Much of The Witcher’s first season was cribbed from The Last Wish, the first collection of short stories by Andrzej Sapkowski. And while The Witcher Season 2 largely eschews that monster-of-the-week format, its premiere episode, “A Grain of Truth”, is nonetheless adapted closely from the same-titled tale in that volume. It introduces Nivellen, a friend of Geralt’s who has been cursed by a priestess of the Cult of the Lionhead Spider, and is quite obviously a much darker riff on Beauty and the Beast. If you’re wondering who Nivellen is, why he was cursed, and whether he’s able to be freed from his punishment, you’re in the right place.
Spoilers ahead, obviously.
The Witcher Season 2 – Who is Nivellen? Why is he cursed?
Nivellen (played by Kristofer Hivju, Tormund Giantsbane in Game of Thrones) “fell in with the wrong crowd”. That’s what he claims, anyway. He was the leader of a gang of highwaymen, a responsibility he inherited after the death of his father, and he explains to Geralt that under the persuasion of these men, he vandalized a temple in Gelibol. He was cursed to live as a monster for all eternity, or at least until he accomplished something involving blood and love, the enigmatic cure that Nivellen has spent many years trying and failing to figure out. He is, for all intents and purposes, the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, spending his days roaming the empty halls of his swanky manor, magically controlling the fixtures and fittings.
When Geralt and Ciri arrive at that manor on the way to Kaer Morhen, Nivellen’s story begins to fall apart. It eventually becomes clear that he’s hiding a very pretty woman in the ceiling, a woman who turns out to be a bruxa, a very powerful form of vampire who can turn into a giant bat sprung to life in expensive-looking CGI. She’s played by Agnes Bjorn and her name is Vereena. She is, in a way, the Beauty of the story, although in this case, “beauty” is a relative term.
Vereena’s human form is certainly beautiful, if eery, but her monstrous underside is quite a horror. When Geralt fights her after discovering her presence, she shows her darkest forms, including the bat, and is almost able to kill Geralt and Ciri before she’s eventually impaled from behind by Nivellen. Turning her head and arms around, she pulls herself along the pike she’s skewered on, trying to rip out Nivellen’s throat, claiming that if she can’t have him, nobody can. Geralt is able to behead her while she’s distracted, and the truth about Nivellen and Vereena comes out after that.
Geralt killing Vereena lifts Nivellen’s curse – the blood and love the priestess referenced meant the loss of his true love. Now, as a man, he gets to live with that pain. But the truth of why Nivellen was cursed in the first place is much darker than first suggested. He didn’t vandalize the temple, as he claimed, but raped the priestess. While he was cursed, he took an injured Vereena in and nursed her back to health. She decided to stay, and in an effort to satiate her bloodlust, he allowed her to feed on him. It wasn’t enough, however, and when Vereena killed all the nearby villagers, Nivellen made his excuses. The two loved each other, but their love caused many deaths, including Vereena’s.
At the end of the episode, Geralt and Ciri walk away from Nivellen, leaving his fate a mystery. Whether he will be able to live with what he has done, and whether or not he was a monster even before he was cursed, is left up to the audience’s interpretation.