Character Deep Dive: Inej Ghafa

NETFLIX © 2021

Portrayed by: Amita Suman
Book | Show: Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom and Netflix’s Shadow and Bone season one

“She was not a lynx or a spider or even the Wraith. She was Inej Ghafa, and her future was waiting above” (Six of Crows). 

Inej Ghafa is one of the most exceptional characters of our time—a character I hope people will talk about for years to come because everything that she represents is reflective upon what complexity looks like in the face of a strong woman robbed of so much yet still, a beacon of hope in spite of it all.

Inej has had too much taken from her and stripped of agency from the age of fourteen and sold to a brothel called the Menagerie. In both the book series and TV, Inej’s history is mostly the same, except in the TV show Inej has a brother she was separated from as well as her mother and father. Characters like Inej, especially in the Grishaverse often lose parts of their humanity through their pain, but Inej fights through the darkness even when life forces her to do terrible things thus, one of the main reasons she stands out so remarkably.

Inej remained an idealist even as she is often practical–as a girl who fought through the cages of heartache, she clings to the glimmers of hope she could find, looking towards fairness even in the dead of nights. A little Suli idealist, as Kaz Brekker once said. She fought through uncertainties more intricately than often depicted in the fantasy genre, and at such a young age, too she mastered the art of grounding herself (both literally and spiritually). In a lot of ways, she reminds me of Leia Organa, brave, commanding, and strong, but a deeply warm presence who is easy to adore by all who know her. 

Inej is courageous, confident in her abilities, and yet, at the end of the day, she is just a girl who isn’t entirely certain of everything. Fourteen knives named after Saints to protect her and steadfast in her beliefs, but human and vulnerable and so unbearably kind.

At the end of the day, she is just a girl trying to find freedom–one careful, spider-like step at a time.

Knives for Flowers and Moonlight in Her Eyes

“The problem was that Inej was no longer certain what she was aiming for. When she’d been little, it had been easy—a smile from her father, the tightrope raised another foot, orange cakes wrapped in white paper. Then it had been getting free of Tante Heleen and the Menagerie, and after that, surviving each day, getting a little stronger with every morning. Now she didn’t know what she wanted.”

Inej might not have a had a boy give her flowers, but Kaz Brekker instead understood that she could not belong to anyone, she had to be free, and in her freedom, she had to have means of protecting herself. And so she is given knives along with the agency she needs most after the life she had lived. 

She is given the safe space to explore city ledges, creaks and corners in order to make discoveries–anything, everything, to excavate the depths of her being and desires, flowers or knives, whatever the choice may be, it is entirely hers.

So young, and yet she has had so much taken from her—a child forced to grow up too quickly. A girl forced to learn how to defend herself because after imprisonment, nothing could mean as much as agency could. “The heart is an arrow. It demands, aim to land true.” 

Inej is stealthy and graceful on her feet, but Inej is a human being and sometimes, she doesn’t know which way to go. Sometimes she isn’t sure of where she stands with Kaz or which route to take and it’s a process of growth. In all that she knows, there is also so much she doesn’t thus, making her character that much more relatable in showcasing the detail that even those who are so equipped and presumably have it all together are still human with doubts and uncertainties. 

She is, at the end of the day just a girl trying to figure out how to navigate through a cruel and unkind world. A girl who carries knives to protect her and knives to protect others. 

There is so much beauty in Inej’s refusal to kill, which the series touches on from the very first episode forcing us to wonder when the first will be and how it will play out. She has been through treacherous climbs and forms of confinement no one should ever cross through, but she starts with the belief that no one should ever be robbed of anything, including their life, and thus killing for Inej would never come easy. 

Which is entirely why the series touching on her first kill being for Kaz works so well because apart from her family, he is, in every way, along with Jesper the one person Inej would not hesitate for. She will not kill unless she absolutely has to, unless it is an absolute last resort, in self-defense, or for those she loves, never just because they wronged her or others. It is always the very last choice, never the immediate one. She’ll make people, men especially beg first, cry out and attempt to make matters right, but immediate only if it’s for those she loves.

