From The Writers' Room Featuring The Witch Who Came In From the Cold

Ian Tregillis on writing The Witch Who Came In From The Cold S2E9: “Aftermath”

witch-s02e09Okay, so I bent the rules a little bit. A teensy bit.

When the ColdWitch writers first sat down together to hash out the rules of the world, we spent a lot of time discussing magic. Different systems for how it might work, and how people might make it work. Magic (in fiction, anyway) is all about rules and costs: what you can do with it, what you can’t do with it, and what disincentives prevent people in the know from perforating the laws of nature just for funsies. We kicked around systems that might resonate with our geopolitical milieu, seeking a magical scenario that would play ball with Prague, spies, and the Cold War, serving up nice story possibilities.  In particular, we had to make sure everything was balanced. Adding magic to the spy game doesn’t threaten to upset the apple cart. It threatens to light the cart on fire as a distraction, then steal the apples to make bathtub schnapps.

You can believe that by the time Edith sequesters Gabe and forces him to own up about magic, she has done that math. Oh, has she ever.

So, for story integrity reasons, we came up with a short list of things that magic in the ColdWitch universe simply cannot accomplish, full stop. Mind control and mind reading sit at the top of that list. (After all, if people can pull secrets straight out of their adversaries’ skulls, or perhaps even Renfield them, well, what use are spies at that point?)

Making normal people bulletproof is also on that list. (Pause here for an awkward cough.)

But once I had the vision of Josh shaking out Alestair’s undamaged suit and two flattened bullets tinkling to the floor, I wanted desperately to put it in the episode. Last year, the team let me have a golem. This year, they let me have Alestair survive two rounds in the chest. Sometimes a scene idea is so fun you just can’t resist it. That’s my excuse, anyway.

But, to preserve that pesky story integrity, not to mention the cost issue I mentioned earlier, I did drop a few hints that surviving the night was very costly to Alestair. Perhaps in ways we haven’t even seen yet. I’m a big fan of unintended consequences.

In my previous behind the scenes post, regarding the third episode of this season (“Old Game, New Players”) I mentioned how Gabe’s old friend from Cairo — no, I’m talking about Terzian, not Jordan — convinced us to give him a bigger role this season. And I said it was a convenient bonus for us that he came pre-packaged with a relationship, of sorts, with Gabe and Jordan. Well, at this point in the season that relationship is paying a very nice dividend for us writers, story-wise…even if it might not be quite so nice for Jordan.

Finally, speaking of Jordan, an Easter egg, of sorts: when Tanya tells Zerena that Jordan was named after the river where she was baptized, that’s a nod to Declare, a superb novel by Tim Powers. It’s a work I adore (in an I-want-to-have-this-book’s-babies kind of way), and it just happens to live in the same neighborhood as The Witch Who Came in From the Cold: at the intersection of Cold War Place, Stale Beer Lane (see TVTropes for that one), and Deep Magic Boulevard.  And I highly recommend it to fans of ColdWitch– in my humble opinion, it’s one of the shining gems of our subgenre!

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