Character Deep Dive: Kaz Brekker

NETFLIX © 2021

Portrayed by: Freddy Carter
Book | Show: Leigh Bardugo’s Six of CrowsCrooked Kingdomand Netflix’s Shadow and Bone 

“His presence reverberated through the cramped rooms and crooked hallways as every thug, thief, dealer, con man, steerer came a little more awake”

Six of Crows

Kaz Brekker didn’t need a reason, but he always has plenty—meticulously crafted plans, a purpose for everything, and a tremendous heart buried deep within his stoic, immaculately accumulated demeanor. A thief, a leader, a monster, a man with no beliefs, and yet, a man who tirelessly discovers vehemence in a woman’s laughter. A man with desires, goals, and aim. It’s not just about survival; no matter how hard he tries to conceal it, it’s bigger, bolder, and most of the time, even he doesn’t understand it himself.  

Better terrible truths than kind lies.” Kaz Brekker is not someone who sugarcoats anything. He is not a boss that holds anything back, but still, somewhere deep within, he is wholly human and complex—a boy with trauma and heartaches hidden underneath the flesh and bones, aching to burst through. There’s a great deal we still don’t know about Kaz in the TV adaptation, only glimpses of what Freddy Carter shows through his physicality and expressions. (Something the TV show alters in Season 2.) A few things still stand; his vengeance towards Pekka Rollins drives him, and he ultimately focuses on doing whatever is imperative for survival.

There’s a lot to excavate when it comes to Kaz; his layers are so acutely structured, and he is so heavily guarded that it’s what makes him riveting. But above all, Kaz’s heart stands out exquisitely in the face of a morally grey character. He’s a man driven by love, both in the books and TV series, and as much as he cannot seem to grapple with his feelings, as much as he tries to deny it, Inej’s freedom stands at the forefront of almost every reason. He’s a man who has lost everything, yet he only wants to hold onto the found family he’s grown to appreciate immensely in the Crows. He simply doesn’t realize it yet.

But before we get into that, it’s vital to touch on just how careful Kaz is with his words and what that represents for his character. So often, where people are generally quieter and appear to keep to themselves, they’re observing, probing, and making careful choices that’ll benefit not only them but everyone else in the room. In almost any situation, Kaz studies his surroundings—he looks into how people operate and what strengths they draw on, and he uses them as leverage whenever he can. Where his enemies are concerned, the weaknesses matter in bringing them down, but where his friends are involved, it becomes something he looks out for, slowly, meticulously trying to figure out how to uphold them instead while appreciating them through everything regardless. (For instance, Jesper’s gambling addiction is never something Kaz would use against him, but he’s mindful of it and does what he can to ensure it doesn’t become a bigger problem.) And there are certain scenes, book fans know, but getting to those in the series will be so fascinating to dissect because they’re an ultimate showcase of the fact that Kaz fights for the people he believes in. He doesn’t give up on people; he keeps looking onward even when situations seem grim.

Kaz Brekker: The Morally Grey Anti-Hero

Kaz Brekker in Shadow and Bone Season 2 Episode 2 by the slat
Cr. Dávid Lukács/Netflix © 2023

Kaz carries a myriad of crutches around that aren’t even his, but he does so because part of how he functions is reliant on what his surroundings do. His observant nature and carefully concocted words often work best in allowing him to understand those he cares most about while also figuring out parts of himself in the process. In the series and the books, Kaz’s mind is seldom a place of serenity but rather a conundrum threaded by one excavation after another. Brick by brick has many meanings; thus, even while he’s breaking his walls down, he never stops building.

Kaz can be ruthless. There are monsters in him that no one should dare to cross, but he’s loyal in a multitude of ways, and it’s that same loyalty that makes him the anti-hero. He’ll brutally murder the men who deserve it, test the waters in villains, and jump, cane at the ready, in front of Volcra, but a thirst for power never drives his motives. He’s the Bastard of the Barrel, Dirtyhands even, but he isn’t cunning or cruel. And it is a result of his experiences in the hands of Pekka Rollins, which exhibit he’d never do to others what was done to him. When he comments about being driven out of spite and not fear, it’s because he’s rightfully still searching for ways to make terrible men pay, but never once would he harm someone undeserving of his rage.

