The Witcher season 2 ended its run with a cliffhanger that revealed the identity of the White Flame, the Nilfgaardian emperor who has been pulling the strings from behind the shadows all along.
The first season of Netflix’s new live-action adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher saga revolved around the introduction of Geralt, the titular monster-hunter of the series, and the Nilfgaardian incursion of Cintra that heralds an era of upheaval for the Northern Kingdoms.
Princess Cirilla is the main character that binds these two different storylines together. Descended from Queen Calanthe and possessing strange powers, Ciri manages to escape the Slaughter of Cintra and find Geralt, the Witcher who claimed her guardianship when he invoked the Law of Surprise many years ago in Calanthe’s court.
While at first it seems that the Nilfgaardian invasion is an attempt to conquer the north, the viewers soon learn that many of the emperor’s agents are looking to find Ciri. Now, the season 2 finale has uncovered the identity of this ruler, the so-called White Flame, whom Nilfgaardians worship as some sort of a god-emperor.
Warning: The following paragraphs contain spoilers for The Witcher’s season 2 finale.
As book fans will probably tell you, the identity of the White Flame remains a mystery until the final story arcs of the saga, but for one reason or another, the writers at Netflix have decided to reveal who he is at the end of season 2. The rationale points to the fact that since a lot of Witcher enthusiasts have become fans in the first place because of CD Projekt Red’s trilogy of video games, they already know who the White Flame is so there wasn’t much of an enigmatic value behind this identity, to begin with.
Indeed, Emhyr var Emreis, the emperor of Nilfgaard, the White Flame Dancing on the Barrows of his Enemies (Nilfgaardian: Deithwen Addan yn Carn aep Morvudd) is none other than Duny, the Urcheon of Erlenwald, and the biological father of Ciri.
In both the novels and the TV adaptation, we first meet Duny when he attends Pavetta’s courtship ceremony in Cintra. Duny has the guise of a humanoid hedgehog, which leads Geralt to believe that he is cursed. The man-beast reveals that many years ago, he saved King Roegner’s life in a forest and invoked the Law of Surprise when the king wanted to repay him. Now, he has come to claim Pavetta as his own.
The queen tries to have Duny killed through his vassals and other present suitors, but Geralt comes to his aid and saves his life. After many a pleading from Pavetta and other present parties, Calanthe finally relents and gives her approval for the two to be married, which lifts Duny’s curse.
At this point, no one knows about Duny’s past, even his true name Emhyr var Emreis, but the character was once a prince of Nilfgaard. When his father Fergus var Emreis, the emperor, was deposed through a coup by the Usurper, a sorcerer turned Emhyr into a hedgehog and released him into the woods to die.
Emhyr survives this ordeal and learns that the sorcerer failed to curse him properly, as he can turn into a man once again every day at midnight. Many years after saving the king of Cintra and a year before Pavetta’s fifteenth nameday, Duny and Pavetta meet and fall in love, starting to date in secret. This is why Pavetta is already pregnant during the feast where Geralt attends and also invokes the Law of Surprise, unknowingly claiming their future child as his own.
The Witcher reveals that Ciri’s parents died in a boat accident when she was young, but it seems that Duny (or Emhyr) survived the incident and returned to Nilfgaard, where he successfully overthrew the Usurper and took back his throne.
As to how all of this occurred, or how Emhyr came to be known as the White Flame, or exactly why he decided to invade Cintra, that’s probably a story for the show to slowly unravel in future seasons, so we’ll all have to wait and see it unfold for ourselves.