Warning: major spoilers ahead for Season 1 of The Witcher on Netflix.
Netflix took a fantastical turn just in time for the holidays with the premiere of The Witcher, based on the saga penned by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. The highly-anticipated series stars Henry Cavill as the monster-hunting witcher Geralt of Rivia, Freya Allan as Princess Cirilla, and Anya Chalotra as the enigmatic and unpredictable sorceress Yennefer. While Cavill is all but unrecognizable as Geralt, Chalotra goes through an incredible physical transformation portraying Yennefer's journey in Season 1, and she chatted with CinemaBlend about the change.
Yennefer made her first chronological appearance in The Witcher -- which toyed with multiple timelines for the three main characters throughout the first season -- as a young woman with a hunchback, crooked jaw, and really not a whole lot visibly in common with Anya Chalotra other than hair color.
Sold to the sorceress Tissaia de Vries for a paltry four marks by her neglectful father, Yennefer fought her way through the ranks of students at Tissaia's school and was ultimately transformed into a beautiful and ageless woman who looked a whole lot more like Anya Chalotra, purple eyes aside. Chalotra shared how the prosthetics she wore as pre-transformation Yennefer affected her performance:
I really approached it the same. For me, it's just one journey. Of course you have that huge physical demand of her in her childhood. I would have loved more time to develop and to discover what those inhibitions were, those restrictions were... Automatically when you're in the chair for three hours before you go onto set, as the younger Yennefer, I am getting into the headspace of the character. The prosthetic, the hunchback, made me look at the floor and because I was looking at the floor I was a lot more self-conscious and I felt inferior and I was scared to use my voice. That helped the way I used my voice, the way I responded to people.
Although Anya Chalotra in her normal life doesn't face the same disadvantages as young Yennefer with her hunchback in particular, the prosthetic she wore for her character during that pre-transformation era of her life helped her get into Yennefer's headspace. Yennefer certainly was miserable when she was first sold to Tissaia by the man who raised her, to the point that she attempted suicide.
Yennefer survived, however, and she would go on to survive all manner of challenges that would have killed mages with less natural talent and drive. While she was told that she would never regain her womb, which she lost in exchange for gaining her beauty and physical changes, and was unsatisfied with her life, she wasn't beaten... when last seen, anyway. Season 1 of The Witcher ended with Yennefer's fate very much in question after the battle at Sodden Hill.
Anya Chalotra was no longer in the hunchback stage of Yennefer's life by the time of Sodden Hill, however. She went on in her chat with CinemaBlend to explain how her look as post-transformation Yennefer continued to help her performance:
And then exactly the same for when she's transformed. I have more makeup on. It's not the prosthetic of the back and it's not the mouthguard that I had in my mouth, but I was still hiding something behind that thick makeup I have on. All those things supported me and an incredible team to have those conversations with and bring that to life.
In the process of losing her hunchback and the crooked jaw, Yennefer gained a lot of dark eyeshadow! The transformation was clear in her structure, her makeup choices, and even her hair. There was no confusing pre-transformation Yennefer with transformed sorceress Yennefer, despite Anya Chalotra clearly playing both versions of the character.
It's a testament to Anya Chalotra's performance that she was able to cohesively tackle such different periods in Yennefer's life. Unfortunately for fans of Chalotra as Yennefer (who haven't read the books, anyway), The Witcher ended its first season without revealing what happened to Yennefer after she unleashed her fiery Chaos to try to defeat Fringilla and the forces of Nilfgaard.
Geralt and Ciri, not to mention Tissaia, seemed poised to at least search for Yennefer when the season ended, but Yennefer looked like she could deplete herself to nothingness if she continued using her powers. The good news is that The Witcher was renewed for Season 2 before Season 1 even premiered, so fans don't have to worry that answers about Yennefer's fate will never come.
Even readers can't guarantee that what happened to Yennefer on the page will match what happens to Yennefer on the screen. The show is making important changes from the books, after all, and Witcher showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich shared her thoughts on the future of the series.
What readers probably can count on is Season 2 starting to pick up on adapting the novel saga, rather than continuing the short stories that were the focus of Season 1 for some big reasons. The first season ended on the long-awaited meeting of Geralt and the Child Surprise, and Geralt and Ciri are on a journey together when Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher saga begins.
There are still big questions about what happens between the end of Season 1 and the events of the next chapter in the novel series, and fans may be waiting a while for the big answers. Netflix hasn't announced a premiere window for the second season of The Witcher.
Luckily, there is plenty to take in from the first season that the eight episodes warrant a rewatch or two. After all, it's not clear until the very end of the first batch of episodes that the timelines of the three main characters are finally converging, with Geralt present at the fall of Cintra, nearly crossing paths with Ciri several times before finally meeting her near Sodden Hill, and the ageless Yennefer floating in and out of the narrative on her mission to restore her fertility.
If only the first season had delivered one more update on what was happening with Jaskier, a.k.a. Dandelion to fans of English translations of the books, after his harsh dismissal by Geralt! That is just one more thing that will have to wait for Season 2.