The Witcher: Blood Origin Season 1 Episode 1 Review: Of Ballads, Brawlers, and Bloodied BladesDiana Keng at .
I do not envy the role of the bard or, in this case, the writers whose task it is to frame, present, and flesh out a story on The Witcher: Blood Origin Season 1 Episode 1 that will grab the audience's interest and convince them to stick with the limited series.
With only four episodes to tell the tale of a band of seven outcasts, including their backstory and epilogue, it's not surprising that the premiere only provides us with half an introduction -- three of the Seven and two villains.
The first hour of the series focuses on the political structure and context of the Continent -- the monarchs and the warrior clans that protect them, the military and mages that chafe even as they bow to the royals, and the lowborns who suffer as the great powers play their games.
Using Jaskier as the familiar face from which to leap into a story occurring twelve hundred years before is a strong first step, creating tension and interest as the bard and elf smuggler finds himself with an imperative commission.
Seanchai (a delightfully surprising appearance by Minnie Driver) is also canny in that she knows she needs to keep Jaskier invested in the tale. Therefore, she begins with the bard, The Lark, the Raven Clan warrior-turned-musician once known as Éile.
Seanchai: You’re the Sandpiper, the smuggler of elves to safety.
Jaskier: The Sandpiper’s a name. It’s a title. I’m just a bard.
Seanchai: A bard the Scoia’tael risked attacking a Temerian army camp to save. They know you care for them. Their struggle for justice.
It's clear that story and its power to shape minds and hearts will be the theme of the series.
Seanchai calls on Jaskier to bring this lost story to life in order to inspire the elves struggling to survive on The Continent now overrun by the kingdoms of men and mages.
I slip between worlds and times, collecting forgotten stories. I bring them back to life when the world needs them.Seanchai
As the Song of the Seven begins, The Lark sings of the "black-thorned rose" and the day the lowborns will rise to take back the freedoms they've lost.
Seanchai names The Lark as the leader of The Seven. She defends victims against bullies with humor and deadly ability. Ithlinne prophesizes for her.
She's about as much a rock star as can exist on The Continent. There's not much more they can do to emphasize her nobility and importance to the quest. The message is writ large: This is our hero.
In contrast, Fjall is a brawler -- a good fighter with good intentions, but not too bright.
The Lark: How did the son of mighty Osfar fall so far?
Fjall: Easy. Fucked the princess.
The Lark: Horseshit. Your head’d be on a pike rotting over the city gate.
Fjall: And embarrass the Crown? No. Better I be stripped of my clan and banished in silent disgrace.
The Lark: Can’t blame them. Protect, not fuck. Clan basics.
Fjall: Should have got that one tattooed.
The Lark: Too long a phrase for a Dog Clan cock.
It may be a cultural difference between Raven Clan and Dog Clan, but it's probably a contrast meant to pair them as two sides of a coin, the best of both clans, sharing code if not creed.
His entanglement with Merwyn distracts from the seeds of foreshadowing in the early Xin'trean scenes.
For example, when the assassins attack Merwyn and Alvitir, Fjall gives her a knife to defend herself while he dispatches the assassins.
In the aftermath, her knife is bloody, and there's a body in the alley, but we never see that man attack her. Since Balor's plan is to set her up as Empress, it can be assumed she isn't a target.
So giving her the benefit of the doubt, the man might've been in league with the assassins and sent to abduct her. But the possibility exists she killed the first man she came across to make herself look like a victim.
And that brings us to Balor.
Why is the chief magical advisor always a baddie? Rasputin, Jafar, Palpatine. It's a curious trope based largely on the impression that over-reaching ambition and great power in a single individual unbalances the status quo.
Eredin: She plays her part well.
Balor: A shiny thing to appease the masses.
Eredin: They all fall so eagerly into place, despite their world turning on its head.
Balor: Faced with chaos, the people will always choose order. No matter the cost.
Eredin: Or how blatant the farce.
His unquestioning willingness to agree to anything the Chaos being proposes strikes me as unwise for someone that calculating.
He demonstrates a weirdly contradictory understanding of people's nature.
On the one hand, he sees the need for a figurehead and a simple narrative to appease the people. On the other, his purging of uncooperative mages shows a lack of foresight into what hunger can do to a populace.
The only other mage seen here is Syndril, who will become one of the Seven, but we learn nothing about him beyond the fact he's the one who figured out how to use the monoliths.
Syndril's cell is presumably designed to prevent him from using his powers. We see cells like that in Cintra in the time of Queen Calanthe, but they definitely didn't overlook the palace courtyard.
Perhaps Balor built the cell with the view on purpose, but it seems -- again -- unwise to allow a powerful mage a direct line of sight to the most powerful artifact in the world.
There is a lot of geography covered here.
Xin'trea is a city we've seen before on The Witcher. Ciri's family's seat of power is called Cintra in her time.
Inis Dubh is one of the many Celtic homages worked into the Elven lands.
King Midir of Pryshia is Asian-looking, and Michelle Yeoh's Scían makes her home on Ghost Tribe land in Pryshia.
Scían is unquestionably the most capable member of the fellowship so far.
Her history with Éile complicates things, while her natural distrust of Fjall because of Dog Clan is pretty entertaining. Her taking them both on with nothing but an empty scabbard is an elegant and insightful fight scene.
Born of Black Sands. Blade and soul as one. All beginnings. All ends.Scían
All in all, it's a solid premiere by any measure. Beyond introducing the first few fellowship members, it sets up the destabilized environment into which The Lark will lead her murderous quest.
The time of the spheres is upon us. Worlds will eat worlds. Emerald skies. Fire will summon a new dawn. A great beast born will be slain by your blade. Two apart shall become two as one. The Lark’s most precious notes shall be the key to all things. And a quest in the name of your clan will bring you redemption.Ithlinne
How will the prophecy play out? Will there be opportunity for the Law of Surprise (or is that something that comes with the Time of Men and Mages)?
Looking for my Witcher-lore Fanatics: What are your thoughts on the enthusiastic captain of the guard, Eredin? Hmm?
Hit our comments below with your initial reactions and best theories of where they're going with this!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is a lifelong fan of smart sci-fi and fantasy media, an upstanding citizen of the United Federation of Planets, and a supporter of AFC Richmond 'til she dies. Her guilty pleasures include female-led procedurals, old-school sitcoms, and Bluey. She teaches, knits, and dreams big. Follow her on Twitter.