I technically have other complaints to lodge against The Witcher on Netflix, but plenty of them are matters of personal preference as opposed to real critical analysis, and those things don’t feel that important to write about. But there was one thing I couldn’t let go.
My favorite character, Cahir, seems kind of gross in the show.
Who was Cahir in The Witcher novels?
The best, okay?
I am super into Cahir Mawr Dyffryn aep Ceallach, even despite that ridiculous mouthful of a name. He’s my boy. He piqued my interest from his first introduction in the novels, and I only grew more attached to him as I continued to read.
For some background, here is a brief summary of Cahir’s movements in the books up until the point the Netflix adaptation has reached (as of season one):
Cahir was a Nilfgaardian intelligence officer assigned by the Nilfgaardian Emperor, Emhyr van Emreis, to find Ciri, capture her, and bring her back to Nilfgaard. During the Slaughter of Cintra, Queen Calanthe (Ciri’s grandmother) commands several men to escort Ciri out of the burning city on horseback. Cahir is tipped off to this movement from a spy in the castle, so he’s waiting for Ciri when she and her retinue try to make their escape. A fight ensues, everyone dies (save Cahir and Ciri), Ciri faints, and Cahir gets her out of the city.
The two of them fall in with some refugees. Cahir’s distinctive black armor just so happens to be unrecognizable because of all the ash and dirt from sacking Cintra, but soon he splits off with Ciri on his own because he’s worried about being recognized. There’s a rather tender moment where he cleans all the soot off Ciri. But, having recently been in a pretty brutal battle, Cahir falls asleep from exhaustion—and Ciri escapes before he wakes up.
Emperor Emhyr van Emreis, unimpressed with Cahir’s failure (I mean, he had one job), imprisons Cahir for a long time, so long that Cahir becomes certain he’s going to be executed. Eventually he’s released, but this takes us up to where the Netflix show ends.
Now, let’s talk about Cahir in the first season of the Netflix adaptation.
We first see Cahir leading the Nilgaardian army in battle against Queen Calanthe and her husband. That’s right—our once-obscure intelligence officer is now commanding thousands of troops. Calanthe’s husband Eist (she’s really into him and it’s pretty adorable) gets hit square in the eye with an arrow fired by Cahir. Eist dies instantly, and the Cintran armies retreat. The Slaughter of Cintra ensues.
I’m not going to get into that perfect bow shot, because at that point, I was still invested in Cahir’s character and I thought it was kind of badass. Cahir catches up with Ciri while she’s being escorted from the burning city on horseback. (He shoots another person with his bow. It’s okay.) Ciri falls off the horse of her now-dead guard and Cahir captures her. Once they’re a small distance from the city, Ciri releases some sort of magical impulse, frightening Cahir’s horse into bucking them both off. She starts psychic-screaming to keep Cahir away from her. The ground splits into a chasm between them, allowing Ciri to escape.
And this is where things start to get weird. Cahir and associates go into a Cintran refugee camp and start indiscriminately slaughtering people. Then Cahir returns to Cintra, where he and a sorceress named Fringilla (this character could have her own post, honestly) do some creepy flesh-eating magic stuff to find out where Ciri went.
It turns out that Ciri escaped into Brokilon Forest, where the dryads in this universe live. Cahir knows he won’t be able to get in there through conventional means, because the dryads shoot everyone who approaches. He meets with a creature called a doppler, who takes on the appearance of Cintra’s court sorcerer in order to trick Ciri.
Yada yada yada, eventually the doppler realizes what Ciri is and betrays Cahir by releasing her. When Cahir finds out, he loses his mind and slaughters a bunch of innocent people. Again.
But why do I hate it?
The doppler is where the Netflix adaptation lost me. For one, a doppler is a creature that appeared in one of the short stories in Sword of Destiny—but in a story so inconsequential, I literally forgot it existed until I was editing this post. (The doppler from that story also has no connection to Cahir.) Second, if Cahir’s character arc from the books is even loosely followed, there’s no point to this little charade. He will still fail to find Ciri, and his imprisonment in Nilfgaard from the books puts him in the appropriate place to then make a second attempt to capture her on the Isle of Thanedd.
This excursion with the doppler serves only to make Cahir look edgy, dark, and evil, but in the novels, he was only ever those things in Ciri’s nightmares. She remembers his winged helmet with the burning of Cintra as a backdrop and twists it into something even more horrifying, in the way only a war-torn child really can. In the show, we don’t have only Ciri’s terror of Cahir to frame his character—we have actions behind him that make him look like a monster.
He slaughters a bunch of refugees. He slaughters an entire tavern full of people to make sure none of them were the doppler, which, again, could have been avoided by the show not having a doppler. And he’s allied with a cannibalistic sorceress who has religious fervor on par with this dumbass.
Unsurprisingly, a bunch of other things about Cahir’s character don’t make sense, such as his presence at the battle of Sodden Hill (that ridiculous fight with Vilgefortz) and his exaggerated importance in the show (which Fringilla uses to manipulate him).
But even without these factors thrown in, the show has already taken Cahir on a completely different trajectory from the novels, and much too far down the “pure evil” route. We get little flickers of doubt from Show Cahir, and we witness Fringilla manipulating him in his vulnerable moments—but I think there’s something to be said for the original iteration of his character, especially knowing his end game. I’m not convinced that Show Cahir can come back from this stuff, even if the seeds are planted for him to want to.
Characterizing Cahir as a monster now only makes it that much harder to redeem him later. (Side note: I also don’t subscribe to the notion that antiheros and morally gray characters are more nuanced and interesting than others, or that their redemption arcs hold more weight because of the depths of the depravity they must claw back from. It isn’t necessarily more “realistic,” and it’s certainly overdone.) And, like many of the creative changes made in the Netflix adaptation, I don’t see the point. The show could have ended up in the same place (Cahir failing to capture Ciri) without a load of made-up fluff in between. They had a completed series to work from: were they really lacking in material?
I’m disappointing myself a little bit, but I’m going to end this by sounding like everyone ever: Read the books.
That’s the series arc of this article.
What do you think about The Witcher? Have you read the books? Watched the show and have opinions? Leave a comment below!