If you just finished season 2 of Netflix’s Shadow and Bone, you might be thinking to yourself, Holy shitballs, that was a LOT.
And it was, indeed, a lot! Unlike the first season, which mainly covered events from the first book of Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy trilogy, the second season finishes up the trilogy and adds some extra plotlines for the other characters. In order to cover all that ground, some plot points have been dropped, others skimmed over, and some reconfigured for screen.
Any adaptation of a book won’t be entirely faithful to the page. But when it comes to Shadow and Bone, that ending was a wild departure from what happened in the books.
[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for the end of Shadow and Bone season 2, as well as the Grishaverse books — only read if you watched the finale, or just want to be spoiled!]
In the books, Alina and Mal go into the Fold, but the Darkling finds them and they don’t have a chance to execute their plan. Mal tells Alina to stab him. And she does, but unlike in the show, he’s not already dying when she does so. However, instead of the power surging into her, she loses her powers. Suddenly, everyone around her bursts into light, and Alina realizes that the final amplifier multiplies the Sun Summoner’s power by thousands — literally, it multiplies itself into thousands of people all around her. With thousands of people now shooting light like disco balls, the Fold crumbles and the Darkling is really upset. Not just because the Fold is gone, but because Alina no longer has the ability to summon light. That means he is the only Grisha in the world with such immense powers.
Because they are no longer bound by their psychic power link, Alina grabs the same blade she just used to kill Mal and stabs the Darkling. As he dies, he asks that Alina not give him a grave so that no one will desecrate it, and then asks her to say his name one last time. She does; he dies.
Miraculously, Tamar and Tolya are able to revive Mal, due to their combined badass Heartrender powers and also the fact that Mal is one resilient motherfucker.
But mechanics of defeating the Darkling and vanquishing the Fold aside, the biggest difference is that in the books, Mal and Alina fake their deaths. “I died here. Do you understand?” Alina tells Tolya as they leave the remnants of the Fold. “This was my martyrdom.”
Alina never explicitly says why she chooses this, but it’s pretty evident that she just wants this part of her life to be over. She never asked to be a saint and if she is still alive, she will be turned into a figurehead, put on a pedestal, and scrutinized for whatever she does. She lets those in her inner circle — Tamar, Tolya, Nikolai, Zoya, Genya, and David — all know about her decision and they help facilitate the lie. After tying up their loose ends (including burning a dead body that Genya fixed up to look like Alina), Mal and Alina return to the orphanage where they were raised, and go on to lead a quiet, ordinary, but full-of-love life together.
…And they mostly disappear for three books, before appearing in Rule of Wolves, the second book of the Nikolai duology, to help Zoya and Nikolai.
The show, however, doesn’t write off Alina and Mal this way, presumably in order to keep them as active agents in a hypothetical third season. When Alina faces off against the Darkling, the dangerous move she uses fatally wounds Mal as well. Since he needs to die anyway for her to absorb his firebird powers, she stabs him as he dies, then kills the Darkling. Heartrender Nina tries to revive Mal, but it is implied that Alina uses merzost — or creation from nothing — to bring him back. When he returns, he’s lost some of his innate tracking ability and tells Alina that he needs to part ways with her, since he just doesn’t feel drawn to her anymore. He takes up Nikolai’s alter ego of the privateer Sturmhond and then sails off with Inej Ghafa of the Crows. Alina, meanwhile, presumably continues her engagement to Nikolai. At his coronation, however, a drugged Fjerdan agent massacres a whole group of people, but Alina subdues her by using the power of shadow magic — uh oh, looks like she got the Darkling’s powers!
It’s a far cry from what happens in the books, which tie up Alina and Mal’s story in the trilogy and emphasize the happiness of a quiet, subdued life. Oddly enough, the book ending fits the themes that the show chose to focus on instead. In the books, a lot of the tension between Mal and Alina came from romantic jealousy. But the show choses to focus on the conflict between Alina’s drive to save Ravka, no matter the cost to herself, versus Mal just wanting her not to destroy herself in doing so.
But this way, they’re at the center of the action for whatever season 3 might possibly throw at them — even if it robs them of their happy, thematically tied-up ending.
The second season of Shadow and Bone is now streaming on Netflix.