I appreciate that after forcing the entire Grishaverse fandom to wait on an official renewal of Shadow And Bone for over a month, Netflix finally dropped the hotly-anticipated announcement into the opening minutes of their Geeked Week fandom event as a sweet surprise for fans. Well, I say “surprise”, but let’s be honest, this was pretty much the worst kept secret at the streaming service. As Netflix confirmed today alongside the renewal, Shadow And Bone‘s first season was viewed by more than 55 million households in its first 28 days, making it a huge hit for the studio. Obviously, all those times I left the show playing in the background so it would boost streaming numbers actually worked.
There’s not much official information about Shadow And Bone‘s second season just yet, apart from confirmation that it will be eight episodes in length like the first (still too short, if you ask me, but whatever), and that the writer’s room has wrapped, with showrunner Eric Heisserer presiding (hurrah, I guess). Grishaverse author Leigh Bardugo will continue to be involved in her capacity as consultant and executive producer. And all of the main cast will return, including Jessie Mei Li, Freddy Carter, Ben Barnes, Amita Suman, Archie Renaux, and Kit Young, while Danielle Galligan and Calahan Skogman have been upgraded to series regulars in preparation for their greatly expanded roles next season. All good stuff.
But the reason Shadow And Bone exploded into the trending section of Twitter after the official announcement was because fans of Bardugo’s novels (including myself) are hyped for a bunch of new characters who will be joining the second season, if the show follows the books: Wylan Van Eck, the surprisingly formidable wayward son of a wealthy merchant who specializes in demolition while sustaining an adorable romance with the series’ resident bicon, Jesper Fahey; Nikolai Lantsov, the charismatic younger prince of Ravka who has his eyes set on the crown and an alliance with the Sun Summoner herself; and Tolya and Tamar, secretive twin mercenaries from Shu Han in league with a pirate. All of these characters come with their own fans, and Wylan in particular is extremely popular: as evidenced by the fact that he is still trending on Twitter as of this writing.
Obviously, these and other major casting announcements can be expected in the near future – given that Geeked Week will continue for a few more days, and that day three is devoted specifically to fantasy, we might even get some new information then. But this reveal on its own is very exciting, and allows me to continue wildly theorizing and speculating about season two, with the assurance that season two is actually happening. There’s no word yet on when season two will begin filming or potentially debut on Netflix, although there’s no reason why, with the scripts already completed, it couldn’t go into production soon and be ready for release by the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023.
But while we wait, you can expect me to keep covering the show extensively (I may or may not be in the process of writing an entire breakdown of the top ten Six Of Crows scenes in Shadow And Bone‘s first season…), as well as pushing the show’s production team to address and fix mistakes made on the first season. I haven’t forgotten that someone behind-the-scenes (most likely the show’s stunt coordinator, based on what I’ve learned about the casting process) signed off on a white stunt double being hired for Amita Suman and then painted brown to match the Desi actress’ skin color. Eric Heisserer, who claims he was completely unaware of this, apologized on a Reddit forum to fans and to Suman: whether you accept his apology or not is up to you, but there’s clearly much more work to be done making sure the show’s inclusive messages are applied behind-the-scenes as well.
But what are you most excited to see when Shadow And Bone returns? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
SPOILERS FOR SHADOW AND BONE AND THE GRISHAVERSE NOVELS AHEAD!
No fantasy adaptation can just be simple these days – something that’s alternately exciting and worrying for fans of the source material, and exhausting for any reviewer trying to write coherently about said fantasy adaptations. If it’s not Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings prequel series being pieced together from mostly contradictory notes, it’s The Witcher‘s first season playing chronological guessing-games with the audience – and then there’s Shadow And Bone, which perhaps takes the cake (or should I say, waffle) in this competition of complexity.