The Fears Hidden Behind His Armor

Kaz Brekker drowning in Shadow and Bone 2x06

It comes down to the detail that there are fears inside Kaz Brekker more significant than he could battle with. As much as he’s a rising star of the criminal underworld, intimidating and fiercely devoted to the causes he protects, he’s still human. He’s a human being with an injury, gloves and a cane as armor, which are both his legacy and his tell. He’s far from immortal and thus entirely susceptible to pain, discomfort, and trauma—the haphephobia. What the TV series doesn’t show us blatantly, but what we know from the books can be seen when looking closely into Carter’s means of embodiment. Kaz Brekker suffers from trauma that makes him severely uncomfortable with physical touch. 

It’s the kind of discomfort that leaves him struggling to push through the gut-wrenching, visceral pain he feels when Inej is injured, and there is nothing he can do about it. It’s the kind of discomfort we see in the detail of the gloves, the inability to do anything more but to use his eyes and words to thank her for saving his life at the chapel. And in the books, we see it most evidently on multiple occasions, specifically in Crooked Kingdom’s Chapter 26, when the all-consuming desires for something more bleed together with the drowning sensation triggered right as his lips touch her neck. Kaz Brekker wants more, but there is so much trauma to work through, and the inability to cope is because, for so long, he’s had no one in his corner to talk to or confide in. No mourners, no funerals, in a way that his brother Jordie had never experienced; it left him with the grief marinating and the demons awakening.

Grief isn’t linear, and no two people grieve the same way, but it’s something we know that’s actively pronounced in Kaz’s means of drawing, carding, and dealing. Jordie’s death breaks him, shatters the chances of contentment, and sets an avalanche of darkness loose in his soul. Kaz never gets to grieve Jordie because grief demands conversations, celebrations, and acceptance in a healthy form. When bottled up and tucked away, it simmers and damages. Jordie deserves the celebration of life because Kaz loved and continues to adore his brother in every way. Still, as a kid forced to grow up secluded in a world that demanded survival, he never gets to share his grief with another soul. Instead, the darker the confines of his soul become, the harder it is for him to heal, laugh, and find the kind of autonomy and bliss he deserves.

The Bastard of the Barrel and His Heart

Kaz and Inej in Inej's hallucination
Cr. Timea Saghy/Netflix © 2023

In place of darkness, Kaz Brekker meets a girl who’s seen loss and trauma in ways he might never understand, but with the realization that they’re kindred souls, he works towards finding the freedom she deserves. And thus, I reiterate, so much of what Kaz does, so much of what he’s driven by is the agency he is adamant on giving to Inej Ghafa. It’s the very agency that no other couple has yet to reach on this show (and Grishaverse) because he has come to understand that she isn’t bound to him, and her losses deserve to be returned tenfold. 

In the books, Kaz Brekker liquidates all his assets and gives her the ship she’s been wanting, which serves as the ultimate showcase of the bestowment of sovereignty while, at the same time, he reunites her with her parents. He learns to give without armor because he grows to understand that it’s what she deserves, and simultaneously it’s what he wants as well. On Shadow and Bone, while we’re still in the first season, he puts The Crow Club up for collateral, and thus, her freedom becomes the cornerstone of his motivation.

Kaz’s comprehension of a woman’s agency speaks volumes about his character because while most crime lords are at the root of the problem regarding sexual assault and mistreating women, Kaz Brekker’s indulgences have never been at the expense of anyone else. (He even specifies no skin trade in “No Funerals,” when referring to new hires.) And his trepidations aside, because the foundation of his survival is geared toward robbing the world of monsters, it reveals that even if he didn’t have haphephobia, he’d never take advantage of someone. While he becomes a monster in the process of settling his scores, and while the complexities in his character go deeper than his trauma, the essence of who he is caters to his greatest strength—his loyalty.

“You see, every man is a safe, a vault of secrets and longings. Now, there are those who take the brute’s way, but I prefer a gentler approach—the right pressure applied at the right moment, in the right place. It’s a delicate thing.”

Six of Crows

The mechanisms within Kaz Brekker are profoundly formidable to crack, but gilded on his face, shown through his innermost thoughts, and brought centerfold with his actions is a man whose darkness hasn’t controlled him. It fuels him, yes, but he’s in complete control.

