Part one of The Witcher‘s third season saw the Continent’s most powerful figures hunting down Ciri. However, Geralt and Yennefer did some hunting of their own, too. Rience the fire mage and Lydia the telepath are just pawns in a bigger game of villains on The Witcher. They’re working for a far more dangerous sorcerer. The White Wolf and Yennefer thought they knew who that was. But in the show’s fifth episode, Geralt realized they’d been targeting the wrong member of the Brotherhood. Who did they think the dangerous mysterious mage was, and who did it turn out to be?
Those might not even be the right questions to ask. The Witcher season three’s true villain and mysterious mage might be hiding in plain sight. So let us examine all the candidates and determine who the ultimate villain of The Witcher is at the end of Volume One.
Why Did Geralt Think Stregobor Was the Secret Villain During The Witcher Season 3?
Rience is hunting down Princess Cirilla of Cintra on behalf of the sorceress Lydia. Rience does not know who the silent Lydia is working for. But her boss is a member of the Brotherhood who is far more powerful than either of them.
This mysterious villain has been opening dark, untraceable portals that are unlike any other on The Witcher. They’ve also been kidnapping half-elven girls from Aretuza and using them as part of monstrous experiments. One was even made to believe she is Ciri via ancient elven sorcery. (Such a spell would take many lifetimes to learn.) This shadowy mage wants to manipulate Ciri for their own goal. Istredd believes that goal is to banish all elves from the Continent. They would be able to do that via the Book of Monoliths they stole before Istredd could. Or they could do it by using Ciri, who can herself open doors to other worlds.
This secret mage also used an illusion of Geralt to try and kill Yennefer when they sent her through a dark portal to the edge of a cliff. (The very same stalactite from that oceanside cliff ultimately led Istredd and Triss to locate the missing book.)
The one member of the Brotherhood who hates both elves and Yennefer is Stregobor. He’s a very old, very powerful mage who has a history experimenting on young girls. When Istredd found the Book of Monoliths in Stregobor’s safe (along with a laughable amount of incriminating evidence related to the missing apprentices), it all but confirmed Stregobor’s guilt on The Witcher and his title of ultimate villain.
Except, Geralt and Yennefer realize Stregobor was but a patsy for a greater evil, the mage they now believe is truly behind everything.
Who Is The Witcher Season 3’s Villain According to Volume One?
At the pre-conclave ball, Philippa warned Yennefer the Brotherhood is a sinking ship and that the two of them aren’t like the other mages. Philippa also said Tissaia—whom she was once very close with—is in danger of being “in love with the poison that kills you slowly,” same as Lydia. And she tried to alert Yennefer about the traitors in the Brotherhood who are already working with Nilfgaard, which we know the mysterious mage is doing thanks to an earlier conversation Lydia had with Rience.
Only, none of the accusations made against Stregobor involved Nilfgaard in any way. (Plus, Nilfgaard has not only been relying on elves and keeping them safe, Emperor Emhyr’s daughter Ciri has Elder Blood. He wouldn’t want Ciri sent away.) And there was no obvious reason for Philippa to bring up Lydia in the context of Tissaia. So why did she?
That mystery made Geralt recall that Lydia’s earrings at the ball matched the bracelet Vilgefortz gave Tissaia as “protection.” Each is made of scarlet ammonite, which is only found in the mines of West Redania. That’s where Geralt found Rience’s secret hiding place and those poor girls.
The Witcher and Yennefer then also realized “The First Landing”—Vilgefortz’s favorite painting about the event that led to the Brotherhood’s founding—showed the same location the mysterious mage sent Yennefer to die. That is also located in West Redania. Combined with the fact that Vilgefortz told Geralt about “ the battle to come” despite speaking of peace all night, and the two came to the same conclusion: Stregobor isn’t Lydia’s employer. Vilgefortz, the person who assured Yennefer of safe portal passage, is. There we have it; according to volume one, the villain of The Witcher season three is Vilgefortz.
But that doesn’t mean he’s ultimately the mage Geralt and Yennefer are looking for. There’s reason to believe someone is pulling his strings. So then, who is the true evil villain of The Witcher season three? Here’s how the story unfolds.
Why Tissaia Is the Real Villain of The Witcher Season 3
During the ball, the Valdo Marx’s troupe sang “All Is Not As It Seems.” That song foreshadowed Geralt and Yennefer’s secret plan. But the group might have been right in ways the show has yet to reveal, because the real villain probably isn’t Vilgefortz. No, it seems the real villain of The Witcher is the woman he loves and trusts, Tissaia.
Long before the conclave, Yennefer wouldn’t rule out the possibility the rogue mage they were seeking on The Witcher was a woman. She also described her mentor Tissaia as someone who knows “everything” and “one of the most powerful sorcerers” on the Continent. And Tissaia’s failure to fulfill her promise to the North’s monarchs that she’d find and kill Ciri has only splintered those kingdoms further, making them more vulnerable to Nilfgaard. Not that Tissaia actually wanted to kill Ciri to unite the North. Tissaia scolded Yennefer for thinking her goals were “so basic.”
Against Philippa’s advice, Tissaia was also the one who encouraged Yennefer to unleash her chaos at the Battle of Sodden Hill, which robbed Yennefer of her magical powers for a time. Tissaia knew there would be huge ramifications for Yennefer when she performed those actions on The Witcher, indeed villainous behavior. Tissaia was also the one who taught Yen that magic always has a source, and fire magic’s source is the person themselves. Teryn, the kidnapped apprentice from Aretuza made to believe she is Ciri, also echoed those words during her ranting. She repeated, “Always a source.” Why did Tissaia have someone she cares about so much risk everything just to win a single battle in a war that will not be ending anytime soon?
Tissaia also showed no concern for Teryn and her other missing students. When Triss warned Tissaia about the blood in the lost girls’ chambers, Tissaia brushed it aside and said there was nothing to worry about. Tissaia turns her failed apprentices into eels to power Aretuza’s magic, so she isn’t afraid to use kids for her own needs. But until then, she looks after them to see what kind of promise they show. It’s why she engenders such respect and admiration from her successful students, like Yennfer.
In some ways, that’s how Tissaia manipulates the sorceresses she once mentored, something we saw on display when she first met Ciri. She demanded Ciri stare at her just as she had once done with a young Yennefer. And the mysterious mage also seeks to manipulate the Princess for her own goals.
What are the shadowy, older, powerful mage’s goals exactly? And why are they working “with” Nilfgaard and not “for” it? We don’t yet know, but they involve the Book of Monoliths. Tissaia was all too happy to take it from Stregobor for “safe keeping” lest it end up in “the wrong hands again.” The secret mage’s plans also involve Ciri, who Tissaia is ready to welcome at Aretuza.
All circumstantial evidence, yes, but a mountain of it. Far too much to ignore, especially when you rewatch that performance of “All Is Not As It Seems.”
It spoke of a beautiful maid who becomes a beast with sharp fangs at night. And who did Valdo just happen to walk by and smile at when he sang those lyrics? Tissaia de Vries, the woman who knows everything. She’s the beautiful mage Vilgefortz worships on The Witcher. The woman who used the victory of Sodden Hill to help the two of them take leadership over the Brotherhood. The sorceress who has long seen how little the mages can control the squabbling kingdoms of the North all while she has controlled the young women entrusted to her.
Vilgefortz might be as guilty as Geralt and Yennefer believe him to be. He probably is. But that doesn’t mean he’s the villain and mage they’re looking for on The Witcher. He might be just another puppet, same as Rience and Lydia, under Tissaia’s control.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.