Eric Heisserer on a major climactic change that was made when adapting Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy novel into a Netflix series.
[This story contains spoilers from the first season of Shadow and Bone.]
Shadow and Bone‘s debut season finale was full of surprises, but fans of Leigh Bardugo’s novel on which it was based experienced an extra, unexpected twist.
Arguably the book’s darkest moment takes place on the desert skiff near the story’s end. Alina Starkov (played by Jessie Mei Li in the Netflix series) has been manipulated and tormented by General Kirigan (Ben Barnes) and betrayed by the Grisha royalty she once thought were her friends. Once she realizes she can fully control her own power, she decides to flee the skiff with Mal (Archie Renaux) — and take her protective cone of light with her into the Shadow Fold. In other words: The story’s hero brutally leaves everybody on the skiff — all those who betrayed her and refused to help her fight back against Kirigan — to die. In the novel, a panicking Kirigan asks Alina, “You begged me for clemency once … Is this your idea of mercy?” And Alina thinks: “Yes … the mercy you taught me.”
But in the show, only the villainous Kirigian is abandoned to the dark while Alina helps usher the skiff and its surviving passengers to safety.
The Hollywood Reporter asked showrunner Eric Heisserer about the reason for the change.
“We had a number of characters on the skiff with Alina in the finale, including ones not from the original book, and we all felt that their collaboration against the many enemies there is what would save them,” he explained. “Their teamwork made it all possible. So the empathy for one another led to them saving each other and escaping as an allied group.”
Another key shift from the books near the season’s end was a speech by Kirigan right before the skiff scene, a moment that helped inspire Alina’s “mercy” revenge moment above. In the book, Alina offers herself to Kirigan to save Mal, pleading for mercy, and he responds with a rather monstrous speech: “Tomorrow, we enter the Shadow Fold, and when we do, I will feed your friend to the volcra, and you will watch him die … That is all the mercy traitors deserve … You’ll tire of [hating me] soon enough. You’ll tire of everything. You will wear that collar for the rest of your very, very long life, Alina. Fight me as long as you’re able. You will find I have far more practice with eternity.”
There’s a similar meeting scene in the show, but with Kirigan exhibiting a gentler edge, and with some of his lines shifted for his one-on-one scene with Mal instead. We asked Heisserer if the idea was to soften the Darkling’s character at all.
“When dealing with someone with as many sins in his history as the Darkling, we looked for every opportunity to allow you to at least empathize with his [point of view],” he replied. “And since we had seen him commit some terrible deeds in the episode already, he needed room to breathe as someone carrying old emotional wounds (and with it, old biases and assumptions).”
In a previous story, Barnes discussed another key shake-up from the book: Addressing the issue of sexual consent in the romantic scenes between Alina and Kirigan.
Shadow and Bone is currently streaming on Netflix.