The fourth episode of Netflix’s Witcher series calls for such an ancient tradition to resolve a ballroom conflict between our hero of the same name and a patron of his ministry. And so the main continuation line of the series is sketched right before our eyes and paves the way for the rest of the season. But if you haven’t read the books, you may not be serious about the situation.
[Ed. Note: This post contains spoilers for The Witcher episode 4]
The tradition in question is the law of surprise that Duny, the future husband of Princess Pavetta, relies on after Geralt saved his life from a room that was all about volunteers for the king’s marriage. After a bloody brawl, Duny, also known as the Urcheon of Erlenwald, feels obliged to the witcher for his rescue, but has nothing to do with him as a person. Geralt invokes the law of surprise.
“What you already have but don’t know,” says the Law of Surprise. As a venerable custom in The Witcher’s world, the law is usually called upon to negotiate a payment between a hero and a patron who saved them from certain death. In most cases it can only be called by a save in Peril. These endangered unfortunates are usually caused by a sorcerer, but sometimes an ordinary knight can attack them by accident – as was the case with Duny himself, who saved Pavetta’s father’s life and won the right 15 years before the events in Episode 4 to marry his daughter by the law of surprise. Only after the law has been called will everyone in the room stop fighting. Disregarding a custom as great as this is disregarding destiny itself.
Photo: Katalin Vermes / Netflix
The law works like this: if a debtor finds that he has nothing to pay his bill with, he can say, for example, “give your reward.” This creates the conditions for the law and gives the hero sufficient opportunity to make a claim: the first thing you notice when you arrive home is enough to pay off the debt.
The first thing you can do is some kind of garden tool or horse or other bucolic utensil that you can find in a medieval fantasy landscape. Or maybe the rescued person can come home to report that their wife became pregnant while they were away. In this case, the first thing she has without knowledge is her unborn child. In the event that the unborn child is now owed to the hero who called the law of surprise, the child who is bound to her by an incomprehensible fate. That’s exactly what happens to Geralt in seconds at the end of Episode 4.
“Shit,” Geralt murmurs after Duny reveals what he has but doesn’t know. The sorcerer storms out of the room into the night, leaving his adoptive daughter behind to grow up as a princess without knowing her fate. But for rites this ancient – this great – fate remains. And despite numerous attempts to thwart it, the power of fate only grows.
In Andrzej Sapkowski’s Sword of Destiny short story collection, Queen Calanthe, Ciri’s grandmother, recognizes this: After ordering her advisor, the druid Mousesack, to kill Geralt to keep Ciri away from her, she finally withdraws her request for Mousesack’s sake Not. Perhaps this was a test of loyalty. Or maybe it was a respect for or a fear of fate.
On the Netflix show, Calanthe reaps what she sows because she has separated Geralt and Ciri for so long. On her deathbed, seen in Episode 1, she tells her granddaughter “Find Geralt of Rivia” and understands that the girl’s fate is inextricably linked to that of the witcher. To survive the penetrating sea of black from Nilfgaard, they must do so together. Fate is dealt the trump card, and the sorcerer in the prison cells below detaches himself from his bonds and goes in search of his child of surprise.
At some point Geralt, Ciri and even Yennefer’s paths will cross. At the heart of The Witcher is the Law of Surprise, which connects three people without a family through fate.