Title: The Witcher, Episode Four: Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials
Release Date: December 20, 2019
Streaming on Netflix
Created by: Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, based on the series by Andrzej Sapkowski
Running Time: 62 minutes
Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials: No Matter When, Women are Oppressed
Spoilers below for episode four of The Witcher.
Ciri: Plot Devices Abound
We start where we left off in episode three, with Ciri entering into the enchanted wood. A golden light calls her as the snow fades away. And that pretty much sets up what Ciri’s journey is going to be like in Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials. As an aside, why isn’t her hair brown anymore? Did she shower? Has she gotten less dirty sleeping on the ground in the forest?
A tribe of little baby amazons with bitchin’ eyeliner surround her. The head amazon—who is the only one to speak English—emerges from the blinding gold light in an extremely subtle use of symbolism. She tells Ciri that she’s in Brokilon forest! Of course!
The amazons are dryads, and they are the keepers of magic deus ex machina. It ensures that Ciri and Dara are good guys. Airtight writing, everybody. Solid day at the office.
Ciri reveals the truth of her personage to Dara by telling him in the least clear way possible who she is, but he seems to understand. Dara tells Ciri that her grandmother and Cintran soldiers raped and slaughtered his people. Yikes. Because of that, Dara wants to drink the Broccoli water and forget his troubles. Ciri is ready to go with the flow, but she’s too special for regular water, so the queen has to take her somewhere special.
But first, we see Nilfgaardians looting a ruined Cintra, searching for the queen’s dead body. It fared pretty well after plunging out a window, and when they find it, someone cuts off a strip of skin and eats it. He starts seizing, somebody guts him, and apparently, that tells the Nilfgaardians that Ciri is in Broccoli Forest. No more explanation required, I guess. We also catch a glimpse of Mousesack, the druid, still alive and in chains.
Because drinking the plain water didn’t work, the dryad leader has Ciri drink white-silver gunk from the source, which gives her some sort of vision of an Yggdrasil-looking tree in a desert. It asks what she is (in a difficult-to-understand, over-synthesized voice), and the episode ends.
But before we get there, we need to check in on Geralt and Yennefer. They’ve been busy this in Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials.
Geralt: A Witcher with Balls
Like last episode, Geralt’s story opens with a dirty, bloody man whining, but he uses Geralt’s new bard-borne nickname, the White Wolf! In celebration of Jaskier’s return, we’re treated to a refrain of “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher.” Catchy song; I would be lying if I said I haven’t been singing “Toss A Coin to Your Puppy” around the house.
In the next scene, Jaskier is bathing Geralt in a wooden tub. The situation is different, but the lighting, water, and wood tub are straight out of the games. The show couldn’t conclude without getting Geralt into the bath.
It’s unclear where the opening scene happened, but the city hosting the ball Geralt and Jaskier are to attend is beautiful, all clean stone and tall towers. The exterior shot (up top) is gorgeous. They run into Mousesack—the druid mage that was serving Ciri and her family in episode one. He recognizes Geralt (whom he hasn’t seen since “the plague,” a reference to a Bubonic-esque disease called Citriona) and says he’s been advising Skelligan royals for years. How curious.
Geralt uses testicular humor to get Jaskier out of a scrape, which serves as another reminder that the bard’s presence lets them be funnier together without Cavill trying to deliver ill-fitting one-liners. I hope the creators recognize how much better Cavill’s Geralt works when he has Jaskier (or at least a companion) as a foil.
The queen of Cintra arrives, which is a big reveal in the mystery I’ve been talking around. It’s Ciri’s grandmother, Queen Calanthe, obviously alive and well, and younger than she was in The End’s Beginning. With her at the head table is a blond Ciri-looking woman. It should be safe to assume that’s Ciri’s mother. I’ll explain in more detail later, but the gist is that we’ve been following not just three separate storylines, but three different timelines and now comes the puzzle-work of trying to fit them together.
While all this is going on, Geralt is the guy at a party who sits back and judges everyone else like he’s super cool, but you can totally tell from the way he’s standing that he’s not remotely comfortable.
