Infertility and Destiny in Netflix’s The Witcher

Every fictional world has its own set of rules regarding who has power and how it’s important to the narrative. From Avatar: The Last Airbender, Harry Potter, Star Wars, etc., many stories separate those with superpowers from those who don’t have them. The Witcher does the same while including another aspect to being superpowered – infertility. In this fictional world, infertility causes the characters to have a strong narrative because they struggle with legacy. Their actions are all they can leave behind after they die. Therefore, their story is about what they choose to accomplish and whether it’s enough to sate their loneliness. In The Witcher, a higher power intervenes with the sterile characters by using their lack of legacy to motivate them into fulfilling its will while giving them what they desire in the process. Meanwhile the fertile characters involved in destiny’s plans are not so lucky and become collateral damage. Their freedom to choose is basically violated for an established world order that doesn’t go by any name other than simply destiny.

In stories like Harry Potter and Star Wars, destiny is frequently explored through the lens of the “chosen one” archetype. Usually, the recurring theme is how the chosen one doesn’t have a choice and must deal with losing family, causing them to find comfort in the “found family” trope. This is not the case for The Witcher’s, Ciri. While she does lose her birth family, her chosen one status makes her such a magnet for danger that whoever she tries to make a new life with usually ends up dead. This is because there are monsters that regular humans are incapable of defeating. To deal with those threats, a few children are selected to be mutated and become witchers (i.e. monster hunters). Similarly, with mages, those with natural ability of magic are taken and trained to advise and influence kings. The process sterilizes them; according to Geralt in episode 6, among multiple reasons, it’s because “this lifestyle isn’t suited to a child.”

Ironically, yet perfectly enough, Ciri becomes bound to Geralt (a witcher) and Yennefer (a mage), and it is her destiny for them to be together as family. With Harry Potter and Star Wars, the found family isn’t really part of the chosen one’s destiny and is often excluded from their individual journeys, but in The Witcher, it’s the opposite. For Ciri, she cannot fulfill her destiny without Geralt and Yennefer as her new guardians. Here, found family is essential because they are bound by the law of surprise, a tool of destiny primarily used for paying back a favor but with binding consequences. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Ciri’s found family are both superpowered and sterile. In fact, I think destiny or whatever higher power in The Witcher orchestrated this.

While The Witcher has a chosen one in Ciri and shows her perspective with the above themes, it is Geralt and Yennefer that have most of the spotlight in season 1. Since they are essential to Ciri being the chosen one, their perspectives are given equal if not more importance. The most significant thing in common between Geralt and Yennefer, which through the books and games we know will become Ciri’s new family, is that they are both infertile, superpowered, and didn’t have a choice in being a witcher and a mage. Geralt and Yennefer’s lack of choice in the lives they lead plays a key role in their destinies.

Geralt doesn’t believe in destiny and has a tendency for trying to fix other people’s problems whenever it involves being stuck in a bad fate. This is regardless of whether or not they want his help. No other witcher gets involved with regular people unless it’s to kill monsters for them. He is frustrated with his lack of choice in being a witcher. So, he is trying to fill his need for defying destiny by helping other people defy theirs and move on. When he helped the royal family of Cintra who insisted on rewarding him despite his initial refusal, he decided on the law of surprise – they would have to give him that which they have but do not know they have. When he realized that he was now bound to an unborn Ciri, he refused to claim her. Geralt knew there was a chance that his surprise could turn out to be a child even though he was adamant in the beginning of the episode that “the last thing I want is someone needing me.” He was willing to risk his fear of someone needing him but refuse the consequences for it. This lack of self-awareness by claiming a law that is based on destiny despite his disdain for it gives Geralt a cognitive dissonance that Jaskier and Yennefer have called out. His frustration with destiny as well as his fear for someone needing him has disastrous effects on the world when he tries to outrun claiming Ciri.

Yennefer’s frustrations also stem from a lack of choice. She was sold by her abusive stepfather for less than a pig’s worth because he hated that she was a hunchback. Forced to become a mage, she gained a misconception about her self-importance. She sees herself as only what she can give to people, specifically her power. So much so, that she is at first unbothered that infertility comes with being a mage. Eventually, the life of a mage is not fulfilling anymore, and she feels like she wasted her life. Unlike Geralt, she is more directly frustrated by the infertility because she wants to be important to someone and not just the girl who was worth less than a pig. She wants to be a mother because that would make her the most important person in a child’s life, along with having a legacy. To save her life, Geralt unwittingly made a wish to a powerful genie and bound Yennefer into his destiny of adopting Ciri, whom he was still avoiding.

Just like his law of surprise claim, this choice is odd given his disbelief in the concept of destiny, but it seems he made that wish only to save her life in the moment. It happened quickly considering they had only just met in that episode and it seems premature to bind a stranger to your life. Perhaps Geralt saw something of himself in Yennefer; their forced indoctrinations and lack of choice in lifestyle. Yennefer calls out Geralt’s involvement in her destiny when she discovers that their absurd number of random encounters is no coincidence. She is understandably angry that he interfered with her choice and leaves. For a guy that claims destiny is bogus, Geralt certainly seems to get himself tangled with it a whole lot.

