*Note: this will be focused exclusively on the books, not the games. Game Geralt is a similar but different beast. Maybe we’ll get to him later, I dunno. Also, spoilers.*
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m quite fond of the Witcher series. I have differing thoughts on the games and the show was alright, but my affection for the books cannot be understated. I think they’re a phenomenal collection of books, issues and all. From the fantastic setting to the incredible fight scenes, there’s a lot to love here. First and foremost being the characters.
And among them all, my favorite naïve and honorable hero: Geralt of Rivia.
In a more traditional fantasy, Geralt would be a very straight-forward character. The honorable monster hunter who pretends not to have a heart of gold. A decent character, but not an especially unique or memorable one.
But then you factor in the setting. That is the missing piece of the puzzle that transforms Geralt into one of the most interesting and memorable characters in all of fiction.
And it all boils down to one line:
Evil is evil. Lesser, greater, middling… Makes no difference. The degree is arbitrary. The definition’s blurred. If I’m to choose between one evil and another… I’d rather not choose at all.The Last Wish
The world of the Witcher is, to put it very lightly, pretty fucked up. There really isn’t such a thing as a good person in this setting. Everyone is a selfish asshole, a ruthless tyrant, a con artist, a psychotic spellcaster, a rapist, an incestuous rapist, or a murderer. Sometimes all of them at once. Even the ‘good’ guys of this world are guilty of this. Literally everyone has some skeletons in their closet.
And the thing is: most of them own it. None of them pretend to be any better than they are. They’re fucked up and they know it. They’re all so fucked up, in fact, that even the slightest act of kindness and humanity is often greeted by suspicion or outright hostility. That, or condescending laughter.
Then there’s Geralt. When first introduced, he seems a lot like the rest. A cold-hearted mutant who exists to cut down monsters. However, as the series progresses, we see more and more of his selfless and heroic side. He doesn’t go slaughtering monsters because they’re monsters; often times, he advocates for protecting monsters, so long as they aren’t evil.
It’s in his interactions with other people where his honorable side truly shows. At practically every turn of the story, someone tries to pressure Geralt into doing something terrible. Whether it be to assassinate someone, be a hired thug, or something else of the like, many people try to enlist the White Wolf into doing something terrible. Every time, Geralt refuses. He strictly follows the Witcher’s code. His code.
But again: this world is shitty. It’s not the kind of place where you can act like the honorable knight. Geralt himself has learned this lesson the hard way many times. Often times, the choice was taken out of his hands.
Over the course of the story, we see how this wears him down. Bit by bit, Geralt’s naivety is stripped away. He slowly realizes how futile his attempts at heroism truly are. Every time he tries to help, it comes back and explodes in his face. No matter how hard he tries, he never gets his fairy tale ending, even if only for a little while. Sooner or later, he ends up back in the shit.
This comes to a head in Lady of the Lake. After all his efforts, after all his sacrifices and losses, he is finally reunited with Yennefer and Ciri. Finally, the three can be a family. But then, right as he finally gets what he’s wanted for so long, reality comes back in and ruins his fairy tale ending. He realizes that both Yen and Ciri are going to be taken from him and this time he is completely powerless to stop it. His time with his beloved and his surrogate daughter is limited.
After all this, Geralt reaches the end of his rope. He finally snaps and decides that no, he’s not going to stick his neck out for anyone anymore. It’s not worth it. He’s finally going to get onto the same page as everyone else. No more heroics.
And then all hell breaks loose.
If Geralt were true to his word, things might have worked out. He might have been able to keep going. Carry on his adventures. He may not have been able to be with his friends and surrogate family anymore. But he knew that wasn’t going to happen anyways. All he had to do was walk away.
But in the end, Geralt couldn’t help himself. In the end, it was all talk. So, Geralt did as Geralt does. He stood up and fought to protect others. Threw himself into hell for someone else.
For the last time.
This is what makes Geralt such a compelling and lovable character. The world pressures him to change at every turn. It proves his naivety and powerlessness time and time again. But he never relents. He never changes. Even when he tries to, he can’t stop himself from caring.
The world sees Geralt as a heartless monster. He is, after all, a Witcher. Geralt himself thought that way. But in the end, he had more heart than anyone. The Witcher, the supposed scum of the world, proved more noble and heroic than anyone.
And he stayed that way right up until the end.