Shadow and Bone showrunner on why he changed the books’ ending for season 2
The task of adapting a popular YA series is not an easy one. We’ve seen the rise and fall of the Twilights, Hunger Games, and Shadowhunters of the world. Up to bat now is Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling Grishaverse books, a fantasy series that takes place in a world of elemental summoners and impressive thieves. They’ve been beloved for the better part of the last decade, but it was only with 2021’s Netflix adaptation Shadow and BoneThey made it onto the screen.
Right away, showrunner Eric Heisserer made some bold choices — pulling in characters who don’t canonically get introduced till after the main series? Alina to be half-Shu How to adjust the romantic core? But if the first season’s reception was any indication, those choices were the right ones — fans ate it up.
The second season is out and the writers are behind Shadow and BoneContinue to take bold actions, using the books more as a launch pad than a base. These modifications may or might not be successful depending on the accuracy of your page-to screen adaptations. But one thing’s for sure: Heisserer and his team aren’t too concerned about being totally faithful, so long as they capture the spirit of the story.
Polygon spoke to Heisserer about the challenges of adapting the beloved books into eight episodes, changing character arcs, and the plotline he was sad didn’t make it into the final cut.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for season 2 of Shadow and Bone.]
Polygon: You covered so much ground in only eight episodes this season — Storm and Siege, Ruin and RisingPlus aspects of Crows duology, and many other things. What made it possible to condense this much in one season?
Eric Heisserer: This was not about trying to reduce things. This was about making sure all our characters had enough food and that they were well fed. These scenes were the ones that allowed us to push the story along, and where our characters’ choices had a positive impact. This is what we ended up coming up with. This idea came from the beginning. How can we make sure that each of these people feel like they’re contributing to the story, and aren’t just sort of set by the wayside?The result was a fascinating collection of sequences. We then had to do a lot of heavy lifting to make sure that (a) they work together and (b) that if we pulled from future books, that we knew we could replace it with something just as compelling that wouldn’t disturb any of the story around that, should we have the privilege to get to it.
Did you ever see a book scene that you knew you needed to preserve?
We knew there were many scenes we needed to retain from the multiple books we had consulted. The rest was just a matter. Can we keep it and also then maybe come back to other things that we didn’t have time for?Alina, Mal, Alina, and Nikolai were all preserved. Sturmhond interacting with a number of people, including — this isn’t necessarily from the book, but to have him interacting with the Crows would end up being vital to the way that this season’s story played out, and help connect the dots about stuff that happened in season 1.
Do you feel there is a relationship or an arc that you would like to have more time with?
This is an excellent question. Feydor was a key character in our season 1, and we used it heavily. It was a love story between two people who were on opposite sides of the conflict between Kirigan and Alina. We wanted to investigate that more. And we’d gotten far enough into it that we had Julian [Kostov]There was also an opportunity to get early press coverage during production. Simon would be a great addition to our team. [Sears] in. We were trying to find ways around his commitments for feature films, even though he was already committed. Julian contracted COVID in-production, which made it nearly impossible to maintain them in the season. It was heartbreaking both for Daegan and me. [Fryklind].
This also required a lot more rewriting. Like, What are we going to do now about the whole storyline? And so what we’re hoping to do is show how both of these characters survived not only the end of season 1, but through season 2, and how they can reunite with other characters if we have a chance to do so moving forward.
We are able to see that the cost of merzost is high. The power that Kirigan has over him is manifested through his scars. In the books, we see that in Alina’s hair going white. Was it ever in your mind to have Alina wear white hair? Or was that something that didn’t work with the vision of the show?
After giving it a try, we discovered how awful wigs really are. We didn’t want to do that disservice to Jessie [Mei Li]We felt that there needed to be another way to show the presence of Merzost in Alina. The last scene from 208 [season 2, episode 8]I believe that is quite bold [job].
Sturmhond is an iconic character from the novels and is why Nikolai has become a fan favorite. Nikolai, however, quickly sheds his inner identity and gives it to Mal. Why did this work for Nikolai & Sturmhond?
We will be looking at two dynamic in this show. The first is Nikolai ascending to king of Ravka and knowing that’s going to be his full-time position and essentially retiring the identity of Sturmhond — at least for the foreseeable future, as he’s kind of got a country to run. Then we have Mal who kind of lost his identity. He’s been on track and realized that he had something that he was destined for, and fulfilled that role and had an emptiness of purpose that he needed to fill. His passion and love for sea travel was evident throughout the season. To have that opportunity and to take on Sturmhond… It was fitting. We felt it gave Mal an additional dimension and allowed him to become more comfortable with himself before he returns to pursue Alina.
Mal and Alina separate at the conclusion of the season. This is quite a departure from the fates they had in the book. What’s the point of this for Mal or Alina?
The moment was most honest emotionally for both of them at this point in their relationship. He has lost his purpose and she is now responsible for the Second Army. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not still in love with each other. Their love is very real, and I agree with that. They’re just worried about their futures, and to make sure that they can return with confidence. Alina’s and Mal’s final scene speaks volumes about their hopes and fears.