The Netflix show isn’t a straight-up adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel, Shadow And Bone, although it will presumably continue to bear that book’s title. It also includes characters from Bardugo’s fourth Grishaverse novel, Six Of Crows, which is set a few years after her first trilogy, in a different region of the Grishaverse. But rather than follow two timelines simultaneously, Shadow And Bone (the show) imagines an original scenario where these Crows characters and their storylines overlapped with the events of Shadow And Bone (the book) sometime between their canonical backstories and the events of Six Of Crows. The end of season one roughly matches up with the beginning of Six Of Crows.
Or at least, so we thought. Shadow And Bone‘s showrunner, Eric Heisserer recently declared that the plot of Six Of Crows can’t happen until after The Darkling is dead, a statement he reiterated in an interview with Variety where he suggested that, while the Crows offer a clear path forward for the show “once you get to the end of Alina’s storyline”, in the meantime their arcs will continue to interweave with Alina’s, “without really disturbing too much of the separate storylines that they’re on.” Heisserer’s reasoning is that the central premise of Six Of Crows – that a mysterious new drug named jurda parem has appeared in the Grishaverse, giving Grisha heightened abilities – would break the world’s established magic system too soon.
Obviously, this begs the question of why it was necessary to introduce the Crows this early, if the events of their own book won’t occur onscreen until after Alina’s journey is complete and they won’t substantially impact her arc in the meantime, but the real question we should be asking is what the Crows will do in season two now that the Ice Court heist is apparently off the table and jurda parem can’t yet be introduced. Put on your theorizing hats, people: we’re about to dive down a deep lore rabbit-hole.
First thing’s first, the Crows will have to deal with their mysterious client Dreesen once they return to Ketterdam in season two without a Sun-Summoner. That’s a given whether or not Dreesen is involved in the creation of jurda parem, as I had speculated (and still believe, although I no longer think it’ll be anything more than an undercurrent of a storyline in season two). But Dreesen doesn’t seem wily enough to handle Kaz Brekker on his own, so I’m sure he’ll turn to Pekka Rollins for protection from the Crows – positioning Pekka as a main antagonist in season two, and allowing for flashbacks to Kaz’s history with the ruthless gang leader.
The details of Kaz’s plan to defeat both men simultaneously are still unclear, although he informs his Crows that, for it to work, they’ll need to hire a Heartrender whom neither Dreesen nor Pekka are familiar with – and that’s where Nina Zenik comes into the picture. At the end of season one, Nina is on her way to Ketterdam alongside the Crows, and overhears them discussing Kaz’s plan – but we don’t see her actually join the team, so it’s possible that season two will find her loyalties divided for a number of reasons.
A peculiar plotline left dangling after the finale was the matter of Nina being a spy for The Darkling, and even being personally assigned by him to infiltrate a trio of rogues from Ketterdam who intended to capture Alina Starkov. It’s a significant alteration from the books, especially since it would have been easy enough to keep her canon backstory, but it doesn’t pay off…yet. If Nina joins the Crows, it’ll only be a matter of time before she realizes they’re the same scoundrels she was supposed to hand over to The Darkling, and that could be exactly the right kind of crisis to drive her into the hands of Pekka Rollins – taking a plot-point from Six Of Crows and giving it a fresh twist.
In the books, Nina is alone in Ketterdam and out of options when Pekka’s people find her and bring her to the Emerald Palace, where Pekka offers her a job at one of his pleasure houses. But Kaz sends Inej Ghafa to scale the six-story building at night in the pouring rain with his own counteroffer – a moment too cinematic to miss out on, in my opinion. Besides, returning to the Emerald Palace would give us an opportunity to check up on Poppy, an original character and breakout star from season one who would be a great foil for Nina’s humor.
