix his sleeplessness problem.

But I don't think he's trying to get killed right now, simply because this is not the sort of problem you solve by dying. Either he'll die failing to save her or they'll probably both live.

Geralt: "Becoming the vessel for the djinn will have you lose control, not gain it!"

And certainly Geralt's doing quite well on his end of being able to understand what motivates Yennefer.

Yennefer's just annoyed he doesn't make his wish already, then gets mad at him for saying that he'll give her the wish.

Geralt: "Damn it, Yennefer! Tell me what you want!"
Yennefer: "I want everything!"

Now, if we compare the two characters, Mr. "I want nothing!" definitely seems like the more stable one compared to Ms. "I want everything!" But Geralt opens the episode unable to sleep and searching for a malevolent entity who uses banned magic. Yennefer's going a riskier route but hers also has the potential to actually succeed while Geralt's best is to keep treading water and it's just a matter of how long it'll be until he drowns. And he knows it. We don't see him suggesting people try to follow his philosophy because he knows it's not really the answer to his problems. He's given up on believing there's any answer to his problems and has learned to never aim higher than a way to make those problems less painful to endure.

I'm also not entirely sure what Geralt's thoughts on actual suicide are. We know he doesn't do it himself, but he doesn't particularly like himself. It's possible he somewhat idolizes people who can take such decisive and selfish action. Maybe all that's keeping him alive is the certainty it's against the rules and the sense he doesn't deserve to get out of this.

Geralt is told he can wish for anything, and it's unfortunately hard to tell if he's actually not tempted by offers like not having to be a witcher anymore or if it's just he's spent so long not thinking about stuff because he can't change it that he can't consider it even long enough to realize that it's finally a real option. I've seen the suggestion that he really should've wished to not be a witcher, but I think there's more than just denial to it - there's definitely elements of being a witcher he likes, things he hates that aren't about being a witcher, and also I suspect a good amount of his witcher-related trauma is based on what happened to him as a kid, which he already went through.

Geralt burns his final wish on something that resolves the situation. In the short story it's tying their destinies together and presumably it's something similar here, though there may be some other detail they'll introduce.

Then the ceiling comes down on them and Yennefer portals them both into the basement. She's exhausted/stunned and Geralt hovers over her anxiously, only to get shoved as soon as she opens her eyes.

Yennefer: "What did you do? You stopped me, didn't you? I nearly had it."
Geralt: "You had shit all. I saved your life!"

Geralt argues here despite usually not doing so. That's either a sign there's something particular about Yennefer or because this is a rare situation where it's stepping on Geralt's professional opinion that no, she totally did not nearly have it and he would know.

Instead of denying it, Yennefer just says that well she saved him back so he better not expect gratitude, and then suggests that anyway he did more harm by letting it loose because it's clearly an evil monster.

Geralt: "No more havoc than you. Djinns are only dark creatures when held captive."
Yennefer: "How can you be so sure?"
Geralt: "When did you last feel happy when you felt trapped?"

This is a return to their conversations having a good flow. Geralt at this point is pretty sure he understands what's going on with Yennefer. He knows the djinn twisted his wish to hurt Jaskier, but understands why it did so and bears the creature no ill-will. Similarly, he views Yennefer's actions as based on the circumstances she's in.

Of course, Geralt can't forgive absolutely everything.

Geralt: "And if you were going to portal us to safety, you could've taken us out of this shit town!"

Aside from being entertaining that this is where Geralt draws the line, I think it's relevant that Jaskier is currently right outside and Geralt has spent most of the episode trying to hover around him, and that just a moment ago he was walking next to Jaskier as they headed out of town. Geralt might possibly be wanting to avoid Jaskier after an already stressful day, but I think this probably comes down to Geralt is actually super anxious about the whole assaulted the town council and got put in jail awaiting death part. (If so, interesting he calms down enough to pass out anyway.)

Yennefer: "I had a plan!"
Geralt: (chuckles) And that was going swimmingly!
Yennefer: "It was. Like a drowning fish."

They're quiet for a moment, staring at each other. And then they bang!

We cut to Jaskier, who then finds them, and then he leaves and we stay with them.

Yennefer asserts afterward she was right that he'd be a good fuck.

Geralt: "I was right about you too."
Yennefer: "Which part? (silence) There was a number of things. Which part?"
Geralt: "Doesn't matter. My plan worked."
Yennefer: "There was no plan. You were making it up as you went along. Any fool could see."

So I'm often saying that lines are half true. In this case I think it's more that they're both right about different things. Yennefer's wholly right that Geralt was making it up as he went along, because he spends most of the episode trying to figure out what's happening. But we also know that for the same reason, Geralt can't be talking about most of the episode when he says he was right about Yennefer - he only figures out what's up with Yennefer at the end, and that's presumably the only point he's referring to when he talks about a plan too.

So what's both a plan and something that hinges on being right about Yennefer? Freeing the djinn frees up Yennefer to do as she pleases. She could retaliate for the loss of the djinn. Indeed, if she was malicious as Geralt was told she was, it wouldn't even be limited to retaliating - she'd have been only holding off on hurting people so long as she was distracted by trying to get the djinn, which would really match the idea the djinn becomes worse once it's no longer bound. Instead, she took a risk to save Geralt and did so immediately after he'd thwarted her.

Yennefer: "What did you wish for? Tell me. Geralt?"

But Geralt's passed out.

Now, it's possible Geralt went on to intentionally avoid the question after this point, but the one time we see her try to ask he's unable to hear her. We'll get a bit more of what he thinks about the wish next episode, and about how Yennefer might behave over on her meta, but I think it's important to point out from just this, there's no evidence that Geralt wouldn't tell her if she asked, or even that he thought there was any reason to keep it a secret. The viewers know Yennefer's going to react badly, but did Geralt?

In conclusion:

Is Geralt bad at feelings?

I would argue that no, he's not, at least not in the sense he's wrong.

When we see Geralt repress or avoid a feeling, it's because he doesn't feel he has any other option. It doesn't matter if Jaskier, or you, think Ciri's no big deal. It's a big deal for Geralt, and we'll get a glimpse into just how much over the next few episodes. He desperately wants to do something about it, and he can't. Repressing your emotions instead of acting to better your situation is only maladaptive if bettering your situation is an option.

Geralt is mean to Jaskier in their initial interaction. But he's under a lot of stress, he has good reason not to want to talk about sensitive subjects to Jaskier in particular, and once Jaskier decided they needed to talk about the child surprise, abrupt cruelty really was Geralt's only way out of the conversation. If someone consistently won't respect your boundaries, you're going to find ways to make them.

Moreover, "Jaskier, you're okay."/"I'm glad to hear that you give a monkey's about it." and "Do not tell me that this is finally the moment you've decided to actually care about someone other than yourself?" may not be the first time this kind of thing has happened. Certainly they're well in line with how he talks to Geralt last episode, and Geralt doesn't seem surprised or make the slightest attempt to defend himself. For whatever reason it would seem Geralt doesn't expect Jaskier truly cares if they're friends or not, so there's little point in trying to be demonstrative.

And we also have Yennefer take the fact Geralt cares about Jaskier to correctly guess that Geralt will not be able to do anything until Jaskier's healed, so being open with his feelings just puts people at risk.

Geralt was probably telling the truth about wanting that nap. That said, that doesn't tell us what he'd do once he realized the power he had. There should really be fic speculating on what he'd do if he knew he had the wishes at the start, because there's so many interesting possibilities for what he'd wish for. Also, if Geralt knew a bit more about djinns and realized he had the wishes in time to use one to "accidentally" end up in a coma, it's really likely it'd be Ciri who breaks it given Destiny needs to be fulfilled somehow and Geralt being unconscious until long after Ciri dies of old age isn't going to cut it. That could be quite interesting. Geralt skipping out on having to make peace with the child surprise thing only to be woken up by his kid?

Witchers canonically have slow heartbeats. While I know many descriptions are being built off cuddleporn logic, for fics where that isn't a factor, consider that witchers are far more likely to run cold than run hot. Slow heartbeats suggest they're designed to reduce energy consumption out of battle, and a lower resting temperature would fit with that. (It would also be consistent with their increased lifespan - mice live three years and salamanders thirty.) Also, starting colder makes it a lot less likely they'll overheat from exertion during a fight. (This is also a possible reason for being so Hollywood fatless, if during battle they're overclocking their systems and struggle to shed enough heat.) The main downside of a lowered body temperature is it significantly impairs your immune system, but witchers have ridiculously boosted ones so either theirs still functions at lower temperatures or they handle it like hibernating animals, occasionally spiking their temperature and then cleaning out infections while warm. (Either they naturally do this every week or two, or it's assumed that they'll be getting into fights and heating up regularly enough to accomplish it, in which case there might be problems if they're inactive too long. And to cycle back to porn logic, if you're going with the idea witchers have increased libido this could be why that'd be in the design. There sure isn't any other reason.)

How much is Geralt willing to do for Jaskier? A lot. He says he'll pay any price and he expresses concern about what he's agreed to, so he thinks it's possible Yennefer's going to want something unpleasant and he's decided he's going to do it. That said, what he wonders aloud about is if he's an indentured servant which strongly suggests he's expecting the problem to be that she's going to demand an excessive amount of deeds rather than that she's going to demand horrible deeds.

Does that mean Geralt would get raped for Jaskier, or other worthy causes? So again, I realize a lot of this is that porn logic is in play, but it really does not seem like Geralt's default reaction to someone getting rapey is to lie back and think of witchering. We've seen Geralt's capable of saying no to people (episodes 1 and 4) and of deciding he doesn't want to do something (episodes all of them). Indeed, refusing to do what someone wants appears to be the area Geralt is best at asserting himself. He's bad at saying he wants things but he's very good at saying he doesn't want things. Overall, he does not appear to be particularly easy to force to have sex and it's very unlikely happens to him a lot. Again - yes, sometimes that's just the kink. But it seems to be showing up outside of that and treated as a canon or near-canon element, and it's really not.  

Geralt by all appearances does want to have sex with Yennefer, and ideally also use that for his own benefit. He's frustated and concerned when she drops the flirting, and neither of those make sense for someone bracing themselves to be raped because they think it's their only option. His reluctance throughout makes much more sense with him being a smart, observant person who knows Yennefer is up to something, and indeed she is, and indeed that includes even her getting him to take a bath. I understand that some people have been raised in cultures with puritanical views on sex where sex out of marriage with someone other than your true love Jaskier is very, very wrong, but not everyone is part of your fucked up purity cult and the characters we see here are definitely not.

"Okay, but I do think Geralt has issues." No, no, I agree with that. His behavior with Yennefer, especially the opening interaction, has some echoes of how he acted with Calanthe threatening him, and I think it would make sense to classify his interest in Yennefer when he doesn't know her and all the evidence he does have is that she's possibly dangerous as engaging in risky behavior. This is the same episode Geralt tries to Sleeping Beauty himself, may not have been entirely joking that being hanged is at least a rest, and Yennefer herself accuses him of trying to meet his end. But there is a lot of room between absolutely 100% pure unproblematic sex and rape. Geralt is already engaging in transactional sex when he hires a sex worker. If you believe Geralt doing anything similar is him getting raped, then he raped the woman he was with in the third episode. (Which perhaps people are fine with, given the amount of fic where Geralt's having sex with terrified prostitutes and it's presented like he's the victim because it makes him sad they don't want to fuck him. But if we must have ship-warring by calling a character a rapist I think the arguments should at least be limited to people who agree rape is bad.)

I think what Geralt actually doesn't like is surprises. He seems most unhappy when he can't put together why Yennefer's acting the way she does. And this makes a lot of sense for someone who probably doesn't have nice things happen often. (This would also be another reason he might be extra tense around Jaskier.)

Geralt does not need to apologize to Jaskier for the djinn almost killing him. Either no one is to blame, because it was a series of events no one intended to happen or could have foreseen, or Jaskier is, because he was both the one who started fucking around with the jar and triggered it, and the one who then provoked Geralt by trying to use all three wishes and then yelling at Geralt over it, and also Geralt does everything in his power to try to save Jaskier throughout the episode which is worth significantly more than an apology anyway.

This episode is full of Geralt going to great lengths for Jaskier's wellbeing. How much of that registered to Jaskier is an open question, but you the viewer have access to all of it so have no excuse for long rambles about how Jaskier has done so much for Geralt while all Geralt does is take him for granted. Thus far, Geralt has risked his wellbeing for Jaskier in every episode Jaskier appears while Jaskier has written songs that benefit them both, said Geralt owned him for it, and wouldn't even do so much as trying to change the subject when the noblemen went after Geralt at a party Jaskier made him attend. Even assuming Jaskier was cut to the absolute core by the upcoming Time Geralt Raised His Voice Oh My God How Could He, it would still be absurd to think Geralt is the one who owes Jaskier an enormous debt, and it would be outright abusive of Jaskier to demand Geralt grovel about being a bad friend compared to Jaskier and promise to do even more for him.

"But what about all the times Jaskier helped with Geralt's sleeping problems by singing him lullabies?" Like the bath and the decidedly untender hair-washing, not only do we never see evidence of this popular bit of fanon but this episode sinks the idea. Jaskier does not recognize signs Geralt's exhausted, thinks it's an unusual state when Geralt tells him that's what's going on, and instead of comforting him riles him up further by insisting the solution is to talk about what's upsetting him. What helps with Geralt's sleeping problem is Yennefer.

Relatedly, jesus christ stop talking about how unlike that bitch Yennefer Jaskier respects that Geralt doesn't want to talk about his scars.

It is, however, entirely plausible that although Geralt has done so, so much for Jaskier, Geralt is willing to believe Jaskier doesn't see it that way and the dialogue near the end of the episode is representative of how he always feels. It is not, after all, much different than what Jaskier said to him last time about how Geralt owed Jaskier for the songs as if Geralt had done nothing on his side of value. And that's another good reason for Geralt to avoid actual apologies. If Jaskier has the same opinion as so much of fandom, that if Geralt wants to be forgiven he needs to make it up to Jaskier because Geralt has no stored credit in the relationship and his past deeds mean nothing, then it's much wiser for Geralt to never admit anything Jaskier could use against him like that.

Finally: "What, you know this woman? Of course you know this woman." I know why people aren't using that as a springboard for fic but I still really think it should be, especially considering how many fics I see that open with Geralt casually murdering the local witch because somebody told him to. Maybe he could be trying to actually help a woman now and again instead.

Chapter Text

So, Yennefer!

She's meeting with some guy, who's apparently named Hemet.

Hemet: "You're a wee bit shy."
Yennefer: "I've never been shy a day in my life. Count it again."
Hemet: "Times are shifting, my dear. My rates have gone up since last we spoke."

So we see here that things are sketchy. He's doing some weird power play where instead of saying the price went up directly, he says she doesn't have enough and only rewords it once she gets more aggressive.

"Shy" is, of course, quite the word choice.

1) Yennefer may be lying through her teeth that she's always been in control.
2) Yennefer may truthfully be saying that, in her opinion, she's always paid up.

I like the idea it's kind of both. What we're seeing here is establishing the persona Yennefer's made for dealing with people around her - and it is a stark departure from how she was acting in the previous episode, so this probably isn't who she was at court but something that came after the failure and near death experience. But also, Yennefer has paid and paid and paid. Again and again, she was told she had to do something, and she did it. She's tired of being told it's still not enough.

Hemet: "I've found more demand for my services."
Yennefer: "Then your customers will be awfully disappointed when they find a charred spot where you once stood."
Hemet: "None more so than yourself. You've come so far already. Just a few more...treatments should do the trick."

So Yennefer's been paying this guy, either with stored money (or items she's converting to funds) or by doing work of some kind. That she's bringing exactly enough money points toward the latter, but she could also be worried bringing extra money would get her robbed. And Hemet's about to bring up that she could get money by doing magic, so she apparently hasn't been doing that before now.

We haven't had it confirmed yet that Yennefer is not going to be able to regrow lost organs - indeed, we don't even know that's what she wants yet - but you can tell that this is not a trustworthy source and so his promise that if she keeps paying him it'll work before long is suspect. Does Yennefer know this? Harder to say - if Triss is anything to go by, mages are just terrible judges of people. But Yennefer is also not just desperate to regrow her organs, she's desperate for a goal. We saw her without one in the fourth episode. She needs something to work toward. I think that makes her willing to try things even if she's aware it probably won't work, because she'd rather chase increasingly unlikely things than have no idea what to do next.

We also see Yennefer is significantly more aggressive in conversation than before and she escalates rapidly. "I've never been shy a day in my life. Count it again." ... "Then your customers will be awfully disappointed when they find a charred spot where you once stood." She's not exactly picking a fight, because she's not initiating, but she's extremely reactive. She's going to keep this trait across the second half of the show.

Is this new? By all appearances. We don't see it last episode. Yennefer is depressed at the time, so her behavior then likely wasn't entirely normal, but she managed to say vague and polite non-answers when Kalis first tried to talk to her that sure sound like she had company manners and no problem keeping to them. It doesn't seem like this is normal behavior for a court mage either (Triss is clearly not able to talk like this, and while she's just one example, Geralt doesn't seem to think the problem is her being unusually doormaty for a mage, and what Tissaia says court mage life is like suggests you have to be good at taking abuse, not giving it) so it seems Yennefer likely couldn't have been acting like this at court. However, it's not that far off from what we see from her in the third episode where when things start going wrong, she lays into first Tissaia and then Istredd, so it's not entirely new either.

I think it's a mix: one of the first things we see from Yennefer is that she'll lash out if stressed enough, she's in another situation where behaving herself got her nowhere so now she won't bother, and there's the new element that she's on her own and extremely aware of her limitations in a fight so she's trying to present herself as dangerous to fuck. Bristling at minor comments is a good way to get people to back off instead of continuing to test you.

(According to the timeline, it's sixteen years between last episode and now - perhaps a bit less, if you assume this section of the episode takes place a while before Geralt shows up.)

Hemet says that it's so great how they've "chosen" this life. "Not being bound by the rules of the Brotherhood." He does not clarify what about the Brotherhood rules is the problem. Does he do stuff they ban, or is it just that his time is his own? We do know that Istredd was concerned about how much time he'd have left for his archeology hobby after doing his court work.

And as for Yennefer, did she decide to go rogue because she assumed the Brotherhood wouldn't let her get a new uterus, or did she run off because of what happened, then since she was already rogue, hey, why not pursue her own goals? It seems plausible either way - Yennefer is upset enough at the end of the last episode that it's believable she'd feel she just couldn't stand to go back and believable she'd think that meant she had to completely break ties with the Brotherhood (I would suspect there have been a number of unnecessary defections where the mage just panics, having been raised to believe the Brotherhood does not suffer failures), but also Yennefer does best with a goal she's heading toward, so she might've only left the beach once she decided she was going to find a way to have a baby of her own. We know that she's definitely not enjoying her freedom - "Living off the grid with no resources. Mm. It's a dream come true." - which means for whatever reason, she feels she didn't have much choice about cutting ties, and that she's scared enough of the Brotherhood she's making some effort to stay out of their sight.

Hemet: "Lucky for you, you found your way to an intolerant kingdom. For quick coin, head to the nearest town in any direction. Your skills will be rewarded."
Yennefer: "If it's as you say, then why aren't you out there taking advantage? As you're so inclined."
Hemet: "Because my customers...come to me."

So, this is also very suspect. It's not impossible that this is a matter of Hemet being able to charge a smaller number of people a lot more, as he's implying, but Yennefer just mentioned that non-Brotherhood mages have to stay off the grid.

It would seem Yennefer gets this, because she's the one who brings it up. But at the same time, she also hates admitting any weakness.

Also, she doesn't have any other option.

She can't give up on it because this is incredibly important to her. She also can't give up because failure is death. And in addition, she can't give up on it because it's the one thing she has left that's motivating her. She was depressed and directionless before fixating on this and it's what's keeping her moving now. Even if she was capable of abandoning her goals, she doesn't want to, because the void of purpose is even worse.

Hemet: "I see a lot of myself in you. Follow my footsteps."

This is the same thing she heard from Tissaia.

Hemet: "You could gain some repute. Find a whole new career to fund what you...so desperately want. With mages like us, word of mouth is paramount."
Yennefer: "There is no "us." There's only me. And I know a thing or two about stirring word of mouth."

...She puts up a sign.

I mean, that works, given we see a line that appears to contain much of the town, but.

(On the issue of timeline, I did find it interesting that we fade from Yennefer saying that to an establishing far shot of lake with a town next to it. Big transitions like that are often used here to indicate we've jumped timelines. Here, we're staying with Yennefer, but possibly that's meant to indicate she's been doing this for some time.)

So, what's Yennefer selling?

