A brief post to record another prominent fantasy cremation scene in the four part mini-series: The Witcher: Blood Origin. The show may have received negative reviews but I actually found it more enjoyable than The Witcher series 1 and 2 and it contained a very prominent funeral scene I’m keen to review.

Set 1200 years before the events in The Witcher, the world is already old and built on the foundations of earlier civilizations evident in the ancient architectures manifest in cities. Meanwhile, monoliths are already ancient and being excavated to harness magical power. The archaeology of The Witcher is monumental, architectural and magical.

A treaty is set to be signed to end a thousand years of conflict between rival elven kingdoms. Set before humans and monsters appear following the conjunction of the spheres, we follow 7 heroes as they combat the rising despotism of the Empress Merwyn supported by her Chief Mage Balor.

In Inis Dubh in the far north, one of them, Éile (The Lark), formerly of Raven Clan, is visited by her sister Níamh. Her quest is to bring Éile home because of the aforementioned peace treaty.

Yet assassins have been sent to kill them both and they manage to slay Níamh. Fjall Stoneheart helps Éile defeat the assassins and together they perform a brief funeral for Níamh.

Níamh’s body is taken a short way from the settlement to the beach. Here she is placed supine upon a wagon upon and surrounded by dry grass. Her arms are crossed and she holds a dagger in each of her hands to denote her warrior identity. Fjall stands back while Éile says a brief farewell to Níamh: assuring her they will meet again in the afterlife: in the Halls of Caer Aenwyn.

That is all: Fjall and Éile then walk away towards a waiting ship as the wagon burns.

The funeral embodies now typical tropes of fantasy cremation (look no further than my previous posts on Game of Thrones) – an implausible pyre that would never effectively cremate a corpse set in a dramatic landscape location away from settlement. Likewise, the choice to present an absence of overt ritual or indeed any mourners is commonplace. Finally, a departure scene whilst the pyre is still ablaze is now the stock-in-trade for representing open-air cremation in fantasy. This results in the convenience that the limited efficacy of the conflagration isn’t witnessed! It also means that the widespread ethnographic and archaeological data revealing that cremation is put one stage of multi-stage funerals past and present is omitted: no one monumentalises the pyre-site and there are no attempts to investigate the pyre, collect the remains and transport or inter them elsewhere. As an archaeologist specialising in past cremation practices, I therefore welcome the prominence of these popular representations, but it sparks conversations about how they fuel misrepresentations of open-air cremation practices in popular culture.