The Witcher season 2, episode 2 recap: Kaer Morhen
Given the name of the episode, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that Geralt and Ciri finally make it to the fabled Kaer Morhen. Geralt receives a warm welcome from his fellow witchers, and we meet Vesemir (Kim Bodnia) and Eskel (Basil Eidenbenz) for the first time. Eskel arrives shortly after Geralt looking a little worse for the wear after a six-hour fight with a leshy. The set for Kaer Morhen looks fantastic, they chose a great location for the keep.
Not long after arriving, Vesemir takes Geralt aside to discuss Ciri. He’s doubtful of Geralt’s choice to claim her, especially since Geralt previously stated he never would. Obviously, things change, and now Geralt is determined to protect her, hence bringing her to Kaer Morhen. It also serves as a reconnaissance decision so he can learn more about Ciri and her abilities.
Even though Eskel didn’t manage to kill the leshy, he did cut off its arm, which Geralt inspects while an inquisitive and restless Ciri meanders around him. She’s already a bit bored and inquires about training. Ciri wants to kill the “man in the black-winged helmet,” or Cahir. Geralt insists they don’t kill people out of fear, only to save lives.
Their conversation is cut short by a sea of rowdiness in the main hall where Eskel has invited a bunch of prostitutes from nearby brothels. It’s an all-out bacchanal in the room. Witchers are no strangers to brothels, but it did seem a little random and unnecessary to introduce the element in this episode, like an insistence to put sex and nudity where they didn’t need to be.
Geralt and I were on the same wavelength. He pulls Eskel aside, telling him he can drown his pain in whoever he wants, but not here and Eskel gets all surly, mocking Geralt for “playing knight with a princess” before attempting to throw a punch. Geralt tells him to go to bed.
During the party, Ciri sneaks around the fortress and finds a room containing witcher relics and memorabilia. Vesemir catches her there and regales her with stories of witchers like Klef and his own mentor, Deglan. There’s a sense of unease between them as Vesemir tries to figure out what to make of Ciri. It’s hard to protect someone when you don’t know who they are or what to protect them from.
Elsewhere, Eskel and one of the prostitutes start having sex. When she takes his shirt off, we get our first glimpse of his shoulder injury, it’s a nasty wound growing quickly in size. A long tree root emerges from its center, the beginning of Eskel’s transformation.
The Leshy’s creature design is ultimately disappointing, though technically the show’s version isn’t an actual Leshy but Eskel infected by one. Imagine if the creature design had taken its cues from The Ritual. As one of my personal favorite monsters in The Witcher canon (and folklore, in general), I was hoping for more folk horror in the leshy storyline.
Back in the front hall, Vesemir and Geralt get to talking about what it was like for Vesemir when he had to take care of a bunch of orphaned witchers. He remarks that he trained them to fend for themselves, and that’s probably something Geralt should consider doing for Ciri. Then all the witcher medallions start vibrating, indicating a monster nearby. They go into monster-hunting mode.
A fight ensues between Geralt and Eskel, now fully transformed. Geralt and Vesemir would rather buy time to save Eskel, but it’s too late. When Eskel tries killing Vesemir, Geralt has no choice but to decapitate him.
In the aftermath of his death, Geralt decides the best way to protect Ciri is to teach her how to fend for herself. Nowhere in the world is going to be 100% safe, not even Kaer Morhen. So the ending begins with a pivotal scene as Geralt embraces training Ciri.
The Deathless Mother, nesting in dreams
The second episode opens with a peek into Yennefer’s mind while she sleeps. Her dream is the picture of domesticity, her and Geralt together with a baby on the way. But the dream quickly turns into a nightmare. The baby’s crib and the infant inside catch on fire, and then Yennefer sees a mysterious figure in a red robe.
When she wakes up, things aren’t much better. Yennefer and Fringilla are chained together in the back of a wagon, taken captive by elves. We meet Filavandrel (Tom Canton), who takes the sorceresses to their leader, a female elven mage named Francesca (Mecia Simson). Yennefer tries to catch the elves off-guard by speaking in Elder tongue to show them that she’s part elf, but Francesca is unimpressed. She’d rather kill them both and send their heads to Aretuza as a reminder of elven glory.
