The Wild Hunt only get a quick, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it mention in the pilot of The Witcher, but they’re certainly a more prominent presence in the new season — particularly in the finale where they put the fear of god into everyone.
While not touched on with a ton of depth in season 2, they’re an ominous force that’s integral to understanding the machinations of the season and the grander Witcher universe heading into The Witcher season 3.
What is the Wild Hunt?
The Wild Hunt is first mentioned in the second of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher books, The Sword of Destiny, and is the focus of the third video game. Called the Wraiths of Mörhogg by the islanders of Skellige, and known to their own as the Red Riders, the Wild Hunt is a convoy of spectral riders that gallop across the sky and are regarded as an omen signaling approaching times of war, something The Witcher show seems to observed. Their first mention in the Netflix series came just before Nilfgaard invaded Cintra, from a king who claimed to have seen the Wraiths. At the outset of season 2, sightings of these terrifying riders have fittingly sparked murmurings among humans of an apocalypse coming to their world.
The idea of the Wild Hunt actually predates the Witcher books, having a real world mythological counterpart in Northern European folklore motif, which dates back centuries with a variety of interpretations. In Scandinavia the riders were lead by Odin, while for some Christians they were lead by the devil. Sometimes they’re the undead, sometimes they’re faeries. While there are many accounts that line up, the most commonly accepted version was solidified by Jacob Grimm (of Brothers Grimm fame) in his book Teutonic Mythology, who claimed he based them on Germanic tales.
Like their counterparts, the Wild Hunt are known for kidnapping unsuspecting souls to join the ranks of their ghastly cavalcade. People from Skellige claim the Wraiths of Mörhogg raid their shores aboard a ship called the Naglfar, a longship made from the nails and toe-nails of dead men, which lead to their practice of cutting the nails of the dead to deprive the wraiths of building materials. It’s a pretty gross and horrifying image, all told.
So why do the Wild Hunt do that?
These riders are not mere specters, nor are they aimless. Most of their qualities are the result of psychological warfare: Their skeletal armor is made to look like it was lifted from corpses, their spectral appearance to inflate their numbers and hide those in their rank who are flesh and blood. It’s all a means to terrify any onlookers while they make their raids on the world of humans.
In truth, the Wild Hunt aren’t the undead come to claim the souls of the living. They’re actually elves from another world, known as the Aen Elle, whose world has never been conquered by humans. The Aen Elle come to this world to kidnap humans, not to join their cavalry, but to take them to become slaves back in their world.
They could once move great numbers between worlds, which let them explore and conquer at their whim. But since the Conjunction of the Spheres, the cataclysmic event that brought dozens of dimensions into collision, their powers have been limited. The Wild Hunt can now only take a few riders each time, hence their illusions and theatrics, which intimidate but also conveniently conceal their true numbers.
That they have any power at all to move between worlds is a feat possible for the riders thanks to the King of the Wild Hunt, known to his brethren as Eredin Bréacc Glas, a general among the Aen Elle who keeps his people supplied with unwilling subjects. Eredin has nothing but contempt for humans but also regards the elves of the human world, the Aen Seidhe, to be lesser due to their being conquered at the hands of humans.
But their power to move between worlds is diminishing and the Wild Hunt now sets its eyes on a specific prize: seeking those of Elder Blood.