“It’s some kind of chernobog” is the kind of line that only ends in doom.
While the newly released The Witcher season 2 offered a number of shocking turns, it was the opening salvo of episode 6, “Dear Friend...” in which Geralt, Ciri, and their equine companion Roach encounter a dragonlike beast, that crumbled this writer’s heart — and somehow also made me chuckle. The Witcher showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich says I wasn’t alone.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers and graphic details for The Witcher season 2.]
In “Dear Friend...” Geralt and Ciri find their journey to the Temple of Melitele interrupted by the chernobog, who attacks with razor-sharp claws, but is ultimately no match for a little Witcher magic. Still, the chernobog draws blood before retreating. Horse blood.
In both The Witcher books and video games, “Roach” is the name Geralt uses for his current horse. So, when his current steeds expire, in the heat of battle or otherwise, he anoints a new mare with the title. The lore of it all makes the grisly death scene in The Witcher season 2 feels layered: Killing off Roach is both an inside joke to fans who understand the circle of life, and a truly gutting moment.
“What I think is amazing is your reaction is so standard for what I’m hearing,” Hissrich tells me as I bemoan the death of Roach instead of asking her a question. “We kill people, we kill humans all the time on our show and people are like, ‘How could you do that to Roach!?’”
She and the writing staff had their reasons. For one thing, horses don’t live as long as humans, and “we had already kind of pressed the boundaries of reality there,” she says. “We knew that at some point, Geralt was going to have to get a new Roach.” The staff also didn’t want Roach to die in vain, so they had to write in the chernobog — one of the deadliest beasties in the Witcher universe — to tear the horse a new one. “We wanted Roach to die on screen in a very heroic way.” That he did.
Hissrich admits that when she first wrote the Roach death scene, her instinct was to puncture the moment with a bit of meta-comedy. Henry Cavill pushed for a more heartfelt moment, and eventually Hissrich caved — which she says was ultimately the right call.
“Henry was so unhappy with the line,” she recalls. “Finally I said, ‘You know what, you come up with something. I trust you, you know this material so well, you know the book so well, you don’t even have to pitch it to me.’ And he came back the next day with a beautiful speech that’s at the end of Sword of Destiny when Geralt is facing death and it’s such a pitch perfect moment.”
Cavill’s choice is simple, but effective in his gravely Geralt speak: “Enjoy your last walk across the meadow and through the mist. Be not afraid of her for she is your friend.”
Hissrich says Witcher fans are totally in the right to be broken-hearted over the horse’s death, but she offers a glimmer of hope: “There’s going to be a new Roach! It’s still going to be Roach.”