Since it is frustration in being a witcher that motivated those choices, one has to wonder that in a show where destiny seems to be almost at a godlike level, was he always meant for this role? While choice was not the case for Yennefer, she ends up getting what she wanted: a child – oddly convenient for yet another sterile character. Geralt is devoid of purpose (besides killing monsters), and he secretly wants more in life, while Yennefer wants to be important to someone. Destiny may have manipulated their desires and weaknesses, but in the end, they get exactly what they wanted as well as a legacy to succeed them, which they could not have had biologically. Also, when Geralt attempts to defy destiny by not claiming Ciri, he may have caused the world order to descend into chaos, but he himself goes unharmed until he makes the right choice. He is not the only one who tries to defy destiny, but he is the only one to go unscathed. Ciri’s grandmother, Queen Calanthe, makes a very similar attempt at defiance, but along with messing with the world order, she pays a hefty price, unlike Geralt.

Queen Calanthe of Cintra is the mother of Pavetta and grandmother of Ciri. Much like Geralt, she is established as having a disdain for the concept of destiny and male tradition, probably due to her own lack of choice in marrying. She has had two encounters with uncontrollable destinies related to the law of surprise. The first one is a child-surprise claim for her daughter, Pavetta. She is advised that if she doesn’t honor destiny, then the world order will fall apart, and its wrath will be unleashed. She responds by declaring, “I bow to no law made by men who never bore a child!” She spends a whole night trying to fight the claim, but she reluctantly accepts it when she realizes she can’t stop destiny. It’s understandably very hard for Calanthe to honor the law of surprise given that this is her child that she’s giving away to a cursed creature that “swindled your stupid father” as she tells Pavetta. For someone who has managed to gain the respect of her kingdom as its queen in a society that only sees women as breeding tools, honoring such a law means giving in to yet another tradition that directly scorns her motherhood. Yet, it still is not enough. Calanthe made the honorable choice and still, she loses her daughter. All she has left is her granddaughter, Ciri.

Naturally, when Geralt finally takes the claim on Ciri, she refuses to let him take her because she blames adhering to the law of surprise as the reason for Pavetta’s death. Truly, she doesn’t have very good options. Either she gives her only heir to a witcher who lives a violent lifestyle in hopes destiny will prevail (but the last time she honored the law of surprise, Pavetta ended up dead), or she defies destiny and keeps Ciri, which she naturally chooses. This results in Cintra’s downfall at Nilfgaard’s hands and her own suicide. Calanthe payed the price for both honoring and defying a destiny that she never asked for.

Queen Calanthe once honored destiny, which only brought her the pain of her daughter’s death. The second chance she had at honoring destiny, she of course rejected it, getting in the way of Geralt and Ciri’s bond, and ended up losing everything anyway. Interesting that the fertile character loses with either choice she makes. Yet, when Geralt or Yennefer avoid their destinies, it is only the world around them that suffers and not they themselves. Simply by being the biological grandmother of Ciri and loving her, Calanthe was doomed. From how it interacts with Geralt, Yennefer, and Calanthe, destiny may be a character in itself that uses sterile characters (the ones with nothing to lose) to further its will while tossing aside the fertile ones (the ones with something to lose) away. Not only does Calanthe lose everything, but any other family Ciri gets involved with dies or is in constant danger, which is how Ciri knows that her destiny with Geralt is binding. Destiny seems to use the infertile character’s internal void of purpose to manipulate them into fulfilling a bigger fate for the world, which is why they are spared even when defying it.

For Geralt and Yennefer, destiny has a fortunate tone, as it gives them both a child to care for, which fills the void and gives them a legacy. For that to happen, however, Queen Calanthe had to lose everything except for the hope that Ciri will find Geralt. Many people see Queen Calanthe as a character who made a bad decision by defying destiny. However, when considering that fulfilling the first law of surprise did not end in her favor, this doesn’t seem consistent. Perhaps she fell because within this fictional realm, destiny considers fertile characters harder to manipulate since they have or could have a legacy to protect, which divides their attention. With a legacy, one does not need to have as many accomplishments, as their descendants are enough to leave a lasting impression in this world. Therefore, the priority becomes to protect the child so there is less motive to make an impression through action. This results in destiny’s lack of favor to the fertile characters and preference to use the sterile ones to further itself in The Witcher.

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Deborah Majowka has a passion for fiction and storytelling that stems from a childhood filled with books, movies, and television. Her favorite genre is fantasy and science fiction. In 2020, she earned the BMCC James Tolan Writing Award for her critical essay on her favorite superhero titled, “Superman vs Clark Kent: Why Jonathan Kent Matters.” She is currently working to get her BA in English at Hunter College.

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