Well, the one customer we see wants a cure for erectile dysfunction, so magic sex drugs, and she'll go on to run a magic-heavy orgy, so we know that's on the table. In the seventh episode we learn that she also knows about magic non-sex drugs, so she's probably selling those too. But we don't see customers browsing a selection of items but chatting with Yennefer.

Woman: "I'd given up altogether. Love, that's nice, but not on the cards for me. Not in my lifetime. It took me nearly a whole one to find him."
(they proceed to make out)
Man: "As you can see, passion is not the trouble. Our issue...my... issue is of a mechanical nature."
Yennefer: "Hm. I have just the thing. Now, be prepared. The spell should take effect quickly, and will endure until your lady utters a handpicked magic word. Anything come to mind?"
Woman: "Kumquat?"
Yennefer: "You arrived at that rather quickly. Kumquat it is."

Yennefer is doing individual consultations. Her sign isn't vague because she has any sort of shame about running a sex magic shop but because she's inviting people to come in, explain at length whatever their problem is and then have her fix it.

Or, put another way, Yennefer likes socializing. Yennefer is introduced to us holding out a flower. She bonds with the people she meets at Aretuza. She looks forward to getting to take part in court gossip. She feels an important addition to sex is an illusionary crowd. Her explanation to the baby corpse about how, actually, being alive is the real mistake, is heavy on how no one really cares about you. What we're seeing her do now fits with elements we've seen before. Yennefer wants positive attention and Yennefer likes helping people. "Talk to me about your problems, let me prove my worth by giving a solution, and tell me you're impressed by what a good job I did."

This is absolutely not the most efficient way of getting cash. We even see that she's only getting a couple of coins and they're mixed denominations at that. While I dispute fandom's characterization of Yennefer as mindraping people left and right to get anything she wants, I do agree that she probably could, especially given she can also teleport. There must be wealthy nobles with bad enough security Yennefer can get into the coffers with both speed and ease.

Also, while we will be getting to Yennefer not exactly grasping best kink practices, of all the characters she's the only one who's definitely familiar with the concept of safewords. "Yes but does she actually use them?" I mean, she's using one right here. The thing is fandom is really weird about safewords these days. They're for a particular purpose, not another check of the list of How To Do Sex Right. We really have not seen any sign Yennefer is into rape roleplay where a regular no is part of the scene - it wouldn't be OOC if she did it, but we know she does other things because we're seen those. And for everything else, you can say you want to stop by saying words like "stop". The scene with her and Istredd has him just use his regular conversational words to discuss kink instead of going "Yellow!" over the illusion crowd.

Are people in this universe generally familiar with safewords? Moreso than fandom, I'd say. "Kumquat" is a proper safeword, as is "ragamuffin". It's not supposed to be something incredibly deep and meaningful, just something that you wouldn't say by accident. (And it's definitely not "Piglet" or some other thing associated with trauma. Stop overthinking word choice, please.) I think it's reasonable to say characters could grasp this, meaningful consent, basic safety practices with bondage, etc.

Is Yennefer "safe" about this? Nooot really, I don't think. As erectile dysfunction commercials have taught us, she really should've set it to auto-end within four hours even if the word isn't said. (I mean, she might have and just not mentioned it, but I doubt it.) I'd guess Yennefer is selling things that are completely safe if used as intended and if nothing unforeseen happens. I will say that the fact she casts the spell on the guy right there instead of packaging the magic for them to trigger in the privacy of their own home does mean no one can come to her saying they want something for their personal use that they're actually going to cast on someone else, which rules out a lot of chances for misuse. She's not being willfully blind about obvious fallout, but I think she's kind of naive about potential problems.

(We know Yennefer can also read minds, which does mean you're harder to mislead but might also make you overconfident, especially when I really doubt mages actually have a very good idea of what normal looks like. "So is this person acting under duress?" "Nah, I only see the regular amount of 'I'll be killed if I don't'.")

That all said - this isn't her being irresponsible yet. This is the very beginning of what I think is her slowly pushing the boundaries sure she's got it under control and no one will get hurt.

Mayor: "What is this...wretched business here?"
Yennefer: "Did you not understand the sign?"
Mayor: "Are you familiar with who I am?"
Yennefer: "................Well, won't you end this rather melodramatic suspense and tell me?"

Now, as I said, I think Yennefer understood this was risky, then grit her teeth and did it anyway because she didn't see another option. And I think that psyching herself up for the Brotherhood itself to come down on her left her out of fucks for anyone not superpowered and about to kill her. Living in the shadow of the worst-case scenario can be freeing.

But this is totally not Yennefer being wooo girlboss! This is Yennefer being self-destructive. This is Yennefer assuming that if a bad thing is about to happen to her, she must be on the right track to getting what she wants, so instead she embraces it.

We were told she's in an "intolerant" kingdom which is why she'll be able to make money providing magic, and over in Geralt and Jaskier's bit, we're told by Chireadan that, "The mayor says [mages] are dangerous." But what she's told right now is, "Perhaps you are not aware of the rules here? If you are casting spells, I need to collect what's due to the kingdom."

Yennefer refuses: "I'm afraid those terms seem rather shite to me."

So, it's funny that Yennefer is arrested because she just won't pay taxes, but I admit the surrounding information does suggest the tax isn't one you actually can pay because the real purpose an indirect way to prevent mages from being able to sell their services. (And an excessive tax was the problem in the short story - not unpayable exactly, but enough to make it not worth the time of a mage to do spells.) Of course, one might also question if Yennefer actually knows that if she doesn't know who the mayor is. Then again, one might question if Yennefer does know and is just choosing to be as annoying as possible.

Now, let's pause for a minute for Chireadan, because if he's to be believed, he interacted with Yennefer prior to this scene.

"I...was tasked with bringing this mage to justice. But I was unable to penetrate certain defenses." Which, if he's telling the truth, means he already showed up but, I guess, slunk back out when Yennefer asked what was so confusing about the sign. Seriously, what defenses? The mayor appears to overcome them by walking up to her and saying if she doesn't pay up he'll arrest her. It does suggest Yennefer had the tax code explained to her already because Chireadan seems like that sort of person, so on balance, she probably knows exactly what the terms are even if she doesn't care and would've objected to anything, but I guess it's possible Chireadan means he was so intimidated by her he couldn't even walk into the store.

Did she sleep with Chireadan? "But I was unable to penetrate certain defenses." is funny no matter how it went, really - euphemism for the fact he didn't get to stick anything in despite trying, euphemism for the fact fucking him was her impenetrable defense, euphemism for the fact the defense was she's so intimidatingly hot he couldn't get within sight of her and they've never so much as spoken.

And finally, "Be careful. The mage is powerful and malicious. And quite cunning."

We never get an explanation for what exactly is going on that left Chireadan this bitter, especially when at the same time he thinks that of course you'd to risk your life if there was any chance to save her. And again, this would appear to be based on something she's already done, but the couple talking to Yennefer don't seem to have the slightest concern that she's powerful, cunning, and malicious, nor do the people waiting in line show any sign of trepidation. And, of course, the mayor thinks he's safe enough to walk in and make demands in person. Wherever Chireadan's getting this, it doesn't seem to be part of Yennefer's normal act. Either he's seeing something other people miss or she acted very differently toward him in particular.

I'd think that he's an elf factors in somewhere - we've got Yennefer's belief her mixed blood is the root cause of everything wrong and her fear of anyone finding out, but also she still identifies enough with the group that Istredd saying positive things about elves meant a great deal to her. Possibly she was nice to him and he misinterpreted that as meaning she was interested, then got upset when she wasn't. Possibly she's both been awful at him and yet not awful in the normal racist way he's familiar with, which has left him confident she's a bad person but still really into her. It's also possible that she's more identifiable to elves than humans, or it's possible Chireadan has no idea but she's reacting badly anyway because she thinks he does.

And it's possible that Chireadan was very persistent about her paying the tax and she kept portaling him into the lake (though it's unclear why the mayor seems so fearless in that case). And it's possible none of this happened and it was as simple as him being infatuated and her saying no.

(Doylistly, Chireadan's pronouncements are standing out here because a lot of the details of the short story were changed. There is an enormous amount of talk regarding the political situation in the short story that would've taken up a similarly enormous amount of time here, and also it's the first time we meet Yennefer and so there's a lot of tension about if Yennefer will even bother to help Jaskier when she's far out of their price range. Geralt needs to go into this situation told that Yennefer is a sell you to Satan for a corn chip person.)

But back to the shop and Yennefer's hatred of taxes. The mayor brought shackles.

"I did suspect you possessed such a predilection. Though I am less...burly than your usual type."

She's specifically looking at the guy he came in with. Yennefer is not only the only character to broach the concept of safewords, but also she says the mayor's gay and into bondage, and she will, as fandom has brought up regularly, soon ask if Jaskier is "just a friend" of Geralt's.

Is homosexuality relatively well-known and a relatively reasonable thing to bring up, is this Yennefer being annoying, or has Yennefer been talking about sex nonstop since she got there and can't even remember what you are and aren't supposed to say in public? It's really hard to say, especially given what happens next.

Yennefer decides that being arrested can be a sex thing if you want it to be!

While this is not a unique response to getting shackled, Yennefer one-ups most other characters by successfully making it a sex thing, given the next time we see the mayor he's walking about naked.

We see Yennefer herself before that. She's painting her lips in front of a mirror and Tissaia shows up.

Tissaia showing up, of course, means the Brotherhood as a whole could show up but Yennefer doesn't startle. I'd put that down mostly to what I said earlier about how I think she's already braced herself for the Brotherhood showing up, but partly it does seem she doesn't fear Tissaia in particular - though I'm not sure that's because she thinks Tissaia cares about her or if it's actually down to Yennefer assuming Tissaia can't do anything either way because Tissaia failed her once and that means Tissaia's always totally powerless. Could be both.

Tissaia opens the conversation critiquing Yennefer's fashion sense.

Tissaia: "You like pain. We get it."
Yennefer: "I inflict pain."
Yennefer: "My dear, you still think there's a difference."

This is actually an important philosophical point they're arguing. Both of them agree that the world runs on pain. Yennefer is saying there's two types of people, the ones who get hurt and the ones who hurt others, and Yennefer's decided she can get control by intentionally being the one who does the damage. Tissaia, who is here because she and Yennefer are entangled in a relationship where they hurt each other, says you can't, they're the same thing.

Tissaia says she hasn't seen Yennefer "since you maneuvered your way onto Aedirn's court". We don't know if Yennefer cut ties with everyone, but we'll find out in Ep7 she refused to have anything to do with Istredd, so she definitely lost her two main relationships. She was unlikely to stay in touch with Fringilla for many reasons, and Sabrina's still on Tissaia's side so possibly not there either. And, of course, we know that by the end of the fourth episode she's claiming to have no relationships. I think she must have been in contact with Triss because Triss says she was looking for Yennefer after Yennefer disappears and doesn't seem to understand why Yennefer would avoid her, while Istredd and Tissaia make it clear Yennefer would have nothing to do with them from the fight onward, so possibly Yennefer was still in contact with everyone save the specific people she's upset at. She still likely wouldn't trust any mage not to screw her over and a lot of them may have been concerned getting close to her would be bad for their own prospects, so with that plus the growing depression, you can still see how she'd end up feeling completely disconnected from everyone.

Yennefer: "King Virfuril is fine, I'm sure."
Tissaia: "He's dead now. King Demavend reigns now."

It's been forty years, Tissaia. People, like flowers, die.

Possibly this jab is solely about the fact Yennefer just isn't paying attention to the kingdom, but...so what? Yennefer's initial fixation on going back to the kingdom of her birth wasn't particularly healthy either, and then she was miserable there, and she's got other things to worry about now, why should she be keeping up on the matter? If the point is "look you used to care about that and now you don't" well, Yennefer gets that, it's part of why she's so upset.

This is why I think Tissaia's side of the conversation is not entirely honest. She has a goal here, of getting Yennefer to agree this was a mistake and she should come back home, and she's going to use every angle she can.

Tissaia: "Down south, Fringilla's thrived in the post that should've been yours. The rightful heir returned to Nilfgaard and she's helped him restore peace."

Now, we saw this happen. We know Tissaia did not think that it should have been Yennefer's, we know she outright told Yennefer it was only happening over Yennefer's blood not being pure enough, and we know the other side of the argument was that it shouldn't be Fringilla's because Fringilla's relative wanted her to have a better post and the Nilfgaard one was shit. Hell, we know the guy in charge of the whole thing was Stregobor. We also know Tissaia is wrong about other elements of this - from what little we've seen of Fringilla, "thrived" is not really how I'd put it. As I argued the first time she tried to tell Yennefer about the Nilfgaard post, I don't think Tissaia's good at intentionally lying to someone else, but I do think she's very good at lying to everyone including herself. She's shifting around the details of what really happened so that a messy situation is smoothed out in hindsight.

Now, a magic dragon will go on to imply Yennefer really would've handled it better, but no one there knew any of this would happen, there's enough variables it's unclear if Yennefer would've handled it better in all circumstances or just some of them, and also, given how astoundingly badly Fringilla is actually handling it, "better" isn't saying much. (And this is all without getting into the question of if said magic dragon was using his abilities to tell the truth or saying what he thought they needed to hear at the moment. But more on all this next episode.)

Yennefer: "Why are you here?"
Tissaia: "You remained hidden for a while, but now, you're making noise. You're looking for something. You're wasting your time. The so-called mages you're enlisting will not help you with your problem. And if you're not careful, you will become just like them...irrelevant."

Here's a point where knowing the exact timeline would be nice. It's not clear if "making noise", "looking for something" with "so-called mages" is referring to just what Yennefer does after opening the shop, or if she's been getting steadily more obvious over the years and has been on the Brotherhood's radar for a while now - if so, that'd mean they react astoundingly slow. On the other hand, if this is all about Yennefer's post-store behavior, that suggests she's been hanging out in this town for at least a moderate amount of time, and has been nipping out to contact other mages during it.

I think the simplest timeline is that once Yennefer gets into contact with other mages, the Brotherhood knows she's doing so, as it's really unlikely she's better able to find rogue mages than the Brotherhood, but that most of what Tissaia's complaining about here is recent when she's officially given up on hiding, and has been going on for at least weeks at this point. We know Yennefer can't have ever been all that obvious, though, since Triss had no idea what happened to her. Either Yennefer is only obvious by the standards of whoever's in charge of tracking rogue mages, or those people work to cover it up because they don't want Brotherhood-affiltrated mages to be able to get into contact with runaways and part of what's irritating them is Yennefer is now so obvious it's started to require them to run interference on people like Triss.

It's also possible Tissaia is flat-out lying.

Tissaia: "You are pure chaos right now. You want a cure, and it's making you sloppy."

Tissaia could be intervening because she's worried the rest of the Brotherhood is going to come for Yennefer soon, but we know Tissaia's philosophy is also that chaos is incredibly dangerous and must be kept under strict control. She doesn't need to believe an outside force is coming for Yennefer because she thinks Yennefer is a risk to herself, and we do know magic can hurt the user. Look at how she talks here - not "reckless", which could go down to a difference of opinion about what's worth a risk and implies you're still going anywhere, but "sloppy", objectively bad for no good reason accomplishing nothing. Similarly she talks about the others Yennefer's in contact with as "so-called" and "irrelevant". Her initial argument is all about Yennefer being a proper mage and living up to proper standards, and that she should be ashamed to be slumming with the other dropouts.

Tissaia: "The Brotherhood left you to your own devices once you abandoned Aedirn."

This is probably true on some level because as I said, I don't think Tissaia's great at lying. The question is if that means much or if the Brotherhood pretty much never does anything and spins it as a choice they're making. It may even be that this is some degree of snub, that if Yennefer had been more important someone would've followed up on this instead of shrugging and letting it happen.

Here's another interesting thing - do they actually know what happened? The only survivors were Yennefer, who probably hasn't told anyone, and the hired mage, who also probably hasn't told anyone. Yennefer looks to have been using her untraceable portal spell, so they'd have to have been tracing the other mage's magic, and he probably has his own tricks. From the outside, there's just a pile of stabbed guards around an empty carriage, and that's assuming there wasn't a second round of cleanup.

Assuming the evidence was largely left alone, they can probably put together that the most likely event is what happened - outside mage attacked, Yennefer tried portaling the survivors of the first attack clear only for them to get murdered on one of the subsequent jumps. If it wasn't, they might still be able to guess the basics of an attack by another mage, or they might not even know that much. (At least going by Triss, mages do not seem particularly good at interpreting crime scenes, and certainly Stregobor's description of his idea of evidence-gathering was to ask one person with an agenda to tell him what was going on.) They may not even be able to tell that Yennefer did anything as opposed to just fucking off when the attack started, or even being in cahoots with whoever did it. (And they would have no idea Yennefer was already unhappy with the post, because she wasn't talking to Tissaia or Istredd and probably wasn't saying much to anyone else either.)

Either the Brotherhood displayed a shocking amount of competency in figuring out what happened to a degree unmatched by anything else we've seen from them...or, there was a perfectly good chance Yennefer murdered the people involved herself and everyone decided that, well, they could ask Yennefer if she was a mass murderer when/if she came back and until then it didn't really matter.

(And from what we see in the seventh episode, I think the mages are pretty forgiving of anything that doesn't threaten their own position, murder included.)

Tissaia: "But this behavior, flaunted in direct conflict with their agenda, will not be tolerated. They will come after you."
Yennefer: "That's why you're here. To warn me. How can I ever repay you?"
Tissaia: "Don't be petty."

We know Yennefer was absolutely afraid of the Brotherhood coming after her because she's been keeping her head down for a decade and a half. But Yennefer knew she was giving up on hiding at this point and has presumably psyched herself up for a confrontation, and Yennefer is also just going to do the opposite of what Tissaia says because it's Tissaia saying it.

And while that's probably mostly an emotional reaction...

Tissaia: "This is on you. You knew the cost of enchantment."
Yennefer: "But I didn't know what it would mean to me."

...Yennefer's not wrong that the last time she trusted Tissaia it went very badly for her.

Just as Tissaia is presenting the Nilfgaard situation as far better than it was, I think Yennefer has balled up everything that went wrong and put it in the box labled "Tissaia's fault". Yennefer's enchantment was way more traumatic than it was supposed to be and I don't think she's distinguishing how it actually went from how right before Tissaia was reassuring her it'd be great, or trying to consider if it makes sense to blame Tissaia for it being necessary to rush. I really don't think she's ever tried thinking about exactly why she's upset and realizing it has a lot to do with how it happened. (...among other things, we come back to the issue of how she doesn't have any relationships, so she would have no one to talk to about it.) She knows she's upset about it and that's it.

Tissaia: "What does it mean to you? Why? Why do you want a baby?"

So people are mad about this, and I do see why, but I honestly think this is a nigh-unique take on it.

Tissaia isn't trying to argue that it was worth it to lose the precious ability to have a baby in return for membership in a magic organization. She is absolutely fucking baffled this means anything to Yennefer in the first place. She'd love to argue with Yennefer about why she's insisting on doing this are if only she had the first clue why Yennefer's doing it.

Yennefer: "The Continent is vast. Just because you don't know of a cure doesn't mean there isn't one."

And Yennefer does not answer Tissaia's question. She can't. She knows she's upset and that's it.

Neither of them are coming at this from the viewpoint that it makes sense for women to want babies, or for there to be anything particularly special about giving birth to your own kid. Tissaia can't even figure out what Yennefer's thinking in the first place, and Yennefer can't explain either.

And the answers you're supposed to give are so familiar! You've surely seen them in all sorts of media - about being a real woman, about all women wanting babies, about nature itself demanding it. It'll take Yennefer until the seventh episode to manage to claw up an excuse even in the ballpark, and even that (babies real magic fake) is prompted by her spiraling over the idea her feelings for Geralt aren't real because magic.

So, yes, Yennefer's nominal goal is giving birth to a kid, and yes, we sure have seen that as a woman's motivation a lot, but I can't think of any media where everyone responds to that as if they personally have never heard of this.

Moreover, Tissaia's response is "uh, the school has kids? you can come help me traumatize those? (I assume that is why people want children)"

Tissaia: "It is time to move on. Return to Aretuza."
Yennefer: "No, thank you. Aretuza might be everything to you, but I'd rather forget it."
Tissaia: "Aretuza is everything to the Continent, to world order. I am here to offer you a chance for redemption. Aedirn, all of this nonsense, will be forgiven and forgotten. You can use your talents to shape a new generation."