Another source of conflict between Nina and the Crows could be Matthias Helvar, the Fjerdan witch-hunter whom Nina loves. Shadow And Bone dramatized a key scene from Six Of Crows in which Nina was forced to accuse Matthias of being a slave-trader and have him put in prison in order to save him from a team of Grisha who would have killed him otherwise – but now, with Matthias headed for Ketterdam’s notorious Hellgate prison, Nina will do anything in her power to free him and clear his name; and she might use him as a bargaining chip in her dealings with Kaz. The Hellgate prison break could be a pretty awesome set-piece, even if it would lead to complications with Matthias joining the Crows much earlier than in the books.
Then there’s Tante Heleen, who still has in her possession the deed for Kaz’s precious Crow Club – not only his primary source of revenue, but his headquarters and the capital of his sprawling criminal empire. I highly doubt the monstrous Heleen will hand it over without a fight, and she’s capable of prolonging that fight thanks to her resources and connections. But one thing she doesn’t have anymore is a Wraith, and Inej Ghafa knows her weaknesses and how to exploit them almost as well as Heleen knows hers. This storyline could also help Inej get closer to learning the truth about her family, from whom she was separated as a child by slave-traders who sold her to Heleen.
Shadow And Bone made the deliberate choice to give Inej a brother – despite her being an only child in the books – and indicated that her brother was also sold off somewhere, although where is a mystery even to Inej. Heleen won’t know either, most likely, but she’ll know the identities of the slave-traders who captured both children, and Inej will track them down: of that I have no doubt. Her desire to fight the slave-trade is a major part of her character arc in the books, and the way she memorized every detail about her captors’ physical appearances and advocates for the other girls indentured by Heleen suggests it’s no different in the show.
Inej’s dream of owning a ship from which to launch this valiant crusade is something she only properly formulates in Six Of Crows during a powerful epiphany in an incinerator shaft (long story), but Shadow And Bone can plant the seeds of this dream if Inej encounters Nikolai Lantsov, the charismatic and flirtatious Ravkan prince who first appears in the Grisha trilogy disguised as a privateer named Sturmhond. In the books, Nikolai seeks to redeem Alina Starkov’s image with the Ravkan population by having her pose as his bride-to-be – but to avoid a massive geographical division in the show, he could announce their “engagement” in Ketterdam. I’m brainstorming here, but some kind of plot to assassinate the prince could make for rather compelling television.
Who would be pulling the strings behind such a scheme? Well, a few candidates come to mind. Obviously, The Darkling is one of those, but another could be Jan Van Eck, the Crows’ nemesis from the books. Since we know Eric Heisserer intends to introduce Van Eck’s son Wylan in season two, it stands to reason that Van Eck himself will also make an appearance, and it wouldn’t even be that much of a spoiler to establish him as a villainous or antagonistic character this early, as long as he’s working with the Kerch Merchant Council on his plots.
Assuming we’re lucky enough to get a third season of Shadow And Bone, which would presumably cover the events of Ruin And Rising, the final book in the Grisha trilogy, we’d have to do this all over again with another original plotline for the Crows to fill the gap between now and Six Of Crows. But the books provide something in this case – something that could unlock a whole new corner of the Grishaverse, fix a major problem with season one, and seamlessly interconnect with Alina’s ongoing character arc.
Alina and Mal’s storyline in Ruin And Rising is heavily focused around returning to their place of origin, which in the books is the orphanage at Keramzin. But Shadow And Bone changed Alina and Mal’s ethnicities, making them both biracial – and establishing Alina very clearly as being half-Shu (Mal is possibly of Suli descent, based on actor Archie Renaux’s Desi heritage, which raises the way-too-complicated-to-get-into-in-this-post question of whether he’s Inej’s long lost brother). There’s a lot of valid criticism of the way Shadow And Bone uses Alina’s biracial identity as shorthand for a tragic backstory, subjecting her to a constant string of micro-aggressions, abuse, insults, and racist attacks, without ever bothering to show Shu Han culture except through racist war propaganda, or allowing Alina an opportunity to explore her culture.