On a show and in a universe where the powers of darkness primarily focus on how intently it can consume a man, for Kaz Brekker, it’s a steppingstone, never a weapon. His trauma and the gruesome pain he has endured never define him, but they elevate his diligence and secure his humanity. They are a form of armor, in more ways than one, but at the first fundamental understanding that someone cares for him, Kaz Brekker cracks, brick by brick. Because of Inej Ghafa, the padlocks inside him twist, turn, and begin to soften. Despite how much vulnerability it entails, the boy he used to be starts latching onto the magic he discovers. In finding the key to his heart, the mechanisms inside start tethering themselves to the notches and ridges of the empathy Inej ceaselessly brings forth.

Related Content: Relationship Deep Dive: Kaz Brekker and Inej Ghafa

She becomes his world, slowly, carefully, and through fire in her eyes by regarding the depths of his being no one has ever wanted to look into. In Six of Crows, Bardugo writes: “If Kaz was their leader, then Inej had been their lodestone, pulling them together when they seemed most likely to drift apart.” Few men in a position like Kaz’s would stand by and allow a woman to be the very reason they meet success at every point, but while Kaz Brekker doesn’t believe in Saints, he believes in Inej Ghafa. He believes in the sheer empathy she shows him. He is worth the faith she places in him because she sees the parts of him that are good and kind and desperate for something more. And he relies so heavily on her because his humanity clings onto the benevolence she so effortlessly carries, wrapping them all tightly in a place of warmth in an otherwise dark and cold world.

Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker in Shadow and Bone 2x02
Cr. Dávid Lukács/Netflix © 2023

Kaz is to be feared by many, but at the end of the day, he’s a mere boy searching for family. The kid inside of him who’s been robbed of companionship, happiness, and love never truly leaves behind the desire to find that glimmer of hope somewhere, even when he stops believing. When Kaz Brekker is too jaded, broken, and seemingly too far gone, a small part of him still believes and wants. He chooses to prioritize a woman’s agency because her very soul is the magic he uncovers when it seems his life is too bleak to ever know true happiness.  

“The ache in his lungs was unbearable. He needed to tell her … what? that she was lovely and brave and better than anything he deserved. That he was twisted, crooked, wrong, but not so broken that he couldn’t pull himself together into some semblance of a man for her. That without meaning to, he’d begun to lean on her, to look for her, to need her near.”

Six of Crows

In both the TV series thus far and quite evidently in the books, Kaz Brekker’s desires to grow are entirely solidified by his actions and how far he is willing to go for Inej Ghafa. A million kruge be damned; if she opposes the mission, he will opt out. Thirty million be damned, too, if someone captures her in the process. Where money and survival were once his greatest ringleaders (the only tangible thing he could grip onto), today, Inej’s freedom surpasses all. Even if it leads her sailing away from him, her love is now his very anchor. She is the best part of his world, and in adoring her, he continuously tries to find ways to become better, stronger, and nobler.

It’s a testament to Kaz’s loyalty and the fact that though he might not be nearly as empathetic as Inej is, there is nothing he wouldn’t do for those he cares for, and this loyalty extends gorgeously to all the Crows. In “No Mourners,” he puts aside his discomfort with touch to actively push Jesper aside when they are under threat on the skiff. There are countless occasions in the books where he proves he’ll never leave someone behind. It’s the decision to continuously share his uncertainties with people not to damage them further but because he understands the unfortunate sadness that comes from lost hope. And thus, he extends that knowledge to other people (Inej, Zoya, etc.) with the sincere belief that he’s doing them favors. Choosing to hire Wylan in “No Shelter But Me,” knowing that he hasn’t eaten in days—it’s all a showcase of what he’s willing to do for the people he believes in, and a clear sign that he truly sees him.

This kind of life and trauma so often results in villainy, but Kaz pushes toward preserving humanity amidst feeding the monsters within him. And so much of what becomes palpable on screen is entirely a testament to Freddy Carter’s brilliant understanding of the character’s sensibilities. A large majority of Kaz’s backstory in Season 1 depends on Carter’s performance, and with so few words, we are given plenty.