Then I mean, from a practicality standpoint of the show, we don’t want to lose Jessie or Archie [Renaux]! We’re not gonna cut them for some Ravkan cottage. We would make a horrible choice! For one, they’re amazing human beings — like Jessie just brings a brightness to the set every time she shows up, and really leads the way in terms of showing the cast and crew the type of show we are.
The cast includes Shadow and BoneTheir characters are so well embodied by them. Did you find something that they brought to their roles that was surprising or so fitting?
Anna [Leong Brophy]Lewis [Tan]They became close friends and began to behave like brothers and sisters right away. This was both surprising and wonderful. Lewis started this bit like Brad Pitt’s character in Ocean’s Eleven where Tolya’s just constantly eating something always in the background. He’s familiar with food, which makes him Nina’s best friend as soon as Nina meets him. That was so cute!
In the beginning, we had originally thought of putting Paddy. [Gibson]In disguise for Sturmhond. We were exploring the possibility of giving Sturmhond some facial prosthetics and/or makeup to alter his physical appearance. [We]It was not as efficient as we expected. With Paddy showing off what he can do in terms of body language with a slightly different accent, and the fact that there’s no global TV in the Grishaverse that would allow people to know what this wayward prince from an eastern country protected by a deadly Shadow Fold would look like… We’re like, Do you know what’s even worse? Actually, we’re OK.
The inspiration for the latest Crows heist came from where?
This was the result of realizing the need to put the Crows with the Ravkan storyline, and not against it. nichevo’yaIt was just a one-sided battle. You can read the rest of it here. nichevo’ya would just slaughter everybody and we didn’t like the sound of that at all.
The next step was to discover what could unify these two segments the same way we unified them in season 1. Netflix had given us a directive to repeat this miracle. We went to the writers’ room for season 2, with this idea in mind. Okay, now how do we make this work again? [Co-showrunner] Daegan [Fryklind]Find it in her review of Saints’ LivesThe Santka Neyar story and Leigh’s blade described as so sharp that it could cut through the shadow. That was what we thought would make it possible. Then, the fun part would be to find out who in the Ravkan stories would hire them so they could go along on the mission. After trying a variety of characters, we settled on Tolya & Zoya for the best combination.
Which characters did you choose to combine?
According to the books, Zoya has a relationship with Nina. We were interested in a bit of that interaction dynamic. At some time, she had already trained Nina. Both siblings [Tolya and Tamar]Shu are Shu. It made sense to get one. Realizing Tamar and Joanna were the same, I was able to create a new category. [McGibbon]’s character, Nadia, were developing a bit of a relationship in the story at that point, it felt more like she would stay behind. These two became an outsider to the Crows’ complicated relations. It was a lot fun writing them.
This is why the books are so beloved. Some of them make it; some of them don’t, just through the adaptation process. How did you choose which lines to include?
We boarded our writers room and everyone — even down to our writers’ PA — could come in and put a line of dialogue, or four, on there as a wishlist. There were more must-haves, and it was just a matter of seeing if we’d get to them all in one season. We might be able to locate them in subsequent seasons. Even if the material felt as if it were something we had covered. Because as it’s been demonstrated… My production company’s title is Chronology. So it’s something that means we’re not quite tethered to the timeline in the same way as the books. We’re trying to make sure to capture the spirit and feeling. If there’s a way for us to return to that and find a home for [a part]We will in the dialogue. Particularly, the Crows’ lines were pretty heavy for a while until some of my other writers stepped up and and showcased their love for the Shadow and Bone trilogy because there’s just a lot of great, snarky lines from Alina, and of course there’s a ton of Nikolai and Sturmhond lines that we were excited to get to.
With regard to iconic lines, Mal gets a rather infamous tattoo of the phrase “I am become a blade” in the books. Did you consider including it, or did it feel easier?
It was much easier to let go. In this day and age, tattoos are usually for institutions. We found it difficult to turn this piece into something that was more personal. What we did instead was modify that line of dialogue, and have him say it to Alina: “The whole country will become your blade.”
The romantic relationships have always been a huge part of the series — and something the fans love. Mal and Alina’s and Jesper and Wylan’s relationships seem to have changed the most, while Inej and Kaz and Nina and Matthias are pretty true to the books — what made some of these relationships work as they were for the screen and others need some adjustments?
Our goal is to keep the book’s aesthetic integrity intact and to show our love and respect for the original material. There’s also the fact that in adaptation, you will stumble upon things that don’t work the way they should in the adaptation that worked fine in the books. This is partly due to the fact that there are up to twelve creative voices involved, each from different backgrounds with diverse cultural relationships. These relationships really shined a spotlight on Mal and Alina’s relationship as well as the Jesper-Wylan one, because they brought real life experience to the relationship. Jesper, Wylan and others. [we]The couple that most resonated with it found an iteration which felt authentic. They are, and I believe they have one of the best relationships of all time at the end season 2 (if not the entire show).
That final scene, where Alina uses the Cut to kill a Fjerdan agent, is particularly shocking and gory — what was the intention behind it?
It was more a case of showcasing how Alina’s price for using merzost It has come to pass. That she didn’t escape and get away with resurrecting her boyfriend for free. It also demonstrates that she’s going to be around for next season. In the book, she’s stripped of power and retires. And as I said before, we weren’t about to lose Jessie.
Season 2 Shadow and BoneNetflix now has it streaming.
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