The Witcher’s Geralt of Rivia is the living embodiment of the strong, silent hero. An elementary fantasy protagonist who spends his days killing monsters, earning coin, and sleeping with women in every grateful town he saves. His masculine beauty, somewhere between the lithe anatomy of classical sculpture and Charles Atlas’ super-sculpted steroid men, epitomizes the modern daddy.
This (obviously) millennial kink-meme — one of the most rampant sexual trends of the 21st century — fetishizes and inverts the original meaning of the term. What “daddy” was in the 1950s and what it refers to now might well be on opposite end of the spectrum. For Geralt, it’s greasy platinum hair, a stubble-studded jawline, sleek feline eyes, and his appreciable aversion to manscaping.
In theory, Geralt is better at being a daddy than he is at taking care of Ciri. He certainly looks much better doing the first thing. And yet, for a man whose expression and behavior both define the word “brooding,” Geralt is surprisingly quick to warm up to his parental “destiny.” The Witcher, through the trusting relationship between Geralt and Ciri, builds on all the TV fathers who came before him.
[Ed. note: This article contains spoilers for the end of season 2 of The Witcher.]
The earliest fathers on television were basic — starched white men enshrined in suburban domesticity. Leave It to Beaver’s Ward Cleaver rarely interacts with his sons aside from proposing generic textbook advice; bland, tedious fatherly musings played on loop with no real emotion behind them. Even unorthodox dads, like the widowed Sheriff Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show, were based on conventional wisdom. TV shows made it clear that dads were the central focus of the family unit, a la Jim Anderson in Father Knows Best, a sitcom whose title adequately captures the essence of ’50s fatherhood.
I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners were among the first shows to deviate from the masculine expectations placed on their male leads. Ricky Ricardo, a Cuban-American conga drummer, charmingly accommodates his wife Lucy’s various quirks, and Ralph Kramden is treasured for his cross-eyed grimaces and campy theatrics. But it wasn’t until The Addams Family and its nominal patriarch, Gomez, that TV fatherhood felt truly severed from its nuclear shackles and was allowed to run kooky and wild.
Unlike the standardized dads of his time, Gomez doesn’t concern himself with social protocol, although his insistence on his children’s agency may have been a shade too progressive for most viewers. He announces that he’ll “be giving the orders around here” and also that “nobody has to obey them.” He refuses to let Wednesday and Pugsley go to school, because “why have children just to get rid of them?” Gomez lived the truth that kids aren’t clones designed for vicarious living, and they will never be vessels into which parents may cram their unfulfilled dreams — a philosophy echoed by Geralt all these years later.
In the world of The Witcher, those with power naturally wish to enforce it on everyone else: to have their statues erected in town squares, their feeble lives shaped by bards and historians into the stuff of legend. Ciri is similarly besieged from every corner. Voleth Meir and The Wild Hunt, the Elves, the North, Cintra, Nilfgaard — everyone worth their enchanted salt fights to acquire her and her elder blood because “a child born to parents dead,” automatically becomes fair game. Even the unnamed Elven baby bears the weight of her people’s hope (though she isn’t lucky enough to survive the random acts of backstabbing that pass for politics on The Continent).
Geralt of Rivia, however, is one of very few people who doesn’t treat Ciri as a puppet. He avoids the laughably grandiose names people dub her with (including: “Child of Elder Blood,” “Child of Wrath,” “Child of Destiny,” “Daughter of Chaos”). Geralt might switch between helicopter parenting and hazardous take-your-kid-to-work days, but to him, she is never anything more than a child — with enough power to alter the flow of history, but a child.
Geralt doesn’t bother with the quaint patriarchal precepts of genetics and authority, either — on the contrary, his actions suggest that adults have no place inflicting their legacies on children. He insists, albeit grudgingly, on Ciri’s autonomy, despite the threats that lurk all around them: a sign of trust in his daughter’s strength as well as in his own.
Modern TV stories have traditionally respected children more as individuals; and approach dad-kid pairings without denying that which governs all healthy relationships: intimacy. Take Stranger Things, a show that emphasizes the uniquely asymmetric relationship between a superpowered preteen girl and her eventual father. Eleven shares countless parallels with Ciri’s overprotected life, starting with Jim Hopper, another stoic, heroic, fluffy man-mountain who is transformed into a somewhat amenable, somewhat overbearing, mostly confused dad after meeting El.
Few parents fight as hard or as dirty as Hopper and Geralt. Honor and integrity be damned, all these two care about are their superpowered daughters. Ciri becomes Geralt’s anchor, the reason he eases up on the Witchering and settles in for a nice long staycation at Kaer Morhen. She is why he delivers un-Geralt-like zingers — “Yes. I, too, was once a child” — classic daddy responses to a daughter’s skepticism. In parallel with Ciri’s influence on Geralt, Eleven becomes Hopper’s incentive to expand his emotional palette beyond guilt and frustration, even if his olive branches tend to be 8,000 calories and soaked in corn syrup.
