Something Ends, Something Begins: A Retrospective On The Witcher Saga (Part 13)

Geralt and Yennefer embrace
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Welcome back to The Daily Fandom’s retrospective series on The Witcher Saga. The collaborating team of Kyle and Claudia have reached the final book in the main part of The Witcher Saga, The Lady of the Lake. Though this is not the last book they will be covering. Join them as they discuss the arcs, themes, and plot of The Lady of the Lake as well as the alternate ending short story Something Ends, Something Begins.

Please check out the previous parts on The Last Wish, The Sword of Destiny, Blood of Elves, Time of Contempt, Baptism of Fire, and The Tower of Swallows.

Yennefer’s Arc — Claudia’s Analysis

Yennefer has grown on me over the course of the books, and I think the greatest tragedy here is I feel like I never got to know her as well as I wanted. Her backstory is hinted at, but there’s no time to explore farther than that.

Yennefer is amazing here. She spends most of the book basically being a bitch to everyone, which I enjoy for a lot of reasons. I struggle sometimes with what feels like her powerlessness in the face of the sheer number of people who are out to get her, and especially because I dislike the lodge, but otherwise this book plays out her last adventure amazingly.

I don’t think I’ll ever love Yen as much as Kyle does, but I felt for her in this book more than in any other previously. I can’t relate to her very much, but I can understand the feeling of going through hell to drag a makeshift family back together only to have it not really matter in the end.

This book will make you cry.

Yennefer’s Arc — Kyle’s Analysis

Yennefer gets a lot of great stuff to do in this book. Considering it is the last to be published in The Witcher Saga for many years, this makes perfect sense. Her refusing to bow down to Vilgefortz or Bonhart are some truly amazing scenes that show her true strength as a character. She has been through hell many times, such as the flashback where she attempts to kill herself, so nothing can be done to her that hasn’t already been done. She is fearless, strong, brave, and a force to be reckoned with.

By the end of The Lady of the Lake, Yen has been reunited with her family. Though the reunion comes at several costs. First, she thinks that she will be killed by Emhyr’s forces. She makes a deal with Emhyr, she will go to her death if he promises that her daughter (hers, not his) is never harmed. Later when Emhyr backs down, she must contend with the Lodge of Sorceresses. She knows she has no way of dealing with them, she has no choice in the matter. But she accepts with her head held high in defiance, something Ciri does as well. Like mother, like daughter.

Perhaps the best moment for Yen comes near the very end. The discussion that is not a discussion as Yen tells Triss to stay the hell away from Geralt. She and Triss were friends, but time has shown that hasn’t meant a thing to Triss. Yen has fought tooth and nail to get her makeshift family back and she intends not to lose them ever again. Which of course makes the ending even more tragic. For she dies, desperately trying to heal the man that she has come to realize she couldn’t live without.

Geralt’s Arc — Claudia’s Analysis

Geralt might be my favorite right after Ciri. This saga, it turns out, is about stripping Geralt of everything that made him who he was in the first short story, painful shot by shot. First, we tear away his status as Witcher so he can keep chasing Ciri. We give him the friends he never wanted, or ask for.

And then we kill them. One by one. And he leads them to that death already knowing what was going to happen. Not because he’s evil. Every person in his Hanse knew what was going to happen, even if they never said it. Kyle puts pretty nicely in regards to Cahir especially. It wasn’t their destiny to be heroes. It was their destiny to die tragically in order to buy Geralt, Yen, and Ciri just a few more seconds.

Geralt gets his love back, and he also gets his daughter. For the first time since the second book we get to see all three together, each exhausted and on the brink of giving up. It was my favorite scene.

“Don’t ever do that again,” he tells Ciri, after complimenting her deflection of a crossbow bolt.

Geralt is, in some ways, finally human in this book. Not in the ordinary sense. He’s still seen too much and lost too much, but for the first time since the first short story, there’s a sense of finality. A light at the end of the tunnel.

This book personally hurt me.

Geralt’s Arc — Kyle’s Analysis

Geralt’s journey on the path of a witcher comes to end in more ways than one. Staying in Toussaint was harmful for Geralt, in a world like a dream he wrapped himself in a comfort blanket. He thinks that Yennefer has betrayed him and thinks Ciri could be dead. Instead of abandoning the life of a witcher, he embraces it again. And he falls into the bed of a raven-haired, green-eyed sorceress. Fringilla Vigo has many features of both his loved ones, but it isn’t the same for him. It’s a fantasy and he knows it deep down.

