Netflix’s The Witcher series is based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s books rather than the Witcher video games, and the show’s creative team has said they don’t plan to use the game storylines on the show. But there’s no way to totally disassociate the series and the games. The image of the white-haired witcher Geralt wouldn’t be as much of an icon without the three games that introduced him to a larger audience, and the resurgence in interest in those games following the series’ debut emphasizes how inextricable they are. Even I, who quit playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt because I couldn’t bear the swoop-y camera motions, felt compelled to resume play after binging the Netflix series over the holidays. (I have since discovered that you can adjust camera control sensitivity.) And as I’ve gotten farther in the game, specifically into the Blood and Wine DLC, it’s become increasingly difficult not to imagine some of these quests on the big screen.
One stands out from the rest in this regard as the most fascinating of the bunch: “The Warble of a Smitten Knight.” Geralt’s witcher-ing — accepting contracts to investigate and often fight troublemaking monsters — eventually leads him to the duchy of Toussaint, and a young knight named Guillaume. Guillaume is smitten with one of the duchess’ ladies in waiting, Vivienne, and believes her refusal to reciprocate his affections and general frostiness toward him is due to a curse.
Hmm, you might think. This may be a magical realm, but Guillaume, isn’t it still more likely that she just doesn’t like you? It doesn’t really help matters that Guillaume wants Geralt to enter a tournament for him, as participants will be granted time to speak with Vivienne. He even asks Geralt to help him snoop around in Vivienne’s tent. It doesn’t matter that Guillaume is in love (or at least in lust) — this is stalking and harassment.
That’s why it comes as a huge relief when it’s revealed that, while Vivienne is under a curse, that curse has nothing to do with the way she’s been giving Guillaume the cold shoulder. She doesn’t like him for the obvious reasons: He’s the kind of pushy, overbearing, self-absorbed personality that won’t take no for an answer.
Granted, the game offers a disappointing out in allowing an option where Geralt explains Vivienne’s actual curse to Guillaume, even though she asks Geralt not to. If the players pick that option, Guillaume helps lift the curse, which eventually leads to the two of them getting together. But it’s telling that they won’t shack up if Geralt chooses to respect Vivienne’s wishes. In fact, in that route, when Guillaume tells Vivienne he’d do anything for her, she commands him to leave her alone forever. And if the player later has Geralt tell her she ought to personally thank Guillaume for his part in lifting her curse, she says she’d rather not, and asks Geralt to convey her thanks instead. (Notably, if Guillaume doesn’t end up with Vivienne, he doesn’t see the error of his ways, he just blames Geralt for not making her more receptive.)
The earlier games had a reputation for treating its female characters a little like chattel, but The Witcher 3 gives them more agency. Even though “The Warble of a Smitten Knight” offers a branch on the choice tree where the jerk gets the girl, it’s a particularly satisfying quest because it uses the franchise’s high fantasy to address common real-life behaviors. The rewards the quest offers are also mostly tied to Geralt’s success in the tourney, rather than his moral choices, and the one choice that does end up helping in a later quest hinges on Geralt choosing not to tell Guillaume what’s happening. That choice is taken by the game as “proof of honor.” It’s a clear reminder that if someone isn’t receptive to romantic advances, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them, and even if something’s amiss, harassment and stalking aren’t the proper way to help them. When Guillaume’s initial persistence does ultimately help Vivienne because it brings Geralt to her, that’s just a happy accident.
Some of the best parts of the Netflix series are the complicated storylines it gives its female characters — a rape survivor whose sole purpose has become revenge, a woman who gives up her ability to have children in order to change her appearance to fit traditional beauty standards and attain a powerful position, a queen who openly bemoans the difference in expectations set upon men and women. The show sympathizes with these characters, and points a finger at the oppressive, sexist structures that bind them. “The Warble of a Smitten Knight” follows suit, challenging the outdated, offensive notion that women are obligated to be flattered by any attention. (At least, if the ending in which the characters pair up is left off the table.)
The quest fits perfectly among the themes already present in the show, not only making a statement about what is, broadly speaking, a common experience for women, but showing the series’ gruff, macho hero allowing the beleaguered woman to make her own choice. For the most part, Netflix’s Witcher is built around the “monster of the week” model, with only the main characters expressing larger points. It’s the meatier kind of story that I’d like to see the series tackle, and a chance for this tale to be told without concession to Guillaume. The quest feels like a natural extension of the show’s subject matter, and would, in the more concrete, less choose-your-own-adventure-based world of the series, show off the best part of all Witcher worlds.