She isn’t ruthless, she is a girl who’s trying to ensure no other human being experiences trauma as she has.

“But what about the rest of us? What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we wear crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary. That was how you survived when you weren’t chosen, when there was no royal blood in your veins. When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway” (Crooked Kingdom).

Inej Ghafa is the girl who feeds the crows, the girl who’ll scope high above to protect those who need her, the one who will see everyone for who they truly are—the friend, the confidant. The one who will hold nothing against anyone, but the girl who will do everything she can to help those around her find the absolution they need. She’s the girl who’ll aim her feet, square her shoulders, and set her sights on the moon, towards the magic and wonders, and the search for something bigger because her choice is to try.

“If Kaz was their leader, then Inej had been their lodestone, pulling them together when they seemed most likely to drift apart.” Inej Ghafa is a magnetic force because of her unparalleled empathy. Caution, faith, and empathy—that is how she intricately and beautifully stands on her own as one of the most riveting characters in both literature and TV. She is, in every way, where the compass points, even as they follow Kaz into the darkness, even as he calls the shots, her choices and her place with the Crows touches on the light that she is beautifully. They need Inej. Inej needs them. Inej is their answer and Inej is their strength.

The Unwavering Faith

“She’d kept her faith, her goodness, even when the world tried to take it from her with greedy hands” (Crooked Kingdom). 

My friend and incredible writer Lizzie from Fangirlish got to chat with the cast earlier this and spoke about Inej’s faith to great detail with Amita Suman, which I believed to be crucial for this deep dive. 

“I think for Inej it’s just, everything that she does stems from this place, this faith and how she is so 100% committed to her faith (and to being) the voice of good, the voice of reason,” she shared, and this insight into her character is also an insight into the group dynamics, because if Inej is Inej, Kaz is Kaz and Jesper is Jesper, then Inej’s faith seems wildly out of place, not just in Ketterdam, but within this little family they’ve created together.

For Suman, it all comes from her character’s “gorgeous ability to see the beauty in the world and see the goodness in people despite all the terrible experiences that she’s been through,” something that makes it so much easier to understand not just why Inej is the one who humanizes Kaz, but why she’s the character you most relate to within the Crows. You might love Kaz, and laugh with Jesper, but it’s Inej you’re drawn to.

“Her religion has just made her into this beautiful and better person, and it has really strengthened her, and for me I truly and wholeheartedly respected that.”

Fangirlish | Read More Here

As a woman of faith myself, this is why Inej Ghafa is so important to me as character because though our beliefs are different, the way she is written and thus brought to life by Amita Suman has never felt more organic. I’ve often vocalized that frequently in media, people of faith are presented as one dimensional, almost martyr like and either entirely flawed and lost to one direction or unrealistically perfect. What is rarely depicted as accurately is that there are complexities deeper and harder to reach in people of faith than meets the eye.

No one is perfect, there is no such thing as entirely good or evil, but rather human beings are intricately complicated. And we are not all the same in how we approach our faith either. Sometimes, there are things within the church we don’t agree with, I don’t even attend a lot, and yet I still believe every single day, with every fiber of my being. In that way, Inej is so acutely represented because her “job” (if we look at it that way) isn’t exactly conventional for someone who follows some kind of a religion, is it? She shouldn’t run with thieves and monsters. She shouldn’t do this. She shouldn’t do that. And yet, that does not once change the depth of her beliefs or her heart in anyway thus, showcasing that there’s so much more to faith than just rules and regulations.

The life she has sometimes had to lead is not one that has left a lot of room for redemption, but that is not the case with real faith is it? No matter what said faith is, there is presumably always room for grace of some sorts. The Saints will protect Inej because she is worthy of that protection and because of the fact that she believes so fervently. It is why she is so determined to ensure that she and all others understand the importance of earning forgiveness while fighting the good fight of faith along with what happens on the streets.