After realizing that living a dream is no life at all, he goes to accomplish the very thing he sought to do, save Ciri and Yennefer. Upon getting them both back, but in the process losing every single one of his friends, there is a sense of exhaustion that comes over him. He’s tired, tired of the senseless killing, the political machinations of others, and the world at large. All that matters to him is Ciri and Yen. And the fact that Ciri has become more like him than he wished her to be, profoundly hurts him.

Geralt quickly attempts to ignore the rest of the world, becoming apathetic. But Geralt’s biggest weakness has always been that he cares too much. He’s stubborn, can be quite foolish, but he means well. So, he steps back into the world, mere moments before Ciri and Yen meet up with him, and does what he was created to do, kill monsters. This decision gets him killed not by some fantastic warrior, but a random bigoted peasant with a pitchfork. In a grey world, Geralt died doing the right thing. Sometimes, you can win and still lose. That is life.

Ciri’s Arc — Claudia’s Analysis

Ciri was my favorite character because I understood her best of all the characters. And I’ll be honest, her storyline here is pretty weird. But Sapkowski is at peak form. After countless pages of running, she’s desperate to work around her destiny, and at least go home, and so we’re treated to night after night of painfully awkward attempts to get her knocked up.

I’ll admit I still think parts of the greater evil elf plot here could have been better communicated, but watching Ciri embrace her ability to traverse time and space with the aid of Little Horse made up for all of it.

All her pain, all her effort to get home make the ending that much worse for her. I don’t know if a person can ever recover from what she went through, or if there is any justice in it all, but I know I’ve personally felt that pain and anguish at a world that’s either unfair or worse, indifferent, to our efforts.

This book personally came into my home, attacked me, and left me for dead.

Ciri’s Arc — Kyle’s Analysis

Ciri has become the Lady of Space and Time, part of her destiny is fulfilled. However, her destiny causes her to be wanted by others not for herself but for her blood. Now in another world, she discovers the origins of the Elder Blood and that the Aen Elle intend to use her. With her child in their grasp, The Wild Hunt will ride across the multiverse, executing all those they find lesser. She has the power to escape, but even then, she might not escape her destiny completely.

Bouncing between different worlds, she refocuses, she wants her parents back. She is going to get them back no matter what. And that leads her to Stygga, not before accidentally releasing the Black Plague upon the world. Mistakes have been made and will continue to be made, but that doesn’t matter as long as she has Geralt and Yen back. But destiny once again pushed her down. Her biological father, Emhyr, must sleep with her to produce the child of destiny. However, he cannot go through with it, seeing that his own daughter holds him in nothing but contempt. Finally, she contends with the Lodge, standing up to become who she really is, Cirilla of Vengerberg, daughter of Yennefer and Geralt.

While she has no choice but to reluctantly comply with the Lodge, she fights for her rights. No one will tell her what to do. It’s not about what others want, it’s about what she wants. Inevitably, everything she loves is taken away with the death of Geralt and Yen. Worst of all, if she hadn’t revoked magic all that time ago out of fear, she might have been able to save them. So, she runs. What happens next is for her to decide and not anyone else.

Overarching Plot of The Lady of the Lake — Claudia’s Analysis

This is now my favorite book of the series. I anticipated certain plot twists. The Elder Blood, Child of Destiny nonsense never truly held my interest and seems like more of a McGuffin to make characters suffer than a thought out method of magic.

But everything else was beyond perfect. The manifestation of Ciri’s powers was timed beautifully. I felt her anguish with every leap through time, and it capitalized on Sapkowski’s love of framing devices.

The big plot twist of Emhyr being her father was not only wonderful in that I did not anticipate it, but also in that I believed it. Made even more powerful by the fact Ciri will never know, should never know what almost was.

Sapkowski may not like traditional happy endings, but this story was a hard-earned “happy” ending if I ever saw one. No punches were pulled and ever heartstring was tugged. I can honestly say that with this conclusion, I would recommend this series to most readers.

It’s rare a series can deliver on an ending, especially as Kyle helped semi-spoil certain parts so I am confident in saying this was some of the most stellar writing I have ever seen.

Overarching Plot of The Lady of the Lake — Kyle’s Analysis

Everything comes to a head in The Lady of the Lake. Sapkowski masterfully ties up many loose ends, provides interesting and intense drama, and adds enough ambiguity so as to leave us wanting more. Though I agree with him when he says that no other story set in The Witcher Saga should tell a story past this point. The story of Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer has come to an end. But when things end, other things begin.

