Shadow and Bone team answer burning questions about the finale and season 2 potential
Author Leigh Bardugo, showrunner Eric Heisserer, and actor Ben Barnes unpack the final moments of season 1.
Shadow and Bone (TV Show)
Warning: Spoilers from Shadow and Bone's first season are discussed in this article.
Shadow and Bone season 1 is but the tip of a vast iceberg that is the Grishaverse.
Showrunner Eric Heisserer worked with book series author Leigh Bardugo, who also serves as an executive producer on the adaptation, to meld together elements of her first Shadow and Bone book with the Six of Crows spinoff to craft an updated version of the origin story for Alina Starkov, played by Jessie Mei Li.
The mapmaker in the First Army of Ravka is revealed to be a Sun Summoner, a prophesied Grisha magic user with the ability to conjure sunlight and, as legend says, banish the Fold, a large expanse of impenetrable darkness that is filled with winged monsters called volcra and cuts the country of Ravka in two. Alina's newfound abilities brings her into the Grisha army fold and into the sights of the king's general, Kirigan (Ben Barnes), a Shadow Summoner who's revealed to be the near-immortal Black Heretic, the Grisha who created the Fold hundreds of years earlier.
Following Alina's battle against Kirigan and his forces in the season 1 finale, Shadow and Bone sets up a potentially seasons-long saga — should Netflix side with the fans and want to see more.
Bardugo, Heisserer, and Barnes spoke with EW to unpack the climactic ending and all the story-stacking they've been doing all season long to tee up a hoped-for renewal.
So, that ending...
It looks like General Kirigan learned a new trick... and made some new friends.
In an attempt to gain dominion over the country of Ravka and the surrounding territories, the newly outed Black Heretic brings Alina, under his control courtesy of the Morozova stag amplifier collar embedded around her neck, into the Fold on a skiff. With delegates from various countries in attendance, he flexes his might and swallows the West Ravkan town of Novokribirsk by expanding the Fold. Once Alina relinquishes his influence over her and claims the amplifier as her own, she's able to fight back with help from Mal (Archie Renaux), Kaz (Freddy Carter), Inej (Amita Suman), Jesper (Kit Young), and Zoya (Sujaya Dasgupta). They leave the Fold believing Kirigan has been torn apart by volcra.
But that's not the case... In the final moments of the finale, a scarred Kirigan emerges out of the Fold followed by volcra, who were thought to never be able to leave the confines of the darkness. More significantly, Kirigan, without any Grisha hand gesture typically required of the small science, gives them a mental command to "follow" and they do.
"He has suffered the first defeat in a very long time at the hands of somebody who he really believed he understood and had under his control," Bardugo explains. "So, I think we're going to see a real reckoning, if we get to see that reckoning."
The reckoning, she elaborates, is something that occurs in Seige and Storm, the second novel in the author's main trilogy. But Bardugo believes we could see this "more powerfully" in a potential second season. "Seige and Storm is limited to Alina's point of view. Something that would be thrilling to me would be able to see the machinations of a very powerful individual with an incredible amount of history and experience who now is being forced to rebuild from the ground up," she says.
"It's all the things he is ramped up," Barnes comments of that final moment. "When you meet him at the beginning, he's the most powerful man that we come across. Now, he is infinitely more powerful in terms of he just thinks something [and it happens]. There's a grace and a control that he has that I think is lost somewhere in the Fold, probably. But I think, also, the isolation is heightened. He doesn't have his quest to protect those people. He doesn't have the palace, he doesn't have his status as general. Everyone has a vendetta against him, those who haven't betrayed him soon will."
It's "a concoction of things," he adds. Kirigan still has feelings for Alina and "wants to change the world with her," but now "everything is potentially much more volatile."
"I'm interested to see what that isolation does to him as a man," Barnes muses. "He expected to be chewed up in the Fold and realized that he was more powerful. So, there's an ego to it as well."
Somewhere beyond the sea
The season 1 conclusion plays out differently for Alina, as well. In Shadow and Bone, the book, Alina and Mal flee the Fold on foot for West Ravka as volcra attack the skiff and everyone on it. It's that guilt of leaving innocent people behind to face their deaths that's on her mind when she boards a ship out of the country. On the show, this sequence is more a battle with Zoya and the Crows fending off Kirigan's forces while Mal gets into a bit of fisticuffs with the Shadow Summoner.
Bardugo sees Alina as being in the same mental place as the book by the end of it.
"This is somebody whose responsibilities are deeply at odds with her desires," she explains. "She has been through a lot. What Kerrigan does to her, I don't think can be underestimated. There's something incredibly visceral about seeing him put that collar around her neck in the show."
