[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Shadow and Bone Season 1.]
With Shadow and Bone, Netflix has introduced a brand new fantasy obsession. Not unlike The Witcher or Stranger Things, this series pulls from genre storytelling to transport viewers to a fully realized universe full of characters both lovable and loathsome. But Shadow and Bone also brings with it a rabid fanbase completely intact, thanks to the popularity of author Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse books. There are seven books in total, and the first season of Shadow and Bone ends by ever-so-slightly moving into territory covered in Bardugo’s second book.
What does the Shadow and Bone ending mean for the characters going forward, and how did showrunner Eric Heisserer and his team go about building towards this finale? And what kind of powers do Alina (Jessie Mei Li) and the Darkling (Ben Barnes) have at the end? Let’s dig in.
The Shadow and Bone finale takes place almost entirely inside the Fold, the mystical and terrifying in-between-world that divides Ravka in half and kills almost everyone who dares to enter it. We learned earlier in the season that the Darkling aka Kirigan created the Fold centuries ago in a fit of emotional rage. A Shadow Summoner descended from the bloodline of the ominous Bonesmith, the Darkling and fellow Grisha were being hunted and tracked down by the King, and a woman for whom the Darkling cared very much was murdered before his very eyes. The Darkling attempted to turn the King’s army into puppets of his own, but he botched the spell and thus the Fold was created – with those army men then being turned into the ghastly, winged creatures who hunt anyone who dares enter the Fold.
In the finale, Kirigan has bonded his power with Alina’s after having killed the magical stag, and they enter the Fold to travel to West Ravka with an audience of dignitaries and people of note on board. As they reach West Ravka, Kirigan uses Alina’s power to create a tunnel through the fold, through which safe travel and trade could be possible. But just as he shows his potential to heal, Kirigan then shows his potential to punish as he pushes the Fold further into East Ravka, engulfing the dock and those awaiting his arrival.
Kirigan tells the passengers he intends to rule all kingdoms, wielding his power to use the Fold to fore those to bend to his will. There will be no more countries, just Kirigan. Alina, Mal (Archie Renaux) as well as the Six of Crows characters Kaz (Freddy Carter), Inej (Amita Suman), and Jesper (Kit Young) cannot abide this, and a fight ensues. During the fight, Alina removes the token bonding her to Kirigan, revealing that the stag gave Alina its power, not Kirigan. The Darkling is then wounded and left presumed dead, as the other passengers head back to West Ravka where they commit to a life in hiding for now – Grisha are now in danger of being blamed for the tragedy that befell East Ravka. And in the final, chilling shot of the season, Kirigan steps out of the Fold with creatures by his side, to whom he commands to “follow” out into the world as he seeks his revenge.
I had the chance to speak with Shadow and Bone showrunner Eric Heisserer and author Leigh Bardugo in two separate interviews, and the creatives behind this excellent and addictive series shed some light on the thought process going into the finale and where this leaves our beloved characters.
Heisserer revealed that he and his team actually had bigger plans for the finale’s big action set piece inside the Fold, but budget constraints made the scope of it a bit smaller:
“We had more and grander plans for the set piece inside the Fold and did not have the money for any of that. So we calmed it down to what you see in the finale now, but the real drive for us at the end was to give a proper breadth, a proper coda for a lot of these characters and send them on their way. You feel like there’s more to the story, but you also feel like you do get some resolution at the end for some of them as well. And that was our biggest talk. So that we could have half of the episode that can cover this epic battle in which every shot is a VFX shot and oh my God, that was time consuming. But then the other half where we just get to spend some moments with our characters and then see how a few of them might end up crossing paths, especially on the ship.”
As for how Alina and the Darkling’s powers are changed after Alina ripped a hole in the Darkling’s hand, Heisserer said that Alina is certainly powered up, but that doesn’t mean the Darkling is powered down:
“She is fully powered up from the stag at this point. However, it’s clear that he has tapped into merzost or a dark power in order to create the new creatures that step out of the Fold with him at the very end. In the books, these are called Nichevo’ya, which is Ravkan for “nothing” and they will be a level-up kind of opponent for Alina, Mal and anybody else who runs into Kirigan, should we be as privileged as to have a second season, because these are things that can walk around in broad daylight. Both of them have a level up going into the second season, but I think Alina knows somewhere in her gut that, even with the stag antler amplifier, she cannot draw enough light to take down the Fold. So we’ll have to explore what other options are available for her in the second season.”
The finale moves a bit into the first few chapters of Bardugo’s second book in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, Siege and Storm, and when I asked the author about how the finale differs from the ending of Shadow and Bone she talked about how she originally approached the book’s ending:
“You have to remember that Shadow and Bone was the first book I sold. And it was, in fact, the first book I ever finished writing, despite many attempts before that to finish a novel. And when I was writing it, I didn’t know if anybody was going to buy one book, let alone all three. So, I kept notes for the sequels, but I just didn’t know what the future of this book was. And so, it has an ending that has an open door at the end of it, but I think if that had been the end of it, that could have been the end of the Grishaverse, with the end of Shadow and Bone. There would have been no Grishaverse, just Ravka. And it made perfect sense to me that we would move into, essentially, the first chapters of Siege and Storm, the sequel to Shadow and Bone, at the end of this season.”
Bardugo continued, talking about the importance of a good cliffhanger:
“Because again, we want people to understand what will be coming if we get the opportunity to go there, and that this antagonist is not done for, in fact, that he may return even stronger and more dangerous than before. So, to me, that was a very compelling choice, and again, made perfect sense. I didn’t want them to tie the season up in a bow. Ever since then, I’ve left every book on a cliffhanger because I’m not stupid. So, I love a good cliffhanger. I hate them as readers, but as an author, I want you to demand the rest. I want you to be hungry for it, and I think it was a very smart move by Eric and his team.”
Netflix has not yet renewed Shadow and Bone for a Season 2 officially, but if the order comes, Heisserer and Bardugo are ready and have big plans for plenty more Grishaverse stories to come – including the arrival of fan-favorite character Wylan, who Heisserer promises will be in Shadow and Bone Season 2 if they get to make it:
“I would love to talk about what we might get to see from Six of Crows in the second season. I can tease this much that there will be a hundred percent more Wylan. We’d like to introduce him for sure. And we would like to spend at least a little bit more time in Ketterdam. We kind of had to yoink our Crows away from that in Season 1 and throw them toward the Fold and beyond for their heist. And I think at least part of next season should be a home game for our team.”
Stay tuned for my full interviews with Heisserer and Bardugo on Collider soon. The first season of Shadow and Bone is now streaming on Netflix.
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