The Witcher Recap: The Lesser of Two Evils

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: December 20, 2019 (Last updated: January 1, 2023)
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The Witcher (Netflix) Season 1, Episode 1 recap: "The End's Beginning"


“The End’s Beginning” adapts the story of how Geralt got his least-favorite nickname, as Ciri flees her home and sets out to discover her destiny.

This recap of The Witcher Season 1, Episode 1, “The End’s Beginning”, contains spoilers. You can check out our spoiler-free thoughts on the full season by clicking these words.

Netflix’s adaptation of The Witcher starts as it means to go on in “The End’s Beginning”, with Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) fighting and killing a many-legged monster in an eerie woodland lake. This thing is a kikimora, and it might fetch a price; such is Witcher’s work, the hardscrabble living of a mutated monster hunter, which Geralt discusses briefly with the pretty woman, Renfri (Emma Appleton), whom he meets in the local tavern where he goes asking after the alderman. Anyone who has read Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Last Wish, the short story collection upon which this episode and several others are based, knows that the name Renfri doesn’t bode well for Geralt, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

The alderman’s daughter, Marilka (Mia McKenna-Bruce), saves Geralt from harassment by the prejudiced locals — Witchers, on account of being mutants, are not well-liked — and takes him to see the local wizard, Irion. But after Geralt steps through a portal into an idyllic garden tended to by naked women, he learns that Irion has been dead for 200 years. Now occupying his tower is sorcerer Stregobor (Lars Mikkelsen), who, as Geralt figures, would like to hire him to kill a monster. This monster, though, is the worst kind — the human kind. It’s Renfri.

Renfri, as we’re told in The Witcher Episode 1, is royalty, born to a king during a prophesized eclipse that the king’s new queen convinced him meant she was cursed. Turning to Stregobor for help investigating this claim, the “curse” was apparently discovered and Renfri went rogue, spending her time since living as a notorious outlaw forced to steal and swindle in order to survive (in The Last Wish she’s known as “Shrike”, though I don’t recall that coming up in “The End’s Beginning”). Now, she wants revenge on Stregobor, and Stegobor wants Geralt’s protection. But Geralt only kills monsters, and he has no evidence that Renfri is one. He might not have done only good in his life, but when it comes to choosing between two evils, he’d rather not.

The Witcher Season 1, Episode 1, unlike the story it’s based on, shares space with another plot thread: That of Princess Cirilla (Freya Allan), the granddaughter of Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May), “The Lionness of Cintra”. Cintra is on the brink of invasion by the Nilfgaardian Empire, a cartoonishly antagonistic expansionist force that will sack Cintra by episode’s end, thus throwing into motion a lot of large-scale events that we’ll learn about in due course.

Before that, though, we rejoin Geralt and his horse, Roach, in the woods with Renfri. She, too, has a proposition for the Witcher: She wants him to kill Stregobor. Either way, the sorcerer must die, but if Geralt does the deed, it’ll save the lives of the innocents who will inevitably try and intervene if Renfri and her gang of outlaws perform the task themselves. Renfri explains what happened all those years ago, when it was to be determined whether or not she was “cursed”. Stregobor’s man robbed and raped her. Everything she’s done since has been out of necessity and survival. Is she a monster by nature, as Stregobor claimed, or because of the circumstances forced upon her? Attempting to convince Geralt, she asks what he might do if they came after him for being “a monster”, though he says they already have. When asked why not just kill them, he replies that then he would be exactly what they say he is. There’s a lesson there, and he hopes Renfri learns it, telling her to leave Blaviken and leave Stregobor alone.

The Nilfgaardians invade Cintra in “The End’s Beginning”, and the Netflix show flexes its ample budget with a big, bloody war scene to get the point across. Ciri is contained to the castle and has been for two days, babysat by her druid protector Mousesack (Adam Levy). Back at the battle, Eist Tuirseach (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), Ciri’s grandfather, takes an arrow in the eye and is killed, meaning this is the Battle of Marnadal, a key engagement during the Nilfgaardian invasion of Cintra. Realizing that the battle is being lost, Mousesack creates a magic barrier to protect the castle that’ll last “as long as he does”.

Inevitably, the Nilfgaardian forces break into the castle. Queen Calanthe, on her deathbed, tries to give Ciri some last-minute advice, but when emotion overcomes her, she screams and roars, moving some nearby glasses — that, then, is our first glimpse of Ciri exhibiting “the Force”, the enigmatic and raw magical power of this universe. Calanthe tells Ciri that she must flee the castle, and that the world depends on her doing so and finding Geralt of Rivia — he is her destiny. Mousesack promises the Queen he’ll deliver Ciri, as various nobles, knowing the battle is lost and what capture by the Nilfgaardian Empire means, poison themselves and their children. Ciri naturally wants answers, but none are forthcoming from Sir Lazlo (Maciej Musial), who is killed by an arrow during their escape, or by Mousesack, who buys her time to get away and is left behind.

Back to Geralt in “The End’s Beginning”, he has a chat with Roach about the killing of his first unlikely monster, also taken from The Last Wish though not the Renfri story — a lot of the dialogue in this series seems lifted directly from the page. Renfri returns to him and says she has decided to leave, and they share a romantic moment. When Geralt awakens from a cryptic, sexy vision, he figures out the truth of the matter: Renfri lied, and has gone to the tower to kill Stregobor. In the market, her men are waiting for Geralt. Mention is made again of “the lesser evil”, a sentiment expressed by both Stregobor and Renfri about Geralt killing the other. Realizing the inevitability of his intervention, Geralt slaughters Renfri’s men, and eventually her, though the secret weapon of Netflix’s The Witcher is revealed in the process: The action in this series is spectacular.

In the aftermath of the carnage, Stregobor wants to conduct an autopsy on Renfri to determine if she really was cursed after all. But Geralt won’t let him. Stregobor says he made a choice to take the law into his own hands and he’ll never know if it was the right one — the villagers pelt him with stones, and Marilka demands he leave Blaviken and never come back. He does.

As The Witcher Season 1, Episode 1 ends, Ciri is accosted by a soldier, but her screaming reduces a tower to rubble, creating a gap in the earth between them. The last we see of her she’s fleeing into the woods, alone.

Check out our thoughts on the next episode by clicking these words.

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