That’s something that could change at anytime, but season three offers a tantalizing opportunity for both Alina and Mal to journey further into their past than the orphanage at Keramzin – which could mean traveling to Shu Han at roughly the same time that the Shu scientist Bo Yul-Bayur and his young son Kuwei will be perfecting the formula for jurda parem. At this point in the show, The Darkling will be on his way out, and Jan Van Eck will have already been introduced – all that’s needed is for the Crows to somehow end up in Shu Han. And Six Of Crows provides a precedent, in a Kerch-funded mission to the Shu capital of Ahmrat Jen that takes place shortly before the book opens. The aim of the mission is to capture Yul-Bayur, but he is accidentally killed in the crossfire without the Kerch ever finding out – and Kuwei is captured by a Fjerdan team who take him to the impenetrable Ice Court.
This mission would also allow Inej to meet her most notable opponent from the books, a Ravkan assassin named Dunyasha who was trained in Ahmrat Jen. Inej’s Suli region adheres that a person’s sum total of sins and crimes add up to become that person’s evil doppelganger, or “Shadow”, who will one day face them in battle – and Dunyasha is Inej’s Shadow. With Inej’s arc being heavily focused on her faith, it makes sense to introduce this concept as soon as possible and begin foreshadowing their duel.
But if I’m rambling at this point, it’s only because I love my Crows deeply, and I want them all to have fulfilling character arcs while we wait for the Ice Court heist. Is that really too much to ask? Eric Heisserer got himself into this mess by insisting that the Crows had to be part of Alina’s storyline as his pitch to Netflix – now we have to hope his writers room actually has a plan for them beyond the initial “wow” factor of the Crows trying to kidnap the Sun-Summoner in season one.
SPOILERS FOR SHADOW AND BONE AND THE GRISHAVERSE NOVELS AHEAD!
One week since the premiere of Netflix’s Shadow And Bone, and my series of individual episode reviews is finally complete…but I’m the type of person who becomes hooked on a single show for a lot longer than just one week, and I know a lot of you out there are the same way. And I know – from personal experience, because this is how Netflix is – that there’s nothing more agonizing than binge-watching a show in a single day and then having to wait for another season, sometimes for years.
In the meantime, obviously we’re going to have to speculate about Shadow And Bone season two – which Netflix is waiting to officially confirm, although What’s On Netflix, a site with a very strong track record specializing in exclusive information about the streaming service, reports that a second season was renewed behind-the-scenes back in March. And with the first season trending very well in its first week and word-of-mouth strong, it doesn’t seem at all unlikely that season two is coming. It’s just a matter of when – and of course, where we’ll pick up with our beloved cast of characters.
Now, most of my big elaborate theories about things tend to miss the mark by a couple hundred miles (i.e. the Grim Reaper hint in WandaVision means that Ultron is returning!), so this post is going to take each main character in Shadow And Bone one-by-one and just sort of…sketch out their potential paths forward, drawing on information given in the books but taking into account the sorts of changes that Shadow And Bone has already made to the source material.
Last time we saw Alina in season one, she and her best friend Mal (platonic soulmates until proven otherwise; sorry, Malina shippers) were headed into the unknown on a ship, but their journeys promise to run parallel to the Crows for at least a little while, and I won’t be surprised if the duo take refuge in Ketterdam now that they need a place to lay low while Alina works on a plan for how to destroy the Shadow-Fold. In Siege And Storm, the second book in the original Grisha trilogy, Alina and Mal hide away in the town of Cofton in Noyvi Zem (where they actually meet a younger Jesper Fahey), but having them stay in Ketterdam declutters the story and requires one less set. In the book, she goes hunting for the second of Morozova’s legendary Amplifiers, a leviathan known as the Sea Whip, crossing paths with the buccaneer Sturmhond (more on him in a minute).
