Title: The Witcher, Episode Three: Betrayer Moon
Release Date: December 20, 2019
Streaming on Netflix
Created by: Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, based on the series by Andrzej Sapkowski
Running Time: 67 minutes
In our ongoing attempt to find the best way to review Netflix’s The Witcher, we’re going to approach episode 3: Betrayer Moon a little differently. I’m going to try breaking up the storylines. The show jumps back and forth—a crucial point because that freneticism was a big detractor in episode 2—but I’ll run through one and then the other tonight and see if that provides a cleaner reading experience. Unlike Four Marks, which minimized the titular witcher, the majority of Betrayer Moon’s runtime is spent with Geralt.
Betrayer Moon: Geralt in Temeria
Spoilers below for Betrayer Moon, episode three of The Witcher.
A dirty, sweaty boy with unconvincing claw marks on his chest tells a non-Geralt witcher (whose pendant signifies him as a fellow Wolf School disciple) of a monster before dying. The witcher names his price (3,000 orens, another new currency for the show) to the boy’s father and sets out.
The next seen features non-Geralt navigating pig carcasses, seemingly unaware of the spooky, non-diegetic music following him in his hunt for a monster who grew in the belly of a “pregnant girl who died before her time.” If he had been, perhaps he wouldn’t have died so swiftly. More importantly, though, is the snowy, smoky, dimly lit building built into the mountain, which sets a beautiful, haunting tone for the scene. The creators hit the mark with the environment here; I wish it weren’t the last we saw of it.
Our hero hanging out with a lady of the night who has a hot lead on a place Geralt could head for some real work. Unfortunately, in the absence of a bard, he’s back to poorly delivering his own jokes. He pawns his horse, tells the tavern keep to point him to Temeria, which the man very literally does, and off he goes. To Temeria! The realm of monsters and cowardly kings!
*cut to Temeria*
I assume they skipped the travel because it’s entirely unclear how Geralt made the trip since he just abandoned Roach before a big trip. The only notable thing about the confrontation between the rabble and the knights, led by an imminently reasonable representative of the (aforementioned cowardly) king named Ostrit, is the guy on the right with a two-handed hammer just acting his little heart out. Scene-work, folks! That’s what it’s all about!
Temeria’s aesthetic is different from the places Geralt has been in the last two episodes (Brevakin was grey, Dol Blathanna was warm and sunny). It’s snowy and full of stone and bronze. It is a bit reminiscent of Ciri’s storyline in and around Cintra, which is a nice touch because the two aren’t terribly far away. Let’s digress into Velen’s geography for a moment. Check this map that I borrowed from the Witcher Wiki and edited to show Geralt’s route and destinations through the first three episodes (red line). I don’t think they ever say more specifically than Temeria in the episode, but I’m assuming Geralt is in Vizima, the capital city, given that he’s dealing with King Foltest. For reference, the yellow circles indicate Citra (where Ciri is from), Vengerberg (Yennefer’s home), and Thanedd Island (the location of Aretuza, Yen’s magic school). Geralt has generally been traveling South in a somewhat ambling route so far. I’m curious to see if the episode-by-episode differences in Geralt’s environments will hold up because so far, it has been both visually pleasing and an impressive job of varying aesthetics in such a consistent manner.
Anyway, in the Temerian woods, Geralt meets Triss Merigold, another well-known character to Witcher fans. She says her name to make it clear but would have otherwise been harder to identify immediately than Yennefer. In the games, Triss’s trademark is bright red hair and green eyes, while the books describe her as varyingly chestnut- or ginger-haired with blue eyes. Actress Anna Shaffer’s Triss has brown hair and brown eyes.
Getting these recognizable characters into the show quickly is nice, but they are being thrown at the audience at such a pace that I worry about fatigue or confusion. To echo a concern I raised in my Four Marks review, it might be a lot harder to follow for people who aren’t already familiar with the world of The Witcher. Appealing only to existing Witcher fans certainly isn’t going to be Netflix’s goal.
Back in the Temerian court, the king is gluttonous, Ostrit is charming and diplomatic, and a head soldier is a rude jerk. They call rumors of the king’s sister, Princess Adda’s unfinished pregnancy impossible, almost ensuring that someone in that room impregnated her, and perhaps cursed by them as well. It’s probably safe to assume that the nice guy is also the bad guy. Storytelling! This storyline is generally based on one from the books and the first game, and also shares a lot of story beats with an unusually long, emotional quest from The Witcher 3.
