“No Mourners” concludes Shadow and Bone’s first season almost as we’d expect it, a little rushed in its climax, but it gives us incredible moments of character development, so you’ll hear no complaints from me. Choice is a predominant, ongoing theme throughout the course of this season, and the finale reiterates its importance with reflection and moments full of loud whispers. It sets up the oncoming arcs for our favorite characters with storylines that work and feel incredibly natural in how they’re developing.
Alina Starkov is the heroine of the season, the Saint, the Sun Summoner, and the one whose choices matter to advance this story along. In “The Unsea” Alina is entirely robbed of her agency and inadvertently, her powers, which serves to reveal Aleksander’s motives more than anything else. Any semblance of redemption that was probable with his character is gone after “No Mourners,” which proves to showcase just how appropriate the Black Heretic title is. And here’s the thing, he’s a compelling villain, so while redemption is likely out of the question, that much remains true. Ben Barnes is so nuanced, he makes the character a thrill to analyze.
If you know anything about me, you know that I just don’t care about villains and seldom do I think they’re well written. But that’s not the case with The Darkling—he’s not only well written as a villain, but his unhinged persona is brought to life masterfully by Barnes making him actually enjoyable to watch in spite of the fact that I’m not fawning over him. It’s actually terrifying how far gone he is in this episode, how rough and violent he gets, and how clearly we are shown that the man who could’ve been more noble is now entirely out of sight. I don’t know where the series will take him, but I trust that Barnes will continue to ensure that the performances are just right without ever feeling as though it’s too much. (Keep the dramatics though. All the men on this show are drama kings and it’s ridiculously fun to see.) The whole spiel about having to give his crazed speech again? Relax there. He slaughters an entire city without even blinking an eye and that’s his takeaway.
The Sun Summoner Understands The Stag’s Purpose
But Alina isn’t having any of this and when she’s visited by the stag on the skiff, she comes to the realization that in spite of what The Darkling has done with the antlers, she remains the chosen one and thus, she’s the only person who could use the amplifier as powers. This makes for such a gorgeous scene because there’s nothing I adore quite like a woman taking back her power, taking back her agency, and standing her ground in the face of the one who initially took from her. It takes too much out of her and Ivan steps up to stop her heart, but naturally as our heroine, she survives. She survives and it leads to an incredibly lovely moment with Mal where Archie Renaux crushed me in the horror he brought to life when it appeared Alina wasn’t going to wake up.
I’m going to be honest in admitting something I’m sure you’ve all gathered by now. I’m not as invested in the relationships with Shadow and Bone characters as I am with Six of Crows, but … I have a lot of feelings about Mal and Alina in this episode and so long as there are no more flashbacks, I can really see myself being okay with this as endgame. Everyone on this show has chemistry, but the gorgeous vulnerability that Jessie Mei Li and Archie Renaux brought to life in this episode floored me by the end. (I also really love that Mal said “don’t you dare say meet me in the meadow” because same. I don’t want to hear that again.)
There are ways to go with these two but their friendship continues to be a stunning part of this series and it was easy to feel the incredible impact of it in this finale.
There really isn’t anything they wouldn’t do for each other and together, they are in safe hands. After a time where Alina has had to deal with conflicting choices, who to trust and not, it’s great to see her in a place where she knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that she’s safe for the time being. And that place is with Mal. He’s the boy who’ll no longer back down from a fight, but he’s also the one who’ll come for her. He’s the one whose steadfast loyalty in her is unquestionable. There was such a dreary heaviness to their scenes by the end of the episode, it was crushing to see because Alina does need strength, and she does need to lay low to understand just how much she can do, but it’s comforting to see that she isn’t alone in this. And it’s great to understand that for once, someone isn’t going to lie her about what’s really happening. Mal will let her be, as needed.