But if Alina and Mal do stay in Ketterdam rather than Cofton, and with Shadow And Bone now caught up to the main events of Six Of Crows, Alina might come into contact with a very different kind of Amplifier without even needing to take her adventure on the high seas. The plot of Six Of Crows revolves around the creation of a mysterious and addictive new drug known as jurda parem, which affects Grisha, enhancing their powers enormously, and often to a dangerous degree. Squallers who take it gain the ability of flight, Durasts turn lead to gold…just imagine what a Sun-Summoner could do. The drug circulates in secret around Ketterdam, but jurda is grown in Noyvi Zem around Cofton, so Alina could come in contact with it there too.
In the books, you can usually expect Mal to simply tag along behind Alina wherever she goes, thereby robbing her and himself of much independence. His role as her protector quickly leads to him becoming obsessively overprotective, and it’s…a lot, honestly. Shadow And Bone‘s showrunner Eric Heisserer said he wanted “Malina” to share their first kiss in season one but that others on the creative team objected; and that he plans to get his way in season two (the only thing that could ruin this show for me). I’ve already made it clear that I’d prefer Mal and Alina to grow individually outside of their borderline constricting relationship with each other…but the fact that I can’t hazard a guess as to where Mal could go apart from her shows that they haven’t done enough even on the show to distinguish their arcs.
The Crows (As A Team)
Although some fans have been pushing for the Crows to spinoff into their own series (and I’d love for that to happen), I suspect their story and Alina’s will continue to run side-by-side in Shadow And Bone. And while I do think there’s a good chance we’ll see them embark on their infamous Ice Court heist in season two, their first order of business upon returning to Ketterdam will be taking care of their current client, Dreesen, and Pekka Rollins – so far, all we know of Kaz’s plan for that is that he needs a Heartrender neither man would recognize. Thankfully, I have a theory about how this might play out. We never learn what Dreesen wants with Alina Starkov, only that he’s a “wealthy merchant”…and Six Of Crows kicks off with the death of a wealthy merchant who’s been taking Grisha captive and testing jurda parem on them.
In the books, this merchant character is named Councilman Hoede, but it would be easy to switch the name to Dreesen. Hoede, it’s later revealed, was working on the jurda parem with a merchant named Jan Van Eck (who needs to be played by Richard E. Grant; this is not up for debate), who sends the Crows on the mission to the Ice Court. My theory is that when the Crows return to Ketterdam in season two, Jan Van Eck will end up taking care of Dreesen for them – not out of the kindness of his heart, but to cover his tracks and erase evidence of the link between the two merchants. Then he’ll track down the Crows with his own offer of five-million kruge to break into the Ice Court and kidnap jurda parem‘s creator, the Shu Han alchemist Bo Yul-Bayur.
But if my theory is correct, that still doesn’t solve the problem of Pekka Rollins – whose agents will probably be waiting for Kaz Brekker and the Crows as soon as their ship docks in Ketterdam. Fighting Pekka gives Kaz a personal stake in season two, and provides an organic opportunity to peel back layers of his history with Pekka via flashbacks. In the books, this backstory is gradually revealed over the course of Six Of Crows, and I hope Shadow And Bone is similarly patient, rather than dumping it all at once. I also hope to see more of Kaz’s brilliance as a strategist: constructing bigger, more elaborate plans, and collecting information on everybody – including Jan Van Eck’s son, Wylan, whom in the books he lures into his gang as leverage over the merchant.
While Inej will always be a major part of the Crows’ storyline, she also has her own character arc apart from the team – and the end of season one hints at that, with Inej suggesting to Kaz that she’s not committed to staying in Ketterdam. This is true to the books, where Inej has a lifelong dream to explore the world on her very own ship, but Shadow And Bone gives Inej an opportunity to pursue that dream much earlier than the books – especially since the buccaneer named Sturmhond might be rolling into town any day now. Another storyline worth exploring (and one that could tie into Sturmhond’s arc) is one from Crooked Kingdom, where Inej is hunted by an assassin named Dunyasha Lazareva, who claims to be an heiress to Ravka’s royal family – and whom Inej believes to be her “Shadow”.
