'Shadow and Bone' Boss Explains Alina's Dark Finale Twist and Major Changes

Shadow and Bone Season 2 doesn't follow the exact trajectory of Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse novels but certain changes were necessary to make, showrunner Eric Heisserer told Newsweek.

The Netflix hit's new season sees Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) and Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux) join forces with ally Nikolai Lantsov (Patrick Gibson) in order to find the final two amplifiers she needs to increase her powers to take down General Kirigan, aka The Darkling (Ben Barnes), and tear down the Shadow Fold.

As she does this, the Crows —Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), and Jesper Fahey (Kit Young)—plot revenge against Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly) with the help of Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan) and Wylan Hendricks (Jack Wolfe).

But Alina's story in particular takes an unexpected turn in the finale, and Heisserer spoke to Newsweek about the decision and why other major changes were made to the original books.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Shadow and Bone Season 2.

'Shadow and Bone' Showrunner Eric Heisserer Explains Alina's Dark Finale Twist

Shadow and Bone
Jessie Mei Li (L) and Ben Barnes as Alina Starkov and General Kirigan, aka The Darkling in "Shadow and Bone" Season 2. Showrunner Eric Heisserer spoke to Newsweek about the show's unexpected twist relating to the two characters. Dávid Lukács/Netflix

Season 2 of Shadow and Bone adapts the last two books in the titular trilogy, named Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising respectively, and it takes elements from Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom while also setting up the story for the King of Scars duology from Bardugo's series.

Heisserer explained that streamlining the story to include plotlines from multiple books "came down to necessity" given the show's large cast.

"The discoveries we made in the first five weeks of the writers room, when we were looking at Season 2, were major tectonic shifts for us, in that we realized so much of Siege and Storm—because it's solely through Alina's point of view—didn't give us much interaction [...] with other major characters," Heisserer said.

"And when you have a cast list as big and exciting as ours, we knew right away that we needed to find as aerodynamic as possible a story that allowed us to hit on the moments with Alina's development and her arc [...] but then allowed us to shift over to any of Nikolai's team, or the Crows, or any number of other new characters that we had introduced here. So, it was about having a lot of mouths to feed really."

One such important storyline involving Alina is a complete shift from the books, because the character does not lose her powers when Mal sacrifices himself so she can receive the third amplifier, as written in the trilogy. She also brings Mal back to life using Merzost (dark magic), something that doesn't happen in the books.

Rather than the character losing her powers as punishment for greed, Alina's fate may be much darker. This is because the final moments of the season see her wield shadow and use The Cut, a power that she apparently took from the Darkling after killing him in the final battle.

The idea that the Darkling may not be gone for good is an idea that will be familiar to book fans, as Bardugo introduced a character named Yuri in the King of Scars duology and he plays an important role in the villain's return to the novels.

When asked directly if Alina might take on Yuri's storyline instead, Heisserer said that "there are some things that I can't speak to right now" but the writers were excited to show a darker side to the character.

"What I can say is we definitely wanted to hang onto Jessie with all our lives," he said. "We weren't about to retire Alina here at the end of this season. There's just so much more to do with her, and to enjoy with her.

"And I think none of us were keen on taking away her powers and placing her essentially as an Otkazat'sya [a person without Grisha powers] going forward.

"It's good to have her as a power player in the story, particularly right now with her position and her relation to Nikolai."

He went on: "And yet there had to be a price for using Merzost to bring Mal back, and we landed on what you saw for the final scene as a way for her to confront all the things that Kirigan may have been warning her about, and, where we go in the next season, we'll absolutely touch on that.

"It seems that what we try our best to do in the end of each season is tee up what the next season's major internal conflicts are going to be, and these end episodes are the 'f*** around' chapter and the top of the next season will be the 'find out' chapter."

Shadow and Bone Season 2
Archie Renaux in Shadow and Bone
Patrick Gibson in Shadow and Bone
The cast of "Shadow and Bone" Season 2.

On the Major Changes from the Books

Shadow and Bone makes other noticeable changes from the books. For example, because Alina keeps her powers, her relationship with Mal is different by the season's end, and they do not get married and re-open the orphanage they grew up in. Instead, Mal chooses to take on the title of Sturmhond from Nikolai in order to find his purpose again.

"We had to be honest with ourselves about where that relationship ended up, and the conversation that Mal and Alina have just comes from the emotional transparency that they've built with each other.

"Were we in Mal's shoes, any of us would be thinking the same thing: 'am I only here because of some greater force at work, or is it a choice? And how can I prove it to myself? And how can I prove it to her?'

"And so, this choice for Mal is to do that, hoping with all his heart that he can come back with a surer sense of self. [...W]hen he does return he can make both of them feel better about their future together."

Alina chooses to remain at the Ravkan court with Nikolai, to whom she is still betrothed as a means of showing the political alliance between Grisha and Otkazat'sya.

Heisserer said it was "very" important that Alina be given such a position of power: "First, because she's earned it [through] all the things that she's done. To sort of strip her of all that power here at the end and keep Jessie around, that felt criminal. Secondly, it is how someone like Nikolai will continue to see her as a peer.

"They both have a not-so-secret thing that they're wrestling with, and it's possible that could be solved only through each other, so that builds a stronger bond between the two of them."

Another big change was introducing a second living saint alongside Alina, known as Sankta Neyar. The character is featured in the book of folk tales named The Lives of Saints by Bardugo, but she was never in the Grishaverse novels.

Heisserer explained that they decided to use the character in Shadow and Bone Season 2 because it was a way to keep the Crows involved in the story.

"When Netflix gave us the go-ahead for a second season, it was with some specific [requirements], and one of them was 'you have to integrate the Crows again. You have to pull this magic trick off like you did in Season 1,'" he explained.

"And we were here for it because some of our favorite moments of Season 1 was crossing the streams. The trouble, though, with that is when you put the Crows against Nichevoya [the Darkling's shadow monsters] you're like, 'well, this is going to end very quickly and very poorly for our criminals.' So what do we do that will have them at least survive the encounter? Because I don't think a smoke bomb is going to work this time.

"And that's when we found The Lives of Saints story—and the relentless blade so sharp that it cuts shadow—and it gave us a good sense of what the Crows would need to [steal] to be able to come back and help Alina and save Ravka. So, when we had that, the shape of the second half of this season came into clarity for the rest of us."

Leigh Bardugo's Reactions to Season 2 Changes

Fans of the books may be wondering exactly how author Bardugo has reacted to all of the changes and Heisserer said that she was quite receptive, particularly to the use of Sankta Neyar.

"We kept her quite involved in it, sometimes against her will," the showrunner joked. "I would just text her, call her at all hours like 'Leigh, what about this?' and certainly, like in Season 1, we had differences in opinion or approach.

"It was never with any disrespect on either side, and then there was a lot of giddy excitement when we got [to surprise] her. I remember us pitching the episode of Sankta Neyar and the other reveal that the Saint is still alive and she is awesome, that was a big win."

He jokingly added that Bardugo "made it clear from Season 1, and reminded us all in Season 2, that we are really doing very expensive fan fiction, and I'm alright with that. I don't think that's a bad moniker, I think it's a nice name, so I'll accept it!"

"We are taking liberties, but we are trying to pull the tablecloth away without disturbing the dinnerware, and hopefully the things that [fans] love most are still captured here," he said.

Shadow and Bone is out on Netflix now.