Triss goes to investigate the monster (a Striga)’s beginnings with Geralt, who suspects, as we all do, that the monster’s father is King Foltest—pretty gross, dude; that’s your sister. Summoning all of his witchery wiles, he manages to sneak past the guards by throwing a rock and making a noise. It’s like playing Metal Gear Solid. Once inside, they push X to inspect on every object they encounter until they find a letter sitting around conveniently providing all the exposition they need: Foltest and Adda’s mother wrote it to let it be known that she was none too happy about her kids’ night-banging.
The episode’s climax sees Geralt—both swords in toe, though he never really uses them—go to fight/save the striga and refusing to be stopped by soldiers. We don’t get to see him massacre the innocent men, as Foltest decides to let him do his job. Alas, the fight that could have been with Cavill whirling through a group of guards on a bridge a la Old Boy’s (and subsequently Daredevil’s) famous hallway fight scene. Geralt gives Renfri’s (mother’s) brooch to the King as a gift to the princess should he succeed in his mission.
Geralt will need to keep the Striga out of its crypt until dawn to break the curse. He downs some potions and gets to it. In my Four Marks review, I mentioned fanservice-y references to Witcher lore; I would consider this the opposite. To somebody who isn’t familiar, Cavill downing a vial of some liquid just looked like he was taking something he needed to take. However, people who are familiar know that witchers frequently brew and imbibe various draughts to heighten their speed, strength, and magic acumen ahead of fights, so it adds another layer. This is a great way to weave the more profound existing lore into the show. In the next scene, as he heads to the fight, Geralt’s eyes are black, his skin extra-white, and his veins popping, the significant effects of the potion he took. That said, the first witcher to try his luck in Temeria was in the same state, and he got merked without getting in a blow, so… good luck, G.
The striga is a Pan’s Labyrinth reject-looking beast with a long umbilical cord. Geralt chains her up (probably using silver, given the smoke), but the chains last about 2 seconds before exploding, and the Striga makes like Michael Jordan in Space Jam and monkey-leaps at Geralt.
An Aard sign sends her flying, but it isn’t long before she’s back on top of Geralt leaning over his face like a xenomorph. Geralt Fus-Ro-Dahs the ground with another Aard to get himself out, which works surprisingly well and leaves the striga stunned. After a few moments, though, the creature is back up and bashing Geralt into walls. Fortunately, the reprieve gave him enough time to magic shut the door to the crypt room with a Yrden sign, so it acts as a striga bug-zapper.
He also, and I cannot stress this enough, pulls out School of the Wolf-themed brass knuckles. They don’t even really accomplish anything, but the creators were presumably so pleased with the prop that they gave them a big close-up anyway. As a last-ditch effort, he jumps in the crypt himself and Yrdens the door shut, letting the dawn come and transform the Striga into a very, very dirty lady with no manners.
The Geralt-Striga fight scene isn’t as beautiful and enthralling as the combat at the end of episode one, which is some of the best fight choreography I’ve seen from a western show—I’d put it just a notch below Into the Badlands. It was a lot more exciting and creative than the fight with the satyr torque or Geralt’s series-opening splash-about with the kikimora, though. They used multiple weapons (arguably too many, as Geralt would hit the striga with something once and then reach for something else for no apparent reason) and covered a lot of geography during the fight. It was also a clever use of Geralt’s magic spells.
It’s nice to see the variety and creativity on the parts of both the director and Cavill, though I’d prefer if a fight like this were the pallet cleanser to typical, high-quality sword-fighting. So far, we’ve only had one of those.
A newly human striga takes a big bite out of Geralt’s neck, so his result begins with him waking up to Triss nursing him back to health. He’s embarrassingly been moaning Renfri’s name in his sleep. He killed this woman two episodes ago and still can’t get her off his mind. Triss ties a bow on things with some exposition, and everyone lived happily ever after.
Betrayer Moon: Intrigue at Hogwarts
Yennefer’s storyline this week opens on cave sex with her boy in front of a host of approving older mage who applaud upon climax. It was an illusion. Weird.
In some scenes, when they aren’t the focus, the creators didn’t bother to touch up Anya Chalotra’s eyes with the violet coloring. It’s minor but offputting when you see them looking brown, given that they’re so brightly purple at other times.
Yen gets a fancy new dress for her upcoming assignment to Aedirn. The magic Tim Gunn, who provides her dress, tells her how she’s a lump of clay—admittedly, a crappy one—and he can turn her less crappy. How nice.
