In the world of The Witcher, Witchers are monster slayers, the best there is. Raised from children to be killing machines, they’re put through brutal training, are augmented by mutations and wield an intimate knowledge of all manner of beasts. Geralt of Rivia is legendary but he’s only one of many, something we come to see as we meet more of his brothers in arms with The Witcher season.
While Netflix’s The Witcher has frequently made mention of the difficulty of becoming a Witcher and the animosity they face, season 2 puts their trials front and center. Here’s the backstory on what non-book readers may miss about Witcher history.
How Witchers are created
In season 1 we heard Geralt allude to the painful process of becoming a Witcher. This season we see glimpses of the dangerous regimen that the Witchers go through as children to hone their skills.
Besides sword training, they have deadly obstacle courses and contraptions like the pendulum to get Witchers to train their balance and reflexes at the same time. But the key to their ability is mutations, created as part of a process called the Trial of Grasses, a process few of the children subjected to it survived and which is as painful as it is deadly.
The first of many unique trials, which each grant them part of their special arsenal of powers, the Trial of Grasses used a concoction of chemicals derived from a special “mutagen,” to give these children superhuman strength, speed, reflexes and eyesight. Geralt is a result of his exposure to further mutation, due to his unique tolerance for the Trial of Grasses; this extended process left his hair devoid of pigment and possibly left him even stronger and faster than his brethren.
How this process was developed is a mystery even to the Witchers themselves. But season 2 alleges they were created long ago by experimenting mages under instruction from the kings of the northern realms who wanted magic-wielding warriors to help them conquer The Continent. Though dissatisfied with the resulting mutants, these Witchers would find a use as monster slayers trying to protect the people of The Continent by the creatures left behind by the Conjunction of the Spheres.
While it makes them powerful, the mutations also leave Witchers sterile and unable to have children which is why their most common way of recruiting trainees is through “the law of surprise,” a tradition they invoke when payment cannot be made, claiming something the person in their debt doesn’t know they have. Their hope is this surprise will be a child a weary traveler doesn’t know is coming back home and in claiming the child, the Witchers have new fodder for their ranks to take back to their keep for training. Yet by the time of the series, the key to making new Witcher mutations has been lost and their numbers are dwindling to a minuscule number.
Why Witchers aren’t always liked
At some point before the series, when Geralt was a child, public opinion was turned against Witchers thanks to a book called “Monstrum,” excerpts of which are first shown to us in the third Witcher book, The Blood of Elves, which portrayed Witchers as evil, manipulative killers out to exploit everyone else.
Rumors abound at the source of the book and the spreading anti-Witcher sentiment of the time, with many believing it to be the work of mages concerned by the growing influence of the monster slayers. Netflix’s Nightmare of the Wolf offers a more concrete take on the event, showing how Vesemir and other Witchers were framed by the daughter of a sorceress once wrongfully killed by a Witcher, and accused of creating new monsters on The Continent to keep themselves in work. (The movie is inessential viewing for the show, but is part of a growing and grander vision for The Witcher universe.)
Whatever the cause of these rumors, it led to people storming the Witcher stronghold of Kaer Morhen in a violent riot when Geralt was just a boy, cutting down the number of Witchers and leaving their home a ruin. During this attack the secret to creating the Witcher mutagen that allowed them to create new Witchers was lost and so there have been no new Witchers in all the time since.
As part of the trend of new material explaining and expanding on the vague back story of the books, Netflix’s spinoff show, The Witcher: Blood Origin, is expected to explore the creation of the Witchers. While the release date for that show hasn’t been announced yet, it will come at a time when the future of the Witcher order is in the air, with season 2 of The Witcher finding Vesemir faced with an opportunity to create a new mutagen — something that will prove too tempting to ignore.