The following contains Shadow and Bone spoilers.
The second season of Shadow and Bone is absolutely jam-packed with big moments of both the emotional and the magical variety, adapting the events of two of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels (Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising) and adding multiple shocking new twists entirely of its own making along the way.
Let’s break down what happened in the Shadow and Bone Season 2 finale and all the questions we have about what it might mean for the show going forward.
Surprise! Mal is the Firebird — and a Descendent of Morozova
Alina’s mission during much of Season 2 is to find the two other ancient mystical creatures tied to Ilya Morozova, a character from Bardugo’s books that the show has sort of mentioned multiple times in passing but never fully explained in any great detail. Suffice it to say, the three creatures—the Stag, the Sea Whip, and the Firebird—connected to him are supposedly capable of becoming the world’s greatest amplifiers, specific objects like bones, scales, or animal teeth that boost Grisha power past a single person’s normal abilities. Alina already has the Stag’s antlers fused to her body and believes that if she obtains amplifiers from the other two creatures, she’ll become powerful enough to bring down the Shadow Fold on her own.
Though the Sun Summoner tracks down and slays the Sea Whip within Season 2’s first two episodes, her search for the third creature takes much longer—or, at least it does until the Darkling’s mother Baghra informs her that the Firebird isn’t an animal so much as a bloodline, passed down through the offspring of Morozova’s children. Baghra knows this because she herself is his daughter and it is her sister who was once the Firebird. (Morozova resurrected the girl in the same way he did the Stag and the Sea Whip, after Baghra lost control of her powers and killed her as a child.) That bloodline, she says, has passed to Mal—it’s the reason he’s always been able to track animals so well and to always find his way back to Alina. He’s the Firebird, and the final amplifier.
Alina Brings Down the Shadow Fold But Has to Kill Mal In The Process
Although Alina declares that she won’t kill Mal in order to claim the third amplifier no matter what it costs her (or her country) when he’s grievously injured during her battle with the Darkling in the heart of the Fold he insists that she stab him in order to access his power. Reluctantly she does and unleashes a wave of light that literally tears down the massive walls of the Shadow Fold, reuniting Ravka for the first time in hundreds of years. But her victory comes at a price, and Mal dies in her arms.
Though Alina begs Heartrender Nina Zenik to revive her dead love, things look pretty hopeless. Or at least they do until she remembers Baghra’s dire warnings about the dangers of using the dark magic known as merzost and the price of accessing such power (which Grisha view as an abomination). That she does it anyway is a sign of the depth of her love for Mal, but it is an uncomfortable affirmation that Alina is perhaps more like the Darkling than she’s ever wanted to admit. What her decision to resurrect Mal will cost her is a question the show leaves future seasons to answer, but it is one of the first of many big twists that will likely shock book readers.
(In Bardugo’s novels, Mal is revived by Heartrenders Tolya and Tamar, who claim that it was only possible because of his status as an amplifier.)
Does The Darkling Survive?
Alina and Mal face off with the Darkling in the heart of the Shadow Fold, near the ruins of the house where Aleksander once experimented with merzost and lost control of it in the first place. Alina finally manages to perform a light-based version of the Darkling’s favorite magical attack—known as the Cut—and deal a damaging blow to her former mentor/potential love interest when he tries to kill Mal and claim his Firebird power for himself.
An injured Darkling begs Alina to join him one last time—after gloating over Mal’s death, probably not the move! —insisting that she needs him because the people of Ravka will never turn on her as long as there is a worse monster lurking in the world for them to fear. (And, to be fair, the Season 2 finale doesn’t entirely disprove this argument, so I’m hoping it’s something we come back to in any potential Season 3.) But Alina rejects him and deals him a fatal blow with the shadow-destroying Neshyener Sword.
As for the Darkling’s future, at this point, I’m not sure anyone who has ever read a fantasy novel—or who watched Season 1 of this series—really believes that Aleksander is really most sincerely dead for good. (Particularly because he’s so insistent that Alina makes sure there’s nothing left of his body. Ominous!) But, as Alina, Genya, and Zoya light his funeral pyre, he certainly at least seems as though he is dead for right now, and we’ll have to see what happens when we get to whatever part of this story is meant to adapt King of Scars.
Mal Becomes Sturmhond
Although the book versions of Mal and Alina technically get a happy ending after the events of Ruin and Rising, it seems as though their television counterparts are going to have to wait a little longer to be together forever. (In Bardugo’s novels, the two retire to a quiet life of anonymity and open an orphanage together.)
Here, Mal is more than a bit unsettled by the revelation that he’s technically a magical creature of legend and worried that he and Alina only found one another and fell in love because of forces beyond their control. How can be sure their feelings are even real if they were only drawn together in order to fulfill a specific destiny as Sun Summoner and amplifier?
Unable to be at peace, Mal decides he needs to take some time apart in order to work on himself—and hope that he and Alina find their way back together when they can be certain they’re choosing one another for the right reasons. It’s Nikolai, for clearly self-interested reasons since he is also clearly crushing on Alina himself, who offers Mal a solution—take on his former fake identity of the famous privateer Sturmhond, which will allow him to serve Ravka, see the world, and maybe get some perspective on what he wants out of his second chance at life along the way. Tolya, Tamar, and strangely enough Inej, all head off with him, for adventures and future stories unknown.