Shadow And Bone‘s first season dropped numerous hints to the fact that Jesper is a Grisha Fabrikator – specifically a Durast capable of manipulating metals and other solid materials, something that possibly contributes to his skills as a sharpshooter. Ivan the Heartrender senses his power during one of their duels, but Jesper later shoots him dead, thus protecting his secret; which he’s kept hidden since watching his mother – herself a Durast – die while using her power to absorb poison into her own body. This could be explored through flashbacks in season two, but a major element of Jesper’s story going forward will be his relationship with Wylan Van Eck; the Six Of Crows duology’s most prominent LGBTQ+ romance.
With Nina’s backstory having already been adequately explored in Shadow And Bone‘s first season, she can only go forward from here. As in the books, she’ll be entering Ketterdam on the same ship as Matthias Helvar, but whereas the Fjerdan will be shipped off to Hellgate prison, Nina will be in need of work to survive – and in the show, she’s just made the acquaintance of Kaz Brekker, who’s looking for a Heartrender. In the books, it’s mentioned that Nina was forced to choose between working for Kaz or Pekka Rollins when she arrived in Ketterdam, ultimately choosing Kaz after Inej hand-delivered his business-proposal by scaling a six-story building in the pouring rain (a scene I’d love to see reenacted). I think the same will hold true in Shadow And Bone, but Nina’s previous service for The Darkling might be a cause for conflict if it ever comes up again.
While Nina gets deluged with opportunities, Matthias will be rotting in Hellgate next time we see him – and blaming the Heartrender for his troubles. In Six Of Crows, he spends months imprisoned, but the physical and emotional toll it takes on him is apparent thanks to two things that won’t work in the show: firstly, his long golden locks are shaved off (whereas in the show, he’s only had short hair); and secondly, he’s forced to kill wolves, sacred animals to the Fjerdans, in prison cage-fights. Shadow And Bone worked some wolf-imagery into the Fjerdan costume design, but never touched on the significance of that choice, unfortunately. Regardless, it won’t be long before Kaz has a reason to break Matthias out of Hellgate, whether for his first-hand knowledge of the Ice-Court or something else.
After staggering from the Shadow-Fold with Volcra scars lacing his beautiful face and his fabulous black kefta irreparably shredded, The Darkling is going to be on a war-path in season two – and in Shadow And Bone‘s closing moments, he displays the ability to command an army of shadow warriors called nichevo’ya, who will become his greatest weapon in the ongoing battle for Ravka. In the books, he hunts down Alina, and forces her to join him on a quest for the second Amplifier, employing the privateer named Sturmhond to guide them through the frigid northern seas. In the show, if Alina remains in Ketterdam, that means The Darkling may have another chance to match wits with Kaz Brekker when he comes for her…but directly tying him into the Ice Court heist will be difficult.
There are few characters who pop up more frequently throughout the Grishaverse than Nikolai Lantsov, the illegitimate prince of Ravka who first appears while disguised as a privateer named Sturmhond and pretending to work with The Darkling. Nikolai’s charisma wins him many fans among the general population, but he suffers the constant disdain of his older brother Vasily – an incompetent elitist who gets exactly what he deserves in the end. In Shadow And Bone, the Ravkan royal family hasn’t been very well-established yet, nor has any mention been made of the young prince and his flying ship, but Nikolai is coming in season two; and we can expect his casting to be a big deal.
Wylan Van Eck
Although I’ve never loved Wylan’s character as much as I love some of the other Crows, I’m very interested to see how he’ll be adapted. His backstory certainly lends itself to dramatic adaptation, with his father Jan Van Eck disowning him on account of his dyslexia and attempting to have him murdered to protect the Van Eck family’s reputation in high society. Wylan goes into hiding and changes his name, setting himself up as a “passable” demolitions expert while retaining some of his aristocratic snobbery. Ironically, it’s his connection to Jan that lands him on the Ice Court heist, as Kaz is under the impression that he can be used as leverage over Jan; learning too late that the merchant would happily kill his own son. Eric Heisserer has promised that Wylan will “a hundred percent” be in Shadow And Bone‘s second season.
