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The Real Reason The Nilfgaard Armor Is So Ugly On The Witcher

They say that clothes make the man, and thanks to The Witcher showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, fans finally know what the distinctive Nilfgardiaan armor says about the southern kingdom's army. 

In an interview with IGN, the showrunner-writer explained the thought process behind the warrior-wear that sparked controversy after set leaks revealed a dark, rippling design some fans found incredibly ugly. Hissrich said that when it came to The Witcher's blood-thirsty, imperialist antagonists, it was critical that whatever they donned was visually distinctive from the glossy, golden armor of those from the northern kingdom of Cintra. 

"What was important for us about the Nilfgaardian army was to bring it away from the Cintran army," Hissrich said. "[Cintra has] an incredibly well-trained army that comes from a kingdom with a lot of money. We wanted to contrast that with Nilfgaard, which obviously is a very powerful army as well, but is moving northward and has been for a while, and conscripting new people into its army."

The dark and rippling Nilfgaardian armor came under fire after fans got a months-early (and unauthorized) look at the soldiers' threads ahead of the first season's December 2019 launch. In the days after the photos surfaced online, some defended the Nilfgaardian's look, noting that while it didn't mirror the smoother and shiny CD Projekt RED counterpart, the games shouldn't be used as a standard for a show based on Andrzej Sapkowski's books. Others merely encouraged fellow fans to wait until the series was ou to give the show a chance to explain its costuming design choice. In the end, though, just as many were quick to criticize the armor's aesthetic, making it the focus of their ire and memes

The Nilfgaardian armor was party inspired by real-world armies

Seeing the Nilfgaardian armor immersed in Netflix's Witcher universe didn't seem to impress some of those early critics, but in that time, Hissrich has clarified how the Continent — and the nature of the Nilfgaardian army's rapid, fiery spread — materially informed their appearance. 

"[The armor had to] look like they picked it up, they did it quickly, and they put them on them," Hissrich told IGN. "It's not meant to have the same look as standard armor." 

The Witcher producer Tomasz Bagiński also chimed in, revealing that the creative team wanted the armor to look as strange as people have noted. It was meant to feel intentionally out of place: "It was quite important to make [the Nilfgaardian army] look alien, in a way." The Witcher team wanted the people of the south to be quite different from those in the north, and their war gear was part of how they achieved that. 

Since the series launched on Netflix, some have argued The Witcher could have achieved these goals through a more traditional, historical design for the Nilfgaardian armor. But Bagiński explained that what they did for the Netflix series was actually a nod to the armor of yore. According to him, the armor embodies the rougher, less-refined looks of massive armies that have had little time and small coffers when making battle gear.

"If the Cintran army has 200 soldiers, then [Nilfgaard] has 20,000," Bagiński said. "It's about numbers, about covering other armies with people. And there were armies like that, in the history of the human race, and they were actually quite effective. But they weren't looking great!"

Adapting any property with a large, pre-existing fanbase is always a delicate and challenging endeavor, but The Witcher fandom proved it holds up — right down to the ugly Nilfgaardian armor.