Inej steals and Inej kills when necessary, but her heart is with the Saints—her heart is always looking out for those who cannot look out for themselves. She is looking out for the captured girls, the orphans, the lost boys like Kaz Brekker, and she is offering her prayers, sincerely and profoundly because she cares about people with every part of soul.

One of my favorite things Inej ever says in Crooked Kingdom is: “What you want and what the world needs are not always in accord, Kaz. Praying and wishing are not the same thing.” This touches on something that is so crucial to any faith, which is the detail that prayers come with action until the very thing is entirely out of our hands. Prayer is belief but it is also movement, it is an act, and sometimes even, a promise. Inej is steadfast in prayer and ardent in the fervency of her actions. She prays and she fights. She prays until there is nothing left for her to do.

It’s little moments on the TV series where we see Inej praying in the midst of high stakes. Or the ways in which we know she uses Suli proverbs to guide her in the books—all the details we get, the quiet gazes to the sky, towards Alina, they are tremendous showcase of the layers inside her. Inej’s faith is her compass, it is the very thing that has gotten her through the darkness she has faced, and it is the very reason she has stayed empathetic even when the world terrorized her. It’s the token, the comfort, the light she’s held onto, steadfast and beautiful–the one net she can always rely on.

She bends and she climbs all while broken by longing and heartache, but Inej Ghafa’s faith never wavers—it gets stronger. It grows by the page and it grows by each episode. On a show full of powers, Inej is incomparably skilled with knives, but belief is her fortitude.

As trained as she is in the art of daggers, the perfect aim, the covert stride, Inej’s faith and the choice to believe in something that is entirely hers is the very strength that shapes her. Belief in anything is incredibly powerful force, which is another reason why her character is so well written in this form because there isn’t judgement towards unbelievers. She doesn’t need Kaz to believe in Saints, but she needs him to believe in something because she understands dark and lonely nights, she understands having to stitch yourself back up. She understands the need for something bigger than her demons–something stronger than her heartaches, and something sacred that she can hold onto when all else is lost as sea. (And he finds that belief in her, because of her.) 

Inej’s faith is the reason she looks into who people are on the inside and not the fires forged on the outside. When she looks at Kaz Brekker, Dirtyhands, the Bastard of the Barrel, she sees Kaz Brekker the boy—she looks into his heart, sealed and guarded but she chooses to believe in it anyway.

Inej looks at complicated people and she builds a language with them that is sincere, heartfelt, and full of belief. The mechanisms of her heart are constructed with empathy and unceasing adoration. She is willing to look into everyone’s spirits, everyone’s hearts—even those who are not worthy because that is the person she chooses to be. Inej was robbed of so much, but faith is the one place where she has always had agency. The belief in Saints, the desire to allow it to guide her, mold her, step with her is the very thing no one could take from her, and it is the very thing she would never allow them too. 

Onward, Forward, Toward the Light

Inej Ghafa, the physically small girl with fourteen knives ran headfirst towards volcra and powerful people because she is not the person who is capable of backing down from a fight. She could never watch people suffer without stepping forward because that is not who she was raised to be, and most beautifully, that is not who she chooses to be. She chooses to be the girl who will always use her skills for good even when she starts on a mission she does not agree with. 

She is the girl who stands her ground, says what is on her mind, and at the end of the day cares more about her friends’ long term than she does about how they will feel towards her transparency. It is why she stands her ground and decides not to capture Alina no matter what is at stake because her beliefs matter more to her. It is why she would prefer Kaz without armor in the books (and likely later in the series) because she does not want to contribute to his demons, but instead, she wants him to break free of them–she wants him freed from the burdens, the trepidations, and the crosses he carries. She wants him to be happy and she believes wholeheartedly that he is deserving of her loyalty, her (eventual) adoration, and ultimately, forgiveness.