The Darkling never wanted to stop the Fold from growing; he wanted to expand it and in doing so, he wanted to control all the nations around Ravka, which for one doesn’t sit well with Zoya (and this is why I’m itching to read the King of Scars duology now). Zoya has clearly done her bidding far too many times, but this crosses a line she can no longer stand by and thus, she makes the decision to attack the Heartrender who’d been hurting Inej in order to ask for her help in the fight. There’s only one side now, and it’s the side of peace, not expansion. No one’s doing The Darkling’s bidding except his puppet Ivan. (God, someone get Fedyor a different boyfriend. He deserves better.) Zoya’s choice is no longer the side of power or manipulation, it’s the choice to stand her ground, and it makes for an incredibly nuanced moment that’s a thrill to watch.
I love everything about what Zoya said to Alina because it makes sense that she wouldn’t just immediately like her after everything. There are ways to go before this friendship is fortified too, and this is an excellent place to start. Will it be? I don’t know. I have yet to read the books, but what Zoya said to Alina with two words is monumental in effect. “Stay alive.” They might not like each other and they might not be friends, but Zoya is grateful for Alina, which she also admits to, and she understands now that the manipulation she’s faced is bigger than anything she can grasp. The search for comfort then and the need for a piece of solace, a certainty, is what Zoya needs best, and even though it’s dangerous, we could see the importance of what it would do for her character.
Which ultimately, I can’t wait to explore more because it’s easy to tell that there are so many layers to her character that are worth exploring.
The Fjerdan and The Grisha Almost Make It
On the other side of the map (again, geography is not my forte, who knows, they could be on the same side), a Fjerdan and a Grisha are trying to figure out how to be together and my heart is fluttering. Nina and Matthias have found warmth and a place to stay, but they have no idea where to go from here. He’d be named a traitor if he went back to Fjerda and she’d be known as one to Grisha as well. There’s also the comment about how he’d not like in Kerch, and Ice Court heist, here we go. (Please.)
Nina thanks him once again for saving her, and there’s such warmth in Danielle Galligan’s performance in this scene that touches on exactly who Nina has shown us that she is this entire time. She has made the choice not to stay in the clutches of societal expectations and instead, she’s chosen to see the human inside of Matthias. In doing so, she’s brought him to life beautifully, which makes their relationship one of healing and mutual respect. See, when we say enemies to lovers is the best trope, this is entirely why. Because it so often deals with two very different people coming to learn that deep down, they’re actually similar, and it forces them to challenge the parts of themselves that aren’t best. They find the pieces within themselves that need fixing and work through the demons together, but not because they’re told to, but because they want to.
Matthias took Nina’s heart and bravery and made the conscious decision to try to strip from the beliefs that were embedded in him. He saw her act of kindness and held onto it, holding onto her in the process while promising that he’ll keep her warm. Which is both a literal and metaphorical representation of why their relationship is so stunning because the woman whose actual gift it is to calm others, has now found someone who’d care to do the same for her. She’s found someone who believes she’s worthy, whole, and great as she is—someone who’ll give her the very happiness she can give him.
Nina is free spirited and a thrill to be around regardless, but so often, characters like Nina who appear to have it all together are the ones who’ll always need a confidant in their corner to look after them the way they look out for others.
They both saved each other out of the water and from the cruel depths of a life in darkness that their history would’ve likely led to had their meeting not happened. It’s serendipitous and it’s beautiful, and the waffles are the perfect, most appropriate touch. Nina Zenik is Grishaverse’s Leslie Knope. Because they’re so rudely interrupted by Matthias’ grumbling stomach before a kiss, they go down for waffles, which end up being poisoned thanks to Fedyor.
Fedyor, bud, I was rooting for you. The saddest part about all this is the showcase that so many Grisha just aren’t willing to try to fix the problems in front of them. People in general are fixated on their one-dimensional belief, which they hold onto it for the sake of belonging, but instead it leads to isolation. This isn’t like Inej’s belief in Saints while she’s surrounded by unbelievers because her belief leads to seeing the best of people, it’s a belief fortified by inclusivity and unification whereas some Grisha beliefs are single-minded and obsessed with preservation.