Turns out; the ball is to choose a husband for Pavetta, Ciri’s eventual mother, with suitors trying to curry the queen’s favor. Neither Pavetta nor Calanthe loves this idea, with the latter commenting that it is a bureaucratic necessity because she is queen, not king. When the Nilfgaardian presents himself, everyone makes fun of him, which is obviously why the kingdom later comes back to slaughter them all. It’s completely unclear why Jaskier was invited except to serve as a plot excuse to get Geralt here.
In a notable moment during the dinner, Geralt says the reason there aren’t many witchers left is that the sacking of Kaer Morhen prevents the creation of more. Kaer Morhen is the castle/monastery in northeastern Velen, where witchers of the Wolf School are mutated and trained. Technically (at least in the books and games), Schools of the Griffin, Cat, Viper, and others had their own headquarters elsewhere.
A knight cursed to be a, uh, porcupine-man shows up and wants to marry Pavetta. Calanthe is dismayed when Geralt saves his life instead of killing him, but I’m thrilled because it leads to a big melee. Even Eist, the queen’s future husband, jumps in on the porcupine’s side, because “the law of surprise has been called,” whatever the hell that means.
Turns out the porcupine saved the late king’s life and as payment requested “the Law of Surprise,” which he had but did not yet know about. It’s a law as old as mankind itself, as we all know. King Roegner came home to find Calanthe pregnant, which brings the timeline and age difference between the porcupine and Pavetta into question. Still, we’re way too busy introducing overly contrived plot mechanisms to stop and examine anything here. The porcupine, whom I refuse to call Duny, and Pavetta later met and fell in love (destiny, you see), so everyone agrees it would be best if Calanthe just blessed the union.
As the only one there who has ever borne children, the queen calls them all idiots for shrugging and submitting to destiny. She tries to kill the porcupine herself, causing Ciri’s mom to let out a Ciri-scream, blowing the whole place to shit. Then she starts chanting a spell, and she and the porcupine start to fly away. None of that is a joke or an exaggeration. This whole thing is Hans Christian Anderson on meth.
In the next scene, there’s a spotlight in the middle of the room for no apparent reason. Now that everyone is safe, Eist throws in a jab at the queen, because he’s an asshole. The queen mentions that magic yelling runs in the family, though it skipped her. Ciri’s great-grandmother had it, and they now know Pavetta does (as will Ciri). I bet the great-grandmother was pale with blond hair.
Calanthe relents to destiny and announces that Pavetta and Duny will marry. Eist—who is a jarl (a step below king) from Skellige (vikingy island nation) just kind of slides in and announces on the Queen’s behalf that she will marry him, too. Oh, and Pavetta’s kiss turns Duny back into a human. At this point, my eyes rolled out of my head.
The no-longer-porcupine couldn’t live with himself if Geralt didn’t claim a reward, and we aren’t quite at our limit for predictable nonsense, so the witcher also opts for the law of surprises. On cue, Pavetta cuts off Geralt’s dismissal of all this destiny talk by vomiting. It’s not morning, but that doesn’t matter, because we understand the shorthand for pregnancy.
Mousesack decides to stay behind to train the girl to use her primal (no mention of Pavetta’s destructive power that she also doesn’t know how to use). Geralt, of course, decides to spurn destiny, leave, and refuse to claim his baby prize. Mousesack says it will bring ruin upon us all.
And that’s how you put a bow on things, folks.
Yennefer: Action and Regret
This is the least Yen we’ve gotten since her debut three episodes ago, though she makes up for it by finally showing off some of the prodigious power that people keep saying she has. She’s wearing fancy black clothes and is accompanying the queen and her new baby girl—something Yen gave up the ability to have the last episode. Yen exposits that she has spent three decades in the Aedirnian court (bluntly naming the heretofore hinted-at time skip) and laments that she still lacks real power.
Blood splashes as the convoy is attacked. After about 30 or 40 seconds, Yen leaps right into action, giving the magic assassin with a giant bug pet just long enough to eviscerate every single guard.
