The Witcher’s Yennefer: A bold take on power and motherhood

Yennefer. The Witcher season 2. Netflix.
Yennefer. The Witcher season 2. Netflix. /

Of course, not all women desire, nor feel called to be, mothers. But it’s equally true that not all mothers bear their children. Lauren Schmidt’s dark drama fantasy series The Witcher, based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s book series, puts powerful women at the forefront of the story, from ruthless elves to protective queens and ambitious mages. And it’s the show’s most powerful mage–Yennefer of Vengerberg–who is used as a conduit for open discussion about the philosophy of power and motherhood.

This is not an easy topic to approach, considering The Witcher takes place in a time where women are still widely viewed as the property of a man with the sole purpose of bearing children for their families and heirs for their kingdoms. It would be easy for the showrunners to simply do away with the traditional role of a mother and, instead, show how powerful, courageous, strong and intelligent The Witcher‘s female heroines can be, void of any sense of familial desire.

It would also be easy to show the strength of these women amidst their motherhood. It’s a tactic we’ve seen done in dramas before, from Vikings to Game of Thrones. But what’s refreshing about The Witcher, is how it shows one of the show’s starring females Yennefer constantly having to battle between her desire for power and her desire to bring forth children into the world.

Not only that, but The Witcher Season 2 shows how these two topics coincide together to create a much more interesting story.

The Witcher's Yennefer: A bold take on power and motherhood
The Witcher – Credit: Katalin Vermes /

Warning: spoilers ahead. 

In Season 1, Yennefer–a part elf and hunchback–is sold off to a mage named Tissaia de Vries to learn magic. as Yennefer becomes more and more powerful, showing promise to become one of the most powerful young mages Tissaia has come across, Yennefer still finds that her desire to be “normal” in looks and accepted by society’s standards of beauty to overpower her joy at her developing power.

The Witcher boldly tackles power and motherhood through heroine Yennefer

Eventually, Yennefer takes part in an incredibly painful surgical procedure (and that’s putting it incredibly lightly) to become what she considers beautiful. But at the cost of her ability to bear children.

Time passes and Yennefer takes full advantage of her new looks and impressive magical power, but vocalizes to the Witcher Geralt that she still feels a void and takes part in wildly dangerous rituals and quests in order to get back her lost fertility. Unfortunately for the young mage, none of these tactics prove successful.

In Season 2, we see a shift in Yennefer after the battle at Sodden. Having let her chaos magic loose and setting fire to much of the Nilfgaardian army, Yennefer discovers that her magic is gone and forgets about her desire to become a mother, focusing all her attention on getting back the magic that she sees as her sole purpose for existence.

The Witcher's Yennefer: A bold take on power and motherhood
The Witcher season 2. Image courtesy Jay Maidment, Netflix /

This leads to one of the best Yennefer-focused lines in the season coming from her mentor Tissaia.

“From the moment we met, you’ve been trying to fill a void. Power couldn’t do it, even when you had it at your fingertips. What makes you think it’s the answer now?”

Of course, all this is taking place while Geralt is learning to be a father to his “child surprise” Ciri.

Tempted by a demon named Voleth Meir, Yennefer is told that the only way to get back her power is by sacrificing Ciri to Cintra, filled with elves and soldiers desperate to use the young princess for her power. Yennefer does attempt to go through with leading Ciri away from Geralt and into the dangerous hands of Cintra, but backs out at the last minute, desiring to protect Ciri as a mother would protect her daughter.

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Later on, Yennefer even shows she’s willing to sacrifice herself to Voleth Meir in order to save Ciri when the demon has taken over the young girl’s body. It is this sacrifice that both saves Ciri and brings back Yennefer’s power.

Yennefer’s character acts as a symbol for an interesting notion in The Witcher–that by giving up what one desires most for the person one loves the most is the essence of true power. And as sweet a message as this is, the philosophy behind Yennefer’s sacrifice actually goes deeper than that.

The Witcher's Yennefer: A bold take on power and motherhood
The Witcher season 2. Image courtesy Jay Maidment, Netflix /

Yennefer has now sacrificed her body twice in The Witcher–once to gain beauty and more power, and once to save Ciri. Season 2 is also the second time we see Yennefer blinded by her desperate cling to power that she forgoes her longing for motherhood. This season is also the second time Yennefer is told that she cannot have what she desires. In Season 1, the golden dragon Villentretenmerth says that Yennefer “will never regain her womb” and in Season 2 Tissaia tells Yennefer that “What’s lost is lost,” regarding her absent powers.

But the finale of Season 2, aptly titled “Family,” features Yennefer proving wrong the words that have been spoken over her for two seasons. She doesn’t regain the ability to bear children but she gains a daughter in Ciri and, at the same time, her powers are returned to her.

And this is not simply a message of pure sacrifice versus a selfish one. We cannot say for sure whether Yennefer was wrong or not to take part in the surgery that granted her the looks and power she desired but took away her fertility because it’s this decision that leads her on the path to mother Ciri.

The Witcher's Yennefer: A bold take on power and motherhood
The Witcher on Netflix, photo credit: Katalin Vermes /

The bold message behind this mage’s journey is twofold. Firstly, it can be observed that a woman’s quest for power, married with motherly instincts, is an unstoppable force that defies prophecy and creates its own destiny. Secondly, that the choices we make that seem to condemn us may actually be the choices that redeem us and bring us to the people who need us most.

Yennefer’s character is also an empowering symbol to women who lack the ability to bear children with their own bodies and who, like the mage, have likely spent many sleepless nights and countless resources trying to make their dreams come true.

Yennefer’s story offers a symbol of hope, that women who desire to be mothers have a promise waiting for them and, though the journey may be trying, in the end, they will have gained that which seemed impossible.

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What were some of your favorite moments in The Witcher Season 2? Let us know in the comments below!