And possibly this would mean something if it was better overlapping with Yennefer's real issues. But I think it's more likely it still wouldn't - as Yennefer says, she outright hates the place, and the recurring issue in this conversation is she doesn't trust Tissaia's promises. She was supposed to be shaping things when she went to court as well, and that sure didn't work out, and going to court was supposed to be her escaping Aretuza. Even without understanding the exact reasoning that made Yennefer fixate on babies, broadly, Yennefer is unhappy and trying to remedy that by trying new things, so getting her to repeat something that failed her once is going to be a particularly hard sell.

Yennefer's motivations are wanting to matter/wanting to do something lasting. "Help me maintain the status quo and also I could get anyone to do it, it's not like I actually need you or anything." is a really bad pitch.

Also, you know, her and Tissaia's relationship is a disaster.

Yennefer: "Am I hearing this right? The great Tissaia wants my help? What's the matter? Have you lost your touch?"
Tissaia: "Only you can be thrown a lifeline and think that you are saving me."

Tissaia, when pushed, is trying to threaten Yennefer despite Yennefer's track record of not particularly caring about herself. Or perhaps because of - you can easily see Tissaia reacting to Yennefer going ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in response to danger by thinking Yennefer must not get it so it needs to be explained more, leading to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and Tissaia tripling down while Yennefer tunes out completely. Moreover, Tissaia herself taught her that suffering is needed to accomplish anything, leading to Yennefer's belief that if she does suffer she'll get something out of it, which means "you'll get hurt" may sound an awful lot like "you're going in the right direction".

And that's before we get into that you can lay a good deal of the blame for Yennefer being like this on the fact it's not like doing what Tissaia said has historically gone that great. She's told again and again that life is unpredictable and cruel, and it is, and then the few times she's told there's supposedly a right choice that'll reliably lead to happiness, it doesn't work. Either it's completely random or Tissaia ia reliably wrong.

Yennefer: "You're afraid I'll be everything you could never be...without you. Which is the rub. You only want me to do well so long as you had your hand in it."

Just as Tissaia has her motivation in this conversation of shaming Yennefer into slinking back and doing what Tissaia says, Yennefer's motivation is to assert that Tissaia is mean and never loved her anyway. (It's entirely possible the final interaction with the djinn wouldn't have gone quite so badly if Tissaia hadn't shown up and gotten Yennefer stewing on the whole "You only want me to do well so long as you had your hand in it." thing.)

Tissaia: "How did we get this way? I gave you all I could give. What more do you want?"

So, for all I say Tissaia's being manipulative, what I really like about the relationship between the two of them is it's not that Tissaia is evil and just using Yennefer, and it's not that Tissaia actually did a good job and Yennefer's being unreasonable not to see it. Tissaia was trying to help Yennefer but she didn't know how.

And Yennefer gets that. She doesn't say, "So one day you told me if I didn't want to die I needed to manipulate my boyfriend and if the point was I'm not supposed to trust him don't you think it would've been better to just tell me not to trust him instead of making me trick and betray him and then feel horrible about it so I made a show of trust afterward that screwed me over horribly years later? And then right after that you turned my friend into an eel after making sure I'd see you do it and told me to shove her into the pool and that it was only because I did what you told me before that I wasn't also an eel, and this was in the space of a couple hours, Tissaia! I was fourteen! What the fuck is wrong with you?"

She understands that yes, that was Tissaia's best. Tissaia's best sucked.

Yennefer: "Everything. You may go, Rectoress. I have business to attend to."

This is the second part that will come up in her conversation with Geralt. "Why do you want a baby?" gets no answer. "What do you want?" does.

I think wanting choice is a lot more understandable as a motivation. But that's not exactly what Yennefer is saying here, because as usual, Yennefer taking it to an excessive degree.

Let's consider the main choice being discussed here - get some organs yanked out so you can never have kids or never become a king's sorceress (and maybe get eeled). Yennefer was told there was a right and wrong answer to this, but she ended up miserable anyway. And this isn't really the one and only time this has happened. Yennefer has been unhappy/thwarted with her own choices, she's been unhappy obediently doing what she's told, and then you have the enchantment which manages to be both Yennefer doing what she was originally told and doing something for herself and that too didn't work out. Clearly, there's no way to know what the right choice is.

Moreover... What other choice should she have made? There's been a lot of pixel ink spilled saying Yennefer should shut up and stop whining about hating her choices, because she should've made different ones if she didn't like it, but very little about what these great other choices were.

Her choice about going to Aretuza is overruled, as is her choice to kill herself to leave that way.

She has the choice of trusting Istredd with her secret or not, but that one's not exactly a matter of her intentionally choosing be betrayed or not, and who cares when it turned out to not change anything, and then on top of that it turned out she didn't like Aedirn, or being a court mage at all.

She's presented with the choice of push an eel into the water or get turned into one too.

The enchantment is a similar situation - we're told it happens to every mage who leaves Aretuza and the choice is supposed to be only about how you look when they're done with you. (And Yennefer will suggest later that sterilizing people in the process is a decision the Brotherhood made - so aside from that choice being yet another falsely weighted one, it's likely even if they allowed Yennefer to leave she'd still have to get a hysterectomy first.)

She could've chosen to go with Istredd and hold a dustpan for him, and we will see her actually consider that one later, probably because at that point she's at the point suicide looks appealing again.

So not only has it been consistently impossible for Yennefer to know what the right choice is in advance, even in hindsight there aren't any obvious choices that would've been better. And if that's how it works, you can't afford to ever choose.

That's why Yennefer isn't moving forward, she's just trying to regain options. Picking one thing over another has never worked for her.

(It's also why I don't like the idea it should be fixed by Yennefer undoing everything. Yennefer's right that it's a shitty choice. The moral here shouldn't be that only way she can get what she wants is by accepting crippling and painful deformity, or that she deserves her misery by choosing wrong.)

We then hear about her secondhand, from our helpful elf doctor. As I said, I'm really not sure what went down between her and him. He's infatuated with her, he's incredibly impressed with her, he's terrified of her, and he particularly claims she is "malicious" in motivation - which is actually pretty weird, because it seems like the obvious answer is she wants money because she likes having money. Possibly Chireadan looked over the situation and decided he was sure this is not actually the best way to make money, and then assumed she was using that as a nefarious cover for her real plan as opposed to that Yennefer just isn't being very efficient about it.

Next is the orgy.

We know that the guard outside the building says, "A fee for entrance." It's unclear if Yennefer is getting all of that or a cut or if the entrance fee is entirely the mayor's and you have to pay her later or if, in fact, the guard is running his own side-hustle. Also worth pointing out is that this is taking place in the middle of the night, so we don't know if this is an anytime see the mayor fee or a matter of it being designated orgy party time. Certainly it seems like the mayor was in the orgy.

Geralt enters and runs across the mayor, who is naked and very out of it, and ends up falling asleep on the spot.

This is the sort of thing I mean about Yennefer being irresponsible. She has sent him off to get something when by all appearances he's badly impaired. He could easily have fallen down the stairs and broken his neck. By all appearances telepathy is extremely short range and we know she wasn't expecting it when Geralt showed up, so it seems unlikely she was keeping an eye on him. Again, I think this comes down to Yennefer assuming things work how she expects. She didn't tell him to do anything dangerous and she wasn't trying to put him in danger, therefore he's in no danger.

"Ah. The apple juice!"

Please allow me to give my blessing to anyone who wants to flanderize this into Yennefer obsessing about the delights of apple juice.

(Also, if you want somewhere you could go with this, consider that pre-pasturization, and very pre-refrigeration, unfermented fruit juice is a much bigger deal. People drank cider and wine, not apple juice and grape juice. This apple juice has to be freshly pressed. Yennefer may well have magical cheats to keep it from spoiling, but that just changes the way it's a luxury.)

"She wants some. And she always gets...what she wants."

This is so ridiculously not true.

And that's a lot of what makes this meta examination fun. Characters lie about other characters and characters lie about themselves!

This guy doesn't even know what she wants, really. What he knows is what she demands, and that, she's pretty good at getting. But Yennefer likes people thinking of her this way, and it's how she presents herself.

At the orgy, Yennefer is sitting and observing rather than taking part.

People seem prone to assuming this is some evil plot or at least evil gloating, or at best that her hedonism has gotten to the point where not even an orgy interests her anymore, but if you take a step back is definitely her being Orgy Supervisor, and we know this because when Geralt convinces her there's something else that needs her attention, she ends the spell before she does anything else. (She's also playing with an empty cup and seems a bit irritable about that, so I think she really was pretty thirsty and not just abusing the fact she could tell someone to fetch her a drink.) Is Yennefer irresponsible? Again, I think so. Is she trying to be responsible? Yes. We can tell the orgy doesn't require her constant direction. She's definitely here just in case something goes wrong. She could have decided that probably nothing would go wrong in the short time she was gone (indeed, as I mentioned over on Geralt's meta, none of the participants seem pushy in the least, so they seem unlikely to harm each other), but she decides not to take that risk with people. This also gives us an altered context for why she sent someone else to get apple juice instead of getting it herself. It wasn't laziness or a desire to punish the mayor, it was that she doesn't want to leave them unattended even briefly.

Geralt brings her the apple juice. She approaches him and notes he's immune, which in turn means everyone else who walks into the room automatically gets hit.

This has been used as a point against the ethics of this, but why would the alternative be better? An area effect is a significantly better idea than allowing the possibility of individuals who aren't under the spell to mingle with those who are. No one can come in and take advantage of anyone impaired, because they're exactly as impaired once they enter. If this was hitting random people, sure, that'd be a problem, but Geralt had to knock a guy out to get in here. The people here not only knew what they were getting into but had to put effort into getting here. Also, the spell is clearly visible, and going by Jaskier it doesn't kick in instantly, so even if somehow people just happened to accidentally wander into a sex party at a private residence that has a bouncer at the door, it sure looks like they'd have time to back out again until they're clear of the fog if they weren't into that.

As I say in Geralt's meta, I'm not sure she actually can tell he's immune-immune or if she just means he's not under the spell currently. Given she doesn't seem to have control over who it affects and it's turned off entirely with a word, it would seem it's running on its own rather than her continually feeding power into it, so it seems unlikely she can sense it bouncing off him.

Like Jaskier, she does not notice his eyes, and this is possibly because both of them were too busy looking elsewhere. That said, the lighting is a lot worse in foggy nighttime orgy room. It's also possible that for some reason Yennefer thinks mentioning his eyes is just downright rude - Yennefer could have particular issues with visible differences, and given she knows little about witchers and her own eye color isn't particularly common, she might not know if it's a witcher thing or a mutation he was born with. She does go on to mention visible traits but only to say what she doesn't see.

She can tell, either because she can magically enhance her own senses or she casts some sort of scan spell on anyone interesting, that his heartbeat is slow, concludes he's a mutant from that but needs to be told he's a witcher, and says she "thought you'd have fangs or horns or something." I think this may be a joke in the vein of Triss', where it's intended that they're both somewhat in on it. Geralt's appearance is the result of magic, and so is hers. (While we the viewers know that time is of the essence, another thing that merits mention is that Geralt left Jaskier well away from Yennefer. She's not ignoring that Jaskier's hurt to make jokes, she's unaware until Geralt brings it up.) She follows with, "First time I've seen a witcher up close. What little spells can you cast with your hands? Call it professional curiosity."

Geralt brings up Jaskier, then gives a response that drops the "professional" out of that statement: "And then, if you'd like, I'll indulge your curiosity all night long."

And Yennefer replies to this innuendo by saying that no, she'll finish up with that pretty quick and then they can fuck. ("It won't take all night. But I'm sure we can find a way to fill the time." Seriously Yennefer he was implying that just fine. Did your ability to handle subtle innuendo break from your time making boner smoke and orgies.)

Is Yennefer being extremely forward here? Yes. Is she going full steam ahead ignoring Geralt's signs to stop? No, because he's not giving her those signs.

From Yennefer's point of view, a hot, interesting guy showed up with apple juice. She propositions him. He then indicates actually, he's not here for that sort of thing but because there's an emergency...but then answers her propositioning him quite favorably and says they can do that as soon as she's done with the immediate problem.

Also:

Yennefer: "'We'? (looks at Jaskier) Just a friend, I hope?"

This is the second reference Yennefer has made to homosexuality. I think she may be the only one who does in the entire season.

That said - that's not Yennefer shipping it. Saying you "hope" someone's only a friend is indicating you don't want the person to currently be in a committed relationship with that person. This is her continuing to express her own interest in Geralt. (In a way that does indicate an understanding of consent, as if she was just planning to fuck him regardless of his feelings in the matter, his orientation and existing relationships wouldn't matter. Indicating you're interested and being a rapist are not the same thing.)

Geralt announces that he'll pay any price to fix Jaskier unprompted. Yennefer isn't even hemming and hawing in a way that could be about price rather than ability first. Yennefer agrees to help, then says "Ragamuffin," which, as I referenced earlier, is actually how you want safewords to work rather than something super relevant or incredibly personal. This breaks the orgy spell. Like I said, this is presumably because she doesn't think it's safe to leave running without oversight.

This definitely surprises the people involved, which strongly suggests that it's not how the party's supposed to end. I would guess it's supposed to fade out, either when the spell ends (I'm assuming there are few spells that run indefinitely) or when people leave, so there's a period where they're capable of putting their clothes back on but are still too hazy to recognize each other and get embarrassed. This one strikes me as most likely because it seems to fit what we see of the mayor - he's dopey and not embarrassed to be seen naked, but he doesn't seem at all interested in either of them and does seem a lot more aware of his surroundings than the people actually in the orgy mist. This just furthers the safeword metaphor. It really seems like this is an emergency killswitch and not the normal end of party affair.

However, it is possible that this is the ending of the orgy party, just happening sooner than it would've. If you look at Yennefer this episode as engaging in steadily worse behavior, I think a much more reasonable trajectory than that all sex and drugs are immoral and baby Jesus is crying is that the initial shop was fine but now she's providing harder stuff that she knows has worse fallout but if they want it and will pay for it, she'll facilitate. (That seems like it'd wear out your welcome very quickly, but it'd hardly be the only short-sighted decision she makes.) This is still really not the big deal people want it to be - what we see is they're acting embarrassed, not horrified. They seem startled, probably because their awareness just came back. But the most negative reactions we see are letting go of the other person and taking a step back or grabbing for clothing because they're naked. It's just more negative than the scene in the opening, where the couple looks quite happy and is probably going to stay that way.

While there isn't particularly evidence this is a factor, if you did want to further the idea Yennefer is not properly thinking things through... Well, given Yennefer's referenced homosexuality and the one guy reaches for Geralt, queer people exist in this universe just like ours. If homophobia also exists in this universe, part of the masks and anonymity could be because some people are in the closet. In that case, having everyone return to their senses suddenly means the risk someone notices somebody else is groping the wrong sex. I think it's pretty unlikely that in the brief chaos people would actually notice, but it'd still be pretty awful to spend a while scared that might've happened.

But again - even at worst, even adding in a lot of stuff we don't actually see, she's doing all this because she doesn't think it's safe to leave the orgy unattended but a medical emergency just came up that only she can deal with.

Yennefer puts Jaskier in bed and proceeds to do something for him.

"He's in a deep healing sleep."

Geralt wants to know the duration, and Yennefer avoids answering. She does need Jaskier to stay asleep long enough to put her own plan into play, but given how long it'll take for Jaskier to wake up after she deals with Geralt, I don't think she's keeping him asleep even after he's healed. Possibly she wanted to keep that option open, though. It also makes more sense she can trick Geralt if this isn't entirely made up. Geralt is incredibly suspicious by now, and the best counter for that is not actually lying.

At this point she insists Geralt to take a bath.

As I pointed out over in his meta, while it's not really gotten into, it appears her actual goal here was to get into his pants' pockets. While it's possible leering at him in the bath just happens to be something she'd have done on her own anyway, it's far more likely that she's this pushy because she wants the djinn seal as well as to get him out of the room long enough to set up her trap, and raging lust was a good smokescreen for that. As it is, Geralt is either generally wary enough he hesitates to leave Jaskier or only barely falling for it.

And if we say that Yennefer is really interested in his pockets, that adds still another layer to the question of who's consenting to what if she's actually pretending to be interested in sex with him to get him to go along with it. We can guess Yennefer is likely interested because she's flirty before hearing about the djinn, but it's also possible flirty was as far as she'd have otherwise gone.

That said, she's probably relatively interested because hanging out staring at him while he bathes appears to be a choice that has no bearing on the rest of her plan. She might've been using that time to get a feel for Geralt's mental defenses, so maybe without that he wouldn't have gone under so quick, but I think she only starts working on those when he actually enters the room, and her plan relies on the (correct) assumption that he'll talk long enough for her trap to spring.

I will add that I think she's genuinely interested in his body academically.

Yennefer: "Tell me, are all witchers similarly blessed? Come now, you promised."
Geralt: "Hm. I haven't conducted a survey, but I'd hardly say we're blessed."
Yennefer: "Oh, don't be so grim. You were created by magic. Our magic."

Now, Yennefer claimed she doesn't know anything about witchers and it sure seems like that's not an act. I think she's trying to find a commonality here based on what she does know, and she's unaware that witchers also share the whole "lose a good chunk of the class" experience, but what she says about witchers being shaped by magic is also is a line of research she's been pursuing. She's got the djinn as a better option right now to actually accomplish what she wants, but it seems she just likes learning new things even if she's not going to use it. And that's what you'd expect from someone who knows enough esotric magic lore to already know all about djinns and be able to launch right into trying to capture it. We'll also learn in a later episode that a lot of her fun magic drugs are things she's discovered through experimentation.

A big deal has been made about Jaskier seeing Geralt in the corner and deciding to throw himself at that, but Jaskier takes ages to realize this is a witcher he's seeing. He opens the conversation by asking about his music. Yennefer's focus is that Geralt is different - he's not reacting to her spell, he's got an abnormal heartbeat, oh he's a witcher, they cast spells of their own, can she see? If anyone is just really into witchers, it would appear to be Yennefer.

"Yeah, but also she is absolutely staring at him while he's naked." Very true! And I think it's good we as a culture have gotten to the point where people can recognize that this is a sexually menacing thing to do regardless of gender combination. It's just that, having revealed Yennefer had other reasons for it, it's unlikely this is solely Yennefer thinking she does what she wants and other people's feelings about that don't matter.

Also:

"Go ahead, ask about them. Everyone does."

Will Yennefer, who ordered him to strip and is now lounging to the side staring at him in the bath, insist on bugging him about them anyway? No, it turns out. (And given he says this without her saying anything at all, just looking, it's actually possible that she might've avoided the subject of scars entirely on her own because she's got her own issues about it and already assumed it might be a sore spot for him.)

I absolutely do not recommend getting to know someone/flirting with someone by pushing on their boundaries and assuming you'll be able to tell right when you hit the boundary and avoid going too far. That's risky and stupid and a good way to hurt someone by accident. But it's not the same thing as just not caring how the other person feels and it's definitely not the same thing as being a rapist.

This is where it's really important to remember different people have different feelings and boundaries. If you would be uncomfortable with anything or everything that Geralt's gone through so far, it doesn't mean this is objectively a terrible and hurtful thing, just as Geralt going along with it doesn't mean it's objectively fine and you and everyone else should be forced to grit your teeth and endure it.

Anyway, at this point Yennefer decides to strip and get in the water, but still exert control over the events by saying he's not allowed to look.

I think it makes the most sense to read Yennefer's behavior here as having a lot to do with what she actually wants to do, but I think there's still a performative element to it. She's making a point of calling the shots and specifically enforcing an unequal situation where she can see him and he can't see her because she likes being in control, but she may be playing that up because she wants Geralt to think he knows why she's doing this and not suspect her real plan.

Geralt: "You seem to find coin pretty charming yourself. Clearly capitalizing on the political situation here."
Yennefer: "I'm serving the stifled people of this town. Filling a need. Ever heard of it?"
Geralt: "Hm. It's fine to fly in the face of overzealous authority, but to pretend it's anything other than making a profit..."

As I mentioned with Geralt, Yennefer does not seem to think of witchers as particularly money-oriented. Admittedly, Yennefer sure doesn't seem to know much of anything about them so perhaps it's not surprising she has no preexisting beliefs there. Possibly she's heard plenty but after what she's heard about elves, she doesn't trust any of it to be true.

What she does do is defend her own motives.

Why does she do that? I think she genuinely does want to think she's being helpful. Of the three rogue mages we've seen so far, we have somebody killing a woman and condemning a fetus to a life of misery, someone who does assassinations and does it with absurd amounts of collateral damage, and the guy at the beginning who's a neggy scammer. Yennefer, in contrast, decided she'd sell stuff for erectile dysfunction. She even seems to be trying to ensure her stuff is used correctly, instead of saying that hey, not her fault what someone else does with what she gives them.

