The Witcher season 2 is an absolute delight whether you’re a fan of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher books or not. But those who’ve read the source material are in for several particularly exciting surprises given that the season is primarily made up of new storylines that fill in the gap between the Battle of Sodden and when the first Witcher novel picks up. However, it isn’t the addition of new mutant monsters appearing in The Continent, the complicated development in Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) and Ciri’s (Freya Allan) relationship, or Fringilla’s (Mimî M. Khayisa) big political moves that likely will surprise fans of the books the most. That probably has to go to the decision to move up one of the books’ last big twists into the show’s second season.
[Ed note: Extensive spoilers for The Witcher season 2 and all The Witcher books ahead. Seriously. Do not read if you do not want to know how The Witcher Saga ends.]
In episode 8, “Family,” Nilfgaardian emperor Emhyr var Emreis finally joins his forces in Cintra. This moment marks the first time the character’s face has appeared onscreen, and it has been hidden up until this point for a good reason: Emhyr is revealed to be Ciri’s father, Duny (Bart Edwards), the former hedgehog man turned prince of Cintra who has been presumed dead for years.
How are Duny and Emhyr the same person?
As explained in the books, Emhyr is the son of the former Nilfgaardian king Fergus, but his father was overthrown when he was only a teenager. As part of the coup, the usurper had a sorcerer curse Emhyr, resulting in him turning into an anthropomorphic hedgehog during the day and back into his human form at night. After taking on the name Duny, Urcheon of Erlenwald, Emhyr happened upon the injured King Roegner of Cintra in the woods and saved his life. As his payment, Emhyr invoked the Law of Surprise, leading to his marriage to Pavetta 15 years later.
Though Emhyr never truly loved Pavetta in the books — he married her because he rightfully believed their union would break his curse — he was content with his new life in Cintra for many years. However, Vilgefortz, the series’ primary puppet master, convinced Duny that he was destined for far more. So, a few years after Ciri was born, Emhyr and Vilgefortz concocted a scheme to fake Emhyr, Pavetta, and Ciri’s deaths on a boating trip so they could all go to Nilfgaard together. In season 2’s fifth episode, “Turn Your Back,” Ciri sees a vision of her parents on the day of the incident. As Ciri and Triss (Anna Schaffer) watch on, Emhyr lies to Pavetta (Gaia Mondadori), saying he wants them to flee Cintra with Ciri because doing so will protect their daughter from those who want to stop Ithlinne’s prophecy being fulfilled.
The show hasn’t yet revealed what happened between that conversation and the deadly boat trip, but in the books Pavetta correctly suspected her husband had ulterior motives and smuggled Ciri off the boat. When Emhyr found out, the two fought and Pavetta fell overboard to her death. With his plan in tatters and Ciri still in Cintra, Emhyr continued to Nilfgaard alone. There, Emhyr shed his Duny identity, rallied his forces, and successfully overthrew the usurper. It’s during this time in the Netflix adaptation that Emhyr also wins over the loyalties of Fringilla and Cahir (Eamon Farren). Emhyr keeps his Duny identity a secret when he first returns to Nilfgaard, but in the show he does reveal his true connection with Ciri to Cahir and Fringilla during the season two finale.
What does Emhyr want with Ciri?
Like in the show, Emhyr was determined to hunt down Ciri in the books. But what the Netflix drama has yet to reveal is why. And boy, oh boy, is the reason a doozy. You see, Emhyr wasn’t trying to find Ciri because he missed his daughter or even because he wanted to legitimize his claim to the Cintran throne. The real reason he wanted Ciri is because he wanted to marry and impregnate her.
Yeah… it’s a lot to take in. And as with pretty much everything in the Witcher universe, Emhyr’s incestual motivations go back to Ithlinne’s prophecy. The prediction, which has come up several times in the show already, warns of an impending ice age and a child of elder blood who will determine the fate of the world. As is revealed in The Witcher’s second season, Ciri has elder blood because she’s descended from the elven princess Lara Dorren (Niamh McCormack), whom we saw a glimpse of during Ciri and Triss’ Dol Durza vision quest. This heritage and her resulting powers are why Ciri becomes convinced this season that she’s destined to be the child of elder blood that Ithlinne foretold would destroy the world. However, the problem with prophecies is that they’re frustratingly vague and people can interpret them various ways.
The way Emhyr understood it in the books, thanks to Vilgefortz’s manipulation, was that Ithlinne predicted that if Emhyr were to have a child with Ciri their offspring would not only save, but rule the world. And Emhyr, always a pragmatist, was more than willing to overlook incest to fulfill this destiny. His single-minded desire to save the world no matter the cost was also what fueled Emhyr’s ruthless imperialism, as he believed the only way for humanity to survive the impending catastrophe was for them to be united — under his rule, of course.
How is the Emhyr reveal different in the books?
When it comes to Emhyr, the show has been very faithful to the books so far. There is one major deviation, however, and that’s when Emhyr’s true identity is revealed. In the books, we only learn Emhyr is Ciri’s father at the very end of the final novel, The Lady of the Lake. That means for nearly five novels and almost 2,000 pages, readers thought Emhyr was your run-of-the-mill fantasy villain who wanted Ciri to legitimize his claim to the Cintran throne and leverage her powers for personal gain. Learning at the last hour that his motivations and identity were far different and more complex than they were previously led to believe resulted in severe whiplash for readers, as they had to quickly readjust their assessment of Emhyr only for his arc — and the book series — to end before this revelation could be fully processed. It didn’t help that the Witcher Saga novels concluded with Ciri never learning Emhyr was her father, leaving a major narrative thread unresolved.
That’s why it’s a massive relief that Hissrich moved up the reveal of Emhyr’s true identity to the end of the second of seven planned seasons. (There’s also the added benefit that not showing Emhyr’s face on screen until the final season would have been extremely challenging.) Knowing Emhyr’s true relationship with Ciri this early on means that fans can interrogate and appreciate the moral and emotional complexity of this storyline as it unfolds, rather than reevaluating events after the fact.
Most importantly, it gives the Netflix drama the time to explore Emhyr’s character and his feelings surrounding this twisted plot with a depth and nuance that Sapkowski’s books were frankly never interested in. The best antagonists are the ones who are most human, and though there’s no empathizing with a man’s desire to marry and impregnate his daughter — even if he believes it will save the world — it’ll be interesting to see how the Netflix drama fills in the gaps of who Emhyr is under the armor and why he makes the choices he does.
One of the reasons The Witcher has been such a successful adaptation is because of its willingness to play with the source material, balancing a desire to honor the original story with the need to remix storylines and create new ones. Moving up the Emhyr reveal is a perfect example of taking Sapkowski’s work and deepening it in exciting and thoughtful ways. Plus, it’s not like there still aren’t plenty of big twists and reveals from the books to come. And who knows, maybe in the show we’ll even get to see Ciri find out the truth. Now that would definitely be a reveal worth waiting for.