Since Yennefer can understand Elder, she learns that Francesca has also been having dreams of a robed figure. It turns out that Yennefer, Fringilla, and Francesca have all been seeing robed figures in their dreams—Yennefer’s in red, Fringilla’s in black, and Francesca’s in white. These shared dreams must have some deeper meaning. Yennefer tries convincing Filavandrel to unchain them so they can work together, but just before he can give in, the elves find something during their forest excavation.
The elves find an underground crypt of sorts, the walls ornamented with runes depicting the Conjunction of the Spheres. Yennefer and Fringilla are taken inside to see Francesca and discuss their dreams. Inside they find a mysterious altar inscribed with elvish runes.
A three-headed skeleton stands atop the altar, surrounded by other skeletons that appear to be kneeling in prayer. Francesca initially claims the skeleton is the elven prophet Ithlinne, who she believes has been calling out to her through her dreams. The Elder runes on the table read, “Behold the mother of forests, the deathless mother, nesting in dreams,” and below that, Francesca notices an incantation referencing a hut with no doors.
Fringilla is reminded of an old tale her father told her about a witch in the woods with a house situated atop basilisk legs (definitely a Baba Yaga reference), though that wouldn’t be the first time humans mistook elven magic for something wicked. Suddenly, the altar is activated. The pedestal moves, revealing a dark staircase and something whispers, “Turn your back to the forest.” Believing they’re being summoned, Francesca instructs Fringilla and Yennefer to follow her below.
Down the steps the trio goes, emerging into the dark woods (I’m so confused by the layout of this scene. Wasn’t the altar underground? And the steps lead down so how did they end up back in the woods, or am I crazy?). While following Francesca, Fringilla and Yennefer get to talking, and Fringilla reveals some important backstory that explains quite a bit about her character arc.
Before Emhyr and Nilfgaard came along, Fringilla was regularly tortured by the Usurper, who put her and all the other mages into a prison. Lots of terrible things happened there, to the point it became known as the “playhouse,” implying the Usurper and his men would “play” with the mages. Ick. It’s no wonder Fringilla feels so much loyalty to Emhyr, he’s the one who saved her from the Usurper’s playhouse.
In the woods, they come upon the doorless hut referenced in the Elvish script. Francesca recites the incantation. The house lifts and turns, inviting the women inside. Each one is trapped inside a strange situation where they come face-to-face with the robed figure of their dreams. Fringilla’s takes the shape of Emhyr, Francesca sees Ithlinne, and Yennefer finds a young girl.
Each woman is told to make an “ask,” not dissimilar to a deal with the devil. Francesca wants to give birth to the first pure-blooded elf in decades, and Fringilla wants to rebuild Nilfgaard’s armies to face the Northern Kingdoms. Dream-Emhyr suggests she help Nilfgaard see that the best way to rebuild is for them to ally with the elves.
Yennefer’s situation is different from the other two. Her entity is more malicious, forcing her to confront the truth: Yennefer lost her magic at Sodden. She’s known this whole time, but hasn’t wanted to admit it to herself and has been using the dimeritium cuffs as an excuse. The girl morphs into Voleth Meir, or the Deathless Mother, taunting Yennefer. “I’m going to let you bake some more. I want your desperation crisp. You will beg me to take it from you. And I will.”
The Deathless Mother slits Yennefer’s wrists and leaves her to bleed out. Later, all three women wake up and appear okay. Yennefer is intact, with no cuts on her wrists. Fringilla asks her what she requested from the witch since she herself said yes to her ask and made a deal. Yennefer thinks the Deathless Mother is evil and that Fringilla is foolish for believing in any of what happened. In response, Fringilla questions why the witch would let Yennefer go if she didn’t make a deal or give in to her ask. That’s a good point, but Yennefer’s interaction with the Deathless Mother hints that she has much bigger plans for the sorceress.
In the aftermath of the interlude with the Deathless Mother, Fringilla and Yennefer realize they are no longer in chains. Yennefer immediately tries to summon her magic and discovers it really is gone. It’s heartbreaking to watch Yennefer drop to her knees and scream out in pain after confirming this, especially knowing what she gave up to get her magic in the first place.