Netflix'sShadow and Bone might have been released less than a week ago, but due to the popular streaming service's format and the show's fast-paced plot and loveable characters, few haven't binged it all by now. It might be a while before we know anything certain about Season 2, but at least the ending was relatively satisfactory. It didn't resolve much, but we get the feeling that our favorite characters will be alright. This is not to say there isn't some confusion – especially since the writers did not follow the source material faithfully, making some fans wonder why a different ending was chosen.
Let's begin to unpack any confusing bits in the ending of Shadow and Bone, with reference to a most major divergence from the source material. Obviously, if you haven't yet finished watching Shadow and Bone, you might want to do that first, as the ending of Season 1 will be discussed in detail, with some book spoilers in the mix.
In Shadow and Bone Episode 8, things momentarily seemed lost for Alina. In the previous episode, the Darkling had managed to get hold of Morozova's stag, a powerful amplifier, and tie it on both Alina and himself, thus gaining the ability to control her sun summoning powers. Alina is unable to resist because the Darkling had also managed to capture her best friend Mal, whose life would be at stake if she didn't go along with the plan. So, how did Alina manage to escape the Fold and defeat the Darkling?
It seems that the amplifiers, which can make the abilities of a Grisha infinitely stronger, have a will of their own. Simplistic as it might seem, the stag actually chose Alina, who never meant to harm him and who wanted to use her powers for good. This is the reason why Alina managed, in the most crucial moment, to remove the stag's token from the Darkling's hand and make its power hers alone. This might not be the most satisfactory explanation, but so far into a global pandemic, some simple, wistful escapism can't really hurt.
Of course, there's another major question: why is Netflix's show ending different from the book's? In the show, Alina regains control of her power, which allows her to save herself, Mal, and all surviving passengers of the ship that was going through the fold, leaving only the Darkling – also known as General Kirigan – to his own devices. In Leigh Bardugo's YA book, Alina chose differently, saving only herself and Mal and leaving the rest of the passengers to die.
This is not the only change made in the Netflix adaptation, but it's a poignant one. It is important to note that Alina didn't act alone in defeating Kirigan. The power was Alina's, but the Crows and even Zoya decided to assist her even though associating with her wasn't necessarily in their best interests. In the books, the enmity between Zoya and Alina was much more prominent. Zoya still doesn't love the Sun Summoner, but her heart is in the right place, so we were spared some frankly pointless antagonism between rocking female characters.
Talking to The Hollywood Reporter, showrunner Eric Heisserer mentioned that the team wanted to end the show with a spirit of collaboration as the final taste we're left with. Alina, for all her flaws, is meant to be a heroic character. It wouldn't make much sense for her to leave innocent people to die. It felt more believable and satisfying to see her teaming up with others and surviving alongside them.
For some, this might just add to the idealism of the ending, but then again, Netflix's Shadow and Bone showed that it can do a great job at being dark and ominous. The creators just chose to make it so where it felt the most appropriate. The YA book of the same name was released in 2012, less than a decade ago, but throughout these few years, YA stories have come a long way.
Book Alina was much less proactive, without much of an agenda – a problem with many 2010s YA heroines, rather than necessarily the author's fault. Her collaboration and decision to not leave her fellow passengers to die, ties in pretty well with the other justified changes the tv series made, showing that YA fantasy stories might be moving towards an era that – without being overly didactic – still offers better role models for young viewers.