Shadow and Bone Ending Explained: The Stag, Sun Summoner, and Black Heretic

The first season of Shadow and Bone builds to a thrilling conclusion that leaves plenty of room for lots of excitement in Season 2. We try to break down what it all means.

Alina and Mal on a ship in Shadow and Bone
Photo: Netflix

This Shadow and Bone article contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 1.

Netflix’s Shadow and Bone is a fantasy epic that has it all: A complex heroine, great supporting characters, and a sweeping plot that is based on a magical system that both empowers and isolates those who wield it. The back half of the season builds to a thrilling climax that’s both intensely satisfying and leaves plenty of room for the story to go in new directions in Season 2. (Which we better be getting, is all I’m saying.)

Let’s break down what happened in the Shadow and Bone finale and what it all might mean for the series going forward.

Alina Fully Claims Her Power

So much of the story of Shadow and Bone is about Alina’s journey to real agency, so it’s especially satisfying that Season 1 reaches its climax as she forcefully reclaims her power—both literally and figuratively speaking—from a manipulative man who only wants to use her for his own ends. Throughout the series’ eight episodes, we’ve seen her repeatedly shirk from a magical ability she never asked for and all the responsibility that comes with it, but here in the face of danger and death, she rejects the Darkling’s claim over her both physically and emotionally, fully accepting not just her own strength, but her right to wield it as she sees fit.

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“You may have needed me,” she tells the Darkling, just before she stabs him through the hand and frees herself from his control.  “But I never needed you.” Striking a power pose and glowing with light, she is every inch a hero of legend as she pushes back the monstrous Volcra and saves her friends. It is an utterly triumphant moment, for a lost girl come into her own at last.

Ben Barnes as the Darkling in Shadow and Bone

Does the Darkling Survive?

Yes, the Darkling lives to smolder another day.

No one is probably surprised that the Darkling survives his violent encounter with a volcra, eventually dragging himself beaten and bedraggled – but still looking very stylish, natch – out of the Shadow Fold. The ragtag band of shadow zombies that slouch after him certainly seems to indicate that Aleksander has successfully leveled up his abilities in some way since he couldn’t use merzost nearly so effectively in the flashback sequence that opened “The Unsea.” 

What this all means about his immediate plans for the future is unclear. It’s obvious that the Darkling is not just furious over Alina’s rejection of him as a partner but by her decision to – as he sees it – betray their Grisha brethren by doing so. (I also suspect he also really dislikes Mal at this point. Sorry not sorry, my man. #Malina for life.) It feels pretty likely that he is or is very soon about to be on the hunt for Alina once more, with a goal of regaining control over her powers and, by extension, the Fold itself.

The Shadow Fold Remains

You didn’t think the dark and ominous evil death cloud full of monsters would get destroyed in the series’ first season, did you?

It’s true, Alina doesn’t manage to bring down the Shadow Fold, but the Darkling doesn’t get to use it as his personal world domination device to subjugate every other kingdom to Ravkan (and by extension Grisha) rule either, so it still pretty much counts as a win in the end. He also exposed himself as a murderous tyrant, leveled the West Ravkan city of Novokribirsk, and animated an army of merzost shadow zombies that are clearly both dangerous and gross. Is he headed back to the Little Palace to take the throne for himself? On the hunt for Alina? Or something else entirely?

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By the end of “No Mourners,” most people seem to assume that Alina died in the Fold, so other than small group comprised of Kaz, Inej, Jesper, and Zoya, no one knows that she’s off to find a way to boost her powers enough to face the Darkling again and cleave the darkness in two for good. Will the Darkling somehow realize she’s still alive? Will she be able to sense that he is too? Stay tuned.

Mal and Alina sit on a dock together

What’s Next for Mal and Alina in Season 2?

My new favorite romantic ship heads off on their own new journey to search for a way to bring down the Shadow Fold and, by extension, the Darkling’s dreams of bending the world to his whims.

As Shadow and Bone’s first season comes to a close, Mal and Alina seem very much together in every sense of the word, cuddled up adorably to face a new horizon both literally and figuratively speaking. Now that they’ve both realized not just what they mean to one another, but how much they’re willing to risk – literally anything – in the name of staying together, it feels like there’s nothing they can’t do. (Except kiss, apparently, but I guess the show has to leave me wanting something from next season.)

What is the Sun Summoner Prophecy?

Alina Starkov’s ability to manipulate light means that she is a Sun Summoner, an extremely rare power that doesn’t fit neatly into the existing Grisha hierarchy. (Much like the Darkling, who is technically a Shadow Summoner.)

Since the idea of Sun Summoners was basically the stuff of rumor and legend anyway, many myths grew up around their existence, including a prophecy that basically predicted the Shadow Fold would not fall until a Sun Summoner was born to destroy it. (Shadow and Bone isn’t super clear on this, but the Fold has been around for over 400 years.)  Since Alina appears to be the only Sun Summoner who has ever existed, many Ravkans who follow the old religion consider her a living saint.

Who is the Black Heretic?

Though General Kirigan initially tells Alina that the Black Heretic – the Grisha considered responsible for the creation of the Shadow Fold and all the subsequent years of destruction it has caused –  is his great-great-great-grandfather, he is, as in so many other facets of his life, blatantly lying. There has not been a series of Darklings with shadow powers who have existed through the centuries, but just the single one. This Darkling, who has gone by many names over the course of his life, is the only Darkling and is at least somewhere around 500 years old. 