Bardugo acknowledges the writers made "a decision to treat amplifiers differently in this story." She originally wrote the stag amplifier in the books as being an ornamentation that sits around Alina's neck, amplifying her Grisha abilities. For the screen, Kirigan has the antler collar embedded in her flesh. When Alina realizes she's the one in control of the amplifier, that the stag chose Alina to bear its antlers, she then absorbs it all into her body.
The reason for that change is because the subtext of that collar becomes more overt. "That moment in the books has always been a moment of tremendous violation," Bardugo says. "It's something that I find unforgivable. It is not only that the Darkling seizes Alina's power for himself, but he binds her to him without her choice and forces her to become a mass murderer. It is an incredibly gruesome set of events."
Coming out of that, as Alina and Mal look out at the sea they are about to traverse, the character is "contending with her responsibilities to her country," Bardugo continues. "Because of the way the character is built, she's also contending with a desire to something else, to suddenly have an opportunity to be human and to not be a saint or a savior. I think that there are a lot of places for her character to go, if we get the opportunity."
Onwards to Fjerda!
Season 2 has not been officially announced by Netflix just yet, but Heisserer has "stacks of material" with "grand plans" for the show, just in case.
Season 1 largely adapted the events of the Shadow and Bone novel but also brought in characters from Six of Crows, the first in a duology of book spinoffs to the main story. Should more seasons be in the cards for the adaptation, the finale concludes in a place that nicely sets up the core events of Six of Crows.
That novel presents an intriguing mystery surrounding a drug that is lethal to humans but addictive to Grisha. Kaz and his Crows gang are tasked with rescuing the drug's inventor from the Ice Court, a military stronghold in Fjerda that has never before been infiltrated. This mission involves Nina Zenik, who joins up with Kaz when she learns of his intent to free Matthias Helvar, a former Fjerdan druskelle who's been locked away in a prison called Hellgate because of Nina.
Nina and Matthias' backstory was adapted from Six of Crows into season 1 of Shadow and Bone by way of actors Danielle Galligan and Calahan Skogman. As it happens, the final episodes see Nina claiming Matthias to be a human trafficker in order to save him from the Grisha who've come looking for her. And where is Matthias now heading? To Hellgate. Nina then finds herself on the same boat as Kaz, Inej, and Jesper, which seems to be leading towards their big Ocean's 11 heist from Six of Crows.
Bardugo confirms she and Heisserer wanted to place this backstory with Nina and Matthias in the show "in that way in order to enable some of the things that would happen later. All you can do is build it in a way that you hope will be intact and satisfying, and then you cross your fingers and form a prayer circle [for season 2]."
The queen of scars
Another character from the books who received an expanded role on the show is Zoya, the Squaller.
On the page, Zoya doesn't have much to do beyond being a mean girl towards Alina. While that aspect remains on the screen, she becomes more fleshed out through her feelings towards Kirigan, the realization of the Shadow Summoner's true plans for Ravka, and how she chooses to fight alongside Alina in the Fold. As the characters head out on their separate ways, vowing to keep Alina's location a secret, Zoya vows to return to Novokribirsk. She has (or had?) family there and wants to see if anyone still remains.
It's a role Bardugo felt worth expanding given the hindsight that comes with knowing where the character goes not just in the Shadow and Bone trilogy but also in the duology books, The King of Scars.
"With the most recent installment of the Grishaverse, which is Rule of Wolves" — the second and last installment of the King of Scars duology — "I have put, if not a period, then at least a very firm semicolon at the end of these stories for myself. I know now where Zoya's story is going. In Shadow and Bone, by the time you get to the third book, she begins to reveal more layers and we begin to understand her better. But the truth of her is something that we don't really experience until King of Scars, until we're in her P.O.V. So, the show had the opportunity to build some of those layers sooner rather than later."
Heisserer further confirmed that, when crafting the story of Shadow and Bone, he was looking at the Grishaverse series of novels as a whole for adaptation potential. "I think we went as far as to secure the rights to a collection of short stories in the Grishaverse, including Demon in the Wood, which covers a part of Kirigan's backstory." The material from Demon in the Wood, published in 2015 by Bardugo, can be seen in episode 7 when we get a flashback to how Kirigan created the Fold.
"We left a lot of spaces that can be filled in later," Bardugo concludes. "We don't get all the information about the Crows. We don't get every bit of the story that we want to see. I hope that those will create intrigue for audiences so that we've created something stands on its own. But there's a lot of road that we could travel."
Barnes isn't worried about creating that intrigue for audiences. "This is the beginning of a show that has been made by fans," he says. "Eric is a massive fan. He geeks out over like, in the casino in Ketterdam, 'We're not going to have spades and hearts as the suits for the cards, we're going to make up our own.' We are going to someone who is translating things into [the fictional language of Kerch. He's fascinated by all that stuff."
Here's hoping that attention to detail and stage-setting pay off.
Shadow and Bone (TV Show)