But at the same time, it's not a big deal to her. Much of her responses throughout this episode appear to just be a matter of being oppositional and trying to control the conversation. She's trying to win the conversation, not invested in the individual arguments, so when he says this, she responds by saying he's also being dishonest with his claims about the djinn, accusing him of lying about wanting an insomnia cure.

Geralt: "The djinn will fight you. If you try and bend it-"

And we see she demonstrates she's certainly able to bend Geralt to her will.

Something that I think gets overlooked is that the rampage is actually incidental in her plans. What she actually needed to do was get Geralt out of the way. Look at the situation again - Geralt first waits anxiously on the floor below, then objects to the mild distraction of taking a bath, then heads straight for Jaskier's room when it's over. Moreover, she doesn't know much about witchers. She could try to lock him in some room, but would that hold? She could kill him, but she's trying not to hurt people. Much better to send him a good distance away and make it hard for him to get back.

"Sorry I couldn't be direct, I knew you'd fight it."

It's also worth pointing out this is the one time we see her using mind-control, she admits she's doing something wrong, and later she's going argue with Geralt that he shouldn't have come back to help her after what she did. This doesn't have any bearing on the ethics of doing to to Geralt in particular, but it really does not sound like this is her standard way of dealing with people.

What I also find interesting is that she could have probably accomplished something similar if she had, in fact, asked. Not once she's admitted to the djinn thing, of course, but before that. And yet instead she just dodges the question of what she wants each time.

Now, there's two factors that come to mind.

One is that she may feel this is the more foolproof option. Geralt might say no if she asks while she's very confident in her ability to control him, and once she's asked he'll be on guard, so why take the risk? She doesn't know Geralt well, and also, what little she does know is that he really doesn't want to leave Jaskier alone. Even if Geralt agrees, he could say he'll only do it once Jaskier's healed up, and the more she argues the more she risks Geralt realizing what she actually means to do.

The other is that Geralt agreeing isn't enough control for her. She might give some additional explanation consciously that if Geralt lied and only pretended to leave before doubling back it'd be bad for her, but I think it's as simple as mind-controlling someone into doing a thing is her/her own power accomplishing it. Going by her behavior in the sixth episode, it's possible if Geralt had been dumber and more easily manipulated by flashing boobies at him, she'd have felt more in control and willing to just tell him to do it. Or she might just be in a better place by the sixth episode.

Speaking of the sixth episode, how does this interact with her thing about choice?

Not much, I think.

Geralt said he'd pay her anything and went on to bring up indentured servitude. Should he have preemptively agreed to anything? No. Would it be wrong of someone to take that to mean that yes, anything is acceptable? Absolutely. But it is definitely a choice Geralt made first. Yennefer doesn't even try to hint he should offer, Geralt just keeps volunteering. And I don't think Yennefer's doing this because she thinks she's violating Geralt's boundaries with what she wants done - I think she's doing it to avoid him refusing to leave Jaskier.

Of course, Geralt ends up thrown in prison and Chireadan's there too sure they're going to die, but this gets back to Yennefer being irresponsible. She makes him commit crimes so when her spell wears off, he gets arrested, which would keep him out of her hair long enough for her to actually do the djinn part of the plan. Here and in the book, Chireadan makes a point that actually killing them for their crimes will take a while, and not to knock his assessment of the situation and how doomed they are, but in the book he gets all upset over nothing because the mayor gets back with plenty of time to spare and is completely willing to hear out a defense of mind control.

I think Yennefer thought this was a great way of doing this with minimal harm, She can't control Geralt that long - or, she may have just had no idea how long it'd last and decided not to risk it. So, why not use the locals to keep hold of him and have some fun in the process? He'll be fine - she didn't make him kill anyone, so they'll just arrest him, and by the time they're done arguing about his trial she'll be done with the djinn. Where things go sideways is the guard deciding he wants to beat up Geralt. (And she's lucky they didn't go sideways even earlier with someone deciding that you don't arrest witchers, you just kill them - but, as we established, she really doesn't know anything about witchers, so it makes sense she wouldn't realize that could happen.)

To go back to the book again, when book!Yennefer finishes healing Jaskier she orders him to wish that everyone be ruled innocent and then portals him into the meeting with the mayor. She wasn't intending for her actions to have lasting consequences, and she was willing to actually take a huge risk to fix things, because a single djinn wish is really dangerous and Jaskier could've said something else.

Now, show!Yennefer just goes straight to the djinn, but show!Yennefer is living in the mayor's house and might've felt that she had things covered judicially without any extra effort, and if not, she expected to get superpowers and may have been intending to just free Geralt when she was done, or she just thinks any reasonable trial would acquit because mindcontrol. Chireadan thinks they're doomed, sure, but Chireadan thinks Yennefer just likes torturing people and the point of this was to get them killed. And when Geralt does show up, she's surprised because she expects him to be mad about being put under a spell rather than saying anything about how she risked his life or got him hurt or otherwise any indication she's aware of just what the actual stakes turned out to be.

And that's much more in line with what we see her do next to Jaskier.

She could just knife Jaskier! It's really likely that djinn don't remain tethered forever because someone's too dead to use their remaining wishes, and it's incredibly dangerous to threaten someone who has reality-altering magic - indeed, this scene of her threatening Jaskier is going to be followed by Geralt exploding the guard. Killing Jaskier is easily the best option. What she actually does is reckless as far as her own safety goes and also seems oblivious to any possibility threatening to cut someone's dick off might be a trifle scarring even if you never do any physical harm to them.

Incidentally - does Yennefer sexually assault Jaskier? I think the important element here is whether Jaskier thinks he's getting sexually menaced in particular or more generally threatened with bodily harm, and by all appearances the latter is what's going on. I say this not to argue that therefore Yennefer did nothing wrong, but instead to point out that assaulting people and threatening to cut parts of their body off is completely able to traumatize people without needing sex in the mix. It doesn't only start being wrong if it's rape.

Jaskier, quite successfully terrorized, flees. He runs into Geralt, who then goes in to try to stop Yennefer.

Yennefer: "I don’t need your help. You’re free. No longer under my spell."
Geralt: "And yet here I am."
Yennefer: "You seem to want to meet your end."
Geralt: "As do you."

So, Geralt at least views Yennefer's behavior as self-destructive, which fits with what we've seen from the rest of the episode. Yennefer is not only willing to take risks, but may actually prefer dying in the attempt rather than admit it isn't working.

"It’s getting stronger! Go!"

Yennefer, for all her posturing, doesn't want to hurt others. Here at the end of all her planning, when she's getting pulled apart by a djinn and screaming in pain, she's telling Geralt to get out of here because he's in danger.

"True transformation is painful."

Once again: Yennefer's actions and way of looking at the world is informed by trauma. She wasn't intentionally taught this, but it's easy to see how all her bad experiences add up to this. The transformation wasn't supposed to be painful. But it was, and because of that she got something, and you have to suffer to get things, so this must be how it works.

Geralt: "Release the djinn! I’ll give you my last wish!"
Yennefer: "You heroic protector… noble dog, permitting my success so long as you command it yourself. Fuck off! I’ll do this myself!"
Geralt: "Damn it, Yennefer! Tell me what you want!"
Yennefer: "I want everything!"

"Everything", in this case, including the ability to do it all herself.

Now, as I mentioned, Tissaia showing up and having this argument earlier might be why she's primed to say anyone offering her help is just trying to steal the credit and control her, but the fact it comes up in an argument with Tissaia means it's plausible this is just an issue Yennefer has in general.

It astounds me that people ask why Yennefer doesn't try to get a kid through Law of Surprise and Destiny. She reacts this badly to a regular person offering her a straightforward solution and you think she'd want anything to do with completely giving up any control and letting Destiny decide what she gets?

Also, specifically, she is telling a guy to go fuck himself instead of having any part in her getting what she wants. You understand how babies are made, right? You understand that even if she did manage to grow her ovaries back she would still need some contributions from another person to actually make that baby? Do some problems jump out at you when you think about it that way? I'm not sure how much more clearly the show could telegraph that there's something else going on here than her just really wanting to get knocked up.

Geralt makes the wish, freeing the djinn. The tower collapses and Yennefer portals both of them to the bottom.

Yennefer: "What did you do? You stopped me, didn't you? I nearly had it."
Geralt: "You had shit all. I saved your life!"
Yennefer: "And I saved yours!"

Once again: Yennefer really didn't want anyone else getting hurt. This is more obvious in the short story, where there's an extended djinn fight and she keeps trying to portal him out of there, but I do think it's clear enough here by the combination of Yennefer saying she saved his life and Yennefer's ingratitude for him saving hers - she was by all appearances saving him not because she appreciates his help but in spite of him thwarting her plans. And it's followed by

Yennefer: "You let the djinn escape. Who knows what havoc it’ll wreak now that it has no vessel at all?"

Yennefer is criticizing what she thinks is Geralt getting other people killed.

Geralt: "No more havoc than you. Djinns are only dark creatures when held captive."
Yennefer: "How can you be so sure?"
Geralt: "When did you last feel happy when you felt trapped?"

Geralt then lays out his belief that the djinn isn't inherently dangerous and that trapping it was wrong, which would appear to be what gets Yennefer to eventually calm down. As happened in their previous conversations, they actually do seem pretty good at communicating with each other even with this sort of tension.

Of course, Geralt's had a hard day so he's got his own complaints.

Geralt: "And if you were going to portal us to safety, you could’ve taken us out of this shit town!"
Yennefer: "A fine critique if you could make a portal yourself. And it wasn’t a shit town, it was a fine town till you came along."

Another characterization note that really does not get much attention paid to it. Part of the defense of the place could be her being contrary, but being attached would certainly fit with how she stayed in one place despite there being few or no benefits compared to moving on, and it does echo how much emphasis Yennefer puts on her home in previous episodes regardless of the objective quality of the place because it's somewhere familiar, and how much it takes to actually get her to leave anywhere she's settled into.

Yennefer: "I had a plan!"
Geralt: (chuckles) "And that was going swimmingly!"
Yennefer: "It was."

But then she follows up with:

"Like a drowning fish."

She's finally winding down and actually processing what happened, and apparently doesn't feel threatened enough by Geralt that she feels she has to still insist she was right. (Most likely a large part is she's changed her mind about whether she actually wanted to succeed after Geralt's comment about them only being dangerous when bound and deserving freedom, plus she's not an idiot and can admit to herself she was getting herself killed even if she doesn't like other people telling her so.) At that point, they fuck.

Now, in the original story, Yennefer hears the wish and is happy about it, while here she doesn't know (and won't be happy with what she does hear about it). While I understand why people like the book version, and I think it's quite interesting as part of the fairytale/magic world to have it work out that way, and I'm happy for Yennefer being happy...I do not, at all, buy it's the more feminist take on it. Book Geralt does something without asking and is showered in praise for it. It's similar to a surprise proposal, where yes, if it's a wanted thing someone's going to be happy, only in this case it's closer to a surprise marriage and in a country without divorce. If that happens to be exactly what the other person wanted, yes, they'll be happy, but in terms of agency, no, not great.

And while Book!Yennefer is impressed by the big gesture, part of it's because the story has time to explain it's also a permanent and irrevocable gesture. What we see of show!Yennefer that she really does not trust a single big gesture and would need it explained that it's more than that. Now, could they have explained that? Sure. But it'd have taken up more time, and then by putting so much additional focus on her not being mad at him here, there'd also need to be extra time spent to explain why Yennefer is angry at Geralt when we see her next.

I think it's worth considering that a bunch of stand-alone short stories are going to be set up differently than something intended to be an overarching narrative. The original end of The Last Wish has to tie it up because at the time that was the actual end of that story and it's not necessarily how he'd have written it if he was writing it in the middle of a larger story. The show writers have the benefit of being able to take all that and adjust it so you get events leading more directly from one to another.

In conclusion:

Of the characters, the one who's actually got a messed up fear response is Yennefer. This has great synergy with what looks to be something in the oppositional defiant disorder ballpark. Yennefer is going to do risky things and if you try to stop her she's just going to do it more because fuck you you're not the boss of her. The fact she's also got a really wonky relationship with her own body is probably also a compounding factor - we know she had trouble doing physical things due to how fucked up her skeleton was, she almost certainly had chronic pain that was worsened when she tried to do those things, and she ultimately does the whole no-anesthesia plastic surgery thing. No one cared she was having trouble, so she had to force herself through it anyway, so she came to the idea that willpowering herself through through screaming stop signs is normal.h

Relatedly, while Yennefer is often vicious in conversation throughout this, it's reactive and defensive. Yennefer doesn't initiate verbal sparring and there's no sign she's enjoying it - her sudden escalations have every sign of trying to shut down the conversation instead.

While telling Yennefer no is a horrible idea, you can redirect her to something new pretty easily - she is partly sidetracked from her main goal of get tons of money for risky magic in defiance of the Brotherhood by deciding she wants to solve everyone's boner problems. There were absolutely better and faster ways of getting money but Yennefer compromised to get to be very important to everyone. If Tissaia had been able to say things were actually going wrong at Aretuza and she did, in fact, need Yennefer's help, Yennefer likely would've reacted differently. (Yennefer even says she hates being a rogue mage in the first place.)

You know what we really don't see? Yennefer cheating anyone or even failing to give her very best effort. We don't see Yennefer hearing someone's complaints, deciding they're just whiny, and handing them something fake. (Also, people who were not only disabled, but dealt with being expected to do things they weren't physically capable of and then berated for failing, are probably the last people to listen to someone say they have a problem and decide that no, this person doesn't, it's all in their stupid head and they deserve to not be given actual help and also gaslit by being told they got help and the problem's solved now.) We don't even see Yennefer being lazy or disinterested and giving people something that kinda sorta broadly addresses the issue. We see her taking people and her job seriously. If you want someone swindling people with fake potions and just can't possibly make an OC, why don't you use Jaskier? He's established as quite willing to lie as well as think people are themselves wrong about their own experiences, and it makes more sense for a person who can't do magic to not sell actual magic.

Also, while we don't know for certain how she'd react to someone coming to her with a rare ailment with no established cure, that she herself is pursuing something supposedly impossible does pretty strongly suggest that if, say, Jaskier showed up vomiting flowers, she'd offer a bit more than, "Sorry, fanfic trope law says this is how it works and this is the only cure." If you've made up a generic mage to just offer minimal exposition and make no particular effort to challenge what everyone knows, it doesn't make sense to call her Yennefer! Just admit they're a plot device and stop saying it's an established character.

Yennefer doesn't really want a baby. Not that she'd turn one down, but this is mostly just her lashing out. She loses her uterus, a baby dies in her arms, she's unhappy. "Will regrowing your uterus in any way undo the other horribly painful experience of losing it?" "Will having a baby make the one you buried not be dead?" "Are either of those things your actual problem?" MAYBE, screams a completely unexamined pile of emotions. YOU'RE MISERABLE AND THIS MIGHT FIX IT AND WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE ANYWAY? YOUR LIFE? HAHA FUCK THAT.

(And again worth remembering is that Yennefer not only tried to kill herself once but she was put into situations where she either succeeded or she died and told this was how the world  worked. That's a recipe for disaster. When Yennefer is unhappy enough, she's going to find risky behavior incredibly appealing because both outcomes are better than how she feels presently.)

"But why doesn't Yennefer just law-of-surprise her way into a kid?" 1) Because it's not actually about getting a kid. 2) Did you not hear her screaming rant about refusing to accept any form of help? If she's that bad about a regular person offering her something for nothing, just how much do you think she'd hate the idea of begging Destiny to help her out? 3) She thinks the universe runs on suffering so why on earth would she want to give Destiny an engraved invitation to fuck her over?

The only way Law of Surprise would come up is if someone spontaneously offered it, and there's a good chance she'd react much like Geralt was going to and book it before anyone finds out what the surprise is because she both can't admit she'd like things to go right for her just once and she's sure it'll go wrong.

"But -" Seriously! She is saying, to a man offering her "what she wants", that she refuses his or any other person's help in the matter. Do you not see that there are other problems with her plan?

Relatedly, jesus christ is it stupid to try to get her out of the way for shipping purposes by saying Yennefer will dump Geralt because he's shooting blanks and go look for someone with working sperm. On top of everything else, of all people you think Yennefer would flinch at the idea of having sex with some random guy she wasn't in a relationship with?

Although Yennefer seems to be good at mind-control magic, we don't actually see her rely on it. All her other interactions with people this episode, like in the other six episodes we see her in, do not involve it. We see she habitually uses portals, repeatedly uses the freezing in place/telekinesis ability, and does a lot of magic chemistry. Those things are how she normally solves problems. We'll be seeing a bit more about this next episode, but it's worth keeping in mind that mind control isn't her first response to a problem, or even her second or third. What evidence we have is that it's something she only pulls out as part of an elaborate plan where nothing else would work in its place.

What the fuck happened with Chireadan and Yennefer? He's there to inform them and us the viewer that Yennefer is very scary actually, but he seems to be the only one to think of her that way and he's also infatuated in a weird way. Is he bitter she won't fuck him? Did she fuck him and he's bitter it was a one-time thing? Did he set her off somehow? Is he seeing the same thing Jaskier sees but unlike Jaskier, Chireadan is absolutely a slut for danger? These are important questions that should be explored.

Another question - is Yennefer herself having tons of sex while she's here? We don't actually see evidence of that. We know she's had sex with Istredd, we know the sorceresses are expected to be sexually available to the kings, and we know after thirty years at court she feels she's had enough experience to tell a dead baby that lovers aren't worth it. She's certainly sex-positive throughout this episode, but while people often characterize her behavior at the orgy as predatory, she looks incredibly bored. It's possible that depressed Yennefer is flirty but doesn't have much interest in anything further, and actually fucking Geralt at the end is part of her feeling better.

Chapter Text

Okay, it's time for the sixth episode.

You may or may not notice that these chapters get more unwieldy the more character overlap there is. At this point, everyone's together except Ciri. So this is going to be a nightmare, and thank god that the dragon kicks the group apart again at the end of the episode.

We ended on Yennefer last time, so let's try sticking with her.

Going by the timeline, this episode takes place six years after the previous episode, and twenty-two years since Yennefer quit working at court.

Yennefer is here for the dragon hunt. Now, it's presumably coincidence/Destiny that Geralt is there at the same time. But...

Geralt: "You’ve wasted your breath, Borch. I don’t kill dragons."

...

Geralt: "The answer is no."

...

Geralt: "I’m in."

...Geralt chooses to go because he sees Yennefer's there.

And Yennefer's first lines in the episode are remarking on this to Geralt, indicating that this has likely been happening a lot.

Yennefer: "How is it that I've walked this earth for decades without coming across a witcher, and then the first one I meet, I can't get rid of?"

If you knew nothing else about Yennefer, this would be very much in line with the Yennefer she tries to present. She's suggesting he's clearly chasing after her while she's disinterested to mildly annoyed by him. The power is all on her side here - he desires her, she wouldn't care if he fell off a cliff.

But not only are we about to see just how upset she is at the idea of him falling off a cliff, with what else we've seen of Yennefer, the reason she's bringing this up is because she desperately, desperately wants to hear him say that's what he's doing. That it isn't somehow just a coincidence. Or maybe that he'll let her accuse him of caring without trying to defend himself. That he not only cares but isn't ashamed of people knowing he cares.

Think about what little we've seen of Yennefer's previous relationships. They're marked by secrecy. Her relationship with Istredd is a secret. While it was known that she was Tissaia's student, that she meant anything more to Tissaia was something Tissaia tried to keep secret to the point that in the first months it was a secret even from Yennefer. Even going as far back as with her mother, we're told Yennefer wasn't allowed in the house and we know she wasn't doing chores with the rest of the household and her father hits her for trying, so it's pretty likely what time she had with her mother and any other siblings had to be done clandestinely. If people care about Yennefer, they treat it like a flaw. From an outside view, that's because everyone Yennefer's been around has been deeply messed up too, but in Yennefer's experience, she's the common thread.

So Yennefer's absolutely invested and pretending not to be here. And she's doing a pretty good job at pretending, which is another point to consider. Yennefer's act is going to be better or worse depending on how much time she has to prepare. In this case, she's had a couple years of running into him on and off. That means even though this is a huge issue for her, she's probably spent a while thinking over exactly what she'll say next time and got it down to this gem. But when surprised or under more stress, she moves closer to showing her actual feelings.

And, of course, she does snow Jaskier on this one, although as I said last episode, Jaskier is extremely bad at reading Yennefer so that probably didn't take much.