The Second Nilfgaardian War ends with the Peace of Cintra. Dol Blathanna becomes a duchy of Aedirn, not what Francesca wanted, but it will suffice. Dijkstra learns that the killer of Vizimir II was a half-elf hired by Philippa. So now, he is on the run and in hiding. Philippa herself takes charge of Redania and plans to groom Radovid to become her subservient king. The Lodge of Sorceresses are manipulating everything from the shadows and inevitably people will not take to them kindly when their transgressions go public. The forced relocation of Nilfgaardians and the punishment of elves that served with Nilfgaard leaves the world in a state of heightened racial tension. There’s peace in their time, but it’s an uneasy peace.

As we see in flashes to the future, we learn of the Witch Hunts, the spread of the Catriona Plague, and many other events. Sapkowski makes The Witcher Saga seem big and small at the same time. It’s about three people, but things involving those three people have big consequences. This is shown in The Battle of Brenna, a battle that helped end the war to end all wars happens without them even being present. And, of course, the reveal that Ciri is only a step towards the true chosen one. The future is uncertain, and I like that.

Childbirth as the Removal of Agency — Claudia’s Analysis

I realize this is a super “I went to college and studied gender theory” theme, but.

Something very interesting about this series is that it’s very focused on womanhood, agency, and reproduction. Now I don’t consider reproduction strictly the domain of women, though it’s often played that way, especially in a traditional setting. In Sapkowski’s book, especially given the plot twists that start coming towards the end, I consider this still true but with some interesting complications.

First, to address the main point of my theme, pregnancy and agency are integrally linked. Milva’s choice to, or to not, have a child is considered a turning point in her character arc. Her pregnancy was unplanned and impedes her every step of the way. But still, it cannot be denied that her choice to have the child (and the loss of it) are treated like important willful choices for her character.

And then Ciri. Reproduction surrounding Ciri is almost always involuntary. Her own birth was basically a manufactured result of years of planning, on the parts of people who removed from her family, and her own father. Worse still, her own ability to have a child is sought after by elves, sorceresses, and her father alike. Every step of the way pregnancy and childbirth are used as a way to control Ciri, and it is even suggested that, as long as she can still get pregnant, she cannot escape her fate.

I am not a huge fan of hyperfocus on reproduction because it tends to reduce complex characters into singular motivations or limit characters who otherwise should not. I have this problem with the series overall but at the very least the way Sapkowski tells it is fascinating. Especially for the fact that his male characters are also tied to this. Geralt cannot have children. Ciri’s father cannot go through with his plans. But where the women are constantly limited in their ability to do what they want by whether or not they can or want to bear children, the men seem always capable of walking away.

Childbirth as the Removal of Agency — Kyle’s Analysis

When we started this retrospective, I stated that what drew me to The Witcher Saga more than anything else was the focus on family. Geralt, Yen, and Ciri have a bond that is so beautiful that words cannot describe it properly. This connection is something Sapkowski clearly felt himself as Yen was based off his wife and his son, Krzysztof Sapkowski, who sadly passed away earlier this year, was the person that encouraged him to write the very first short story, The Witcher.

But with the theme of family must also come the topic of reproduction. Sapkowski manages to frame childbirth in different perspectives to give different people’s interpretation of what it means to them. Milva’s pregnancy was an accident and she was originally going to abort until Geralt talked to her about his own experiences with wanting a child. In the short stories, it is made perfectly clear that one of the issues that Geralt and Yen had as a couple was their infertility. They both wanted children but wanting something you cannot ever have will only lead to suffering. Ciri has no want for a child, going as far as to say that a child is a parasite, but her destiny may lead to one regardless.

I can definitely see the argument that the female characters seem defined by reproduction in a way. However, tying back into the concept of family, I think what this ultimately is about is choice and regaining agency by not letting yourself be defined. All witchers are sterile and live lonely lives. Geralt gains a makeshift including a child of destiny. All sorceresses are forced to become sterile through no choice of their own, so Yen makes a family for herself to achieve so form of happiness. Ciri, whose entire life had been planned thousands of years before she was ever born, runs away. Geralt, Yen, and Ciri gain their agency from the fact that they are willing to step out of the shadow of what is expected of them and told to them, in order to pursue what they want.

