Witcher Lore: What is The Wild Hunt?

If you played Witcher 3 you’re probably familiar with its titular antagonist(s). They also make an appearance in the second season of the Netflix show.

But there’s a lot more to the menacing spectral riders, especially if you look at the information provided by the Witcher books. Their lore is entwined with the central themes, concepts, and story of the Witcher universe.

What is the Wild Hunt? Who are its members? What do they want with Ciri? And what is their role in the Witcher books, games, and TV show? Here’s everything you need to know about the infamous Red Riders.

Disclaimer: spoilers ahead! Keep in mind that most of the info is from the books and Witcher 3.

The Wild Hunt Explained

witcher 3 wild hunt

To the common folk of the Continent, the Wild Hunt was a group of nightmarish specters galloping through the sky as an omen of war. Whenever their undead guise clouded the horizon, people knew disaster was incoming.

But in reality, the Wild Hunt is very much from the land of the living. More specifically, they’re a group of Aen Elle elves. When their homeworld was on the brink of destruction, the Aen Elle teleported to a new world and created their magnificent capital of Tir ná Lia, whereas the Aen Seidhe elves settled on our beloved Continent.

In their new world, the Aen Elle fought humans and unicorns. After killing or enslaving the human population, the Aen Elle sought more slaves for manual labor.

That’s when the elven king Auberon Muircetach created the Red Riders, better known to their victims as the Wild Hunt. Their purpose was to raid other worlds for slaves to serve the Aen Elle. Notable Wid Hunt members include Eredin, Caranthir, and Imlerith (although the latter two only appear in Witcher 3).

They wore skeletal armor and rode black steeds for intimidation, prompting rumors about their undead-like appearance and giving rise to their menacing name.

Using the power of unicorns they subjugated, the Aen Elle managed to create the Ard Gaeth, the Gates of the Worlds, that allowed them to cross to other worlds. Eventually, the unicorns recovered their power and sealed every Ard Gaeth.

Unable to make large incursions into other worlds, the Aen Elle now depended on special mages dubbed navigators to create limited portals. These portals allowed a small party to cross without corporeal form, only as specters (this was changed in Witcher 3, where the Wild Hunt can cross in their physical form). As a result, they could only bring back a limited number of slaves.

For convenience, maybe, the Aen Elle preferred to return to the Continent, also the world of our protagonist Geralt. Given the abundance of humans and non-existent resistance, every winter or so, the Wild Hunt would emerge, galloping through the dark skies and enslaving new unfortunates.

As time went on, the Wild Hunt became a somewhat recurring event, like a natural disaster. Some scholars and a school of Witchers devoted their lives to understanding the Wild Hunt’s patterns. When any enslaved person managed to escape the world of the Aen Elle and returned to the Continent, they were quickly dismissed as insane, given their crazy theories about unicorns and a world of elves.

Eredin

Eredin’s face revealed in Witcher 3.

Auberon chose Eredin Bréacc Glas to be the leader of the Wild Hunt due to his ruthlessness and magical prowess. Later, the Red Riders started using magic to guise themselves into otherworldy spectral knights to spread fear wherever they trespass.

After Avallac’h takes Ciri to the Aen Elle world in the Witcher novels, she meets Eredin, and he tells her about their plan. However, it was all a ruse since he and Avallac’h were plotting to take the reins of their world to themselves. So they did, after poisoning Auberon and making Eredin the new king.

When Ciri managed to escape their world, Eredin appeared as a vision to her, telling her they would meet in the Spire. It was the last time the elven king was mentioned in the books, and their fateful encounter never came to be.

Eredin in Witcher 1 & 2

In the Witcher games, however, Eredin learns that his world is doomed to face White Frost’s threat. Harnessing Ciri’s power is now a matter of survival, and he doubles the Wild Hunt’s efforts.

He tries to lure Ciri out of hiding by kidnapping her loved ones, Geralt and Yennefer. The Witcher resists and avoids the kidnap, but Yennefer is captured. Then, Geralt rallies other Witchers to attack the Wild Hunt and save the sorceress. The Hunt’s sheer force overpowered the monster slayers, so Geralt bargained with Eredin, trading his soul for Yennefer’s freedom.

Geralt becomes part of the Wild Hunt and rides with them for quite some while, an event that, unfortunately, is barely mentioned in the games. Ciri manages to track him down, saving the Witcher by teleporting away from the Wild Hunt to Kaer Morhen. Geralt awakens with no memory of past events. It’s at this point that the first Witcher game begins.