Yennefer: "How is it that I've walked this earth for decades without coming across a witcher, and then the first one I meet, I can't get rid of?"
Jaskier: "I'd say something strange was afoot, but then again, witchers are bound to bump into monsters eventually."
Yennefer: "Jaskier."
Jaskier: "Yennefer."
Yennefer: "The crow's feet are new."
Jaskier: "Yeah, well, your jokes are...old."

We see here a continuation of what I mentioned in the previous chapter that Yennefer is not actually a fount of endless snarking but someone who does it in response to other people taking the first swing. She says something to Geralt, Jaskier shoves himself into the conversation to say she's nuts and further insult her/imply he wants her dead, she responds by saying he's getting ugly.

Since fandoms these days are a miserable place of "you can't ship that because..." you can totally ship that. There is definitely some stuff going on here! But what we see here is Jaskier being the aggressor, not Yennefer. On Yennefer's end, she didn't acknowledge him until forced.

There is also a marked contrast to how she and Geralt talk.

Geralt: "What are you doing here, Yen?"
Yennefer: "I'm here with my escort. Noble Sir Eyck of Denesle. To assist him in killing the dragon."
...
"Till we meet again, Geralt. See you, Roach."

We can see that although she sounded put-upon originally, she's not even particularly keeping that up, even though we'll learn later that she's actually nursing quite the grudge against Geralt. Now, one option is that she's really happy to see him and can't entirely hide that. The other is that she's just not very good at being spontaneously mean instead of going nuclear in retaliation to the smallest thing, so all it takes is Geralt not engaging to make it peter off.

Now, what does it mean that she's ignoring Jaskier until he forces the issue? Because while Yennefer's often talked about as if she doesn't pay attention to vast swaths of people until they prove themselves worthy, we don't actually see that. The closest is her performatively semi-ignoring Tissaia last episode because she's mad, which implies rather the opposite about how Yennefer normally acts toward other people.

We know Jaskier doesn't like her, and he's probably already made that clear. Yennefer's main way of dealing with things is, well, not dealing with them. In addition, she's terribly thin-skinned, and she really likes getting other people to like her. It makes sense, then, that she just wouldn't want anything to do with Jaskier if she can help it.

One interesting question is if Yennefer ever apologized for the events of the last episode. Not apologizing or acknowledging it happened at all fits with this exchange as well as her tendency to burn bridges and never look back, so that's the easy answer, but while I'm confident Yennefer has some sort of fucked up relationship with apologies, I'm not sure she actually avoids them. She insults Tissaia for that hangup, and has been pretty willing to admit to failing or screwing someone over, she just isn't capable of taking advice to stop because it won't work, and she was certainly fine owning up to the fact she mistreated Geralt with the mind control spell when it came to saying he should be mad at her.

You might think that if she did apologize Jaskier's the sort to forgive but whatever Jaskier's stance on apologies is, I'm pretty sure if she gave an apology it'd be a terrible one that if anything made things even worse, so that also fits fine with the present situation. Consider the possibility of something along the lines of "Sorry about all that, I thought you had this thing I wanted, but whoops you didn't!" I'm actually hoping we do get this referenced at some point, because if she didn't apologize it suggests she didn't class any of that as anything that someone could be mad over - in that case she might think that threats don't count and only actually following through would've been wrong, and once she let him go without doing it then there's no longer anything to apologize for.

Yennefer: "I'm here with my escort. Noble Sir Eyck of Denesle. To assist him in killing the dragon."
Noble Sir Eyck of Denesle: "For kingdom and glory!"

And this! This is another very interesting element.

First, there's just the basic fact that Yennefer is not here alone. Yennefer's inclination is to partner up with someone.

In the books, this guy's almost a paladin, where there seems to be some connection between his intense  personality and the fact he's incredible in combat. Here...well, I don't think they did a very good job showing he's impressive by having him whack at some starving creature, but I think we're supposed to think he knows what he's doing - "That knight may be a fuckin' dumbbell, but I'll be damned, the dragon won't stand a chance." However, we really don't see the kind of thing either Yennefer or Geralt are capable from him, and Yennefer will go on to try to do it all herself.

Now, is Yennefer evilly using this man? Did she trick him into this? Is he her magically controlled puppet?

No.

Now, this should be obvious from the introduction when Geralt is just staring at her lovingly and not going "oh shit gotta help that poor guy", but even if you assume Geralt is totally okay with mindcontrolling someone else because he doesn't hold a grudge when it happens to him, it's just not what's happening.

The next thing of note for Yennefer is Eyck killing the hirikka. Yennefer appears surprised and uncomfortable - she either didn't expect him to do that, or she finds it disturbing how he's going about it.

Eyck: "Knights never waste a kill. It's precisely why I'll make a great lord to Niedamir's vassal state. A great knight must lead by example."

Is Eyck a bad person? We know he killed unnecessarily, and he's also kind of a twit. But given he's doesn't even know this creature shouldn't be eaten, it seems to be a matter of ignorance. He doesn't say anything racist during his brief screentime, and it's one of the dwarves calling him a poor bastard and considering setting him straight. Given he's kind of a twit and the rest of the group does find his FOR KINGDOM AND GLORY bit annoying, and that he's also got the whole lordly condescension thing going on on top of all that, that no one seems to outright hate him suggests he must've been relatively decent otherwise.

Eyck: "My subjects will be the luckiest serfs in all the lands."

I mean, we have seen other lords at this point. You could do much, much worse than someone talking about leading by example and not wasting food.

Do we know Yennefer wouldn't be helping out a total monster just as readily? We do not. But we don't see evidence of it. It's no less plausible to say the reason precisely one knight shows up for this reward is that Yennefer portaled the other, bigger assholes to the other side of the continent.

Eyck: "Especially with the beautiful Yennefer as my mage."
Yennefer: "I cannot wait to serve you, My Lord."

This is very much the sort of court manners we saw from Yennefer back in the third episode, which actually tells us extraordinarily little. Yennefer can probably do this in her sleep, and I don't think she sees it as degrading or something to avoid doing unless she has to because her starting point is of a child so hated no one even wanted her attention. Being able to do this is its own kind of power.

Whether or not she would've done this anyway, though, she's probably also testing Geralt here. Look at how she doesn't even notice you, Geralt! Look at how she's paying attention to someone else! Doesn't it hurt? I'm not sure if she's looking for any particular response because I think Yennefer's really terrible at actually knowing what she wants. That said:

Boholt: "How would you like to serve me tonight, Witch?"
Geralt: "Careful, Boholt."
Boholt: "So, the Witcher wants to play knight too, hmm?"
Geralt: "No. She's plenty able of murdering you herself."

This is a pretty good answer to it.

While characters are wrong about each other a lot, Geralt is established last episode to actually get Yennefer right in the end, and he's the one good judge of character we see.

And it is Geralt who speaks up. While this is explicable just as a matter of keeping the scene going and giving Geralt the chance to talk, Yennefer doesn't seem to expect any defense from Eyck here and he doesn't offer it. I'm not sure it'd mean anything if Eyck did, either - the person he'd be defending is the mask Yennefer's wearing.

Whether or not the previous bit was aimed at Geralt, the next part probably is.

Eyck: "Um... I'm afraid I must take my leave. Lady Yennefer, may I escort you to your tent?"
Yennefer: "Will you be joining me?"
Eyck: "Uh... My Lady, I would...never degrade your honor in such a way."

Yennefer enters the tavern already partnered up with Eyck. Yennefer doesn't seem to attach much value to sex, and if she can probably do court behavior in her sleep at this point she likely considers being sexually available part of that, so it's not a big deal for her to offer it, but it seems like she hasn't before this, even though they've presumably known each other for at least the previous day. Her decision certainly wasn't because she was overcome by how sexy he looked hacking at the hirikka and he just failed to actually defend her honor from another asshole. But after Geralt defends her, she propositions Eyck.

Eyck: "My Lady, I would...never degrade your honor in such a way."
Jaskier: "I hate to break it to you, but that ship has sailed, wrecked and sunk to the bottom of the ocean."

This is funny, and yet... Like I mentioned last episode, we don't actually see Yennefer fucking people constantly, and Jaskier in particular seems to have only seen her have sex with one person, Geralt. It's possible that they've met up with Yennefer a few times when she's busily fucking other people, but the flashbacks we'll see shortly don't back that up. And Geralt immediately smacks him, so yeah. Something can be funny and also shitty and unjustified.

Note, however, that Yennefer doesn't react to this to defend herself. The only time she responds to Jaskier is when he's butting into a conversation she's trying to have with Geralt. Yennefer doesn't seem to get mad at people for being shitty to her, or if she does, it's solely people she's already emotionally invested in, like Tissaia.

Overall? Yennefer really doesn't seem to show much sign of having an ego. It's easy to assume she must because her refusal to listen to reason when she's making a bad choice seems like it's coming from a place of arrogance, but remember, she has no problem admitting she fucked up after the fact. She just hates being told what to do and is really reckless. Yennefer doesn't defend herself when insulted and she doesn't go after people for being cruel to her.

Now, if Yennefer isn't literally puppetting Eyck up the mountain, is she still in some way a bad person taking advantage of him?

Also no.

Yarpen: "So, shall we tell the poor bastard that he's vying for a vassal state that won't exist in a decade?"

Even people who think Eyck's making a mistake think it's him being dumb for reaching the wrong conclusion from the information around him. This is also said casually with Yennefer still with the rest of the group, rather than waiting for her to leave to plot revealing her evil witchy lies to her thrall. Geralt dismisses this as no big deal and that Yarpen's being way too dramatic/overly cynical to think this particular position is unusually in flux rather than the normal perils of doing lordly business. And the only reason to offer a reward is that someone thought it'd convince knights to show up and kill the dragon, so a knight showing up saying that's why he's going to kill the dragon to get the reward does not require mindrape.

I'd add it's very likely, given he talks about himself and his plans, he's outright said that he came to the conclusion before meeting Yennefer.

So in sum, Yennefer wanted to kill a dragon, therefore she found someone who also wanted to kill a dragon and partnered up with them for mutual benefit.

However, there's a reason that Yarpen thinks the vassal state reward is particularly empty:

Yarpen: "This is fuckin' new! The rightful son of Nilfgaard has returned, burnin' through the south."
Yennefer: "With Fringilla as his mage. (Laughs) Nilfgaard's a joke."

I'm not sure how invested Yennefer is in Nilfgaard as a whole, but she's certainly clinging to the idea she's better than Fringilla. Once again, I wish we'd gotten more of their schooldays! Was she always looking down on Fringilla, or is this because she's got a grudge against Fringilla for betraying her by getting the assignments swapped? And the second option's particularly intriguing considering the people Yennefer seems to hold grudges against longest are those she did consider friends.

Yarpen: "I saw it with my own eyes down in Ebbing. Those zealot freaks are inching closer by the day. Won't be long till they try and take Sodden. Next it'll be Temeria. Redania. Cintra."

While she brushes it off initially, Yennefer shuts down as soon as Yarpen starts talking about what Nilfgaard is doing. She wasn't laughing because she doesn't care about the deaths.

Borch the totally not secretly a magic dragon: "Perhaps if Nilfgaard's religious zeal had been tempered earlier by a stronger hand..."

Okay, so is this Yennefer's fault?

The problem is we don't know what Borch's angle here is. Does he actually know this would've happened, or does he just know it's what Yennefer fears?

As I said in a past chapter, all we really know is that sending Fringilla was a disaster. Maybe Yennefer would've tempered it. Maybe Yennefer would've just fucked off and left them mageless. Maybe Yennefer would've become a zealot too and done even more damage than Fringilla has.

Whatever the answer...

Yennefer: "If you'll excuse me, I must get my beauty sleep."

Yennefer feels responsible, and deals with that characteristically, by getting away from the reminder.

The next day they discover Eyck's dead.

When we see the group on the move next, discussing this, Yennefer's taking up the front and seems to be trying to keep her distance from the rest.

After the group agrees to take a shortcut, Geralt goes after Yennefer.

Geralt: "Did you kill Eyck?"
Yennefer: "Kill him? That's rather pedestrian. And you're the one who's been staring daggers at him since we arrived."

Yennefer keeps circling around coming out and asking if he cares about her. It's terribly important, but for the same reason she can never address it.

She does not seem to mind being thought a murderer - either she just likes being thought of as the person in control of the situation like that, or this is one of those times their conversations avoid misunderstandings and trouble and she takes it to mean he's asking if something happened and she had a reason.

Yennefer: "That bastard Boholt killed my escort before he could accomplish the one damn task I actually needed him for. "

Did she particularly need him?

Yeah. This is rationally true - Eyck's very death proves this is a situation where you need someone to watch your back. And it's emotionally true that Yennefer expects betrayal and mistreatment at every turn. But that's not what she's talking about here. Yennefer is not going to admit she's scared of being alone and puts it as a future thing, that she needed him to kill the dragon, even though she's going to rush off to try to do it herself when the chance arises.

Does she care he died?

The thing about Yennefer is that if she doesn't care and was just using him, she'd be acting like this, but if she did care and feels guilty...she'd also be acting like this to try to convince herself she didn't care and it's fine.

Geralt: "And what was that? Yen! What are you really doing here?"
Yennefer: "I'm here for the dragon."

When Geralt waits, Yennefer hesitates, then opens up.

Yennefer: "There are certain healing properties it's rumored to possess."
Geralt: "I thought your transformation healed all parts of you?"
Yennefer: "At the cost of losing others, yes."

After a moment, Geralt realizes what she means...and starts to smile.

Yeah, this isn't going anywhere good.

Geralt: "Yennefer... do not tell me you've traveled all this way for made-up fertility cures using fresh dragon hearts?"
Yennefer: "They're not made up!"
Geralt: "They are."

There is a moment when Yennefer says nothing, which, considering how bad Yennefer is at reconsidering her plans, is a lot. Unfortunately, Geralt keeps talking.

Geralt: "And seriously? You, a mother?"
Yennefer: "Do you think I'd make a bad one?"
Geralt: "Definitely."

Yennefer values Geralt's opinion, and as I said earlier, she's not as ego-driven as you'd expect. She makes no attempt to defend herself. She just turns away.

Is Geralt right in his opinion? Well, why Geralt thinks this is a question for Geralt's side of things. Let's just consider Yennefer.

A lot of people think someone pursuing a child to fix their own unhappiness is a pretty big red flag, and that's a good point. However, it's also worth pointing out that Yennefer does not have the other traits that usually go hand in hand. Yennefer is not stuck in a bad situation and wanting to live vicariously through a child. Yennefer, really, is spoiled for choice and the problem is she has no idea what she wants to do or what would make her happy. That particular direction of abuse seems unlikely.

In response to Geralt asking her what the fuck anyway, Yennefer once again dodges the question of why she thinks a child is the solution, because once again, she clearly doesn't understand herself why she's fixated on that in particular, to just repeat she's mad she didn't get a choice.

Geralt then does a bit better than Tissaia in that he belatedly realizes that shit, this is really important to her, and tries to switch to arguing why children are bad instead of continuing to boggle at why children.

Geralt: "Listen...the people who made us, they made us sterile for a lot of reasons. One of the kinder ones is because this lifestyle isn't suited to a child. What? You were going to summon chaos on kings' orders in between feeding and naps?"
Yennefer: "Do not patronize me!"

Is this a valid concern, or is Yennefer right to be pissed?

I'm on her side here. Yennefer's current lifestyle is absolutely not suited for a child, but Yennefer's only doing all this in pursuit of that goal. Yennefer is not planning to get a child in addition to her regular job. She quit that one explosively and has refused to go back even with her own authority figure/mom begging her. Between that and how much we see her commit to whatever she's actually doing at the time, the evidence is much more in favor of the idea she's planning to retire to a cottage with the kid - and if that doesn't make her happy either, evidence is also that it'll take her decades to even consider trying something else. A kid could really do worse than a stay at home mom who ultimately decides she wants a career again after you've grown up.

Unfortunately, Geralt then lets slip he's already got a kid. Yennefer is willing to be told she's a piece of shit who doesn't deserve to be happy, because yeah, obviously. She is not willing to hear from people who have what she wants that it wouldn't make her happy anyway, because fuck those people.

Yennefer: "You have a Child Surprise? Isn't that rich? You lecture me on made-up cures for having a child, meanwhile you cheat with destiny to steal one."

"Steal" is an interesting choice of words, isn't it?

We see the Law of Surprise come up three times, and each time, it's by men. Calanthe's husband agrees to it, presumably at Duny's own request. Geralt requests it, and Duny agrees to it. And Geralt's rescuer at the end of the season will offer it.

Meanwhile, Calanthe not only hates it, but specifically accuses men as a class of not getting why it's an awful thing to do.

And one of the traumatic events in Yennefer's life is being taken from her mother.

It is somewhat telling of fandom that not wanting to steal babies from their parents is considered a sign Yennefer's a horrible person and an idiot.

At any rate, this conversation sure went terribly, didn't it? Yennefer opens up about her deepest desire, and gets that trampled on, then finds out Geralt and fate at large are mocking her by having what she's denied.

And yet...

Geralt: "The dwarves, they're leading us to a shorter path. Come along."
Yennefer: "I can take care of myself."
Geralt: "You don't always have to. Come with me."

This is an echo of what happens at the campfire - Geralt is offering help carefully, without saying she can't do something herself. I think also Yennefer will often lash out over one thing before the rest of it sinks in, and, while she's upset, what Geralt said was really that he can't have the child either and it haunts him ("I've thought about this. Often."), because he can't take care of it, and then that's reinforced with Geralt ending by saying he regrets mentioning it. He's said she'd be a bad mother, but he didn't call her a bad person for it, then said he'd be a bad father for the same reason, and so couldn't be one either. Yennefer's still upset, but I think that tempers how upset she is at Geralt personally.

So she takes another risk. She goes.

Yarpen: "'Tis a perfectly fine route."
Yennefer: "For a dwarf."
Yarpen: "Stifle your mewlin'. You'll manage."

Hey look, Yennefer apparently managed to reference race without being a dick! We know this because Yarpen and company have made it clear they're not willing to put up with shit, and yet all Yarpen does is laugh and then smack Jaskier. Also, while we get very little about if there's any actual racial differences, this suggests dwarves are, either genetically or through having lots of practice, actually pretty damn good at staying on the side of a cliff.

Jaskier: "Uh, ladies first? Ah! All right. Yep."

Yennefer lightly pushing him to just get on with it instead of trying to creep around him to go first is possibly the actual meanest thing she does to Jaskier all episode, which is a pretty good illustration of how mean Yennefer habitually is.

Also, I don't think she thinks he'd push her - but I don't think she's particularly comfortable with him, and probably prefers to be behind rather than in front.

They continue on, and the planks behind give way under Borch and company. Geralt grabs for the chain. He starts to get pulled down too.

It's an interesting little scene in that neither of them does a very good job keeping themselves safe. Yennefer's first reaction is to dive toward Geralt just as Geralt dove toward Borch. She only backs up because Geralt tells her to - he doesn't want to pull her down with him. Then the planks start to break under Geralt, and it's Yennefer pleading with him to recognize that and not get killed either.

Borch resolves this by apparently committing suicide. Tea hesitates, but Geralt looks like he's going to try to reach her, so she lets go as well.

Yennefer, who as far as we've seen had only the interaction with any of the group was Borch obliquely implying everything is her fault for not taking the Nilfgaard post, is horrified by all of this, because that's a normal human reaction and Yennefer has those.

In the next scene, Geralt's doing some traumatized staring into the distance while Yennefer's already holed up in her tent, because once again, Yennefer's way of dealing with things is getting away from them. But then, Geralt goes into the tent, which he discovers is actually magically a much larger room with a nice bed and such.

Geralt: "Hm. So simple."
Yennefer: "Do you like it?"

She's not saying this sarcastically. She's silent for several seconds, then looks over the room anxiously, then asks.

Yennefer is utterly desperate for any sort of validation. And this is magic, and that's the one thing she's ever been able to give people that they wanted.

Geralt doesn't respond. They stare at each other. Then Yennefer sighs and goes to kiss him. She doesn't look happy at this whole thing - more like, if that didn't work, she'll try this.

Yennefer: "Is this not what you came for?"

If a lot of the episode so far has been about Yennefer intentionally trying to test Geralt in a way that's understandable, this is a much sadder development.

Either she's going along with this because she's upset enough she wants to be wanted on any level, even if it's solely her appearance which she doesn't value, or she thinks Geralt's shown up because this was transactional - he helped her earlier because he wanted this. She didn't like Eyck but she was willing to simper and sleep with him in return for having an escort.

Geralt: "I came for you."

And that's what Yennefer's been chasing. Being seen as herself.

Yennefer being Yennefer, hearing what she wants means she says there's something wrong with him: "I was afraid that mountain would take you from me, but now I fear it took your senses instead."

Geralt: "Only my nonsense."
Yennefer: "I quite like your nonsense."

