From Game of Thrones to Watchmen, HBO has been great at proving series once seen as unadaptable can be turned into small-screen entertainment. But others are coming up, including Netflix with The Witcher. The series was considered difficult because it included short stories, novels, and a video game. But the series made it work by going at the material from an unexpected angle and taking The Witcher's timeline all out of order.
The Witcher has two short story collections all about Geralt of Rivia, the mutant monster hunter. Then, it shifts and becomes a tale of Princess Ciri (the Lion Cub of Cintra, who Geralt rescues) and her mentor, Yennefer, who happens to be the love of Geralt's life. Add to this the video games, which are expansions of the short stories, and one can see why The Witcher was considered unfilmable.
Showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich's idea was to take everyone's story and lay it out end to end. Then, she broke the timeline into three sections and wove them back together so viewers sometimes aren't sure where they are, or more importantly, when.
But by following the clues, one can put together the story in order.
~Year 1168: Geralt of Rivia Is Born
Geralt of Rivia is born to the sorceress Visenna and (assumedly) the warrior Korin. He is subsequently abandoned by his mother to be trained as a Witcher at the School of the Wolf at Kaer Morhen. This flashback occurs in the Season 1 finale.
Year 1193: Yennefer Goes To School
Yennefer — born in 1180 or thereabouts to a half-elf father who then abandoned her mother — is sold by her stepfather to Tissaia de Vries and taken to Aretuza to be trained as a sorceress. This is the opening of Episode 2.
Year 1203: Yennefer Graduates
Yennefer graduates Aretuza at the end of Episode 3 and submits to enchantment to fix her twisted spine. Foltest appears as an elementary-aged child at the ball, marking this as 35 or so years before Geralt's Striga adventure.
Year 1230: Geralt and Renfri
Geralt defeats Renfri and is dubbed "the Butcher of Blaviken" in the premiere episode. Ciri comments early on Queen Calanthe won her first major battle around the age of 12, in the next scene, Renfri mentions Calanthe just won her first battle. (Calanthe was born in 1218, according to the novels.)
Year 1233: Yennefer's Failure
Yennefer attempts to save Queen Kalis of Lyria's daughter and fails in Episode 4, beginning her drive to have a child. Yennefer says she's spent "three decades... cleaning up stupid political messes" since graduating.
~Year 1235: "Toss A Coin To Your Witcher"
Jaskier meets Geralt in Episode 2 and pens a hit song called "Toss A Coin To Your Witcher." Geralt's been called the Butcher for several years. But it can't have been too many, because:
Year 1238: The Striga
The Striga adventure with King Foltest from Episode 3 happens not long after. Three years is a good guess because the Bard's song is now commonly sung.
Year 1251: Surprise Ciri
Geralt's calling the Law of Surprise on Duny in Episode 4, after helping him marry Calanthe's daughter Pavetta, happens just under nine months before Ciri is born in 1252.
Year 1254: Geralt & Yennefer Meet
Episode 5's meet-cute over the issue of a djinny-djinn-djinn happens about three years after Geralt's tying of himself to Cintra's first family.
Year 1259: Geralt & Yennefer Break Up
The Episode 6 breakup of Geralt and Yennefer comes about five years since they started dating.
Year 1263: The Fall of Cintra/The Battle of Sodden Hill
The Fall of Cintra is seen from Ciri's POV in the premiere and then from Geralt's POV in Episode 7. This date is well established in the books.
The big battle in the Season 1 finale — where the Brotherhood of Sorcerers makes their stand against the Nilfgaardian forces — happens two weeks after Cintra's fall. At the same time, Ciri is having all her other adventures from Episodes 2-8.