The season 2 premiere of Netflix’s The Witcher featured a monster unlike anything we’ve come to see in the live-action adaptation. But what’s the story behind Nivellen and how does it compare to the source material?
As many of you will already know, Geralt’s story in the books begins with two collections of short stories that depict his exploits throughout the Northern Kingdoms – one of which is called The Last Wish. In one of these short stories, titled “A Grain of Truth,” the White Wolf stumbles upon a cursed mansion that hosts a humanoid beast, but one that’s surprisingly more intelligent than the sort our monster-hunter usually encounters.
Since “A Grain of Truth” is basically the frame story around which The Last Wish revolves, a lot of fans were disheartened to see the first season dismiss it altogether. But it seems that the writers at Netflix had bigger plans from the get-go to tie Nivellen’s story into the larger narrative, and it worked splendidly as a cold open for season 2.
In the book, the story of Nivellen begins when Geralt decides to take a shortcut through a valley but comes upon the corpses of a merchant and his wife. Upon investigating the matter further, he is rushed by a huge beast who tries to frighten him off. The Witcher, being who he is, stands his ground, whereupon the monster decides to invite him to his mansion.
Geralt and Nivellen talk over dinner, and the latter explains the reason he’s spent the last 12 years as a cursed monstrosity. In the show, Nivellen says that he’s cursed because he raided the temple of the Lionheaded Spider and raped its priestess, whereas in The Last Wish the beast claims to have been coerced into doing it by his bandit squadmates.
Nivellen further deduces that his story is a classic fairy tale, where the beast can be turned back into man by true love’s kiss. He then relates the history of the many women who came to live with him, though none of whom had an effect on the curse, nor did they remain. Through the course of the dinner, and much like the source material, Geralt keeps asking Nivellen if they’re alone in the house, and the cursed man continually dodges the question, unwilling to talk about the other guest he entertains.
Geralt ultimately deduces that the current girl, Vereena, is actually a bruxa responsible for killing the merchant and his wife. He returns the following day and confronts the true monster, and a bloody fight ensues.
While Cavill’s live-action version makes easy work of the bruxa, book Geralt struggles to keep up with the vampire, who moves with stupifying speed and grace. Only with the timely intervention of Nivellen does Geralt manage to catch his breath. The monster turns to the cursed man, deciding that if she’s to die, so should her lover. The White Wolf uses this diversion and kills Vereena, but not before she can express her feelings towards Nivellen, which breaks the curse.
What becomes of Nivellen, the charismatic and tragic monster of The Witcher saga, no one knows, as the character doesn’t make an appearance in the story again. But since the Netflix series also leaves his fate uncertain, we have a feeling that Kristofer Hivju’s Nivellen might make a comeback in future seasons of the show.