Good Facts Versus Real Facts — Claudia’s Analysis

Revisionist history and the selective facts of history are fascinating to me on the human level. We all narrativize our lives. We tell ourselves the story of ourselves so we know how to answer when people ask who we are. We build so much of ourselves on these narratives that it can perturb people when those narratives are broken or proven wrong.

But all of life is a told narrative and facts are malleable because of it. The Witcher makes use of this, but it comes across as more tragic. Instead of our modern-day narratives about how Climate Change is “debatable” we are shown a world where people believe a Chosen One can stop an ice age. It’s…oddly topical. Or perhaps not so odd given the times.

The Witcher leans into the side of “good facts” that creates a false sense of security, naivete, and lack of action. And it never hesitates to show the consequences of those beliefs. 

Good Facts Versus Real Facts — Kyle’s Analysis

The Witcher Saga has never held back on its social commentary. Sapkowski takes classic fantasy tropes, fairy tales, real-life legends, and mixes it up with a dose of modern cynicism and reality to create a canvas in which to talk about things. He’s looked at the cycles of violence, racial tension, backstabbing politics and many more. But the most interesting subject explored in The Lady of the Lake is the idea of revisionist history in terms of legends, stories, and how that affects the future.

Condwiramurs and Nimue’s side of the plot takes place in the future and is entirely about finding the truth about Geralt and Ciri. At this point in time, they are now legends and the story has been changed as a result. Good triumphs over evil, happy endings bring joy to the world, and all is right. They know better, they live in a world that has become stagnant and has many of the same issues from Geralt’s time. The morality tale they were told as children bears little resemblance to reality.

Throughout The Lady of the Lake, we see the real events and come to understand the harsh reality that made the story. Nimue points out that the truth is usually harsh. We even see some of the revisionism happen, such as when the Lodge changes the location of the battle against Vilgefortz from Stygga Castle to Rhys-Rhun Castle. The Rivian Pogrom had many conspiracy theories, but the truth was considered to be unlikely. The White Frost is really just an ice age that is unpreventable, but a prophecy featuring a saviour exists. The point of this being that history is written by the victors and inevitably the passing of time will cause future generations to change and distort history, often for their own benefit.

Something Ends, Something Begins — Claudia’s Analysis

This is cute and serves a happy alternate ending to the saga. It’s sweet, almost too sweet, and exactly what you would want after the heart wrenching “true” ending.

That said, I prefer the original ending for sure. While both execute on the Arthurian tie in, and Ciri’s plans are ultimately the same (she will leave), the original ending stays true to the spirit of the books which, while goofy at times, always strove to show that things just normally don’t work out.

This ending plays out like what you might think the “legend” version of the story might say, the one that people in years to come will tell to their children, the one we spend the entire last book debunking. In that sense, it fits the world nicely, but it’s hard to treat it as anything other than a fantasy.

Something Ends, Something Begins — Kyle’s Analysis

This short story was written as a wedding gift and before Blood of Elves was even published. It serves as a non-canonical ending, with many characters from the short stories making a return while other characters that only appear in the main Witcher Saga novels also show up. This shows just how much Sapkowski had The Witcher Saga planned out while also leaving room enough for him to improvise and change. The hallmark of a really good writer.

Something Ends, Something Begins is a fun light-hearted tale about the marriage of Yennefer and Geralt. It isn’t meant to be taken seriously and has a lot of fun as a result. Hence why it is best read after you finish The Witcher Saga, as it will help heal the wound that Sapkowski has just made in your heart.

Beyond Yen and Geralt’s fantastic moments together, whose lines are reused at different points in the Saga with different contexts, the most interesting bit has to do with Ciri. Galahad mistakes her for the Lady of the Lake, just like he does in the canon Witcher Saga. What’s interesting is that Galahad is a chosen one in Arthurian legend, just like Ciri, he was born to find the Holy Grail. And there is the implication that Ciri is his Holy Grail, that he was born to find her. But just like in the canon version of the Saga, it is left up in the air what is going on between them, as Galahad is famously the virgin knight.

Conclusion Of The Witcher Saga Retrospective Part 13

Thank you for joining us on this journey so far, and I hope you enjoyed our thoughts on the final book in The Witcher Saga. Join us again tomorrow for the Q&A session between Kyle and Claudia as they talk about their different opinions on The Lady of the Lake and Something Ends, Something Begins.

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