Ciri goes through the wringer in The Witcher season 3. She’s chased by the Wild Hunt, trapped by Vilgefortz, and fights a giant sea monster. But even after all of that, the Lion Cub of Cintra’s greatest test comes in the deserts of Korath, where she finds herself alone in the season’s seventh episode. It’s supposed to be a crowning moment for the character, a chance for her to come into her own and for all her hard work to culminate in some kind of self-realization. But the show still lets her down and whiffs her biggest moment.
[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for The Witcher season 3 and the Time of Contempt novel.]
The Witcher season 3’s seventh episode, “Out of the Fire, Into the Frying Pan,” finds Ciri alone in a desert. For fans who forgot what happened in the previous episode, Ciri arrives in the desert because during the coup at Aretuza, Ciri escapes Vilgefortz by lunging through the portal at the top of the tower Tor Lara, which suddenly transports her to this unknown land. In this desert, Ciri finds a unicorn (a rare sight anywhere in this world) and monsters she’s never seen or even heard of before. She also struggles to find water and food and survive in the harsh sandy wastes.
Watching Ciri claw her way to survival makes for a grueling stretch of 20 or 30 minutes, but there’s the promise that it’s building toward something, some grander moment of realization from Ciri about how to best harness her magical talent or what it means to wield power. Unfortunately, that’s not really what happens.
Instead, following an attack from one of the desert’s many terrible inhabitants, Ciri finds that her unicorn companion, who she names Little Horse, is wounded and suffering from poison. She can’t seem to find a way to make her friend better, until she is suddenly tempted by a vision of a mysterious and powerful witch named Falka, a figure that fans of the books will recognize as a near-mythical representative of brutal revenge.
Falka tells Ciri that the only way to save Little Horse is with fire magic, an art that is supposed to be forbidden to mages, feared for its power, destructive force, and difficulty to control — as we saw with Yennefer in season 1. Ciri gives in and uses fire magic to heal Little Horse, prompting Falka to show Ciri fresh visions of the world and tell her she could rule the whole world if she uses the strength of her Elder Blood magic. But amid the swirl and confusion, Ciri resists the Falka phantom’s temptation and instead renounces her powers, seemingly giving them up completely.
It is, in all, a tremendously lackluster moment that scuttles even the modest success The Witcher has achieved in building Ciri’s character so far. It removes Ciri’s agency and feels more like a momentary speed bump in her journey rather than the meaningful moment it should be.
One key reason for this comes directly from a change the show made from the source material. In Time of Contempt, the book that season 3 is based on, Ciri’s desert journey involves her coming to the conclusion that she should use fire magic all on her own. She recognizes its power and feels her ability to control it effectively, then she succumbs to its temptation to save Little Horse. When she does, the power it unleashes inside her is what prompts her magical vision of herself in the future as a powerful and cruel witch, seemingly ruling the world.
Critically, this version of events makes Ciri’s temptation internal and places the events squarely inside her head. She fights against her own sense of right and wrong and loses to save a friend, and the revelation that she could succumb to that temptation terrifies her and prompts her to give up the chance of ever having it again. While the vision presents her with an imagined idea of what the world could look like under her thumb, Ciri’s pivotal moment is one that both starts and ends within her own mind.
It’s Ciri’s version of Galadriel imagining herself with the One Ring, seeing a vision of Middle-earth as she would rule it, then passing on Frodo’s offer and finding herself relieved not to be burdened with that kind of power. It’s a tremendous culmination of everything Ciri has learned and felt so far in the series, and the perfect time to send her somewhere new for a different kind of learning and adventure.
In the show’s version of things, however, Ciri’s temptation is external. She’s convinced to use fire magic, then gives it up, making us wonder what she’s so scared of to begin with. If she can seemingly control it, and hadn’t even considered using it on Little Horse, then she shouldn’t have to worry about giving into the temptation of it, like she does in the books.
Meanwhile, the visions from Falka don’t really show Ciri a world she commands or could bring about, but rather gives her a trite and simple speech about the subjugation of women in this world and shows her images of all the wrongs she could right with her power. Ciri’s vision here isn’t of a great and terrible queen, but a fine enough ruler who happens to have a few extra-flashy magic tricks. It’s neither tempting nor scary, and it certainly doesn’t deserve the rise it gets out of Ciri, or call for her to renounce her powers.
Just like so much else in Netflix’s The Witcher, especially in the third season, the fatal flaw here lies in the execution and the changes from the book. There’s a certain undeniable draw to making Falka a less villainous and more tragic character. Recasting her into a powerful woman seeking justice who fell victim to a witch hunt because the people feared her power certainly feels like a subversive change that could make Falka’s story more interesting — and it does. But it does so at the expense of Ciri’s plot, sanding down her complexities and motivations and removing her agency and power.
The show’s version of Ciri isn’t a powerful mage, or a potential ruler. She’s a child who does what she’s told most of the time, either by the plot or other characters around her. Instead of breaking that pattern with her journey through the desert and letting her grow into a real character of her own, The Witcher’s writers chose to underline her subordination instead.