‘The Witcher’ Season 3’s ball costumes are packed with hidden clues

The Witcher Season 3‘s standout episode of Volume 1 is one full of fabric, otherworldly costuming, and political signaling through fashion.

It’s the Conclave Ball, episode 5, “The Art of the Illusion”, that steals the show. A lavish dance through twists, turns, and overlapping perspectives within the halls of the sorcerer fortress of Aretuza, the episode is a self-contained investigation set in the past and present. And it’s one hell of a party.

Costume designer Lucinda Wright and makeup and hair designer Deb Watson do their best work of the season in this scene, as Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) and Geralt (Henry Cavill) try to unmask the puppetmaster behind rogue mage Rience (Chris Fulton).

Wright tells Mashable she spoke with showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and Netflix’s VP of international originals Kelly Luegenbiehl to plan the ball costumes, who she says told her, “I want it to be the Met Gala, it’s medieval time.”

“As soon as they said that, I thought, well, we’re gonna go for it,” says Wright. “Every single person that you look at, you should think, ‘yeah, that is the outfit.’ We filmed it over about four or five weeks, so it had to be something they were comfortable in and they were going to put on every single day.”

“I want it to be the Met Gala, it’s medieval time.”

In the episode, every sorcerer has an outfit that matches their personality or power. Philippa Eilhart (Cassie Clare), for example, wears a headdress of black feathers atop a halter neck black gown with a long, fluffy, feathery train skirt and embellished with sequins in an owl-like pattern — she can transform into an owl at will. “With Philippa being an owl, I always like to have a feather or something to signify it,” says Wright. “She is kind of fluffy but there’s a rod of steel in that character…For me, she was trying to be [the Aretuzan sorcerers’] equal if not stronger.”

A ball scene in the TV show

The dress code is important.
Credit: Netflix / YouTube

Yennefer’s gown, a sparkling halter-neck in a deep dark shade of her signature purple, adapts something she’s worn over the whole series: her amulet. But you’ll notice it’s been moved for deeply romantic reasons.

“The thing with Yennefer is now she gets her power back. I wanted the silhouette to be sharper and back to that strong look from Season 1,” Wright explains. “She always has her necklace, always every single shot, so when we did the dress for the ball, we removed it from her neck and we put it near her heart…That to me was her true love for Geralt. That is the moment.”

Of course, Geralt is begrudgingly forced out of his signature leather armour into a plush, patterned, silver and black outfit. If you’ve played The Witcher games, every single party sequence (and there’s a few of them) sees Geralt, who prefers the open road to political parties, as happy to attend as he is facing down a wyvern or jackadaw. Wright and her team worked with Cavill to bring the witcher’s fanciest TV outfit yet to life, and they had a trick to making things seem extra uncomfortable for Geralt.

“We wanted it to be slightly too tight. It was meant to be slightly uncomfortable, so we brought it in as tight as we could — but he still had to dance, of course,” says Wright.

Are there any Easter eggs hidden among the glitz and glamour of the Conclave Ball?

“There are very particular ones in the ball, there’s colours and who is allied with who,” says Wright. “I use colour a lot and there are some clues in there. But until you see the other episodes afterwards, you won’t realise it until you see it.” We know just how important and political colour can be in the royal courts of our favourite fantasy series — remember Alicent Hightower’s green dress from House of the Dragon?

Without the second volume of Season 3 — that’s coming July 27 — it’s hard to know, but a rewatch of the final moments of the ball reveals some possible allegiances. After Geralt and Yennefer go all Hercule Poirot on everyone, the real identity of Rience’s master is revealed not as Stregobor (Lars Mikkelsen) as was initially concluded, but as the mage Vilgefortz (Mahesh Jadu), the highest ranked of the Brotherhood of Sorcerers. Vilgefortz has seemingly done a deal with spymaster Sigismund Dijkstra (Graham McTavish) of Redania, who tells Geralt in the episode’s final moments, “You should have picked a side,” echoing Vilgefortz’s earlier statements. You’ll notice Dijkstra wears black velvet with gold accoutrements, just as Vilgefortz wears black robes with gold jewellery, but with a red underlay — the official colour of Redania.

Three characters in formalwear stand speaking at a ball in the TV show

Vilgefortz on the left in black, gold, and red, while Tissaia wears deep emerald.
Credit: Netflix / YouTube

It’s not clear what Vilgefortz’s plans are, but we know he’s also working alongside the southern empire of Nilfgaard — as Redanian court mage Philippa figures out earlier in the season, and is confirmed through Geralt and Yennefer’s discovery of Vilgefortz’s romantic connection with the telepathic mage Lydia van Bredevoort (Aisha Fabienne Ross), who was Rience’s direct report (stay with me). There are other mages in the conclave ball wearing black including Marti Södergren and Keira Metz, so there may be mages allied with Vilgefortz.

But there also may be those allied with Vilgefortz’s partner, the powerful sorcerer and head rector of Aretuza, Tissaia de Vries (MyAnna Buring), who wears a distinctly bright emerald green gown with her signature high necked collar. There’s black in her costume, leaving it rather ambiguous about how connected she is to Vilgefortz’s treacherous alliance with Dijkstra. But sorcerer Sabrina Glevissig (Therica Wilson-Read) wears a light golden gown with emerald stars in her hair and Aretuza’s current headmistress, Margarita Laux-Antille (Rochelle Rose), wears pearls and a dusky green gown, so they may be Tissaia’s allies in their verdant outfits.

We’ll have to wait until Volume 2 to figure out just how coded this costume feast of a conclave ball was.

How to watch: The Witcher is now streaming on Netflix. Season 3, Volume 2 arrives July 27.(opens in a new tab)

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