It's taken half the episode, but they're momentarily on good terms!

Geralt: "That scent. The moment I dread most every time you leave...is when it fades. When you're really gone."

And we, and he, find out why Yennefer's actually mad at him.

Yennefer: "You left first. In Rinde. I woke up in that destroyed house and you were gone."

Yennefer is clingy. She doesn't put much value on sex, yes, but that isn't the same thing as not being interested in anything more. You can sleep around all the time and also be hurt if someone you thought cared about you beyond sex vanishes as soon as they get it.

So yes, Yennefer has been sleeping with Geralt and then pointedly leaving after. Not because that means nothing to her, but because it means so incredibly much to her.

This also gives another layer to the ambivalence she has this whole episode. From her perspective, it's Geralt giving mixed signals - he leaves her and makes it clear she means nothing to him, then he comes back? Does he care or not? Does he just want to have sex with her again? Why?

Geralt: "Forgive me."

And then she gets this, which I don't think she was expecting, or even considering could happen.

This is, up until the end, the episode of Yennefer actually facing her problems in a reasonably healthy way - she admits to them, she talks about them, they turn out to not be quite as awful as they seemed. Geralt didn't handle the mother thing great, but that nothing he said was that she herself is valueless and unlovable may have helped in the sense that it stopped her catastrophizing - Yennefer has been very all or nothing about things, which is probably feeding into why she's usually so defensive, so in the back of her head she's probably been wondering if she'd be the worst mother in every possible way. And he inadvertently laid out a path for what being a good mother is that's actually achievable for her - a stable home where she can be there for the kid rather than running across countries doing magic for kings. Geralt sees this as a total impossibility, but it's not even a big thing to Yennefer. And now she's admitting to Geralt that she does care, and that he did hurt her, and that's not being used against her.

Afterward, Yennefer asks: "Do you hurt? I don't mean physical pain. They say witchers can't feel human emotion."

This is interesting because we know Yennefer didn't think he was actually emotionless back in the last episode, and how she links "hurt" and "emotion" now. It could simply be that faced with things going right for once, her neurosises are flaring and she's suddenly questioning things she didn't believe before, but I wonder if she thought it was possible witchers were emotionally improved, still possessing emotion but with the bad parts (which is, in Yennefer's experience, most of the human condition) cut out. That'd have been another reason for her to want to know more about how witchers work. She might've thought she'd have liked to be more like that as well.

Geralt is honest in response that it's just a shitty prejudice from shitty people, and Yennefer asks if he regrets it.

Geralt: "It's hard to regret something you didn't choose."

This isn't how Yennefer works, so she doesn't get it.

Yennefer: "But if the choice had been yours, what would you have done instead? A farmer? A stableman?"
Geralt: "Horses are good company. But if I ever dreamed of being something...other...than what I am...it was too long ago to remember. Did you dream of being a mage?"
Yennefer: "I didn't have much of a choice either."

So yeah, from the horse's mouth, Yennefer does not feel it's about making a bad choice but, quite rightly, not having one.

But Geralt asks a question from a different angle. People have told Yennefer what she should want, and they've told her she's dumb for not wanting it, and that she's dumb for what she does want.

Geralt: "Did you always want to become a mother?"

This is the first time anyone's actually tried to address that ball of trauma and unexamined decisionmaking.

Yennefer: "I dreamed...of becoming important to someone. Someday."

Which, on the one hand, not necessarily something you should be saddling a kid with. On the other hand, noteworthy how very little she's really asking here. She doesn't even want a child under the impression it's obligated to love you. She'd like someone who loved her, but she wants someone who at least needs her.

At this point Geralt is falling asleep, but when asked if she's boring him, he says, "Not at all. Before we met, the days were calm and the nights were restless. But now...you're important to me."

Yennefer proceeds to stroke his face while he sleeps. In the morning, she's surprised and relieved to find he's still there.

So, she has what she wants now?

Well, Geralt thinks so and starts talking about heading down the mountain.

Yennefer: "What are you talking about? We're almost at the top. I came here for a reason, Geralt. I'm not leaving till I've killed that dragon."
Geralt: "Yen, no! What will it solve?"
Yennefer: "It will solve everything."

Geralt may be a lot better at getting Yennefer to listen to him than other people, but she's still someone who decides something and then sticks with it.

She really has every reason to leave. Geralt's told her this won't work, and he's pretty trustworthy. Geralt's also given her something else to live for instead of getting herself killed trying to solo a dragon. And you can also see the shape of the other solution in what's been laid out this episode - Geralt has a kid he can't claim because he wouldn't be able to provide for them, which Yennefer could do.

But Yennefer is just really, really bullheaded. She doesn't like to give up on things until she's tried everything.

Before they can properly get into an argument, Yennefer realizes the dwarves have already left. Incidentally, shoutout to the dwarves for not trying to murder anyone in their sleep. They've been really stand-up competitors this whole way.

Yennefer, in turn, uses magic to freeze them in place instead of fireballing them or something, because she's also not that vicious a killer, and rushes ahead.

She pulls out a knife. Now, I've seen people demanding to know since when does Yennefer know how to swordfight as she clearly didn't know how to do it back in the third episode. But "since when" is kind of the answer as well. Twenty years have passed, which alone would explain Yennefer knowing how to do more by this point, and on top of that, the third episode shows just how badly Yennefer fails at dealing with an attacker. Of course at some point it occurred to her that being able to physically defend herself was a good thing to learn, especially when she's spending that time on her own, afraid of getting attacked by the Brotherhood or possibly jumped by one of the rogue mages she's meeting with.

We then get another edition of Yennefer being very oppositionally defiant. She's expecting a vicious monster flinging itself at her, and is already distressed at the sight of a corpse around an egg instead. She's hesitating and moving more slowly. But when Tea and Vea appear to tell her to back up, she starts taking steps at normal speed again. When they tell her to stop and raise their swords, she tells them they should've stayed dead.

Geralt shouting stop, surprisingly, actually gets her to wait. And, distracted from the argument, she then gets back hesitating and feeling upset at the corpse
of an animal she was planning to kill and butcher: "He's dead." and is quickly corrected that no, "She's dead."

She hears the explanation that the dragon couldn't move her egg, and says to herself, "She was protecting her baby." and finally lowers the knife.

Once again, there's slightly more going on here than just that Yennefer really wants a baby. This is something no one would do for Yennefer - her birth mother doesn't fight for her, and Tissaia doesn't either.

And so, when the Reavers show up and start attacking, she switches sides. (I'd also guess that Yennefer seems to do a lot better at letting go of what she's doing if she has something else to move on to.)

She tells Geralt to use aard and kisses him in what's probably some sort of energy transfer so it's a super blast I guess, but yes, kind of silly. Still, on-point symbolism of them working well together...and arguably being easily distracted by each other, given they keep kissing when the fight's not over and there are a lot of people who still need stabbing. Luckily, there's a giant magic dragon to point that out, and they leave the cave to keep fighting. Yennefer gets grappled and Geralt chucks his sword into the guy, then gets dirt thrown in his eyes by his own opponent, then Yennefer stabs that guy in the throat.

Everything is going great.

And then comes the conversation.

Borch: "And thank you, Yennefer of Vengerberg. I can see why Geralt didn't want to lose you."
Yennefer: "What does that mean?"
Geralt: "In Rinde. The djinn."

And Yennefer starts spiraling.

I think this would've happened normally - things have gone impossibly well, so she was going to start second-guessing and sabotaging herself. But right when she's most vulnerable to that, she gets an actual reason to do so, and it's catastrophic.

Yennefer: "That's why we can't escape each other. Why I feel this way inside."

Now, moments ago? The way Yennefer felt was happy. Similarly, the thing she's rejecting is him telling her the thing she wanted to hear, that she mattered to him. This is even more insidious than thinking he made her love him, this is thinking every positive thing that she's experienced is false.

Yennefer: "It's not because of anything real...or true. You made a wish. It's magic."

The reason I think this is really happening because Yennefer can't believe anything would go right for her is that this is the first time Yennefer's expressed the belief magic doesn't count. Magic counted just fine when it was her trying to bind the djinn, just like it counted just fine when it murdered a baby or turned her friends into eels. It's only when something's actually working out for her that suddenly magic is fake.

And remember, being good at magic is the last thing Yennefer's been able to hold onto as a reason she has any worth as a person. If she'd just rejected the wish alone as fake, she'd at least still have that, but now she's both lost any hope of being happy and the thing she relied on to keep going despite that.

Geralt: "It's real, Yen."
Yennefer: "How could we ever know? Disregard for other's freedom has become quite your trademark."

People, understandably, think this is pretty hypocritical, but bear in mind Yennefer does not appear to have so much as given Eyck the idea to participate in the dragon hunt. The mindcontrol was a specific thing for a specific goal, and does not appear to be part of Yennefer's normal problem-solving set.

Geralt: "I made that wish to save your life."
Yennefer: "I didn't need your help!"
Geralt: "Like fuck you didn't! And you, you flit about like a tornado, wreaking havoc, and for what? So you can have a baby? A child is no way to boost your fragile ego, Yen."
Yennefer: "I'll take advice from you about children as soon as you take responsibility for the one you bound to you and then abandoned!"

So, are these guys a disaster together, on the whole?

Well, this is two people melting down because they have pre-existing issues. A toxic relationship is one where you're fine until you get together. This episode shows them having ups and downs, and even here, yelling at each other, they both point out something the other one needs to hear in the process.

Borch: "That's enough. I'm going to save you both a lot of hurt with a little pain now. The sorceress will never regain her womb. And though you didn't want to lose her, Geralt, you will."

Does the dragon disagree with me and the ship is Word of Dragon sunk?

I would also argue no, that's not what this means, it's just how Geralt takes it in the same way Yennefer takes him to mean she's never going to have a child. Yennefer, after all, is going to respond to this with, "He already has." and immediately do her best to fulfill that side of it on the spot, and that's certainly not the final resolution on their relationship. It's possible this is foreshadowing that they're going to try to break the wish before the end, or it's possible this fight alone is all he's talking about, that Geralt can't make her stay and she needs to work through all this on her own.

In conclusion:

I realize this is easy to miss because her character has a lot of elements that usually go with a loner, but Yennefer really does not like to do things on her own. She wants to have people around, she just has a lot of trouble with lasting relationships and tends to sabotage them. She's never alone by choice, and will try to group up with people even if she doesn't need them.

Yeah, snarky confident characters are fun to write, but that's really not what's going on with Yennefer. Yennefer takes everything very much to heart, and her responses tend to be lashing out in self-defense or just taking it. You have to have halfway functional self-esteem to handle banter.

At the same time, because she doesn't have functional self-esteem, I don't think she particularly begrudges other people for any of it. I would actually really like to know if she even has any idea why Jaskier dislikes her - she was easily able to understand enough of the Geralt and Jaskier dynamic to know Geralt cared about Jaskier and wouldn't be easily removed, so she's got the intelligence to understand, but she may not bother to question why someone hates her.

Yennefer is also incredibly desperate for validation of any kind, even from people she doesn't think like her. Her preferred way of getting it is by being good at magic, but sex will do in a pinch. This is the other side of her stated desire - she wants to be important to someone, which means she doesn't believe she ever has been, and she's not really good at telling otherwise.

We also don't see much sign Yennefer uses people. This time, she's teamed up with someone already pursuing the goal for his own interests, and she doesn't seem to have so much as encouraged him to go a little further than he would've already.

Once again - good god, Yennefer is just so bad at changing her mind once she's committed and doubly so as soon as anyone tries to give her orders.

The magic issue appears to have developed in response to finding out it's why things seem to be going well for her for once. This strongly implies there's been a pattern of self-sabotage where she devalues things as they work out for her, presumably starting off with "being beautiful" which would also feed into this - if she's already used to dismissing the benefits of her magically-given beauty, it's easier to jump to other things magic's done.

Chapter Text

So, Geralt!

There's a lot going on with him.

This episode's opening is perhaps the second worst for Geralt - the first episode has people ready to assault him for existing, but this one has the people who hired him ready to steal his stuff while he's gone. I think this is another angle of what we've see in the fourth episode about how people treat him post-fame: even people who aren't openly hostile to him the whole time don't necessarily think of him as a person. And notice his lack of real reaction. Now, he has some time to get composed before he actually pokes his head out, so we can't say for sure this didn't hurt, but by all appearances, this isn't a surprise and this kind of thing probably happens with regularity, even after Jaskier's been singing about him.

Contrary to fanon's murder Roach, the horse we see here is standing there with impeccable manners as loud strangers begin to poke around at her sides. Why? Well, look at what happens when Jaskier objects to them doing this. If someone wants to rob your horse and your horse puts up a fight, your horse is probably getting stabbed. In Geralt's particular case, this can even be seen as practical - getting his stuff back may not be that hard, especially if he hunts the person down before they get back to civilization, while a dead horse is hard to replace. We also know Geralt leaves his horse behind as collateral once that we see and possibly other times we don't - the sweeter your horse is, the more likely it's well-kept because the person is hoping to keep it for good, while the nastier it is, the more likely it's mistreated or outright killed before you get back.

And this is the sort of thing Geralt has to be aware of. He never knows when it's going to happen and he has to live his life around the fact some of the time it will and he has to be prepared.

Jaskier: "You stop-- stop that, or I-- I'll, uh..."
Man: "Or you'll what? Sing us to death?"
...
Jaskier: "Geralt, they-- With the-- This woman just killed a man with her bare hands for trying to steal your horse."
Geralt: "Maybe she'll make a better travel companion, then."

So, multiple ways to take this!

Straightforwardly, Geralt thinks Jaskier sucks compared to someone who can actually help defend Geralt's property. She did something Jaskier couldn't and Geralt says that means she's a better travel companion. Geralt may be feeling stressed that all the responsibility is always on his shoulders. He has to protect himself, he has to protect everything else around him, and no one can help. He may really wish it was possible to have a traveling companion he not only wouldn't have to fear for, but who could even take up some of his other burdens. I'm really curious if Geralt behaves any differently in the next season when we finally see him around other witchers.

Conversely, Geralt is upset Jaskier tried to when he was just getting himself into trouble. Maybe he shouldn't be traveling with Geralt if he's this vulnerable, and someone who won't get themselves killed trying to help out Geralt is the better travel companion. After all, if he wanted a traveling companion who'd do more to keep his stuff from being stolen, teaching his horse to fight back against thieves is a much more direct way to handle horse thieves. Why wouldn't he say this sort of thing outright? I point back to Episode 5 when Jaskier brushes off him being happy Jaskier's alive.

And possibly, Geralt is annoyed that Jaskier seems to disapprove of the fact someone just killed a man with her bare hands for trying to steal his precious Roachie-pie and is trying to get across that frankly in his opinion murdering people over his horsie is good. (Which returns us to one of the things I was asking in the very first episode - does Geralt ever kill humans for his own sake? Would he have killed someone over Roach? Would he have felt that it was valid, because criminal, or that it was a bad idea for him personally to do something like that and so he's relieved someone else did it for him?) If Geralt is feeling particularly thin-skinned today, maybe he's even feeling like oh, am I just a witcher to you? You think it's wrong to steal from me, but you don't think it's right to actually hurt a human, a real person, over it? That seems a really uncharitable reading in the context of Jaskier speaking up, but Geralt might discount that on the basis that Jaskier didn't realize he'd endanger himself doing so.

In addition, it could be Geralt is mad about something else and is just really snippy because of that. We don't see anything in particular to suggest this, but we know from previous interactions that Jaskier can say something that'll make Geralt mad and still be chirpy and unaware of that, so the fact Jaskier doesn't give us any clue they've had an argument means little. For something specific, Jaskier is currently working on what'll become Her Sweet Kiss - people have pointed out that if you pause, it seems to have very different lyrics at the point he's drafting it here, but if it was to some degree always an attack on Yennefer, Geralt may have been getting especially annoyed listening to it over and over.

But no matter what, I don't think Geralt expects Jaskier to truly take this to heart, because again, as far as he can tell, Jaskier doesn't particularly listen to him. Even in their fight last time, Jaskier frames his offense as Geralt trying to be a dick to him, his good friend, rather than actually caring about the criticism itself. And there's no sign at the time that Jaskier does take offense.

Also worth mentioning is that there's no actual rule Geralt can only travel with one person, so saying she'd make a better one isn't saying Jaskier is fired from that post. Still dickish, but again, the Her Sweet Kiss thing may be an element here - if Geralt is annoyed Jaskier seems to be annoyed he's paying attention to someone other than Jaskier, he might be needling him in the sense of saying let's add another person to the group.

Regardless of the exact details, though? Geralt's in a bad mood at the start of this episode. That cheerful fucking with Jaskier we see in the fourth episode banquet? Nowhere in evidence here. He's extremely on edge around Borch.

Borch: "I suppose you want me to tell you why I've sought out such an accomplished monster hunter."
Geralt: "Don't trouble yourself on my account. I just want food."

Borch's chumminess is just making him clam up further and further. Also, this implies some things about the state of his finances. It doesn't tell us he couldn't afford a meal, but he's willing to put up with someone he doesn't like or trust to get one. And this when he's just been paid! I think it's plausible Geralt's learned to try to take advantage of this even when he doesn't need it, but it means it's likely that, while Jaskier's songs may have helped, there's still been a lot of hungry nights over the last twenty years for him to have kept this behavior up.

Then Borch brings up a dragon, and Geralt manages to freeze up even further, with a bit of a deer in the headlights look.

I think Geralt saw something like this coming from someone talking about being a fan of how he's a monster hunter. It was going to be a bad request, he was going to say no, there was a good chance the guy wouldn't like that...

He may even have known and suspected this was what was going on. Jaskier is surprised to hear about the dragon, but Jaskier also is excited about the dragon hunt. If Geralt was planning to ignore it, he could have heard about it and, well, ignored it until now. Given Jaskier is immediately on-board, it's not like he would've felt safe confiding in Jaskier about how unhappy it makes him.

Borch: "Four teams have signed on. The winner gets the dragon treasure hoard plus the title of lord over one of his new vassal states. That is... if he survives."
Geralt: "What does this have to do with me?"

Bit interesting he says this. While it could be a simple matter of knowing exactly where it's going but dragging his feet, it seems like he's a little suspicious something's off already. Maybe something in the way Borch is talking just doesn't seem right, or maybe it's in combination with Borch earlier saying "This is a first for me, and that's saying something. I've very few firsts left." which is a jadedness that doesn't quite go with someone chasing a pile of treasure and a lordship. Borch's freeness with his money and general attitude even seem like someone who already has both.

Geralt: "You've wasted your breath, Borch. I don't kill dragons. Take my advice. No treasure is worth dying for."
Borch: "Depends on the treasure."

Another response Geralt wasn't expecting, and he's getting suspicious. But Borch repeats what he said about firsts and presents it like he's some asshole big game hunter: "What I need is...a new adventure. One final first before I'm too old to do anything but die."

Of course, that's not a reason for Geralt to change his mind. He seems to have disliked Borch before dragon-murder came up, so why would revealing himself to be an even worse person make Geralt care about what he wants?

Now, I think it's worth taking a moment to think about what this specific event suggests about the more general life Geralt lives.

We know Geralt doesn't want to kill a dragon. We know Geralt doesn't want a dragon to be killed. Note, however, those are two slightly different sentences. Geralt is following through on the first but not the second - it seems pretty likely the dragon's going to die, and Geralt wasn't going to get involved.

Now for Mr. "Given The Choice I Prefer Not To Choose At All", staying out of the much worse situation of something he probably couldn't even choose to stop anyway isn't a surprise. I point it out instead because I think people don't appreciate how much living like this sucks. Geralt is hearing people talking about killing this dragon now, and later he's going to hear about how someone killed the dragon, and later he's going to be walking through Lord So-And-So's land full of statues of how the mighty lord slayed a dragon that time.

Like most people faced with things they can't do anything about, Geralt wants to engage with it as little as possible. So he's refusing to go, and he's probably planning to try to get out of the area and outrun the news for a bit.

Borch, however, keeps pushing, and he starts to get weird about it. He looms forward across the table, staring at Geralt without blinking.

Borch: "You feel it just the same as me...that hole inside you. That itch that can't be scratched, that burns your brain, keeps you awake at night. Come with me. I'll show you what you're missing."

And Geralt seems to be taking crazy dude hitting on him seriously: "What am I missing?"

Now, does Borch mean Yennefer? Borch sits back down as Jaskier observes that Borch said four other teams but only introduced three and in walks Yennefer. But this is supposed to be the twist that, if you're paying attention, you should see coming. Borch is here for a kid, last episode established that the thing that keeps Geralt awake at night is the kid, and Borch says explicitly says that in order to see what Geralt's missing, he has to go up the mountain first and then Borch will show him. Even before we know what that is, it can't be anyone who's already here.

