Last Updated: July 27, 2020
The long awaited Netflix adaptation of The Witcher has finally arrived, throwing viewers into a new world of witches, wizards, and monster hunting. But while the show may follow three leads in Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri, they are all part of one much larger story. And as viewers are soon shown, The Witcher is set in three different timelines.
Since that separation in The Witcher‘s timeline is going to be confusing for some viewers, we’re here to help explain why it actually shouldn’t be. And why grasping the timeline may help enrich, instead of confuse the story being told. All three of the timelines, whether it’s Yennefer’s origin story, Geralt hunting monsters during a tumultuous time, or Ciri being driven from her home, serve a larger purpose to the narrative. But seeing how the timelines stack and overlap is sure to help viewers keep track.
The goal here is to help clarify the timeline established by the show itself, not drop outright SPOILERS for the series itself. So keeping details to a minimum, The Witcher viewers can read below to understand the three specific time periods the show sets up in the first two episodes (and confirms in subsequent s to begin with, we should confirm: The Witcher isn’t set in just one timeline. While it wasn’t advertised, the show also wastes no time at all in confirming that Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer’s stories are separated by years — even decades.
On July 27, 2020, Netflix announced a Witcher prequel series titled The Witcher: Blood Origin. Set 1200 years before the main series, the prequel will focus on the origin story of the first ever Witcher and the fall of the Elven civilization. Pivotal events such as The First Migration and The Conjunction of the Spheres will also be examined, events that shaped the world of the main Witcher series into what it is by the time of Henry Cavill’s Geralt.
Viewers meet Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) in the second episode of The Witcher, titled “Four Marks.” Still, her storyline stands apart since her origin is obviously a pivotal part of The Witcher‘s narrative, focusing primarily on her experience being taught magic at Aretuza, the magical academy which turns talented young magic-users into certified mages. This chapter of Yennefer’s story truly is her own, so fans of her characters might actually be pleased to know that it takes place decades before the rest of the series’ events (a byproduct of the extended life enjoyed by mages).
To get into more specifics for those not concerned with timeline spoilers, Yennefer’s origin takes place approximately thirty years prior to the scene that actually introduces Geralt to the audience. How she finishes her magical lessons, the wisdom she accrues in the process, and how she spends those decades is a story to be told at its own pace. Just don’t expect to see Geralt come storming into her Aretuza home. This is Yennefer’s story, not anyone else’s.
The timeline that launches the show is clearly intended to feel like the ‘main’ setting, and for those coming to The Witcher for The Witcher himself, it largely is. A character or two may cross from this setting into another, but this is, for all intents and purposes, Geralt’s story. The amount of time he’s spent working as a Witcher is intentionally vague, so it’s impossible to know where his actual origin compares to Yennefer’s. But in the dates alone, Geralt is slaying monsters (and humans) three decades after Yennefer’s own introduction.
If audiences will be surprised to learn that Geralt’s timeline isn’t the heart of the story, that is actually the point of the way The Witcher has been structured. In contrast to fantasy shows or stories concerned with ‘the state of the kingdom’ at a given time, this is a story spanning centuries. The powers at play in Geralt’s time are merely mentioned during Yennefer’s… and the fearsome queen making a name for herself slaying her own enemies during Geralt’s day is a different woman than the one Ciri knows.
It should be clear after the first episodes (or the first episode alone, for those paying close attention) that the TWO primary timelines to The Witcher are Geralt’s present, and that of Ciri (Freya Allan). The fact that Ciri’s life actually seems like the most important timeline — and The Witcher series almost followed Ciri as its star — just drives home the point that each strand is as relevant and important as the next. But the first episode suggests, and later episodes confirm, the ‘present’ for Ciri is somewhere between ten to fifteen years into Geralt’s future. Or conversely, Geralt’s seemingly important adventures are fifteen years in the past for Ciri and her grandmother, Queen Calanthe.
Knowing how the timelines are formed, viewers will notice just how many lines of dialogue and power struggles in one timeline impact another. The most obvious being the main conflict of the first episode: the invasion of Cintra by Nilfgaard. The viewer is guaranteed to have questions about the apparent ‘villains’ of the story, but given no real insight into Nilfgaard’s motivations or relations to Cintra, or Queen Calanthe. The inhabitants of Ciri’s timeline are concerned with who Nilfgaard is today, not how they came to be this way. But viewers will want to know the whole story. And thanks to this unique format of telling the tale, viewers may get to.
Knowing that, viewers may want to pay closer attention to the preceding timelines. Even if no concrete answers are offered, it looks to be one of the most satisfying exercises offered by The Witcher for fans of fantasy. Not only watching Yennefer and Geralt take shape, but noting and speculating on how the world around them is changing from the one that was, to the one that will be. What does Yennefer’s world suggest about Geralt’s, decades later? And what does Geralt’s reveal about events Yennefer has yet to encounter herself? And most importantly, what connection, if any, do these three disparate characters have to do with one another?
Those are the questions answered by the series itself, filled with spoilers to be avoided and enjoyed first. Hopefully our breakdown of the time periods will help viewers soak up every clue left by the writers, and supply a surprising amount of world-building in just eight episodes.
The Witcher is available to stream now, exclusively on Netflix.