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Shadow and Bone shows us the creation of the Shadow Fold in a flashback, which attempts to cast the Darkling – then known as Aleksander – in at least a somewhat sympathetic light. After watching his beloved Healer Luda die and fleeing from an army of soldiers with orders to drag him back to the Ravkan king, Aleksander becomes determined to discover how to use the dangerous dark magic known as merzost to protect himself and the other Grisha, including his mother Baghra, in his care. But though he is able to access great power through merzost, Aleksander cannot control it and it pours out of him in an inky torrent, creating the gash in the world that is the Shadow Fold and turning everyone in its path into volcra.

The Stag in Shadow and Bone

What is the Deal with the Stag?

Though Shadow and Bone mentions Ilya Morozova, it doesn’t do a great job of explaining his importance to Grisha history, at least not beyond his genetic connection to the Darkling. In Bardugo’s books, Morozova was obsessed with the idea of amplifiers, which are specific objects like bones, scales, or animal teeth that boost Grisha power past a single person’s normal abilities. (He is also referred to among religious Ravkans as Sankta Ilya in Chains, because that’s how he was martyred after he performed a resurrection – thrown off a bridge wrapped in irons.)

The magical stag Alina, Mal, and the Darkling spend half the series is hunting has specific connections to Morozova that book fans will remember but TV viewers don’t actually need to care much about right now beyond simply being aware of the fact that the animal is powerful and ancient. Per the Darkling, its bones would make one of the strongest amplifiers ever crafted for a Grisha to wear. And since, technically, it’s the Darkling that kills the animal he can claim the amplifier’s power as his to control, even if someone else is physically wearing it.   

However, before he is able to kill the creature, the stag has a moment of true connection with Alina in which it essentially chooses her to be its avatar and receive its power, rather than allow the Darkling to claim it in her place. Your mileage may vary on whether this as effective as the book twist hinging on Alina’s decision to show the animal mercy instead of killing it outright, but there’s still something compelling in the idea that this semi-magical creature sees Alina’s worth so clearly.

Nina in Shadow and Bone

Nina Must Betray Matthias to Save Him

While on what is essentially the cutest breakfast date of all time, Nina and Matthias are discovered by a group of Grisha soldiers ready to do kill him simply for the fact that he is a Fjerdan druskelle. (Translation: Witchhunter). To save his life, Nina claims Matthias is a slave trader who’s trying to traffic her, an accusation meant to take advantage of the Kerch law that promises a bounty for him in Ketterdam.

 Since the sailors only get paid if Matthias makes it to Kerch alive, they’re willing to keep the Heartrenders from killing him outright, and Nina, who must immediately go with them in order to testify, buys some time to save him. Unfortunately, since Matthias was knocked out by Heartrender power prior to all of this going down, he thinks Nina simply double-crossed him and is having him thrown in prison as payback for his original capture of her. 

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Though she’s clearly upset about his sudden change of heart, things get worse when Nina learns she can’t just recant her statement in court immediately – Matthias might be forced to stay several years in Hellgate prison (which you know is bad simply from the name) because so many accused slavers are awaiting trial. How she will free him – and whether Matthias will ever forgive her once she does – are questions for next season. But hopefully, they’ll at least get another round of waffles at some point. 

Kaz, Jesper, and Inej in hats

The Kerch Crew Heads Back to Ketterdam – and Maybe the Start of Six of Crows?

With Alina and Mal heading off on a mission to train her powers, the Six of Crows characters must begin their own new journey. Technically, the group is heading back to Ketterdam, where Kaz will ostensibly pay off the rest of Inej’s debt, reclaim the deed to the Crow Club and probably get a little drunk in celebration of the fact that they’re all home and still alive. (Or, at least, Jesper will.) But their convenient run-in with a very calculating-looking Nina on board the ship back to Kerch seems to indicate that a new chapter of their story is about to begin instead.

For those who have read the books, you’ll know that this all feels very much like the start of the story that takes place in Six of Crows. Or, at the very least something very like it. 

As that book begins, Kaz also is once again on the hunt for a Heartrender – enter, Nina – to help with a very complex job. But in order for Nina to pull off that job, the rest of the crew has to help her break Matthias out of Hellgate prison. Since that’s where he’s currently headed and we’ve already seen that Nina is desperate to fix what she’s done to put him there, it feels like a very safe bet that we’re about to see some portion of that story unfold next season.

Given that Six of Crows is chronologically set two years after the events of the Shadow and Bone trilogy, the show will probably have to do some fancy fudging of the timelines to make all this work. But…wouldn’t it be worth it if it means keeping these characters around for a bit longer?

What’s the Deal with Inej and Her Knives?

One of the smallest, most satisfying moments in the Shadow and Bone finale is when Alina gives Inej – who has been sweetly starstruck by meeting a woman her faith already reveres as a living saint – one of her daggers. Basically a literal representation of the heart eyes emoji, Inej declares that she already “knows just what to name it.” But what does that mean, exactly?

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Well, since all of  Inej’s other knives are named after Saints – Sankt Petyr, Sankta Marya, Sankta Anastasia, Sankt Vladimir, and Sankta Lizabeta, to be exact – it’s a safe bet the newest addition will bear Alina’s name. And given how handy Inej is with them, it’s probably the highest compliment she could pay her new friend.