Borch definitely means the egg. The real question is if he meant for Geralt to think it was about Yennefer. It may be that his plan was just pressing on the child/unhappiness issue and expected that to lure Geralt up the mountain to find out the answer, or it may be that he expected Yennefer to be what got Geralt into position. By all appearances it was Yennefer that did it, and Borch seems to know all sorts of things about people that should've let him know that'd work, but on the other hand, Borch is really intense trying to convince Geralt to come along over shared parental obsession when he could've just sat there and chilled until Yennefer arrived secure that'll trick Geralt into where Borch wanted him. And while it could be dragons are intertwined with Fate and Destiny and all that, so as a dragon he was able to push that to make this coincidence happen, I feel that's contradicted by the fact they're going extinct.

(Why not tell Geralt the truth when the whole reason he sought Geralt out was because he thought he was trustworthy? Honestly, Borch just doesn't make very much sense to me.)

Just as Geralt ignored Jaskier saying they were totally doing this, he ignores Jaskier saying that holy shit what no they want nothing to do with all THAT thanks but bye. If Yennefer's here? Now he's in.

But is he?

Geralt doesn't go into why he doesn't kill dragons here, that it's murder rather than that dragons are too much work or he'll just get screwed out of the reward with so many other people jockeying for it or something. But we'll find out it's murder shortly, so he probably didn't sign on to commit murder. Borch obviously wouldn't want him along if he thought Geralt would actually be convinced by Yennefer to kill a dragon, and it's also not in line with what we've seen from the show's Geralt who's been willing to give people a great deal but not anything he disagrees with. (Short Story Geralt, of course, does consider it, but I think Short Story Geralt is a less consistent person.)

I think he has no idea why in particular Yennefer's here, because he thinks there's nothing about the list of rewards that she could want. Maybe he thinks she's planning to screw over one of the other competitors because they have something she wants. A less straightforward plan would be in line with what he saw from her last episode, where he spent the whole time trying to figure out what she wanted from him when really she was going for something else entirely.

Now, a thing worth mentioning is that Yennefer does not exactly ignore him. She looks back, she seems interested, she just doesn't come over to see him right then and stays with the knight. I mentioned with Eist that the show tends to do a very careful dance with ambivalent women - Geralt isn't just seeing Yennefer and going, but seeing Yennefer and getting something at least in the ballpark of suggesting she's happy to see him as well. When he heads up, he's with Roach when Yennefer comes over to talk.

He knows he wants to be around Yennefer, and he's paying attention to if she wants him around, but even with that, he doesn't seem comfortable making a move himself.

Yennefer: "How is it that I've walked this earth for decades without coming across a witcher, and then the first one I meet, I can't get rid of?"

Part of why Jaskier can jump in here is Geralt just stares at her. Now, we know he doesn't actually struggle to talk, and he certainly managed plenty of back and forth with her last episode. I think he may be concerned she actually means it about trying to get rid of him. I said last chapter that Yennefer probably feels she's getting mixed signals from Geralt, but Geralt's definitely getting mixed ones from Yennefer, and he's got a lifetime of people not wanting him to stick around. (And there's probably explicit discouragement of that by older witchers, since it probably goes really badly for witchers who try to stay in one place and have a normal relationship with a non-witcher.)

Jaskier insults Yennefer. Yennefer insults Jaskier. Jaskier tries to insult her back, then leaves. Roach butts Geralt in the chest, hard. Geralt finally re-enters the conversation.

Geralt: "Thanks, Roach. What are you doing here, Yen?"
Yennefer: "I'm here with my escort. Noble Sir Eyck of Denesle. To assist him in killing the dragon."
Noble Sir Eyck of Denesle: "For kingdom and glory!"
Yennefer: "Till we meet again, Geralt. See you, Roach."

Geralt is sure something's up. He may not know what Yennefer wants here, but he knows helping this guy out doesn't make sense.

He also does get a very slight go-ahead, where she's slightly more friendly saying goodbye and includes his horse, then keeps looking back at him.

And while I'm not sure how aware of it Yennefer is, there's definitely an added bit of jealousy that she's here with a human knight seeking land and stability, things Geralt can't do/provide for Yennefer or anyone else. He watches her leave, she watches him watching her with Eyck, she then carasses Eyck's face as she turns away, Geralt looks increasingly unhappy with this. I don't think Geralt wants an outright knighting and noble estate, but it's highlighting just how much he doesn't have.

Also, to go back a moment.

Jaskier: "Your man might've mentioned that the road was too narrow for horses in his initial sales pitch."
Geralt: "Welcome to the world, Jaskier."

Geralt doesn't think much of Borch. Which, again, makes sense. All he knows is that this guy thinks he's cool for hunting monsters and wants to kill a dragon not even because of the reward but because he thinks it'd be something to brag about. He may also suspect that Borch isn't being honest, but that just means there's some worse thing he's plotting. It's quite possible he was concerned Borch was planning to add "killed a famous witcher" as another first.

Yarpen goes from screaming at the Reaver guy to seeing Geralt and calmly shaking Geralt's hand. This may be connected to Jaskier's songs, but Yarpen really doesn't like Jaskier - he blows off Jaskier's introduction by saying he knows and stays focused on Geralt. Most likely, witchers at large were already understood not to treat dwarves badly, and dwarves don't have issues with witchers either.

We proceed to the trip up. Yennefer is walking in front of Geralt, smiling at Eyck. Geralt is being grouchy about it.

Borch: "You worry if you blink, you'll never see her again. You're in love with her."
Geralt: "Or...the danger here isn't the dragon."
Borch: "That's why I brought you along, Geralt of Rivia. Nothing scares you."
Geralt: "Huh. Then you don't know Yennefer of Vengerberg."
Borch: "May she be the worst encounter, then."

Neat little exchange here.

Borch says his behavior is because he loves her. Geralt says it's because Yennefer's the biggest danger. But that ties back to Borch's accusation, really - Yennefer is a threat to everyone but most of all Yennefer, and she works fast enough at that you should be worried about blinking.

I do think Geralt's being somewhat honest here and under other less dangerous circumstances he wouldn't be glaring daggers at someone else Yennefer was smiling at because Geralt's big on avoidance and he'd have just run away from the emotions given the choice.

As they continue up, they see the damage the dragon did.

Geralt: "Dragons avoid people. It should have left when they attacked. I don't get it. Why the retaliation?"

Another thing to consider is that Geralt may have assumed this hunt was a fool's errand and the dragon had already left. Maybe he thought people made up the damages to make the hunt sound more impressive. But if the dragon really stuck around after the first attack, maybe it stuck around longer. It'd explain why he seems a lot more concerned by the sight of this.

Borch: "When your species is on the verge of collapse, perhaps everything becomes more desperate."

Geralt eyes him as he speaks and keeps standing there as he leaves, thinking. It's hard to say if he's more concerned by Borch acting weird here - recognizing a species in crisis or that the upcoming fight might be a dangerous one is still within the bounds of asshole aging big game hunter ("I need to kill a tiger before the last one goes extinct!") but it's still unusual and he seems sure Borch is up to something - or if it's the dragon itself he's worried about now that he's realizing he can't predict its behavior (or possibly concerned for dragons in general, because if one dragon is acting strangely it could be others are changing as well for whatever reason).

He might also be wondering if Borch is intending to be making a comparison to witchers, given they're a dead species walking.

Next, Jaskier wanders into the bushes.

"There's something back here. It sort of looks like a faun. "

Geralt, well away, turns away to the side in embarrassment/exasperation. I'm not sure what he thinks is coming next but it's definitely something he doesn't want but doesn't think is dangerous.

We know this because as soon as Jaskier starts actually shouting and indicates it's dangerous, Geralt hanges his behavior and looks toward him and grabs his sword, ready to save Jaskier.

When he gets a look, he relaxes again.

Geralt: "It's an hirikka. It's probably starving. Sheathe your weapons."

Now, I'm not sure if there's other canon people are going off of here, but at least from what we see, I'm not sure why consensus seems to have gone with "herbivore". Jaskier finds it hiding behind a berry bush and we see it has sharp fangs, and generally, one does not find starving plant-eaters outside of winter or drought, neither of which are in appearance here. And a carnivore, especially a scavenger, would make a lot more sense as something that'll make you sick if you eat it than a herbivore. A carnivore is also a lot more likely to charge at other creatures even if they're not up for a fight, since the other creatures might've killed something it can take. And it means more, I think, if it's more akin to a hungry dog than a hungry rabbit and Geralt still thinks feeding it is the best answer, because he's willing to coexist with things capable of being dangerous to him.

Of course, feeding it doesn't happen, as Eyck charges at it, knocking Yarpen over in the process. Geralt helps him up.

Boholt: "How would you like to serve me tonight... Witch?"
Geralt: "Careful, Boholt."
Boholt: "So, the Witcher wants to play knight too, hmm?
Geralt: "No. She's plenty able of murdering you herself."

Geralt would, of course, love to play knight, in a lot of ways. But defending Yennefer is tricky business, and defending anyone when you're a witcher is as well. (The very last thing you want to do when you're trying to threaten someone off, after all, is encourage them to do it just to pick a fight with you.) This is, once again, Geralt knowing what he's doing in a conversation.

Yarpen: "What's so amusin', you overgrown cock hair?"
Boholt: "I'm just wondering who I will kill first. The monster, or the monster hunter."

Joke's on you, Boholt, for Geralt it's already a step up that you're distinguishing between the two.

It's interesting that he does end up asking if Yennefer killed Eyck despite this guy spitting threats - possibly his lifetime of people singling him out made him assume that Boholt's murderousness might only go as far as nonhumans, or at least that the nonhumans would be targeted first.

Then Jaskier makes his joke about Yennefer's virtue and Geralt hits him on the leg.

While the previous bit was ambiguous over if he viewed himself as in a fight over who got the benefits of that supposed virtue, and that's certainly what Boholt was driving at, this one is extremely straightforward. Jaskier's saying something mean. Geralt's establishing he doesn't think people should say mean things to Yennefer, even if they're not doing it as part of putting in a claim that she should be sexually available for them instead of him.

Boholt and then Eyck leave, leaving the rest of the circle to chat among themselves. Yarpen wants to talk politics, which Geralt tries to be above: "States rise and fall like the tide. Nothing new." Because, of course, Geralt can't get involved in those things, so thinking about them as having causes or different outcomes is something he wants to avoid. Yarpen insists that no really, trouble's coming, and Yennefer and then Jaskier jump in, with Jaskier in particular saying, "Queen Calanthe would die before letting them take what's hers." while Geralt stares at the camera and doesn't talk.

Jaskier: "So...we're all about to have new evil overlords, and dragons are, in fact, a thing. Good day all round. ... Oh, you've all seen a dragon before, have you? Geralt, will you please tell them?"
Geralt: "Their numbers are dwindling. Treasure seekers saw to that."

That Geralt describes it like this and not that dragons also get into conflict with humans would fit with the idea he thought the bit about the dragon attacking the countryside was made up for drama.

Geralt: "But they do exist. What people call "green dragons," like the one we have here, they're the most common. Red dragons, less so. Black dragons are the rarest."
Borch: "Gold dragons are rarest."
Geralt: "Gold dragons are a myth. For a gold dragon to exist, it would...have to be the result of...an accidental, unique mutation. And in my experience, mutations, they're intentional."

Okay that's super not what mutations are!

I think the best way to make sense of this would be that Geralt is addressing the trope of mutants being the super version of a regular creature. Witchers are not awesome by accident. Most mutations are damaging mutations, and most mutant animals are in some way crippled and less fit, and being mutated very rarely causes a whole host of changes (and if it does, it was probably a really important gene and you're super crippled). So, if Geralt's been hearing stories about gold dragons the super awesome ultra dragons with ten extra powers, he's going to understandably call bullshit.

The only other explanation is that the way the universe they're in works is that DNA does not mutate naturally and needs to be deliberately messed with, which, interestingly, actually would be consistent with what we've seen! It fits with how Stregobor was so firm in linking the princesses being mutated to magic, and why the idea of the mutation being ongoing as they grew would be particularly frightening - it's abnormal to happen at all, and here it is happening over and over. If children can only have birth defects due to genes their parents carry, situations like Yennefer's would be rarer and cause greater ostracism, and be much more easily tied to odd genetic interactions. It would also mean that if you, say, have the Elder blood in your family tree, it could pop back out any time, unaltered. And if life is no good at speciating here, it explains how the world seems to keep picking up diversity every time the sphere-collisions dump another batch of weird life on the planet, rather than most of them dying out because their niches are already full and the remaining couple going invasive and decimating biodiversity in the process.

(I would add that technically, we do not have any evidence a gold dragon isn't an intentional mutation, something the dragons could do to their own kind but perhaps required resources they can no longer muster.)

Geralt: "Mutant or myth, gold dragons met the same fate as anything too different to endure. They died out."

I mentioned that Geralt may have been ruminating on the desperation of dragons and the state of witchers earlier, and definitely here, the fate of witchers for being different is looming over his thoughts.

And he's definitely thinking of himself, because Borch replies: "There are other ways of enduring. If it's legacy you're after, perhaps you should take the overgrown cock hair's advice and become a knight."

But we'll see that Borch is thinking of something else for his legacy, and it's also what Geralt's sure he can't have and is running from.

As Borch and Jaskier laugh at the suggestion of Geralt becoming a knight, Geralt sits and broods silently.

It's not until further in that we'll get an actual dream of Geralt's and see it was to be a knight, and realize that's the context that's been running through so many of these episodes all the way back to the story he tells in the first one. Geralt liked the idea of knights. And yet it's something he can't have, and wanting it is considered childish both because he's a witcher and because the real knights are just assholes. A witcher does good, but isn't recognized for it, a knight doesn't, but is praised for it. Borch even highlights the contradiction by saying if somehow Geralt could be a knight, he'd be considered an awful one because he doesn't want to do the awful things a knight does. That it's impossible is another part of why Geralt keeps insisting he doesn't want because he's not allowed to have.

The next day they discover Eyck's death, and the dwarves offer to show Borch a shortcut. Geralt appears to take it for granted that they'll be fine with Yennefer coming along too, and by all appearances is correct.

Geralt: "Did you kill Eyck?"

Perhaps half of Geralt understanding Yennefer is just admitting she's hard to understand and actually asking her why she's doing things. Istredd thinks he understands what she wants and won't listen when she says that's not it. Jaskier is happy to assume everything, if only because he wants to get away from her as fast as possible.

Yennefer: "Kill him? That's rather pedestrian. And you're the one who's been staring daggers at him since we arrived."

This is also somewhat obliquely dancing around whether or not she wanted Geralt staring daggers. She's saying here that why yes, she noticed, which is another very small signal to go ahead rather than back off.

Geralt: "And what was that? Yen! What are you really doing here?"
Yennefer: "I'm here for the dragon."

Geralt genuinely wasn't expecting that Yennefer could've joined a hunt for the dragon to hunt a dragon. As Geralt continues to be flabbergasted, Yennefer presumably understands he means "but why would you care about treasure or a lordship" and says no, literally, the dragon.

Geralt: "I thought your transformation healed all parts of you?"
Yennefer: "At the cost of losing others, yes."

It is ambiguous here if this is new information to Geralt and he just puts together than she means sterility because he knows that's what dragon bits are for, or if he knew all the details of the transformation but it didn't occur to him anyone would object to that.

Geralt smiles at this. I think part of it's relief.

Geralt: "Yennefer...do not tell me you've traveled all this way for made-up fertility cures using fresh dragon hearts?"

This is not a good way to approach this, but I think Geralt is likely coming at it from the perspective of not wanting to murder a dragon. That Yennefer's here for that was really upsetting, but whew, turns out she doesn't need to after all so they don't need to fight about this.

Yennefer: "They're not made up!"
Geralt: "They are."

Also, we're on witcher nerd territory now, which Geralt is really comfortable with. He's easing up and feeling confident, not picking up that Yennefer's pretty upset.

Geralt: "And seriously? You, a mother?"
Yennefer: "Do you think I'd make a bad one?"
Geralt: "Definitely."

Oof.

Yennefer doesn't argue, just turns away. Geralt's smile fades. He's realizing this wasn't a great idea.

However - though we'll find out more soon, this is starting to approach several open wounds of Geralt's, and he's not going to be totally rational about it either.

Geralt: "Yen... A child? What could you possibly want with a child?"
Yennefer: "They took my choice. I want it back. Not that I'd expect you to understand."

Interestingly, Geralt does not blow up at Yennefer for giving possibly the worst response to this question. He seems to make the jump to that Yennefer isn't saying this in the sense of wanting a child as a trophy.

Geralt: "I didn't choose to become a witcher. Listen...the people who made us, they made us sterile for a lot of reasons. One of the kinder ones is because this lifestyle isn't suited to a child."

He must make that jump, because the argument that he comes back with is that it's impossible because the child will be unhappy. He doesn't mean she'd be a bad mother because she wouldn't care about the child, but because her life will prevent her from properly taking care of it.

Geralt: "What? You were going to summon chaos on kings' orders in between feeding and naps?"
Yennefer: "Do not patronize me!"
Geralt: "I'm not."

He's absolutely not, and a big clue can be that this is nonsense. Geralt is projecting all over this conversation. Yennefer could totally have fed and napped a baby while being otherwise bored out of her skull in a king's service and maybe left it with a nursemaid if she actually had to briefly leave to deal with something, and in the actual life she has now, it'd be easy to keep one in the side room of her shop.

But Geralt's really not thinking about the finer details of Yennefer's life here.

Geralt: "I've thought about this. Often. And I'd rather use my Child Surprise as bruxa bait than subject it to this life!"

I'm surprised people don't seem to talk more about this line, because Jesus.

Geralt isn't just saying that he can't care for a child. He's jumped from Yennefer's ability to care for a child to his ability to care for a child to whether or not a witcher's life is even worth living. He just said he thinks he'd have been better off dead. He didn't have a choice to be a witcher, but another witcher made the choice to take him to become one, and he thinks that the kinder choice would've been to feed him to a monster.

We'll get more context on just why he's like this in the upcoming episodes, but this gives you most of it.

Unfortunately for Geralt, Yennefer doesn't find anything noteworthy about wanting to die, so she just goes for the part that is a surprise.

Yennefer: "What did you just say?"
Geralt: "Uh... Ah, fuck!"

Yennefer lays into him for having what she wants while daring to tell her she shouldn't want it.

Geralt: "Every time I'm near you, I say more in five minutes than I've said in weeks. And I always regret it."

Not a very positive thing to say to someone. And yet, he follows it up by finally telling her about the shortcut - ie, in a very roundabout way, he says he regrets what he says, not being near her.

Yennefer: "I can take care of myself."
Geralt: "You don't always have to. Come with me."

So this conversation goes all over the place, but it's a much more productive one than usual. Geralt, unlike everyone else, can understand Yennefer wanting a kid. He brings some brand-new issues to the table, but he's making himself vulnerable in the process, and he's willing to at least try to engage with the central issue. And the one thing he does show skill at navigating is that Yennefer wants people to care about her but is also sensitive about needing help, and by framing this as something she doesn't need to take but also something she doesn't have to refuse, he gets Yennefer to come along.

He does make the mistake of thinking he won the argument about dragon hearts. Geralt doesn't seem to know just how bad Yennefer is at letting go of a plan. (Which does tell us a tiny bit about what happens during their other meetings, namely, whatever she was doing, it wasn't something Geralt felt he should try to convince her to stop.)

They arrive at the shortcut. Jaskier and Yennefer complain about the shortcut and Geralt does not, either because he's generally less complainy or because he knew the sort of thing you're getting into when dwarves tell you they have a mining shortcut or both.

And then the planks break, and Geralt grabs the chain to try to save Borch, Tea, and Vea.

It's at this point I feel I should repeat that Geralt does not really seem to like these people much. Possibly he's warmed up a bit, but even the campfire chat is Borch and Jaskier chuckling about knights, with no sign Geralt appreciated it. This isn't Geralt almost getting killed to save his new best friend, this is Geralt doing it because he doesn't want people to die in front of him.

Of course, he can't do anything about that! As his friends beg him to not get himself killed and he refuses to let go, Borch decides now is the time to commit suicide while calling him "Sir" like he's a knight. Geralt is horrified. He holds his hand out to Tea, who's in an even more impossible place to reach, and she commits suicide after.

(Also - while you could say there's a story reason to have the camera linger and show her choosing to let go like that and how it plays into the twist we don't yet know but she's well aware of, it also stands out to me as the camera treating everyone involved as having a moral weight. Each death is a tragedy and Geralt only gives up once the last one's fallen.)

