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How to make sense of The Witcher’s mage ball and what happened

And all the ball politics that will rock the Continent

Henry Cavill as Geralt at the Mage ball Image: Netflix
Zosha Millman (she/her) manages TV coverage at Polygon as TV editor, but will happily write about movies, too. She’s been working as a journalist for more than 10 years.

Here’s a joke setup: Geralt and Yen walk into a party.

As far-fetched as that might’ve seemed — maybe most particularly with Geralt (Henry Cavill), who, three seasons in, has very little interest in social events — it’s actually the premise for one of the most high-stakes adventures in The Witcher yet.

The mage’s ball kicking off the conclave for peace cooked up by Yen (Anya Chalotra) is, on its face, just a fancy dance. But as you might have heard (a lot) watching the fifth episode of season 3: All is not as it seems. As Geralt and Yen uncover, the party was more a nest of backstabbing, politicking, and performative magic.

Suffice it to say, the Continent will not be the same post-Conclave, for reasons the end of season 3 part 1 only hints at. If all the Rashomon-ing left your head a bit spinny, here’s what you need to know about all the political power that walked into that room — and what they left the ball with:

[Ed. note: Spoilers for all five episodes of The Witcher season 3 part 1.]

A wide shot of the mage’s ball floor in a still from The Witcher season 3 Image: Netflix

Nilfgaard is suspicious

The most we can say about Nilfgaard’s machinations in episode 5: They’re up to something! Lydia van Bredevoort (Aisha Fabienne Ross), the liaison between Rience (Chris Fulton) and whomever she works for, is flitting about, being mysterious with her best illusion face. Though Geralt and Yen hear a lot of talk about traitors who might be working with Nilfgaard, they mostly brush this off for the main event of the evening.

Stregobor, the mages, and the Brotherhood of Sorcerers are all fighting (sometimes each other)

Vilgefortz, Tissaia, and another mage looking at the camera Image: Netflix
Stregobor (Lars Mikkelsen) sitting in a chair talking Image: Netflix

Geralt and Yen walk into the ball with a clear objective: to find evidence against Stregobor (Lars Mikkelsen). They suspect him of backing Rience the fire mage, based on the compelling evidence that he uses illusions, hates Yen, and has a history of experimenting on young women. “If Stregobor is behind this, he’s a traitor to the Brotherhood,” Yen notes in episode 4, setting the table for their trap at the conclave.

Luckily, Triss (Anna Shaffer) and Istredd (Royce Pierreson) also have their suspicions, having observed a number of odd things at Aretuza, including the disappearances of girls of elven descent and the Book of Monoliths. That book (also featured in The Witcher spinoff Blood Origin) allows the user to travel through time and space, so they stress that Stregobor has to be stopped tonight.

Geralt and Yen concoct a plan to cause enough of a distraction that Yen can get to Stregobor’s office and find the damning evidence — namely the book, a list of elven students at Aretuza, and some trinkets from the kidnapped girls. Tissaia (MyAnna Buring) and Vilgefortz (Mahesh Jadu) put Stregobor under arrest until the end of the conclave.

Tissaia takes the Book of Monoliths and tells Yen and Geralt they’ve “saved the night.” Their success gives them a lot of good vibes, and the opportunity to say “I love you” and retire to their room for a long night of unwinding all the other weird moments from the night (among other things).

Dijkstra, Philippa, and the Redanians are up to something too

Dijkstra (Graham McTavish) and Philippa (Cassie Clare) at a banquet in The Witcher season 3 Photo: Susie Allnutt/Netflix

The Redanians have spent most of the season trying to capitalize on their immense whisper network. Dijkstra (Graham McTavish) and Philippa (Cassie Clare) have tried to get Redania under their thumb, by manipulating the king and using Radovid (Hugh Skinner) to enlist Jaskier (Joey Batey).

They come to the conclave under duress — the king, grieving his wife (who Dijkstra and Philippa had killed, unbeknownst to him), orders their attendance — but still spend a lot of the episode working their agenda. Dijkstra pulls Geralt aside and speaks of “traitors who will soon turn their loyalty to Nilfgaard, and not the North,” and trouble brewing at Aretuza. “One would be wise to abandon neutrality and choose a side,” he continues, telling Geralt that Redania is the “only hope” for keeping Ciri (Freya Allan) safe.

Meanwhile, Philippa pulls Yen aside to speak somewhat vaguely about Lydia van Bredevoort, Phillipa’s friendship with Tissaia, and the Battle of Sodden. She says she thinks that Tissaia and the Brotherhood of Sorcerers are doomed, but that she and Yen are built different. “We break rules, we aren’t afraid of power. There’s still hope for you,” Philippa insists, speaking of traitors “already working with Nilfgaard.” She continues, “But if Tissaia and you stick to this plan, neither of you will be any better off than poor Lydia: in love with a poison that kills you slowly.” And although Yen walks away and doesn’t hear it, Philippa mutters that “tonight means everything to us as well.”

Ultimately Yen and Geralt piece together their warnings just enough to make sense of some of their other interactions and realize — maybe too late — that Vilgefortz is the poison killing Lydia slowly, and the one performing the experiments on the girls Geralt found in episode 2.

Geralt and Yen’s season 3 ending ties it all together

Geralt (Henry Cavill) and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) walk into the conclave of mages arm in arm wearing their best evening wear in The Witcher. Photo: Susan Allnutt/Netflix

So where does that leave our intrepid lead couple? Well, they’re a bit behind the times. In the final moments of the episode, they put together that Stregobor wasn’t behind the experiments, kidnapping, and powerful book reading; Vilgefortz was. Stregobor is just an elf racist who got framed.

But Vilgefortz’s web of lies seems to go further than that. As Geralt and Yen figure out in the cold light of day (having talked all night), Vilgefortz is also the one who corrupted Yen’s portal and almost killed her, two-timed Tissaia with Lydia, and sent Rience after Ciri.

What’s worse, he doesn’t seem to have a lot of faith in the conclave actually bringing about peace, speaking to Geralt about “the battle to come” and wishing him good luck (though his well wishes drip with foreboding and seem to nicely set up a showdown in part 2 of the season). And indeed, Geralt ends volume 1 of season 3 with a knife at his throat, and Dijkstra telling him, “You should’ve chosen a side, Witcher.”

Ultimately, the game is set for the event that will upend everything and reveal the darkness really at play on the Continent. Unfortunately for Geralt and Yen, that threat is no joke, either. We’ll find out more when volume 2 of The Witcher season 3 lands on Netflix with three episodes on July 27.

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