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In season 1 episode 8 of The Witcher, Geralt meets

Princess Ciri in the woods. She runs to him and they embrace.

However, I'm pretty sure

she's never seen him before, and he's only seen her handmaid (who was being passed off as the princess).

Wouldn't they be strangers to each other? It seems like the show leaves a lot of things unexplained. Book/game answers are fine if applicable. (I haven't read or played any of them.)

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    In my understanding, the whole point is that they are inexorably drawn together, and don't need to be especially familiar with each other visually to know each other. – Misha R Jan 6 '20 at 15:25
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    In books he knew her well by this point - he was in Brokilon not some doppelganger and that was much earlier. For some reason series went to great lengths to keep Ciri's period of adventures as short as possible. – Mithoron Jan 6 '20 at 17:23
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    I've read somewhere comment from the director - originally, Geralt and Ciri were supposed to meet for the first time, like in the books, in the Brokilon forest (and then again on the farm), but this was cut from the final version. – Yasskier Jan 6 '20 at 23:57
  • I thought the law of surprise does exactly that - the people are dragged towards each other and simply "know". – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Jan 7 '20 at 9:43
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    "DESTINY"... Didn't you watch the other 7 episodes? It was rammed down our throats!! :D – josh Jan 7 '20 at 11:09
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He had seen her once ...

... very briefly during the attack on Cintra

in Episode 7.

While various fan sites declare that the queen showed him an imposter when he returned and before he was imprisoned,

Geralt is even present when Calanthe jumps to her death, while at the same time, Mousesack ushers Ciri out of Cintra.

he got a glimpse of her on her way out the door. And there is also that brief moment where Geralt sees Ciri playing Knuckles when the handmaid wishes her goodbye to Her Highness; she turns towards him (even if she does not see him). (Thanks @Philip Klöcking).

  • When the queen tried to placate him with an imposter it was not her scent that gave her away. He went to the street and saw the alleged princess saying goodbye to the boys, who hugged her and were familiar with her in ways that a real princess would not allow, then the girl curtsied to the real Ciri and addressed her as "your highness. – Thanks @krb(from a comment under another answer), this was another bit of pre recognition.

(If I remember this right, it is a subtle replay of a scene in Episode 2 where she is playing kunckles and she looks to her left, but we are not sure what she sees ... so I'll watch Episode 2 again. :) )

He had met her mother, and perhaps the family resemblence is very stront.

I was surprised to see the timeline linked to the Law of Surprise actually have Geralt

in Cintra

when much of the season had Geralt operating in a different time periods than that of the fall of Cintra.

A narratively based answer is that she recognizes him as Geralt of Rivia (The Witcher) and he recognizes her as "the girl in the woods" (whom Renfri had foretold in Episode 1) because of destiny. This fits the story to date because ...

Destiny appears to have narrative agency in this series

In this series, as shown by what happened to Queen Calanthe when she tried to thwart destiny by denying the Law of Surprise, destiny has tangible agency.

In a comment under the question, I like the way that @MishaR puts it:

... they are inexorably drawn together, and don't need to be especially familiar with each other visually to know each other.

Another in-universe point to consider:
(Thank you @ – goat_fab)
Geralt was familiar with the royalty of Cintra, and Witchers aren't that hard to identify - especially Geralt with his unique mutations and his storied history. From previous episodes, we know that a bard had made a career, years before Ciri's birth, of advertising the exploits of Geralt in various songs.

  1. Geralt could have very easily recognized Ciri as Pavetta's daughter given how similar they look.
  2. How many lone girls do you encounter in the woods? Ciri knew Geralt was a witcher and had likely heard some of his tales and his popular monikers. Not a ton of white-haired, orange-eyed Adonis' around.
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    On top of the power of Destiny drawing them together, Geralt was also familiar with the royalty of Cintra and witchers aren't that hard to identify, especially Geralt with his unique mutations and storied history. Geralt could have very easily recognized Ciri as Pavetta's daughter given how similar they look, and that's not even including the message Renfri imparted. How many lone girls do you encounter in the woods? Ciri knew Geralt was a witcher and had likely heard some of his tales and his popular monikers. Not a ton of white-haired, orange-eyed Adonis' around. – goat_fab Jan 6 '20 at 21:20
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    @goat_fab Mind if I summarize that and fold it into the answer? Alll fair points. – KorvinStarmast Jan 6 '20 at 21:35
  • @goat_fab In the show, at least, Ciri definitely did not know that Geralt was a witcher, as evidenced by the fact that the only thing she knows about him is his name, and has nothing more to provide beyond that when asked about who that is. And the person (maybe people, I forget) she told also didn't know who Geralt of Rivia was, so there's a limit to his fame even after the bard's efforts. – zibadawa timmy Jan 7 '20 at 3:42
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    Geralt does see Ciri playing Knuckles when the handmaid wishes her goodbye to Her Highness and she turns towards him (even if she does not see him). It is actually one of the major plot points that destiny showed him this one tunnel out where he sees that scene and realises that he has been duped. But yeah, The Girl From The Woods and their mutual pull by destiny seems the most likely explanation here. – Philip Klöcking Jan 7 '20 at 6:58
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    @KorvinStarmast, Right, that is the scene I'm talking about - I think that her back was turned the whole time, because I thought, why is she calling that boy "your highness", then she turns when Geralt leaves. I admit that it's odd that he wouldn't linger for a few seconds to see her face - I would want to know who to look for the next time. – JPhi1618 Jan 7 '20 at 15:58
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In the book and in the original script, Geralt would meet Ciri much earlier, before the fall of Cintra - Ciri ran away from her grandmother after being promised as a future wife to some prince that 8-year-old Ciri (obviously) didn't love. Geralt takes Ciri back from the driads and leaves her with Mousesack, contrary to both druid's and girl's wishes.