We see Geralt staring after them, then turning and just staring out, still crouched. Cut the the next scene, and he's staring into the distance as the camera slowly comes into focus on him.

Jaskier comes over to sit next to him and tries to give him a pep talk.

Jaskier: "You did your best. There's nothing else you could have done. Look, why don't we leave tomorrow? That is, if you'll give me another chance to prove myself a...worthy travel companion."
Geralt: "Hm."
Jaskier: "We could head to the coast. Get away for a while. Sounds like something Borch would say, doesn't it? Life is too short. Do what pleases you...while you can."

I think a part of the problem here is that this isn't really what Geralt's feeling bad about. If Geralt's issue was "I could have done more" we wouldn't see him in the first episode desperately trying not to do anything. Geralt's miserable because he lives in a miserable world and he feels helpless to change that, so assuring him there was nothing he could've done isn't helping. Life being short isn't it either - Geralt's own life isn't short and also, he's suicidal. That other people's lives are short is something he already knows and is probably a big part of why he doesn't want to get close to them.

Geralt: "Composing your next song?"

I feel this lends credence to the idea that at least some of his crankiness toward Jaskier at the start could've been about the Her Sweet Kiss song.

It also has some strong implications about how Geralt feels this "friendship" thing works. While how Jaskier actually feels is a question for his meta, I think it's quite plausible that while Geralt doesn't believe Jaskier is treating him as any lesser for being a witcher, it's because he thinks Jaskier just sees everyone around as song fodder, and he's going to do the same to Borch's memory, no different than the first time when he met elves and used that to write a song about the evil elven army led by the devil.

Jaskier: "No, I'm just, uh... Just trying to work out what pleases me."

Okay, so people say Geralt missed the point here, but I wonder if Jaskier reframing it as being how he feels is what actually gets through to him. Because what he said earlier is a bunch of platitudes on the face of it, and Geralt has reason to worry about if this memory he's probably hoping to repress is going to end up another inescapable song pretending it was some sort of heroics. But Jaskier is genuinely better at being happy than Geralt is, and I think he recognizes that. So "live now because we could die tomorrow" might not be it, but maybe "if you know what'd make you happy, why are you refusing to do it? If everything sucks no matter what you do, what do you have to be afraid of?" Jaskier is saying he's thinking about what he wants and choosing to do that, because that's an option people have.

And what would Geralt choose to do?

Well, he'll go to Yennefer's tent. Sorry, Jaskier fans. If it makes you feel better, it doesn't make much sense for him to say what he's missing is what he has already, so this isn't a rejection in that sense. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure if Geralt has any plan past that it's to say hey Yennefer, Jaskier says the coast is nice this time of year.

He's surprised to find out her tent is a magical room. Either he's been encountering her in normal rooms, or he can't sense that they're magically messed with and it's only because this time she made something obviously impossible he can tell.

Geralt: "Hm. So simple."
Yennefer: "Do you like it?"

In the same way I think part of Geralt's issues with Eyck is that the guy had things he didn't, I don't think this is Geralt preferring the simple lack-of-comforts of legitimate non-magical camping. I think seeing that Yennefer has and likes nice things is making him question what he has to offer her when he's already anxious approaching her at all. Given she made this herself, that's pretty irrational, but not much more than spending time being jealous of someone she was transparently using (to the point Geralt wasn't sure if she was planning to kill the guy!) while flirting with Geralt.

Geralt really should say something nice in response to the question but he barely even got in the door and now he's feeling even more out of place to be in a nice room. It's only after Yennefer starts kissing him that he manages to say he came here for her.

If I had to pinpoint exactly what Geralt's changed his mind on, I think it's admitting to himself that he fears losing her, and avoiding her won't make it hurt any less. Similarly, he's afraid she'll reject him, but he's not happy being apart without the rejection, so how much does he really have to lose finding out?

Yennefer confesses she was afraid he'd die falling down the mountain too. Geralt says only his nonsense died, which would suggest that he was going to do this with or without Jaskier's pep talk, but then again, could be a joint effort.

Yennefer: "I quite like your nonsense."

And, probably because Yennefer's actually sounding like she likes him, Geralt is able to indirectly bring up that he's concerned he likes her a lot and maybe she doesn't feel the same?

Geralt: "That scent. The moment I dread most every time you leave...is when it fades. When you're really gone."

By actually confessing he's fallen for her even if he's just a fling to her, Yennefer explains that no, she is super clingy and invested and has been acting like this because she's mad she thought it was just a fling to him. Miscommunication addressed, they go to bed.

Yennefer: "Do you hurt? I don't mean physical pain. They say witchers can't feel human emotion."
Geralt: "They say whatever justifies despising our kind."

Geralt does not take offense to this for whatever reason. Possibly it's as simple as that she sounds concerned. Possibly it's that it's coming after her confessing she was deliberately trying to hurt his feelings and getting an apology from him.

Now it's time for another round of asking Geralt how he feels about being a witcher. This also goes a lot better than the one in the tub with Jaskier. Now, part of that could be Geralt is just choosing to interpret what she says in a better light, but I don't think that's necessary to explain it.

Yennefer: "Do you regret it? Becoming a witcher?"
Geralt: "It's hard to regret something you didn't choose."
Yennefer: "But if the choice had been yours, what would you have done instead?"

First, Yennefer starts from the standpoint that being a witcher is something you could regret - that it's a thing he is, and can't not be, and comes with downsides, rather than that he can do what he wants if he wants. Geralt deflects her, and she changes the question rather than argue with the deflection, and she also recognizes the deflection and understands what it means because the changed question isn't "if you could have chosen to be a witcher would you have?" but "well, clearly you wouldn't have, so what would you have liked?"

This is very, very different from "Do witchers retire?"/"No."/"Lol but seriously what are your retirement plans?"

There is also a matter of attainability, and possibly a class aspect here. Yennefer lays out some possibilities: "A farmer? A stableman?" See, the thing is, in a society like theirs, "retirement" is not something most people can manage. Most people keep going until they're too old to work, and then, if they're lucky, have kids who'll take care of them. And most work is not glamorous, and people are limited in their options by their birth. Yennefer's not suggesting outlandish possibilities. Geralt knows plants and he knows horses, and like her, he doesn't have a surname. Those are people he could've been. Would he have wanted to be them?

Geralt: "Horses are good company. But if I ever dreamed of being something...other...than what I am...it was too long ago to remember."

And this way works. Geralt is able to sort of go with it, that yeah, being a stableman might've been nice. Then he goes on to give her context about why he isn't really answering - he learned about not wanting things very young.

However, he understands that if she's asking, it might be something she's thinking of.

Geralt: "Did you dream of being a mage?"
Yennefer: "I didn't have much of a choice either."
Geralt: "Did you always want to become a mother?"

Good questions to ask!

Did you want to be the thing you are, but changed your mind now? Is what you're chasing now something you always wanted, or did you change your mind?

Since fandom's been intensely weird about Yennefer and choice, I don't think the point here is that Geralt thinks if she changed her mind she'd definitely be totally wrong. Someone who decides something very early and never lets it go may not be making the right choice either. Neither, "I've wanted it forever", or, "I've wanted a lot of different things" is enough alone to be sure, and Geralt's own track record with choices is a disaster so I don't think he's under the impression there's a clear right answer. It's better as an opening for actual conversation and examining of things.

As I've said about Yennefer, I think she has never had that conversation with anyone. Which gets into how Geralt is helpful - she's not actually pathologically incapable of anyhing resembling self-reflection, she's just drawn that way, but only Geralt is willing to consider it.

I'm not sure if this is entirely about trying to make sense of Yennefer, or if it's that, having had time to calm down and think about things, he's reconsidering his own rather knee-jerk rejection. He was not expecting that she'd be hurt when he said she'd be a bad mother (or if he was, he expected her to attack him, not shut down). If the one thing that might make her not go through with this was that she would be a bad mother, maybe she wouldn't be. It's also possible, though I'm not quite sure how good a handle Geralt has on trauma, that he consciously realized he was projecting about what his mother did to him and backed down over that - if nothing else, with no more witchers Yennefer sure can't condemn her kid to being one! While massive trauma makes you more irrational, Geralt does seem introspective and good at controlling his emotions, and the times he failed at it he wasn't given breathing room. (Actually, this may be the longest stretch of time we see with him. First episode is entering a town midday and then concludes in the early morning, second episode is maybe a couple hours, third episode maybe a day + an unknown amount of time unconscious, fourth episode is one night, fifth episode starts in the afternoon, goes through the night, and finishes sometime the next day.)

Yennefer: "I dreamed...of becoming important to someone. Someday."

And in return for Geralt actually asking her about her feelings, he gets an actual answer.

Yennefer, in response to her heartfelt confession being met by Geralt falling asleep: "Do I bore you?"
Geralt: "Not at all. Before we met, the days were calm and the nights were restless. But now..."

So this is confirming that he didn't finally manage to get that nap at the end of last episode just because he was so relieved it was all over and Yennefer just happened to be in the room was all, as well as that this has been a chronic issue throughout the series. He and Yennefer do not have a perfect relationship, but they're generally happier around each other.

I'd also like to point out that there's two things here. "the nights were restless" is confirming the chronic insomnia problem, but it's paired with "the days were calm". It's possible he means this as a paired good/bad: "you do bring drama, but it doesn't end in more nightmares". It's also possible that "the days were calm" is not a positive - this is going down in the context of Geralt admitting he can't tell her what he wanted because he doesn't dare want things, and it's also happening in an episode that centers around something Geralt thinks is morally abhorent but would not have gotten involved in. Without Yennefer, he would have refused to join the dragon hunt and had another calm day instead.

Perhaps Geralt himself isn't sure which he means.

Just as he thinks he's won the don't kill the dragon because that won't get you a kid argument, I think he thinks he's about to win the don't have a kid at all argument.

Geralt: "You're important to me."

And it might've worked! (Probably not permanently, but in the sense it'd get Yennefer away from fixating on it.) We don't get a chance to test it because he hasn't realized that Yennefer does not give up on plans and so the only time this could work is when she's between schemes. In fairness, he may have mistaken the clusterfuck of the djinn as being down to Yennefer's massive trust issues, unaware that Yennefer's massive trust issues do not appear to apply to anything halfway useful for her ever, and mistakenly thought that as he's proven himself trustworthy it'll be fine. I think there's shades of that in him snapping at her over the dragon heart thing - she knows he wouldn't lie to her, surely, so what, she doesn't think he knows his dragon facts inside and out?

Anyway, in the morning we find neither of them have tried to win at relationships by running away first! Wow, progress!

Unfortunately...

Geralt: "At a quick pace, we can make it back to the Pensive Dragon before sundown."

Geralt, quite reasonably, thinks that if they've talked through their feelings and also the practical fact that dragon hearts do not work that way, there's no remaining problems! His mistake, perhaps, is that he's aware Yennefer is smart, so he missed that she's also very stupid.

Yennefer: "What are you talking about? We're almost at the top. ... I came here for a reason, Geralt. I'm not leaving till I've killed that dragon."

Perhaps part of this, though, is Geralt's own fault. See, he hasn't explained anything about his opinion on dragons or, for that matter, anything about them but that the heart thing won't work. Even his speech about gold dragons that suggested he was seeing himself in the situation a little, which alone isn't telling you much, only happened after the rest of the group left, as did Borch saying he refused to kill dragons.

Geralt thinks he told Yennefer: "Hey, good news! You don't need to choose between murdering an innocent person or having a kid, because murdering them won't help you actually!" (Although it's unclear if even Geralt knows dragons are people before one starts actually talking to him, but given we won't get the other context for why he feels this way until after, and we established early on that he doesn't kill based on whether or not they look human but if they talk, I think it's likely we're meant to assume that he was aware.)

But what Yennefer got was: Dragons are pretty dangerous so I don't think you should take such a big risk for something that probably won't work." Geralt never explained he's in active opposition to dragonslaying, and the only information Yennefer has to go on there is that Geralt kills monsters all the time and also did agree to go on this hunt to kill a dragon. Geralt hasn't given a reason to want to avoid hurting the dragon...and for some reason he still doesn't.

Geralt: "Yen, no! What will it solve?"
Yennefer: "It will solve everything."

We don't know for sure he wouldn't try explaining, because Yennefer does rush off at this point, but it just doesn't seem to occur to him, which suggests as much as he seems to like Yennefer, he thinks she'd dismiss his take on the morality of a situation the same way he's used to from everyone else. This is particularly noticeable because the morality of the situation is the only thing that does finally get through to Yennefer yet Geralt, who's done better at navigating Yennefer than anyone, misses the most obvious thing to try.

And this is a consistent thing with Geralt. It's not that he never mentions his own sense of right and wrong, but it's more often closer to a frustrated outburst at the whole situation than any attempt to reason with the people around him. And if you expect everyone to disagree with your heartfelt values and then go commit what to you are monstrous acts...well, you're just not going to bring it up and give people a chance to make you feel even worse about how awful they are, and if anything, you'll avoid it all the more with anyone you otherwise like, because hearing them explain they don't see a problem with an atrocity is even worse.

Also, to repeat - Yennefer rushes off. Away from Geralt, down the path, to the dwarves, then she overtakes them and gets to the cave. We see a pretty wide view of the mountain, and we do not see Geralt anywhere. We do know that he's already in armor with his bag and swords resting next to him, and he picks up his bag as soon as she does this.

So, what's up with that?

One possibility is that Geralt is just really, really slow, and I'm not sure we've seen him run, so maybe, but it seems weird - especially because with super-strength there's not even the issue that armor and weapons are heavy.

Or maybe it's because he was working up his nerve to try to stop this. We do know Geralt is bad at actually trying to stop things. He was going to avoid this hunt rather than attempt to disrupt it, then he pretends he'll help just so he can follow Yennefer who he assumes is doing something else, then he suggests that they head back and leave the other teams to murder the dragon and/or each other. And, you know, the previous five episodes. But this time, Geralt bursts in shouting: "Stop!" which is a particularly big deal for someone so incredibly bad at actually intervening normally. (And only after he gets further in does he see who else is in the cave, so that appears to be aimed just at Yennefer.) I'm not sure what he would've done here - just keep telling Yennefer not to do this without getting into the fact it's wrong? Actually tell her that? Gone for "I'm not going to fight you but I will physically stand in your way so that you have to kill me first?" and hope Yennefer doesn't explode the one person who said she matters? (Or maybe on some level is hoping for exactly that.)

We don't find out because Yennefer is already questioning if this is the right thing to do, and Geralt isn't going to have to convince her after all.

Instead, they kill loads of other people without hesitation, because again, this is not a show that does hand-wringing about how life may be precious but humans obviously just matter more.

Borch: "Sir Witcher and his sorceress."

So, this, and Borch with Yennefer in general, is just kind of weird. My best guess is that he's crediting Geralt as setting the stage for Yennefer not attacking him here, but I'm not sure that's really borne out by what we see beyond maybe making Yennefer slightly calmer and that being what tips the scale. Really, the cause/effect seems to be a lot closer to that he's only there because Yennefer refused to leave - he wouldn't have come up on his own, and then tried to leave again just minutes ago, and I guess you could say that's because she's "his sorceress" but that's not usually how people use those words.

... Although it should also be mentioned that without Geralt, Yennefer is going the long route behind the Reavers, who might ambush and kill her. So possibly the real string of events is you need Geralt in order to invite Yennefer to take the shortcut so she gets to the cave alive so she can reconsider about killing dragons so Geralt will follow her so they can help fight off the Reavers. (Also, it's only because Yennefer freezes the dwarves that the dwarves aren't first in and getting charbroiled first, before the Reavers even get there, and the dwarves are both generally more sympathetic and used for the plan of convincing people the dragon hunt was a success and to leave the cave with its egg alone.)

Borch: "So I came to find you, the white-haired witcher, the knight who was taught to save dragons instead of kill them."

Ah, and this is our first statement that what's been going on all episode is, apparently, not just a regular witcher thing. Not only that, but it's odd with what we do know about Geralt so far - we know Geralt was raised by witchers, and he told Yennefer he can't remember ever wanting to be something else, and the one other time he's referenced being taught it was by another witcher, and they're presumably the ones with opinions about monster killing. But if it was only the white-haired witcher of all of them that would think he should save a dragon, then this isn't what witchers teach, so what's going on there? It leads in so nicely to the final episodes. This also raises questions about what else Geralt's done in opposition to the humans around him that isn't a regular witcher thing either, and the question in turn of if the reception he gets from humans is somewhat different than the average witcher in return.

As the fight processes, Yennefer ends up in trouble so Geralt throws his weapon into her assailant, which leads to him in trouble in his own fight.

Boholt: "So I get to kill you after all, Witcher."

There continues to be a sense that men just want to pick fights with Geralt as a machismo thing. Quite possibly there were elements of this in the men planning to steal Geralt's stuff too.

This is in some ways a repeat of almost getting pulled down by holding onto the chain, but for once, his sacrifice is instead rewarded by her killing his assailant. Does this tie back into that exchange early in the episode about traveling companions who can kill people? Maybe.

Here they are afterward, sitting together. They've mostly relaxed and any remaining tension seems focused outwardly on Borch explaining the situation.

Borch: "This is my final first. A child. This treasure, this legacy must endure."

To reiterate: this is a recurring theme! The concept of legacy as in children, legacy as what matters, and Borch is particularly hammering in that adoption is a valid way of doing that.

Borch: "Thank you for protecting it. And thank you, Yennefer of Vengerberg. I can see why Geralt didn't want to lose you."

Once again, it's really unclear just what Borch does and doesn't know, as this wording kind of implies he didn't really know what Yennefer was going to do until it happened and only then understood why Geralt was so wrapped up in her, yet at the same time he knows her connection to Nilfgaard and the wish.

Yennefer finds this a little weird and looks at Geralt.

Yennefer: "What does that mean?"

I'm not quite sure what Geralt's thinking here. He definitely thinks it means something that Borch said it. My best guess is that he thinks Borch is bringing this up because he should talk to Yennefer about the wish. He absolutely could tell her that Borch is just talking about why he joined the dragon hunt, after all. At most, maybe Yennefer could be upset that he thought she couldn't handle it herself, but Yennefer came into this with an escort and was willing to admit she was planning to use him to kill the dragon and losing him messes up her plan. She's not actually that wedded to the idea she can do anything. And Borch didn't say anything about a wish, and he's been making comments about Geralt coming on this adventure because he's scared of losing Yennefer too. Geralt could absolutely have given some other answer and been believed, and even has enough wiggle room to argue it wouldn't technically be a lie because maybe Borch didn't mean exactly that.

Now, we have only circumstantial evidence Geralt didn't want to talk about the wish - he falls asleep before she can ask the first time, and while he does skedaddle after that point, he's got reasons to do that without needing a secret he's trying to keep. On the other hand, he does seem to hesitate and do it because he thinks the magic dragon's prompting him to.

Geralt: "In Rinde."

I'm not sure if he expected her to be mad about this, or if he doesn't think she'd mind but is just super insecure. Whatever it was, he was not expecting Yennefer's response.

Yennefer: "That's why we can't escape each other."

Geralt looks confused at this, blinking and shaking his head slightly.

Yennefer: "Why I feel this way inside."

As he realizes where this is going, he stops with the confusion/denial and gets firmer, but distressed.

Geralt: "No."
Yennefer: "It's not because of anything real...or true. You made a wish. It's magic."

This might make sense to a viewer depending on their familiarity with tropes or opinion on things like love potions, but it does not make sense in the context of Yennefer and Geralt's shared relationships with magic. Geralt was made by magic. Geralt and Yennefer just used magic to blast people off their feet so they could be killed more easily. It is absolutely real. Even if he did think she'd be angry about something, there's no way he saw this objection coming.

Geralt: "It's real, Yen."
Yennefer: "How could we ever know?"

However, even if he didn't expect it to go wrong in this specific way, I don't think he's totally surprised. He was expecting her to reject him, and now it's happening, and it's hard for him to respond.

Yennefer: "Disregard for other's freedom has become quite your trademark."

With that in mind, this is probably especially painful. For it to be a trademark, it had to happen more than once - ie, she's not just talking about the djinn but now saying she wasn't free in their subsequent interactions. He had trouble believing she'd want him, she's now saying of course she didn't really.

That Geralt gets angry does, I think, very strongly imply the wish was not along those lines. If it was possible for this to be true, even a little, I think he'd fold and believe it.

Geralt: "I made that wish to save your life."
Yennefer: "I didn't need your help!"
Geralt: "Like fuck you didn't!"

Very different here than him offering help while reassuring her it doesn't mean he thinks she needs it. Here we're seeing the problem is that