Yen brings back the portal magic from episode two to repeatedly teleport her and the queen to starkly different locations: a muddy, Blaviken-looking town; a windswept desert; a parched mountaintop and; finally; a sprawling, buttercup-topped hill. I wonder if it was just an opportunity to show off a visually impressive array of locales, but it was fun either way. I’m also curious if an actual location inspires each of the locations they visit in the Witcher world or if it’s merely a cool-looking environment.
The assassin is chasing them because the King wants a male heir, and the queen has failed to provide one—obviously, female heirs are worthless, and, equally obviously, the failure is the queen’s fault. In a reminder that Yen is a bad bitch who remains unsoftened by the decades, she abandons the queen to die when the royal gets snippy.
The queen tries to sacrifice her newborn to save herself, which obviously doesn’t work. What kind of lesson would that be? As soon as the queen is dead, Yen pops back in, kills the bug, and pops out again with the baby. Unfortunately, the kid dies anyway, and, after a spell fails to bring her back, a bloodied, dejected Yen sits back on the seashore to curse fate.
The last we see of Yen, she is chatting with her dead baby like a weirdo and buries it while reflecting on how unfair life is for women—she goes so far as to tell the dead baby girl that she isn’t missing out on much. Dark.
To make things clear, starting from Ciri’s timeline, everything we’ve seen of Geralt has occurred about 10 years before that, and everything we have seen of Yennefer (until Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials) happened about 30 years earlier. To recap:
30 years BC (Before Ciri), Yen:
- goes go magic school
- gets glowed up
- splits with the magic council
- allies herself with the Aidernian court
10 years BC, Geralt:
- kills Renfri
- meets elf-king Filavandrel
- befriends Jaskier
- visits the Cintran court, where he meets Queen Calanthe and accidentally lays claim to Ciri, the unborn baby of Duny and Princess Pavetta
- Nilfgaard sacks Cintra;
- a dying Calanthe tells Ciri to find Geralt of Rivia.
- Yen is tired of court life, being used, and possibly regrets her life choices.
- Ciri talks to a glowing tree.
It remains to be seen how they are going to get Henry Cavill to 0 BC or what he will have been up to in the intervening decade, but, as I say every episode, we are getting tantalizingly close to a collision of plotlines. It seems like they got Ciri where they need her to be quickly, which is why her screen time and activity has gone down considerably since the first episode.
Verdict: The biggest problems in Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials were dumb contrivances and clichés all over the place. They mostly came from some weak writing and lazy plot devices in the source material, though. It should be noted that it’s not primarily the fault of the show creators in the same way that earlier problems were, but it still detracts from the quality of Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials. They also could have done more to spread out that exposition-bomb rather than being coy for three episodes and then dropping it all in the audience’s lap at once. It’s up to the writers to choose what source material to draw on. In some cases, like incredibly overt symbolism, it’s hard to tell where ham-fisted source material ends, and lazy adaptation begins. That said, I think the dialogue and pacing have improved considerably since the first two episodes making for a much more enjoyable watching experience.
While I give him crap, Cavill has grown on me as Geralt. He makes some dumbass expressions, his accent is a mess (albeit a well-reasoned one), and he desperately needs a foil, but he seems to understand Geralt’s presence well, his look is good, and he clearly worked hard on the combat. He succeeds when he has strong scene partners like Jaskier and Calanthe and isn’t asked to deliver one-liners or speeches. In the other storylines, Yen is coming into her own. Whatshername has shown herself to be a good actress but is mostly being asked to give everything she sees a wide-eyed stare of horror right now, so her storyline has stagnated.
Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials’ Line of the Episode
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.
- Best dialogue the series has displayed so far
- Finally outing the belabored twist
- Older Yen is coming into her own as a character
- Yen vs. Assassin magic fight was visually interesting
- Fun feast fracas
- Jaskier, Eist, and Calanthe made for good supporting characters in Geralt’s story
- Geralt in a bathtub
- Still great environments
- Plot devices left and right
- Heavy lifting trying to explain the timeline mess they’ve gotten themselves into
- Ciri’s storyline—formerly the strongest—is currently a dreadful bore
- Everything about the law of surprise