Ciri and Eleven teach Geralt and Hopper how to temper discipline with flexibility, a risky line to walk considering that these dads are practically helpless when their daughters lose control of their powers. These two men don’t resist their paternal obligations, though, they embrace them — and, more importantly, they are willing to learn lessons from their children. Whether in Hawkins, Indiana or Oxenfurt, Redania, tough love and cautious tenderness help Ciri and El navigate their unfathomable experiences with power.
The spirited warmth of Geralt’s parenting style is plainly observed in the first episode of season 2. The pair of unlikely traveling companions come across Nivellen, a mysteriously cursed man: Geralt and Ciri accept his hospitality for the night, but each of them reacts rather differently to their host’s tale of woe. Geralt realizes that his friend hasn’t been fully forthright, while Ciri hopes to pull Nivellen out of his doomy-gloomy rants about monsters and forgiveness.
But when Nivellen edits the truth back into his sob story, Ciri’s childlike innocence — already warped by the destruction of her home and family — is all but shattered. This is the point of no return for Geralt. He has no choice but to lead by example and icily turn his back on his friend.
Whether Geralt is offended by the revelation feels irrelevant. What matters is Ciri learning that her new father would rather believe women than mindlessly support another man. Watching Geralt walk away from a once-dear friend validates his daughter as his main priority, both in her eyes and the audience’s. Their interactions until this point are little more than leisurely hangout sessions, but the fireside chat following their exit from Nivellen’s is the kernel around which the father-daughter relationship germinates. Although limited by the regressive rules of his society, Geralt works at building a sturdier setting for Ciri’s emotional growth.
Unfortunately, Geralt’s quasi-feminism doesn’t hold a candle to Elliot Birch of Big Mouth, TV’s Softest Daddy, who treats traditional masculinity as one of infinite versions that a man can embody. Elliot emits a radiant dad-cringe from every one of his heavily moisturized pores: gender, genitalia, masturbation, sex — there is no topic so obscene that it offends this marvelous man. Nestled in the relative safety of Westchester County, New York, Elliot Birch has access to all the basic tools of fatherhood: he nurtures three children while simultaneously tackling peripheral responsibilities like Jay Bilzerian and Andrew Glouberman.
However, in a world as fragmented as The Witcher’s, where people are passionately xenophobic and their children are stripped of all agency, there simply isn’t enough space to discuss the nuances of puberty. Even the denizens of Kaer Morhen, a community well-versed in biology and alchemy, are oblivious to Ciri’s adolescent needs, like a “cloth for when she gets her blood.” The Witchers prod, coax, goad Ciri into becoming stronger, quicker, better — more Witcher, less princess — but the show establishes that clothing her in rags and feeding her unseasonal mushrooms isn’t enough to pass Child Care 101.
The Witcher informs its men, perhaps all men, that they’re “choosing to be ignorant arseholes.” For the most part, though, Kaer Morhen is a medieval Full House (hard as it is to imagine Danny Tanner as a grizzled monster-hunter) a bunch of adorably awkward men that do the best they can at co-parenting. The Witchers’ initial hostility blurs into affection over time; they fight tooth and nail to reclaim Ciri from Voleth Meir’s clutches, wagering their lives and/or limbs without hesitation.
TV fathers (or their paternal surrogates) are no strangers to sacrifice — Ned Stark allows the Lannisters to strip him of dignity for Sansa (Game of Thrones), Rupert Giles flagrantly denounces the Watcher Council for Buffy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Homer reveals, in an uncharacteristically tender moment, just how much he struggles to ensure a bright future for Maggie (The Simpsons). On the opposing end of the spectrum is Emhyr, who isn’t above sacrificing other people’s children to get closer (politically, if not emotionally) to his own daughter.
The notion of parental sacrifice is often shrouded in vague abstractions, but its narrative consequences are painfully real. It explains why Geralt leaves his beloved Kaer Morhen in the season finale: he can’t bear the thought of losing either Ciri or his Witcher family. It also explains how the Geralt-Ciri equation acquires its third factor: Yennefer becomes a tentative mother figure when she surrenders her body and soul to Voleth Meir in exchange for Ciri’s freedom. The three of them turn into a glorious subversion of the nuclear family — biologically unrelated, yes, but uncompromising in their hope for a better life.
TV fatherhood has come a long way in the last several decades — it is no more the realm of plaid-suited, pipe-smoking men with nothing to offer except watered-down proverbs. The brazen boomer ideologies embraced by Al Bundy (Married… with Children) were forced to give way to sensitive blockheads like Hal Wilkerson (Malcolm in the Middle) and Phil Dunphy (Modern Family). And there is still so much left to accomplish in this borderline neglected sphere of fictional relationships.
Nobody said raising children would be an easy job. Fatherhood is bitter, chaotic work with no certainty of success (an idea so radically obvious that it skipped the first few decades of television entirely). Geralt is terrified of failure, of making mistakes that would cost his daughter her happiness. He understands that everything he does may end up being for nothing, but he takes the plunge anyway. Geralt of Rivia adapts to his unexpected role with grace and sensitivity, a shift that highlights the fundamentals of fatherhood — change is inevitable; life goes on.
The Witcher season 2 is now available on Netflix.