She knows that hope is not dangerous, but it is the only thing that can be a person’s will in darkness.

Finally, there is something about Inej that is so warm and so comforting, I have only known of a few characters like her in both literature and TV combined. I cannot read Inej quotes without feeling like a friend of mine is guiding me through something crucial—there is a light in her, brighter than that of a Sun Summoner I’d go so far as to say. She is a stunning force of light in book series and in the show, through Amita Suman’s brilliant performances, she is in every way, the one character who feels most like home.

There is not a single character on this show that does not have ulterior motives or something questionable about them, and while Inej is far from perfect and complex in her own right, she is the one character you know will be the easiest to befriend. It is that very warmth about her that is largely driven by her faith and empathy that allows imaginably most viewers to sense the softness in her spirit. Suman has masterfully brought a plethora of grace, humility, curiosity, and eons of empathy to Inej. When you look into her eyes, sincerity pours through like heavy rain on a clear night—there is no doubt about Inej’s heart or her intentions. Through her mannerisms and the wide range of emotions, Suman lays everything bare for viewers to see—she has mastered the character’s quips with brilliantly meticulous performances that bring to life thousands of emotions even in silence. I mention it in almost every episode review, but she is easily the performer who stands out almost effortlessly.

When you think about how much Inej has gone through it is entirely too harrowing to process, especially because we know that despite the fact that this is a fantasy, there are girls like her with similar experiences. Girls whose bodies were taken advantage of, broken, and destroyed. She was forced to submit and do nothing while terrible men crushed her body and soul, and Saints know what more given the detail that she has had to learn how to stitch parts of herself back up. The sheer trauma and terror that she has lived through and yet, the fact remains that her spirit was never crushed. Because we know it has caused distress that will take years and time to work through. (The way she winces and draws back her shoulder ever so slightly in episode four after being touched by Marko is so haunting in the way that it shows us just how uncomfortable Inej is with unwanted touches.) Climb after climb, prayer after prayer, day by day, Inej fights through and Inej finds the light.

It is a testament to belief—to the fact that having something to hold onto, something that gives you hope can help keep the monsters and nightmares away. And there is so much about Inej Ghafa that exudes hope in the form of an evocative glow even when she’s angry, sad, or perplexed. It’s always there, tucked and guarded behind her eyes, the kindness that she chooses to pour into everything she does.

When Shakespeare wrote “though she be but little, she is fierce,” he was talking about Inej Ghafa, I’m sure. Small and stealthy but mighty with empathy—combined with her unique skills, it is the heart of gold that stands out so beautifully, it is actually overwhelming.

We have seen skilled and incredibly capable characters like Inej before, but they were not always brought to life with the level of vulnerability and tangible warmth that the Grishaverse explores. It’s as though women or girls with the same backstories aren’t always given the chance to explore all corners of their beings. Inej is a badass, but she is so wonderfully soft at the same time, it’s heartwarming. She feels and expresses so much while still keeping walls in front of her when necessary. There is a balance with her traits (fitting considering the acrobat she was trained to be), and Inej’s layers shape her in a way that’s impeccably inspiring because it tells girls that they can be both.

They can throw knives and put out fires while exuding warmth and kindness at the same exact time. Vulnerability isn’t a weakness but it’s a strength, and it takes immense courage to keep it wrapped delicately alongside weapons.

Inej’s prominence is grounded in her humanity–the imperfections and the beauty. She is the girl who’ll be full overwhelming contentment when seeing Saints, the girl who will fight for her friends until her final breath, the girl who will scream and cry and sometimes even bite her tongue, and the girl who will always see the light in everything, even when the world proves it isn’t worthy.

Inej Ghafa is the girl with a laugh worth bottling up, the beacon of hope for everyone who knows her–the absolute force of a nature who doubts, aches, and cries, but she always stands back up on the rope. She climbs to the ledge, through the window, onto to the dock, and she crosses to the end of the line.

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