Nikolai Is King of Ravka—But He Has A Shadowy Secret
As Nikolai prepares for his coronation, it’s clear that not everything is as rosy as it appears in the newly reunited Kingdom of Ravka. When The Apparat visits the new king, the priest is very clearly not on Team Nikolai and angry about his decision to taunt Fjerda by holding his ceremony on the night of a major Fjerdan festival. He taunts the young king about the legitimacy of his claim to the throne and claims that he wouldn’t be where he is without Alina—and her legendary power as Sun Summoner—at his side.
But it’s clear wrangling with his chief priest is the least of Nikolai’s problems, after he experiences a stabbing pain in his shoulder, precisely where he was stabbed by one of the Darkling’s nichevo’ya shadow creatures. He removes his shirt to reveal shadows spreading across his back from the site of the injury, and when he looks in the mirror, he sees a nichevo’ya as his reflection. Has the King of Ravka been infected by the Darkling’s monsters? Does he now have dark magic of his own? Or, worse, is he becoming one of them?
What About Inej and Kaz’s Relationship?
After two full seasons of dancing around their feelings for one another, both Kaz Brekker and Inej Ghefa finally admit there’s something much more than professional respect between them. Yet, despite the fact that Season 2 spent a great deal of time delving into Kaz’s lingering trauma from the firepox outbreak he survived as a child and the death of his older brother, he doesn’t seem any closer to being able to open up to Inej emotionally the way she wants him to. She insists that she’ll have him without armor (i.e his emotional walls) or she won’t have him at all—and though Kaz certainly seems willing to try, it’s equally clear that he’s a long way from being able to give her that.
Instead, he tells her that he’s been tracking slaver skips and provides her with a lead to start searching for her long-lost brother. (A particularly emotional gift given how much of this season has been about the ways losing his own sibling affected Kaz’s life.) It seems Inej’s journey with Mal will, at least in part, be about trying to track down her missing family.
Nina Finally Gets Matthias a Pardon, But It’s Too Late
Nina Zenik’s sole mission in Shadow and Bone Season 2 is to figure out a way to get her lover Matthias Helvar out of the Kerch prison known as Hellgate. After all, he’s only there because of her—she basically had to accuse him of being a human trafficker so that he would get arrested by Kerch merchants seeking a bounty instead of being killed outright by a squad of Grisha Heartrenders.
Nina makes deals with everyone from Kaz to Nikolai in the hopes of helping the man she loves, but when she finally secures a royal pardon, it turns out to be too late. Because by the time Nina manages to get into Hellgate, Matthias has already entered the prison’s fighting pits, where he kills a guard in cold blood. And he certainly doesn’t have a pardon for that. The season ends with Nina more desperate to reach Matthias than ever—and determined to see the now-jailed Pekka Rollins pay for his involvement in her lover’s fate.
Alina Develops Surprising New Shadow Abilities
As Season 2 concludes, Alina not only prepares to stand next to Nikolai at his coronation—the two are still fake engaged—but to stay in Os Alta to help him rebuild a divided Ravka. (She even has a crown, for some reason.) But in one of the Season 2 finale’s most shocking deviations from the books, Alina appears to have developed some form of shadow-summoning abilities as a result of her decision to use merzost to save Mal.
When a Fjerdan terrorist takes the new power-enhancing drug known as jurda parem in order to amp up her Heartrender powers and presumably kill everyone at Nikolai’s coronation, it’s Alina who stops her (just barely) by performing the Cut. But it’s a Cut that very clearly leaves a trail of shadow behind it, and Alina looks just as shocked about this as presumably everyone watching along at home is. What does this mean? Is she somehow becoming a new Darkling? Will Ravka follow her if they know her power is tainted by darkness?
So, What About Six of Crows?
The characters from Bardugo’s popular Six of Crows trilogy are once again woven into the larger events of Shadow and Bone, despite the fact that none of them appear in that series. Your mileage may vary on whether you think these characters were incorporated as successfully here in Season 2 as they were in Season 1—personally, I’m willing to forgive a lot for the addition of Weyland to the crew—but it’s hard to know where the group goes from here given some of the other changes that were made to various characters’ stories this season.
Weyland and Jesper are already in a relationship. Inej is off chasing down slave ships with Mal and the Heartrender twins. Nina is still as determined as ever to free Matthias, but the added involvement of Pekka Rollins certainly complicates that story. And while the Season 2 finale did introduce the drug jurda parem that plays such a key role in the Six of Crows books, it does so in a way that feels as though it may be a problem that Alina and Nikolai are meant to solve.
It’s clear that Netflix knows how popular these characters are—heck, the show has invented multiple new subplots that don’t appear in the books just to give the group something to do—but it’s not entirely clear how (or whether) the show will tackle the events of Six of Crows. Could a spin-off be in the works that might allow more space for the stories of Kaz and his crew? Or will the Crows’ heist—and Nina’s attempt to help Matthias’s escape—somehow be woven in around the ongoing story of Alina, Nikolai, and Mal?
All eight episodes of Shadow and Bone Season 2 are available to stream on Netflix now.