The Witcher showrunner explains why she killed off [REDACTED]

The Witcher Season 2 - Courtesy of Netflix
The Witcher Season 2 - Courtesy of Netflix /

The second season of The Witcher has been out for a minute now, and just as it did in its first season, the show has managed to send some fans into a spiral of fury and outrage. There’s a lot to love about this season of The Witcher…but also some choices that, for lack of a better word, are simply baffling. Among the latter was the shocker death of a certain beloved character from the source material during the show’s second episode.

Showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich has spoken out about why that decision was made. Consider this your warning that there will be SPOILERS for The Witcher season 2 below.

The Witcher Season 2 – Courtesy of Netflix/Jay Maidment
The Witcher Season 2 – Courtesy of Netflix/Jay Maidment /

Why did The Witcher kill off Eskel?

During the second episode of season 2, “Kaer Morhen,” Geralt and his ward Ciri finally arrive at the titular keep, a dilapidated castle the witchers of the Wolf School call home. There are some things about Kaer Morhen that are very faithful to how it’s depicted in the books by Andrzej Sapkowski and the games by CD Projekt Red, and some that aren’t faithful at all. Case in point: during the episode, Geralt’s close friend and fellow witcher Eskel is infected by a tree monster called a leshy, and subsequently turned into a tree monster himself. After a pretty cool fight sequence, Geralt is forced to kill Eskel.

This is a pretty big deviation from the novels, where Eskel doesn’t die. And in the video games, which serve as a sequel to the books, he plays a major role and is well-loved by the fan base.

During The Witcher: Unlocked aftershow, Hissrich opened up about why she made the decision to kill off one of Geralt’s closest friends. “In all honesty,” Hissirch said, “the very first version of the script that we wrote, [there] was a brand new witcher that we’d never met before, we’d never heard of, and all of a sudden we were like, ‘Oh, our audience is going to meet Coen and Lambert and Eskel and, you know, John. Who’s gonna die? John is going to die.’ So we thought about it really hard, and I know that there are fans who love Eskel and feel like, ‘Why would we do that?’ But honestly his death is what changes everything for Geralt and I think it propels Geralt’s need to figure out what’s going on with Ciri and to do it fast, because he knows he’s going to risk losing her and his brothers if he doesn’t.”

The Witcher is dangerously beholden to its spin-offs

I’m going to vent here for a second because I happen to be one of those fans who was outraged by how the show did Eskel dirty. The logic of Geralt being propelled to figure stuff out about Ciri because of what happens to Eskel just…doesn’t make any sense to me? Those are two completely unrelated things. And I have no idea why Lambert and the other witchers blame Geralt bringing Ciri to the keep for what happened to Eskel. Eskel was infected while hunting a monster, which is what he does. Ciri isn’t even relevant to that sequence, she’s just hiding in a room. There is a sense that monsters are gravitating toward Ciri because of the unique power of her bloodline, but that is so far removed from Eskel’s actual death scene that it’s hard to draw a line between the two.

The idea that Eskel had to be the one to die because it would have a bigger impact on Geralt is an interesting point as well, because from the viewer’s perspective, we’re only just meeting all these witchers for the first time in this episode. “John,” as Hissrich calls the made-up witcher in the example above, could just as easily have been as important to Geralt as Eskel is in the show’s mythology…unless we’re accounting for The Witcher being beholden to its spin-offs, which has clearly been the case in the second season. Eskel was introduced as a fellow witchering apprentice alongside Geralt in the anime prequel Nightmare of the Wolf. So the only reason that Eskel had to be as important to Geralt as he was and that “John” couldn’t have been, is that the show had to pay mind to Nightmare of the Wolf. And that film deviated from the source material as well by having Geralt, Lambert and Eskel all be training at the same time.

We also got a lot of info drops about the Conjunction of the Spheres, which set up Netflix’s Blood Origin prequel series. I’m concerned with how much of The Witcher is now dedicated to building out a cinematic universe rather than just telling a good story. It’s fine if you can tie all that stuff in well, but Eskel’s death is a pretty clear example of where it didn’t work.

The Witcher seems especially hard to swallow for fans of the video games

It’s also worth noting that Eskel is a pretty minor character in the books — so far as I recall, he is literally just in the one Kaer Morhen chapter of Blood of Elves and then we never see him again. In the games, however, he is a major player and beloved by the fans. The show’s choice to kill him off likely had little effect on book fans, no effect at all on people unfamiliar with the source material, and utterly outraged the game fans. Pleasing all these different factions of the fandom is a hard tightrope to walk.

But the weird thing is that if the show had made up a witcher who also happened to be close to Geralt to take the fall instead of Eskel, it would similarly have had little-to-no effect on book and show fans and also would have also been fine with game fans. It’s fascinating and infuriating to see the show make a choice like this after building up Kaer Morhen and the other witchers (who appear primarily in the games — again, they’re barely at Kaer Morhen in the book series). It’s almost like this choice was designed specifically to anger the gamer fanbase.

On the bright side, Hissrich took to Twitter to let fans know she heard their discontent, and that she’s planning on responding to it more thoroughly after the holidays.

"I want to assure them I hear them, they’re not screaming into a void. But I don’t have time — or shouldn’t take THIS time — to get into a long debate on why Eskel died, or when G/Y/C will bond. (Psst S3). And so, I respond with (I hope) civility and kindness and respect, while also reminding passionate people like you that I’ve announced I’ll be doing a more formal Q&A post-holidays, where your questions can be answered in detail, not between me trying to serve cereal to my boys."

That sounds pretty fair; it’s the holidays and no one should be forced to respond to outraged discourse about their work while they’re just trying to live their life. It’s important to remember that behind every piece of art you love or hate, there are just people trying to go about their business. So let’s all be civil.

Just don’t count me in the optimistic camp that we’ll see any major course corrections in The Witcher season 3.

Next. Take the Black: The final word on The Witcher season 2. dark

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