Unlike Game of Thrones, Outlander, and other adaptations of fantasy novels from the 1990s and 2000s, The Witcher presented a unique problem. Created initially as short stories that morphed first into long-form door-stopper-sized books and then video games, it had three different fan bases that needed to be satisfied. Moreover, Netflix was looking for the next Game of Thrones, so the show needed to present a sprawling narrative across continents. But showrunner Lauren Hissrich went one better and made one that sprawled across a century. Her explanation of The Witcher timelines helps clear up why the show took this tactic.
The clues are all there from the first episode. About a third of the way through the premiere, when Calanthe admonishes 12-year-old Ciri's talk of war, she responds that her grandmother won her first battle "when you were my age." In the very next scene, Renfri defends her plans of revenge to Geralt. It was unfair, she says, to be locked away in a tower by an evil sorcerer. A princess like herself should have done great things: "Look at Calanthe; she just won her first battle."
But these clues might slide by, at least at first. That's doubly true for book readers because none of the stories are structured this way.
But in speaking to The Wrap, Hissrich says she believed the restructuring would help set up the story for viewers.
What was important to me is starting off and making sure that we understood who Geralt was and who Ciri was, and then, in Episode 2, who Yennefer was. And one of our early decisions we made was actually just to introduce Geralt and Ciri in Episode 1 and to hold Yennefer for Episode 2 for that exact reason. There’s only so much you can take in.
Hissrich also said she kept the early hints of the different timelines subtle because she felt viewers were "thrown into the deep end already with all the characters and all the places." The timelines would reveal themselves when viewers were ready to notice.
To me, it becomes really evident, obviously, by Episode 4... where Queen Calanthe — who we see kill herself in Episode 1 — is younger and back to life in Episode 4. And hopefully, god, if I was watching this, I would want to go back to the beginning and see how they’ve been telling me this from the beginning. And I hope people will go back and rewatch and see what other little Easter eggs are planted in there.
As for Season 2, things should get a little more linear. Geralt and Ciri have now met up, and the story of her training, which dominates the book Blood of Elves, should take center stage. As for Yennefer, she's disappeared, but actress Anya Chalotra will be back. It remains to be seen how, or, well, when she returns.