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Thursday, January 27, 2022

What ‘The Witcher’ Can Learn from ‘The Wheel of Time’ About Representation

The Witcher and The Wheel of Time spoilers follow.

The Witcher makes you believe in a world where magic is possible. A world where monsters roam the earth and someone like Henry Cavill can actually fit those thighs into such tight leather pants. But the one thing that this show can’t convince us of is that queer people don’t exist.

In the real world, we’re everywhere. Whether we’re your sons or your daughters or your non-binary loved ones, we’re pushing that gay agenda every chance we get. Yet The Witcher would have us believe that LGBTQ+ people don’t exist at all, not even in a world where witches and dragons and abs are the norm.

And no, before you say anything, Jaskier isn’t queer. Or at least, according to actor Joey Batey, and also The Witcher showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich. Yes, we were as surprised as you are.

Katalin VermesNetflix

Despite an overwhelming amount of subtext — which often threatens to become text text throughout seasons one and two — Jaskier’s potential queerness is still denied by those who know him best.

“It’s really important to say that their relationship is entirely platonic,” Batey told us when asked recently about Jaskier’s attachment to Geralt. Hissrich confirmed as much, explaining that same day: “I don’t think there are any homoerotic undertones for those characters.”

The Witcher isn’t exactly alone in this. For the most part, fantasy is still straighter than Geralt’s hairline, but that doesn’t excuse The Witcher’s deliberately obtuse approach to even the very notion of queerness.

That’s particularly true now that fantasy shows like She-Ra and Shadow and Bone have finally begun to integrate LGBTQ+ themes into their respective worlds. Thankfully, all this recent progress has culminated with quite an extraordinary twist in Amazon’s The Wheel of Time.

At various points throughout the source material, writer Robert Jordan hinted that there might be something more to Moiraine’s friendship with Siuan Sanche. 2004’s prequel novel, ‘New Spring,’ even describes the pair as “pillow friends” who share the same bed, yet not all fans were convinced (as Autostraddle just recently pointed out).

Thankfully, The Wheel of Time’s showrunner, Rafe Judkins, didn’t share those doubts – or if he did, he didn’t care, because episode six brings this queer relationship to life in the most beautiful, yet organic way.

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Moiraine and Siuan keep their love a secret from the world, but it’s not forbidden in the way that queer viewers might be used to. The stigma attached to their relationship is rooted in the power dynamics at play rather than anything to do with their same-sex romance.

“The shock should be Moiraine is in a relationship with the Amyrlin Seat, not Moiraine is in a relationship with a woman,” Rosamund Pike told Out just after the episode aired. “I hadn’t actually sort of picked up on the fact of how unusual it is if there is indeed no stigma,” she added. “It’s just all accepted, right?”

How many other fantasy shows can you name that star a queer lead character who’s romantically involved with another queer person? It’s unprecedented, at least when it comes to mainstream fantasy storytelling on screen. And that’s not the only way that The Wheel of Time has already proved itself to be so timely.

In an earlier episode, someone asks Rand and Mat if they’re in a relationship together. Rather than shoot that idea down with disgust, the pair both chuckle, explaining that they’re merely friends. And the fact that they’re asked so casually in the first place seems to confirm that LGBTQ+ identities are just the norm in this world, as they should be here and in any other.

As a gay man himself, showrunner Rafe Judkins understands that queerness should naturally be part of any landscape, particularly one that’s not even real. To omit those experiences, especially in fantasy worlds like these, can suggest that queer people are less important, somehow unworthy of inclusion.

And sadly, that’s exactly what The Witcher does by ignoring queerness entirely. Does Geralt himself need to be queer? No, although that would be more than fine with us. But when you deliberately omit LGBTQ+ characters to the point where you refuse to even admit that one might be coded as such, that’s when things turn problematic.

Prime Video

Queer stereotypes can be extremely harmful, but arguably, it’s even more insulting to suggest that you can’t even imagine a world where we exist at all. Although it might be easier to avoid LGBTQ+ representation in fear of getting it wrong, that’s not the correct way to go about it. And that’s especially true when you take into account that there are actually queer characters in The Witcher’s source material.

Philippa, who’s only briefly appeared on the show so far, is, in the words of Hissrich, “a queer icon for book readers”. And Ciri is definitely not straight in the books either, although you wouldn’t know that just from watching the show.

To be fair, Lauren has told us directly that there are plans to incorporate queer people in The Witcher moving forward. Discussing Philippa, Hissrich promises to “delve into her character”, explaining that her queerness is “not something we shy away from”. And hints of Ciri’s queerness in the books will apparently be explored on screen as well.

That’s all great, but representation alone isn’t enough. The quality of it matters just as much, if not more so than its inclusion in the first place. And given The Witcher’s dubious track record up to this point, it’s hard to say yet whether Philippa and Ciri’s identities will be given the attention they deserve in season three.

Whatever happens, it’s vital that their respective sexualities are integrated organically into the story, much like Moiraine’s is in The Wheel of Time. Because we get it. When you’re on a big fantasy quest, there’s not always much time to explore the nuances of sexuality. And it’s not like fantasy shows such as The Witcher need to emphasize LGBTQ+ themes constantly all the time. But that doesn’t excuse a lack of queerness entirely.

If we’re really expected to believe that Henry Cavill can actually fit his thighs into those leather pants without some kind of witchcraft or sorcery, then it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine a fantasy world with actual queer people in it.

David Opie
David Opie is Digital Spy’s Acting TV Editor.

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Michael Davis
Interested in history. In my free time I usually read. I like to listen to music with headphones.

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