We get a peek of the mage’s council discussing where to assign graduates, which is an excellent look at obvious-but-not-quite-stated corruption, and an area where storylines continue to connect. In addition to Tissaia, Stregobor is present, as is the uncle of one of Yen’s classmates. The council determines that Nilfgaard needs “correcting,” so Stregobor wants to send the spunky Yennefer, much to Tissaia’s dismay—and Yennefer’s as well, as she had her heart set on Temeria, where she could accumulate power. The deciding factor in the vote was Yennefer’s secret elven blood, which Stregobor knew of thanks to Istredd, his pupil.
The relationships are starting to become interesting at this point; there’s a lot of intrigue and complex alliances, so it’s becoming less obvious what people will do and who will prove to be on whose side. I think the show is starting to earnestly build toward what it wanted to be in episode one. You have to lay the groundwork with characters before you can try to pull that off, or the audience will tune it out.
The explosive breakup scene between Istredd and Yennefer is a turning point for Yen, and it is well done. It’s believable and honest-feeling. Both have been doing what they felt like they need to, which involved manipulating the other, but it didn’t mean they didn’t care for the other. However, it reminds Yennefer that if she wants to accomplish her goals, she can’t compromise, and she can’t trust others.
“My world is cruel; unpredictable,” she tells Istredd. “You enter, you survive, you die.”
Coming from CD Projekt Red’s Witcher PC games, and knowing the older, more fully formed Yennefer character, it’s interesting to see her inception. This also is a believable catalyst for the person she comes to be.
An angry Yennefer goes to Giltine, the tailor/fashion consultant/plastic surgeon and demands his best work, and council witches are damned. She’ll pay any price, just leave her eyes as they are.
Step one to making her beautiful is yanking out her uterus, which seems like it has some subtext, but before we can worry about interpreting that, the artist is burning it in a forge and grinding it into a paste. Apparently, uterus charcoal paint is what medieval plastic surgeons use for their surgery lines, and, for some reason, Yen has to be awake during this operation, which seems terrible.
After bursting out of a bloody cocoon, Yen 2.0 emerges, straight-backed and beautiful, and ready to take what she wants. And what she wants is Aedirn.
Don’t overlook the fact that off to the side in the ballroom scene, and a woman is disciplining her child, Foltest, who looks eerily similar to the portrait Geralt saw in the castle in Vizima. Coming from the games, it still threw me for a minute before I figured out that this was the show’s way of hinting at something that I was curious if they were going to deal with or overlook entirely. I won’t spoil it, but I’d say it was a little ham-fisted in its execution, but still left me curious to see where things are going.
Oh, right, you
Finally, in the last 4 minutes of the episode, we get to check in on our girl Ciri. She and Dara are lying asleep in the snow, which seems unwise. She wakes up and walks off into the distance as if possessed. Dara is worried. He chases, but an arrow knocks him down. Voices speak to her. She enters a thick wood. Are these the woods where she will finally find Geralt? We’ll find out in episode four, Of Banquets, Bastards, and Burials.
Verdict: After a rough start, Netflix’s The Witcher continues to improve through three episodes. If I were the sort of turning off a show I didn’t like, I would have tuned out after The End’s Beginning. Betrayer Moon is imperfect, but it would have me hooked enough to keep watching, and that’s an important distinction. I want more of the great combat the show has teased me with, I think Geralt needs a companion to play his foil, and there is some fumbling trying to find the right balance of how much time to spend with each storyline that creates pacing issues. But I’m genuinely excited to get to next week’s episode now. Yen is becoming herself and ready to move on from magic school, Ciri seems close to going somewhere and, as I keep saying, I feel like the collision of the storylines will be an essential moment. If they keep putting it off until the end of the season for a season two cliffhanger, I’ll be furious.
Betrayer Moon’s line of the episode:
Geralt: This isn’t my first time trying to save a princess who others see as a monster.
Foltest: What happened to that princess?
Geralt: I killed her.
- Show continues to improve
- It feels like Yen is ramping up to set the world ablaze
- Geralt, in particular, is coming into his own as a worthwhile character to follow
- Intrigue and drama are stepping up in a way that makes me want to keep watching, find out where the show will take things
- Did you see shirtless Cavill?
- Striga fight was creative and took its time. Pretty good for a monster fight that was more about gimmicks than choreography.
- Did a good job of weaving in Witcher lore in a more subtle way than Four Marks.
- Geralt is weaker for the removal of Jaskier
- Witcher stuff is still coming hard and fast; maybe dense and inaccessible for newcomers
- Still having some trouble with storyline pacing
- Bring back Ciri or we riot
- Y no swordfighting :(