Note: Eredin also makes an appearance in the 4-episode Netflix prequel The Witcher: Blood Origin

Eredin in Witcher 3

In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Eredin makes a stellar comeback. He relentlessly pursues Ciri throughout the game, where one way or another, she and Geralt manage to escape his grasp. Finally, the Wild Hunt aims for the witchers’ fortress of Kaer Morhen, where a grand battle takes place.

Eredin attempts to use Vesemir to bait Ciri, but the old master tricks the imposing Imlerith into killing him. Ciri bursts into a rage, blasting a magical discharge, threatening foes and friends. Eredin is awestruck by her power and tries to reach out for Ciri but is taken away by Caranthir through a portal.

After the battle of Kaer Morhen, Geralt and Avallac’h travel to the Aen Elle world to talk with Ge’els, Eredin’s trusted lieutenant who is ruling in his stead. They prove to him that Eredin killed their legitimate king, whom Ge’els was close to. The elf advises them to fight Eredin on the Continent and says that he won’t send any reinforcements to help him.

Ciri then lures Eredin and the remaining members of the Wild Hunt into a trap in the Skellige Isles, where the last battle is fought. The elven king kills jarl Crach an Craite aboard the Naglfar ship and then faces Geralt, dying by the Witcher’s hand.

Caranthir

Caranthir in Witcher 3.

Caranthir Ar-Feinel is a navigator responsible for opening portals for the Wild Hunt in Witcher 3. The elf’s magical powers are said to stem from a selective breeding experiment by Avallac’h.

Caranthir is portrayed as a highly mysterious and discreet member of the Wild Hunt. He’s one of the most trusted men in Eredin’s group, present at critical events. Caranthir, alongside Nithral and Eredin, invaded Avallac’h’s hideout, searching for clues about Ciri’s whereabouts before invading Kaer Morhen with the Wild Hunt.

There, he faced Eskel, gaining the upper hand against the experienced witcher. But before he could deliver the final blow, Ciri stopped him. When the girl magically imploded, the navigator opened a portal and took the Wild Hunt to safety.

Later, when Geralt goes to the Naglfar, Caranthir freezes him. Ciri faces the elf and manages to destroy his staff, unfreezing Geralt but falling unconscious in battle. The unfrozen Geralt battles the navigator and kills him. Before dying, however, Caranthir warps himself and Geralt to the bottom of the sea.

Nithral

Nithral gets the least screen time of any member of the Wild Hunt in Witcher 3. He was with Eredin and Caranthir while they explored an old elven ruin. When Keira told Geralt she knew about an elven mage that had information regarding Ciri, they went to the mage’s abode to look for clues. The events are part of the quest “Wandering in the Dark.”

When they arrive at the hideout, they don’t know it at first, but it is Avallach’s. Arriving at his rocky chambers, Geralt and Keira find Nithral, who stayed behind after Eredin and Caranthir left. The warrior fights Witcher and Sorceress but is killed in the ensuing fight. 

Imlerith

Imlerith in Witcher 3.

Unlike Nithral, who was merely a footsoldier, the tall and powerful Imlerith is a Wild Hunt general and of the mightiest foes Geralt ever faced. Another member of the Wild Hunt that only appears in Witcher 3, Imlerith contacts the Crones and orders them to keep an eye on Ciri. He pursues her in the Crone’s woods but loses Ciri’s tracks.

Imlerith also participates in the assault on Kaer Morhen. He faces Vesemir and quickly overpowers the old Witcher. At Eredin’s request, Imlerith didn’t kill his prey. However, when Vesemir stabs him with a knife, Imlerith easily snaps the Witcher’s neck. Vesemir’s death causes Ciri to implode in rage and forces the Wild Hunt’s withdrawal.

Eager for revenge, Geralt and Ciri find out from Avallac’h that Imlerith will participate in the Sabbath of the Crones. Geralt finds him sitting on a throne, surrounded by several succubi. The duel begins. The towering Imlerith delivers sharp, powerful blows against a nimble Geralt.

Geralt has the advantage over the general, who grabs the Witcher by the neck, questioning who taught him to fight like that. The Wolf replies that it was the Witcher he slew before conjuring the sign Igni and burning Imlerith’s face inside his plated helmet. Geralt then grabs Imlerith’s mace and delivers the killing blow.