We see it best when Kaz has scenes with Inej, thus solidifying how excellent he and Amita Suman are as scene partners. Scenes with Kit Young ultimately reveal how different they are and yet still, somehow, on the same page. We see his discomfort with touch anytime someone places a hand on him, and he silently looks to the spot while subtly glowering. We see so much of who he is through the colossal vulnerability he shows, along with an utterly impressive showcase of the locks turning inside Kaz’s head at every chance when book readers could understand he is scheming. But unmistakably so, even for non-book readers, Carter does an exceptional job conveying that Kaz is resourceful and equipped for a tremendous amount, but deep within, there are damaged parts of him that he has yet to disclose. Through his physicality and a full range of emotions at every angle, Carter shows much of what Kaz cannot grapple with or utter aloud. When you look into Carter’s eyes, the floodgates into Kaz’s heart poignantly blaze through. 

Kaz Brekker is no Saint, not even close. Still, the complexities in his grey areas are so diligently constructed that we cannot disregard the good, even while the horrors are acknowledged. He is the kind of leader that Ketterdam needs because his madness is driven by loyalty, and his heart is simultaneously at the forefront of all his decision-making. There’s a levity to the void inside him and hope intertwined through the painstakingly rigid bravado he must mask himself with. And there are so few characters truly like him.

Kaz Brekker in Shadow and Bone Season 2

Kaz Brekker fights with Pekka Rollins in Shadow and Bone 2x04

While Shadow and Bone Season 1 subtly showcases Kaz Brekker’s backstory, Season 2 dives painfully deep. Some fans question the decision to bring the battle with Pekka Rollins this early on, but ultimately, in this medium, it’s necessary. There’s only so much Freddy Carter can convey before audiences wonder why his character continues to exhibit the same patterns. It’s an important step to propel him toward the leader who’ll take on the Ice Court Heist, and it’s essential to allow people to see what book readers know is constantly stirring in his mind. 

As the season finally confronts Kaz’s haunting past and shows us the brutal flashbacks, his loyalty becomes clearer. Kaz Brekker isn’t a monster, but the darkness in him can stir and fight in ways that are both damaging and maybe even a little healing. Kaz Brekker needs Pekka Rollins out of the way to fully heal, but at the same time, it’s hard to believe a man like that will back down before his eventual death. (Still, that’s merely speculation at this point.) It comes down to the detail that “Every Monstrous Thing” is, in every sense of the word, Kaz Brekker’s episode. In that episode review, we note:

“Shadow and Bone 2×04 “Every Monstrous Thing” is for Jordie and the two boys from Lij who died that day—it’s all necessary. It’s essential to bring this to the surface and throw Kaz to the lions to show why he’s a survivor. How he crawls back out from the shadows, more innovative and stronger than before, even when all he needs is someone to look out for him. Someone to be his light in the darkness. Yet the spectacle in this episode is a testament to Freddy Carter as a performer, cementing the detail that no one could play Kaz Brekker the way he could. Not only is the writing powerful in this episode, but Carter breathes such haunting life into the past and present it’s nearly impossible to watch the first time around.

Orphans—two farm boys and a small glimmer of hope after insurmountable grief. All Jordie and Kaz had were each other, but one of them was left with haunting trauma and horrific grief drowning him at sea. Kaz Rietveld never truly left the harbor that day; pieces of him remained scattered and afloat, constantly pulling him under. This arc was imperative today for him to move forward and manage a semblance of normalcy in his life because, with Pekka Rollins tirelessly reigning as king, Kaz Brekker could never push forward. And he’s brighter than Jordie, which is why so much of this is difficult because everything that happened taught him how to be better and wiser. It doesn’t come from drowning; it comes from continuing to swim despite the tides that keep coming.

And choosing to swim forward is inadvertently because of the people around him. His Crows—his crew, his people, his family. He doesn’t say it possessively—they’re each free to leave whenever they choose, but they are his in a way no one’s ever been before, watching over him even when he believes he’s fine on his own and he’s the one doing the caretaking. It’s why his response to Jesper’s: “You’re gonna say you can’t do this without me, yeah? And that you hate it when we’re angry at each other, but sometimes brothers fight. And that when all this is over, you’ll open a tab for me at the club of my choosing, ’cause when Pekka’s gone, you’ll take it all. That’s what you’re gonna say? Yes?” is “There’s a cap on the tab. But otherwise, yes.