So which Grishaverse character is your favorite, and where do you want to see them end up in season two? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
Although surprisingly never used in the first season of Shadow And Bone, not even as an episode subtitle, that seemingly simple phrase is a guiding principle of the Grisha in Leigh Bardugo’s original novels. All Grisha are born with the ability to manipulate matter, but their own individual qualities, both good and bad (and in the Grishaverse, defined as “Etovost”, the “thatness” of a thing that makes it unique) help pull them in the direction of a specific type of matter: whether it be water, for Tidemakers; or wind, for Squallers; or blood, for Heartrenders. What determines this connection is sometimes pretty mysterious, so being a Grisha is like living a Buzzfeed personality quiz.
But what makes a Sun-Summoner?
That’s a big question, and the finale of Shadow And Bone‘s first season isn’t able to fully answer it in the amount of time it has to wrap up everybody’s current stories while starting a bunch of new ones. But if “like calls to like”, then what about Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) makes her and her alone naturally compelled towards light? Is it her ability to selflessly fight for a world that’s never fought for her, or the courage it takes to finally start fighting for and believing in herself? There’s several options, each in my opinion valid, but it would be nice to have a specific thing to point to during the climactic moment in the finale when Alina rises to her feet and rejects The Darkling (Ben Barnes) with a single line: “This is what I am.”
In that brief shining moment, Alina is answering to no one – not The Darkling, and not Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux). Some fans are angry that this scene didn’t play out as in the books, with Mal being thrown off The Darkling’s skiff in the Shadow-Fold, and Alina literally jumping overboard to follow him into the darkness, thereby abandoning everyone on the skiff to the Volcra. But apart from the fact that there are now several other major characters on the skiff in this version who kind of need to survive into season two, that scene in the books is exemplary of everything I dislike about the original Grisha Trilogy. It doesn’t empower Alina: it merely solidifies “apathy towards everyone except Mal” as her defining character trait.
That being said, there are other, better, ways to inject some internal darkness back into Alina’s character over the course of Shadow And Bone – and I hope showrunner Eric Heisserer (who made the right choice not to have her massacre a literal boatload of people for Mal) will do just that. It doesn’t ever have to be to that level of carnage and certainly not for the same reasons, but villainy can be pretty empowering too when it feels earned and organic.
Shadow And Bone‘s season finale spotlights several forms of empowerment, and the battle in the Shadow-Fold isn’t simply an epic and thrilling set-piece (though it is very much that too) but also a great way to bring the characters’ personalities into the forefront as they clash onscreen, their strengths and weaknesses playing off each other cleverly. Of course, being in the Fold means the resulting melee is a bit dark, but on a scale of one to Game Of Thrones’ The Long Night, this is a “dark-enough-for-monsters-to-jump-out-unexpectedly-but-not-so-dark-you-can’t-tell-who’s-who” kind of dark.
Alina’s big hero moment is more of an introspective epiphany than a feat of physical strength – although, upon receiving a vision of Morozova’s Stag and realizing that the animal rewarded her mercy in episode seven by bestowing its powers upon her, she does take one of Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman)’s knives and thrust it upwards into The Darkling’s palm, cutting the piece of the Stag’s antlers from his flesh and breaking his control over her. It’s a triumphant moment that finally frees up Alina to be more powerful than ever before – not that we get to see any of that power, mind you, since The Darkling’s loyal Heartrender Ivan (Simon Sears) defeats her a few moments later.