The meeting on the farm in the original script looks like this:

enter image description here

Source

But the director decided to change it:

Perhaps the most significant change from Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels was Geralt and Ciri’s first meeting, which happens in the final scene of season one but occurred a fair bit earlier in the books. Addressing this matter on twitter, The Witcher showrunner Lauren Schmidt-Hissrich explained why the decision was made to remove Geralt and Ciri’s early meeting in Brokilon Forest as depicted in the short story The Sword of Destiny, and reveals the script of the season’s original (and more book-accurate) final scene.

Here’s our rationale: to adapt the short stories that were important to world-building, and then to sequentially adapt Geralt and Ciri’s multiple meetings in [The Sword of Destiny] meant that we wouldn’t introduce Ciri until (at the earliest) season two. Which makes sense, if you’re a fan of the original books.

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  • The script you've posted is... the script of the current version I think? That's exactly what happens in the very last episode of the series, it even has "Ext. Woods - Morning', that doesn't seem like an earlier draft. – Theik Jan 7 '20 at 7:36
  • @Theik The showruner described it as the original one. Here is her tweet It looks similar to the one filmed but there are subtle differences, which suggest they met before. – Yasskier Jan 7 '20 at 8:04
  • @Theik I don't recall most of those lines being said. The only words I recall spoken were the "People linked by destiny will always find each other" and "Who's Yennefer?" one. – zibadawa timmy Jan 8 '20 at 6:41
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  • Geralt had met Ciri's mother and the resemblance between them is very strong.

  • Ciri had never met Geralt, but his physical appearance is very distinctive. He's not somebody you would confuse for any one else.

  • Finding Geralt is Ciri's main goal for the entire season. Finally finding the man she has been looking for, a man that her grandmother told her would keep her safe, should leave Ciri relieved.

    • In episodes 1 and 7, we see Ciri playing bones in the street with the boys and we are shown that she was able to sense Geralt's presence even though she did not know who he was at the time.
  • More than once in the episode we hear the phrase:

"People linked with destiny will always find each other."

  • They both spent most of the season being told that the other one is their destiny and they must seek them out.

  • In episode 4, we are shown that Ciri's parents were linked by destiny and the law of surprise and we learn that the link is so strong that a princess will fall in love and have sex out of wedlock with a lowly knight who has been cursed into a non-human form. Ciri and Geralt were joined by the law of surprise from the events in episode 4 and linked again by the law of surprise for saving the merchant. That's a whole lot of fate to draw them together.

  • When they finally meet, the first thing Ciri says is "Who's Yennifer?" showing that there is clearly a strong link, strong enough to lend some form of clairvoyance or telepathy between them.

When all of these points are considered together, why wouldn't they recognize each other and be happy to finally meet?

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  • Geralt rejects the merchant's offer of the law of surprise, having had enough of that from the first instance, insisting on a simple ale to repay him. And when the merchant arrives at his home he promptly tells his wife to fetch Geralt an ale. So there's no law of surprise attachment of destiny from that, as it was never agreed to and a different bargain was struck. Unless destiny just ignores what the people themselves decided as regards the law of surprise and simply imposes it upon them on its own. – zibadawa timmy Jan 7 '20 at 3:51
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    Well the merchant's wife had taken in Ciri; so the law of surprise kicked in a second time and the merchant would have to give him Ciri! Destiny at work or just some ironic writing...? – djm Jan 7 '20 at 13:37
  • @djm Except it doesn't for exactly the reason I stated: Geralt immediately rejects the offer of the law of surprise, and requests a single ale in recompense, instead. Which the trader implicitly agrees to when the first thing he does on getting home is to tell his wife to get Geralt an ale. That destiny conspires to make itself unavoidable, and enacts harsh punishments for those who attempt to avoid it, is a hamfisted feature of the setting. – zibadawa timmy Jan 8 '20 at 15:13
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Geralt has extremely acute senses as a Witcher. He's one of the greatest trackers in the land.

So he can identify you by your scent alone. He briefly saw Ciri during the attack on Cintra and that's how he was able to know the Queen had tried to placate Geralt with an imposter.

Due to the "Law of Surprise", Ciri was bound to Geralt by law before she was even born. The Law of Surprise is not taken lightly; so Geralt and Ciri where aware of each other.

In the novel, events were different: when Ciri was 5, Ciri's maid tells her that she's destined to become a witcher.

And later when she was 10 years old; she's rescued by an unknowing Geralt and brought before the Queen of the dryads. The Queen wanted to turn her into a dryad and that's when Ciri revealed her destiny to become witcher and that's when Geralt knew she was the child of surprise promised to him.

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    I need to get those books ... thanks for yet another incentivce to do so. – KorvinStarmast Jan 6 '20 at 18:02
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    When the queen tried to placate him with an imposter it was not her scent that gave her away. He went to the street and saw the alleged princess saying goodbye to the boys, who hugged her and were familiar with her in ways that a real princess would not allow, then the girl curtsied to the real Ciri and addressed her as "your highness." – krb Jan 6 '20 at 21:52
  • @krb: +1 yes! I was going to add that but I couldn't remember the exact sequence at the time. – djm Jan 7 '20 at 13:39

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