Top 10 Differences Between The Witcher Show and Books
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Nick Roffey
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Differences Between The Witcher Show & Books. For this list, we'll be looking at the most significant deviations from the source material in the first two seasons of Netflix's adaptation. There are a LOT of changes, especially in the second season, so we've tried to focus on just the most impactful! Prepare for epic spoilers for both the books and show! Our countdown includes Geralt's fight with Rience, the backstories of the female leads, Emhyr's secret, key battles, and more!
#10: The Wild Hunt
While season one of Netflix’s adaptation drew from the short story collections “The Last Wish” and “Sword of Destiny”, much of season two is based on the first novel in the saga, “Blood of Elves”. However, Ciri’s encounter with the Wild Hunt in the last episode, when she portals to another sphere, seems to have been inspired by a moment from the next book, “Time of Contempt”. Rebelling against Yennefer’s plans to enroll her in Aretuza, Ciri steals a horse and rides off to find Geralt. On the way, the Wild Hunt gives chase, but Yennefer swoops in and fights them off. Compared to the books, the show has opted to introduce the Wild Hunt earlier, along with Ciri’s ability to portal to other worlds.
#9: Geralt’s Fight with Rience
In both Netflix’s adaptation and “Blood of Elves”, the mage Rience is tasked with finding Ciri. The show sees Rience interrogate Jaskier, travel to Kaer Morhen, and sneak into the Temple of Melitele. The main battle of the season happens later, against Voleth Meir. While the books still have Rience capture Jaskier, it’s Geralt who tracks down and ambushes Rience, in Oxenfurt. The witcher is aided by Shani, a medical student, and the sorceress Philippa Eilhart. This is the climax of the book, a bloody battle that sees Geralt go head to head with Rience as well as the Michelet brothers.
#8: Francesca & the Scoia'tael
While Francesca Findabair is a powerful elven sorceress in the books, her role is very different. A member of the Brotherhood of Sorcerers, she fights with them at Sodden Hill. However, she’s also sympathetic towards a group of elves and dwarves called the Scoia'tael (or Squirrels), who ally with Nilfgaard and wage guerilla war against humans in the Northern Kingdoms. “Blood of Elves” sees the Scoia'tael ambush Yarpen and his band, who Geralt, Ciri, and Triss are travelling with on their way to the Temple of Melitele. In “Time of Contempt”, Francesca does make a deal with Nilfgaard, but it’s to rule the elven state Dol Blathanna, rather than for refuge in Cintra. She doesn’t become pregnant, nor commit infanticide.
#7: Yennefer on the Run
In the episode “What Is Lost”, Yennefer’s relationship with the Brotherhood of Sorcerers takes a serious dive. After Stregobor foments suspicions that she’s a spy, she’s ordered to prove herself by executing Cahir. At the last moment though, she frees Cahir and flees! In the books, none of this happens. After losing Ciri, Cahir returns to Nilfgaard and is imprisoned. And Yennefer doesn’t become a fugitive. This could have major consequences, because in the novel “Time of Contempt”, Yennefer, Ciri, and Geralt travel to Thanedd Island, where they’re caught up in an event with far-reaching repercussions. The way season two left off, they would not exactly be welcome there.
#6: The Backstories of the Female Leads
While Yennefer and Ciri’s backstories remain more or less consistent in the show and books, showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich has expanded their roles by delving much deeper. Rather than meeting Yennefer as a razor-tongued sorceress, we get to watch her go from meek and despised to beautiful, powerful, and respected. The show also follows Ciri’s early adventures much more closely. In the books, she meets Geralt in Brokilon after running away from an arranged marriage. When we next see her, Cintra has fallen and Geralt has found her again. While we do eventually learn of events in between, her misadventures with Dara and the serial-killer Doppler are exclusive to the show.
#5: Key Battles
In the show we get to see the Fall of Cintra from both Ciri and Geralt’s points of view. We also follow Yennefer into the Battle of Sodden Hill. However, while these are still pivotal moments in the books, they mostly happen “off-screen”, so to speak. They’re mentioned - and Ciri does have a nightmare of what’s called the Battle, or Slaughter of Cintra in the books. But we don’t get to experience them blow by blow. Because the Netflix adaptation lets us spend more time with Ciri and Yennefer, we also get to experience these crucial battles in much more detail.
#4: Brotherhood Power Plays
The Brotherhood of Sorcerers is a powerful political body in both the books and show. However, the adaptation adds in far more internal maneuvering, which doesn't come to the fore in the books until “Time of Contempt”. In season one, Nilfgaard’s plans to invade Cintra splits the Conclave of Northern Mages. The second season sees Tissaia partnering up with Vilgefortz to keep Stregobor and Artorius in check. It ends with a meeting of Tissaia and the Northern monarchs, who put a bounty on Ciri’s head! The closest parallel in “Blood of Elves” sees the Northern kings meeting in secret to plan a war on Nilfgaard. Needless to say, the show’s take could take future events in a very different direction!
#3: Emhyr’s Secret
The second season ended with a huge twist - at least, for those new to the franchise. Ciri’s father didn’t die at sea after all - he is in fact Emhyr, the Emperor of Nilfgaard. And he doesn’t seem to be keeping this knowledge a secret. In the source material, this information is withheld until several books later. And that has a huge impact - because in the meantime, Emhyr has been trying to marry Ciri to legitimize his rule over Cintra and impregnate her with the prophesied Child of the Elder Blood! When he can’t find her, he even marries an imposter Ciri! It’s possible that the show is abandoning this plotline altogether - and that Ciri herself is the prophesied child.
#2: Yennefer's Magic
The aftermath of the Battle of Sodden Hill plays out quite differently in the books. Yennefer is blinded by a fireball, but recovers; Geralt learns quickly that she survived - but doesn’t actually see her again until “Time of Contempt”. It’s Triss, rather than Yennefer, who’s mistakenly recorded as dead. In contrast, the show sees Yennefer stripped of her magic, forced to rely on her wits and to find new purpose in life. This leads her to team up with Fringilla and Cahir, and cut a deal with Voleth Meir. It’s a much more tumultuous plotline than in the book. In “Blood of Elves”, she does rescue Jaskier from Rience, but rather than betraying Ciri, she teaches her magic and bonds with her at the Temple of Melitele.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
Elder Blood & Mutagens
Ciri’s Blood Isn’t Used to Create Witcher Mutagens in the Books
The Books Portray the Witcher as Polite & Don’t Kill Him Off
Jaskier’s Role as the Sandpiper, Smuggling Elves to Safety, Was Created for the Show
#1: Deathless Mother
Voleth Meir is the primary antagonist of the second season. A demon who feeds on pain, she’s the puppetmaster pulling all the strings. Her machinations fuel Fringilla’s ambitions, Francesca’s quest for vengeance, and Yennefer’s betrayal of Ciri and Geralt. She’s also behind the climactic final battle, possessing Ciri and slaughtering witchers in Kaer Morhen. And yet, she doesn’t exist at all in the books! Based on her hut’s basilisk legs, she seems to have been inspired by Baba Yaga from Slavic lore, so her presence doesn’t feel too incongruous. But “Blood of Elves” culminates with Geralt’s battle with Rience, not with Ciri running amok in the witcher stronghold. Since Voleth Meir survives to join the Wild Hunt, we don’t seem to have seen the last of her!