And despite no longer abandoning them all to chase after Mal, Alina is too late to save either the group of foreign dignitaries onboard the skiff (Ivan mows them down instead), or the West Ravkan city of Novokribirsk; which gets consumed by the Shadow-Fold as a warning from The Darkling to the rest of the world that he’s not afraid to kill hundreds of thousands of his own civilians to protect Ravkan interests. General Zlatan (Tom Weston-Jones) and the West Ravkan independence movement come to an untimely end, as does – presumably – Zoya Nazyalensky (Sujaya Dasgupta)’s aunt and extended family, whom she had just been talking about wanting to visit earlier in the episode.
Zoya, who happens to be standing on the skiff watching this all unfold in horror, wastes no time joining forces with Alina and the Crows to bring down The Darkling (and he has the audacity to act surprised). She and Inej share a few epic fight scenes, combining Inej’s skill for hand-to-hand combat and knife-throwing with Zoya’s ability to control the wind. That the two women are also Shadow And Bone‘s most prominent characters of South Asian descent (in-universe, their heritage is Suli) adds another layer to their awe-inspiring team up.
In a battle where some of the highlights include Inej stabbing The Darkling, Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter) attacking a Volcra with his cane, and Jesper Fahey (Kit Young) shooting Ivan dead and scolding himself for being slightly attracted to the villainous Heartrender, I think the wrestling-match between Mal and The Darkling was supposed to stand out more than it did. But The Darkling can slice people in half with a blade of shadow, so stooping to Mal’s level is a choice that needed to be justified somehow…particularly since Mal – who admits earlier in the episode that he’s not the “smart one” of the team – ends up outwitting the Grisha, distracting him while a Volcra sneaks up on him from behind.
Viewers new to Shadow And Bone who have undoubtedly heard the phrase “Six Of Crows” tossed around a lot in coverage of the series might be quick to assume that the six characters who stumble out of the Shadow-Fold together are the titular “Six” – and I’d be interested to see how that alternate-universe version of the team would work – but Zoya soon departs on her own, explaining that she has a personal duty to her family to search for their remains, even if it means re-entering the Fold. You’ll want to read Six Of Crows if only to better understand Kaz Brekker’s warning to Zoya not to linger too long with the dead.
Everyone else ends up on a ship bound for Ketterdam, including Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan) and Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman), whose story finally catches up chronologically and geographically with that of the Crows in a sequence remarkably similar to the books – the only major difference being that it’s an established character, the no-longer-lovable Heartrender Fedyor (Julian Kostov), who confronts Nina and Matthias in a seaside tavern (interrupting a perfectly good meal of waffles) and forces Nina to make a choice that will haunt her for a long time. To save Matthias from the Grisha, she pretends he’s a slaver and turns him over to a group of Kerch bounty-hunters instead, hitching a ride with them as a “witness” and promising Matthias she’ll drop the charges in court once they reach Ketterdam.
The novelty of watching storylines from different corners of the Grishaverse converge is one that Shadow And Bone can sustain well into season two – depending on how long Alina and Mal stay in Ketterdam alongside our beloved Crows, and what kind of devious plan Kaz has concocted to deal with Pekka Rollins and their mysterious mustachioed client that apparently requires the services of a Grisha Heartrender (one of whom, Nina herself, just happens to be sitting within earshot). With Inej being noncommittal about staying with the Crows (and honestly, good for her; but the pain on Kaz’s face broke my heart) and Malina still being platonic for the moment, there’s a lot of directions Shadow And Bone could take to keep things fresh and exciting.
But one plot point that hasn’t been changed from the books (and why would it be?) is The Darkling’s return. I mean, you didn’t think the Volcra really ate him, did you? Alina may not be strong enough yet to tear down that Fold, even with an Amplifier, but The Darkling’s control of merzost has allowed him to stagger back from the brink of death covered in scars and stronger than before, with the power to create giant demonic warriors of pure shadow called Nichevo’ya that obey his every command.
If “like calls to like”, then it’s pretty clear what qualities The Darkling possesses.