Why is the Wild Hunt after Ciri?

In the books, when the Aen Elle lost the unicorn’s power to traverse the multiverse, The Wild Hunt persisted with their reduced crusades, longing for the freedom they once had. Then, they detected the strength of the Elder Blood in the young princess Cirilla.

Since Ciri had domain over time and space, the Wild Hunt wanted it for themselves to once again traverse wherever they wanted. Also, their world was facing impending doom at the hand of the White Frost, so one more reason to attain world-traveling skills. From then on, the utmost goal of the Wild Hunt was to kidnap Ciri.

At first, the riders of The Wild Hunt tried to forcefully obtain Ciri but were thwarted by Geralt and Yennefer’s efforts. Then, Avallac’h, an Aen Elle elf, tricked Ciri and brought her to their world, to make her have a child with king Auberon and propagate the Elder Blood.

After Auberon refused to procreate with Ciri, Eredin tricked him into drinking an aphrodisiac that proved to be a poison, thus killing the old king and taking his royal standing. Eredin wanted to wield Ciri’s power to reopen the Gates. Fortunately, Ciri managed to escape the Aen Elle world, but not before encountering human corpses and slaves.

The Wild Hunt in the Witcher Books

The Wild Hunt doesn’t play a major role in the books. The spectral riders are often mentioned during the novels as a bad omen but they don’t pose a direct threat to Geralt.

When Avallac’h takes Ciri to his world, we learn, from the girl’s point of view, the backstory of the Aen Elle, Eredin, the Wild Hunt, and her origins. It’s an exciting point in the books that shed some light on Ciri, explaining her powers and ancestry.

However, once Ciri manages to escape the hands of the Aen Elle, the plot heads toward an ending that doesn’t involve them.

The Wild Hunt in the Witcher Games

The Wild Hunt makes an appearance in every Witcher game. Left to right: King of the Wild Hunt (The Witcher), Eredin (The Witcher 2), Eredin (The Witcher 3).

The Wild Hunt’s involvement in the three Witcher games is somewhat different. That’s because the games are not canon and take place some years after the books.

In the first Witcher game, the so-called spectral King of the Wild Hunt (the spectral form of Eredin) appears several times to taunt Geralt and battles him at the end.

The Wild Hunt is again briefly mentioned in The Witcher 2 when Geralt is learning about his past. We learn that the Wild Hunt captured Yennefer and Geralt traded his soul for hers, becoming one of the riders of the Wild Hunt. He’s then saved by Ciri and dropped in Kaer Morhen without any memory of what happened, right before the first Witcher game begins.

In Witcher 3, the eponymous Wild Hunt has its most prominent role, acting as the primary antagonist. Throughout the game, we see Ciri escaping the riders’ clutches while Geralt fights ever more powerful Wild Hunt warriors. Ultimately, Geralt and Ciri defeat all of the Wild Hunt generals while announcing Eredin’s betrayal of their king to Ge’els.

During Eredin’s final gasps, he declares to Geralt that Avallac’h is the true mastermind behind everything. Since the DLCs don’t mention the Wild Hunt or Avallac’h, it is unclear whether this will be addressed in a future Witcher game.

The Wild Hunt in Netflix’s The Witcher

The Wild Hunt in The Witcher’s second season finale.

The Wild Hunt is mentioned in Netflix’s The Witcher and makes a brief appearance at the end of the second season, riding towards Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri.

According to showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, the Wild Hunt will have a more significant role in season 3. Considering that the riders were barely mentioned in the books, perhaps the show will be closer to the games in this regard.

So viewers and fans can expect more Wild Hunt in the show. Let’s hope they are portrayed faithfully and with their intimidating presence, especially if they’re meant to be the main antagonist.

Is there any redemption for the wild hunt?

In short, the Wild Hunt are elves intent on enslaving other sapient races to do the hard, manual labor the Aen Elle refuse to do. We also know their race wiped out most of the human population of their world and Eredin killed his own king to take his place. You can’t exactly call them the good guys.

Even when they learn of White Frost’s impending catastrophe and wish to create the Gate of the Worlds to save their race and escape their world, it’s hard to sympathize with Eredin and his henchmen.

But one thing’s for certain: the Wild Hunt is one of the best fantasy villains we’ve come across. Their portrayal in Witcher 3 is especially well done and we hope they go on to be just as menacing in Netflix’s Witcher.

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