The Witcher: 7 Key Differences Between the Books And the Series
The Witcher TV series has made several major changes to the plot of Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher book series. Especially where the points of view of the characters and timelines were concerned.
Why does Geralt of Rivia happen to be in Cintra during its siege in the TV series? How did the showrunners explain such a big change to Yennefer's storyline? What was the reason for introducing totally new characters to the show? Let’s dive into the world of The Witcher and see what are the differences between the books and their TV adaptation.
Points of view and timelines
The source materials for the first season of The Witcher series are the two collections of short stories called “The Last Wish” and “Sword of Destiny”. These stories are told from the point of view of the titular character of the saga, Geralt of Rivia, and their narrative is not linear.
The readers explore the Continent through Geralt’s adventures, get to know about the witcher’s code of behavior, and, bit by bit, learn his life story. The series adopted this approach but went even further by jumping around timelines and introducing characters that should only have appeared much later. In the books, all the main characters had their past lives revealed in flashbacks or in conversations.
But The Witcher series writer and producer Lauren Schmidt Hissrich decided that their life stories deserve to be made more distinct. In the show, the lives and experiences of the protagonists were made more... visible. This is how we end up seeing the three stories of Geralt, Yennefer and Cirilla unfolding in what seems like a simultaneous fashion, even though the events are actually decades apart. This allowed us to witness…
The fall of Cintra
In the novels, we do not get to find out about it until the last story in “Sword of Destiny”. And – what a surprise! – Geralt gets to know about it from Jaskier. He wanted to rush to Cintra to save his Child of Surprise but stopped when he heard about Ciri’s alleged death.
In the books, we later learn that Ciri was captured by a “knight in the winged helmet” named Cahir, and how she escaped from him. However, her memories were scattered due to this traumatic experience, and we never actually got to hear all the details of these tragic events.
But in the series, the storylines intertwine, and in the very first episode we actually witness how the kingdom of Cintra is invaded by Nilfgaard and its proud queen dies. This also shows us the tragedy and the terror that Ciri had to experience at the very young age, which certainly influenced her life in the future.
Moreover, Geralt himself is present when it happens, though he fails to find Ciri on time because of her grandmother Calanthe’s over-protectiveness. Plus, in the adaptation, we get the first glimpses of …
In the short stories, which begin The Witcher saga, the young princess of Cintra did not show any magical abilities. We only get to discover the real potential of her special powers in the next book - "Time of Contempt". But the showrunners made Ciri’s powers evident much earlier. And they are much stronger too!
She shows her magic for the first time in protest of the order for her to leave Cintra. Then, they helped her escape Cahir. And finally, we learn that these powers can bring death to those who happen to provoke their outbursts.
But what is in common between the books and the series is that Ciri does not control her magic. A pretty clever way for the showrunners to explain to us from the very start that Ciri inherited her magical powers. AND, it not only hints at why she is so important to Nilfgaard but also reveals the prophecy about the Continent’s grim future.
Ciri's journey and companions
While Ciri is on the run after the fall of her kingdom, she meets different characters and learns about how tough the life outside the walls of Cintra can be, especially in times of war. One of these characters is an elf boy named Dara, who saves her life several times but also reveals an unpleasant truth about queen Calanthe’s politics towards his people. But the fact is that Dara isn't present in the books – at all! Lauren Schmidt Hissrich explained that this character was introduced as a very crucial part of Ciri’s story, because “he’s vital at keeping her going.”
Moreover, everything we see in the series – from the moment Cirilla escapes Cahir until she finally meets Geralt on a farm – was not described in the books. And although she did meet dryads of Brokilon, in the books it happened much earlier and under different circumstances.
But in the adaptation, it was a good decision to introduce the dryads and show that Ciri is immune to the magical waters of the forest. Apart from that, this plot twist introduced another monstrous creature to us in The Witcher’s universe – it was the doppler, who killed Mousesack.
Triss Merigold’s presence
Although Yennefer’s fellow sorceress plays an important role in the story, the fact is that she wasn’t mentioned in the books until the third installment, “Blood of Elves”. In the books, Triss never hired Geralt to deal with the striga; it was, instead, another one-off character. But the fans were surely happy to see her that early on in the show. It was great to see that Triss Merigold is a brave and kind-hearted person, as she encourages Geralt to cure the striga. Later on, we see her in action in the Battle of Sodden, where she uses the full force of her powers.
By the way, the series explains how Triss got that nasty scar, which, as she mentions in the books, prevents her from ever wearing low-cut dresses. It happened during the Battle of Sodden – which also wasn’t described in the books in full detail. It was mentioned several times as an important event of the war, which the outcomes echo more than just once in the future.
But the actual battle hasn’t been detailed as much. Just like Yennefer’s story before she met Geralt in the last short story, "The Last Wish".
Insight into Yennefer’s past
It is one of the biggest differences between The Witcher's TV adaptation and the books. She is described as a beautiful and powerful sorceress, but her backstory is explained merely through Geralt’s inkling that she had been a hunchback before.
Also, there were a lot of other clues in the books that allude to the story of her path to becoming a sorceress. Collecting all those details and putting them together as a separate storyline was extremely important because it allowed the showrunners to unfold the arc of such an important character as Yennefer.
We see how her traumas, betrayals and teaching methods in Aretuza shaped her, and eventually made her the brazen and seemingly cold-hearted woman Geralt meets. Moreover, we get an explanation as to why she opposed the Council of sorcerers, although turning girls with magic powers into eels only happens in the series, and never existed in Sapkovski’s novels!
But, the books tell us that Yennefer’s infertility wasn’t her conscious choice, as the show indicates. In the novels, it is stated that the witchers are sterile because they undergo mutation processes. And the girls from Aretuza become infertile most probably due to their constant contact with magical powers. That is, practicing magic is not safe in many ways!
Also, the source materials also tell us that all of the sorceresses must be beautiful for the sake of the prestige of their profession. So the series filled in this blank by making a connection between Yennefer's desire for physical transformation and it’s cost.
The other differences between Yennefer’s story in the books and those in the TV show are minor in comparison to those already mentioned. She did have a relationship with Istredd, as detailed in the short story "A Shard of Ice", but it happened when they were older.
Also, the Yennefer from the books wasn’t assigned to serve to any of the kings – her career is simply not discussed in the novels. Instead, we learn that she was an experienced healer at the time when she and Geralt first met.
And the last difference between The Witcher's TV adaptation and the book is more funny than it is important.
The bard’s name
Both in the books and the series, the witcher is accompanied by a bard. But in the novels his name is Dandelion, and in the series it’s Jaskier. Are they the same person?
Oh yes, they definitely are! The fact is that in the original Polish version of the story his name was Buttercup. But it was changed in the English translation because it didn’t sound manly (!) enough. Thus, the name chosen for the bard in the series, Jaskier, corresponds well with the original one. And bear in mind that in the books, Geralt's poet friend never visited Cintra, though his presence at Pavetta’s betrothal party surely added some comic relief.