Because even though no one will ever take Jordie’s place or fill the void his death left, Jesper Fahey is the closest thing to a brother Kaz Brekker will ever have. The Crows are his chosen family—the only people he can trust to be transparent with him even when he shuts them out of the truth that buries him. Six feet under is metaphorical for Kaz Brekker, he’s been there before, and he’s there today, pieces of him gone and buried, fighting for breath and salvation at every turn. But air fills his lungs despite the beatings he takes because Jesper and Nina are here beside him. They know. They can understand without having to utter a word after this moment. This confrontation is the fight of Kaz Brekker’s life, but it’s theirs too—it’s everything and changes the game significantly.

Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker in Shadow and Bone Season 2 Episode 4

“In a few hours, when the chips fall… it’ll give me some comfort to know that you’re with me in the shadows.” Kaz Brekker has never been more vulnerable than he is in Shadow and Bone 2×04 “Every Monstrous Thing.” It’s a simple line, but his walls are down in a way they’ve never been because after telling Inej some of the truth, it lifts the weight off his shoulder, allowing him to understand that he isn’t alone through any of this. He might not fully grasp what he’s saying, but part of what makes the moment worthwhile is that it’s the God-honest truth. 

Kaz Brekker is alive when she’s beside him, off in the shadows, or near. The pain lulls a bit, his demons quiet down, and he’s a little at peace because of her. Whether he realizes it or not, she is his beating heart and telling her as much, then making her promise to leave if something goes wrong, is his way of noting that her life is infinitely more important than his.

But Inej Ghafa would never leave him. The only thing she could promise is that Pekka Rollins would beg, and even if she isn’t there to see it, that’s exactly what happens because entrusting her with Fifth Harbor, the base of the operation, means that none of this could fall into place without her. More lives are saved because of her. She’s the reason the chips fall, and she’s the reason Kaz Brekker finds the courage to speak up and fight. And the one truth about Inej is that she’ll never leave Kaz unless she knows with utmost certainty that someone’s beside him. She would’ve been in the shadows if he were alone, without Jesper or Nina. If no one was beside him, she’d be the first to abandon whoever needed her for him.

But Kaz is also brash, and when he’s full of rage, he’s going to say things that he doesn’t mean, which is why everything that comes out of his mouth here destroys him in a way that Inej can’t quite fathom yet. He calls her the weak link when in reality, he knows that she is his greatest strength—the reason he could face it all today. The reason that he would fight through hell to ensure that he survives and do anything to give her the freedom she deserves. Kaz Brekker is many things, but he isn’t a coward, yet deep down, he’s still a kid forced to grow up too quickly, and the only semblance of normalcy that’s left comes from the chosen family he consistently decides to fight for.

She’s his world—we’ll be kings and queens, Inej—by my side is a promise he needs, the only hope he could genuinely use. He might not realize this is love, but it’s what he feels in every way—the desperation, the whirlwind of emotions he can’t quite fathom; it’s all because of her. Kaz Rietveld might’ve died in the harbor, but Inej Ghafa is the reason Kaz Brekker’s soul still fights to survive. She’s the light in his shadows, the glimmer of hope, heart, and everything that’s good in a cruel world where all he recognizes is pain.

And in the end, a single nod tells us he will try for her. He can heal from his trauma when a woman like Inej Ghafa stands beside him, patiently hoping to guide him through everything. He understands this now, knowing with full conviction that she’s the one who pulls him out when he’s drowning. Kaz Brekker’s loyalty and the continuous showcase that he respects people even when he’s rough around the edges makes him so profoundly riveting. There’s no evil in him, non whatsoever, despite the darkness. There’s only love—the profound longing to want a girl to stay with him even when he gives her a reason to leave by providing a lead on her brother. Season 2 does everything to prove that despite his harsh edges, he understands the depths of colossal love, and he’ll fight to ensure that people in the world don’t experience pain the way he does. Today, without his vengeance, he has loyalty and love to fight for.


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