Yes, Grisha are subjected to torment and oppression by Fjerdans and a part of me understands the reservations, but the unwillingness to even try is where Nina and Zoya differ significantly. Matthias had changed, but instead of believing in Nina, believing in one of their own, Fedyor chose to fight back forcing Nina to call out that Matthias is a slaver in order for him to be captured by hunters in the pub.
And when Matthias awakes in prison, in spite of Nina bringing him food while pleading with him, he’s too betrayed to forgive. It’s such a fascinating parallel to when he’d captured Nina and she reacted similarly except here, the betrayal hits harder because of the budding feelings between them, and because a large part of him was willing to sacrifice so much. Skogman delivered that scene with such interesting range, it was crushing. Matthias has never looked more vulnerable or tormented behind his stoic exterior, and yet here he is, having had experienced joy moments ago, but engulfed entirely with heartache now. And Galligan delivers Nina’s inability to cope with his words with such staggering sadness, I didn’t know where to look.
Hellgate prison next season? Yes, please.
The Crows Jump Into Battle
The Crows have been and are, the best part of the series. There’s something about their dynamics and their understanding with each other that brings such maturity to the series that can sometimes feel incredibly young adult. It starts with Kaz’s refusal to go up to the docks because he knows that there’s very little they can actually do. Except when Mal goes, Inej follows, and when Jesper does, too, well God dammit because Kaz’s choice becomes relatively clear at that very moment. He knows The Darkling is a man consumed with vengeance and that it is horrifically dangerous to follow, but Kaz’s choice will always be to protect his Crows. He’s the leader, but where they go, he’ll follow and there’s something so incredibly beautiful about that detail that really differentiates him from similar characters.
In the midst of the fight against volcra, not only does Kaz catch what’s aimed towards them, but remembering the detail that Jesper doesn’t have enough bullets left, he makes the decision to physically push him aside in order for them both to come out of this unscathed. As book readers know, Kaz has a severe aversion to touch, but if and when he’s the only one who could possibly help his friends from harm, there’s nothing he wouldn’t do. And thereby, we see the physical manifestation of just how much he cares about Jesper because he puts his discomfort aside in order to protect him.
We then know that while Jesper’s knocked out, Kaz’s eyes must be aimed towards Inej, watching, planning, and carefully studying her rhythm in order to be alert if he’s needed. Kaz knows Inej is incredibly skilled, and he also knows that she can take care of herself. He’s not going to step up and take the reins to prove anything, but the moment he realizes she’s out of knives, and it’s the one time where she’d need him, he jumps full force, cane at the ready in front of volcra.
Let’s think about that for a moment. There are a lot of great risks taken on this show, but no one takes risks as grand as Kaz Brekker does. He has no form of any mythical power, no weapon as quick or as deadly as a gun, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’d do anything to protect those he loves. He’d put up all that he knows as collateral for Inej, and he’d put forward his life too. He could’ve died in the hands of that volcra, but nothing else matters if he saves Inej’s life in the process.
He might also be a man consumed with vengeance, but more than that, he’s a man consumed by love—a man who’d fight through anything and everything so long as those he cares for are protected.
But prior to this, Inej throws a knife aimed perfectly towards The Darkling and it catches him off guard. There are no damn words to sum up this spy’s perfection, and there are no damn words to sum up just how much that scene evokes. If she didn’t run out of knives, she would have single handedly taken terrible people down aiming towards their heads. But that’s not Inej is it? At least not fully and not just yet. It’s a showcase of her incredible bravery however, and the detail that she won’t back down from a fight if it involves saving innocent people.
There are a number of parallels we could draw on between Kaz and The Darkling, but where they stand out completely is in the fact that Kaz Brekker is a man driven entirely by heart. He’s ruthless when need be, and he could be monstrous when provoked by villains, but he doesn’t break promises, and he’s a person whose heart has made him better.
The Believer Befriends One of Her Saints
Inej Ghafa is, in every way, Kaz Brekker’s beating heart. Whether he realizes it fully or not (because, let’s be real, the man cannot compute with his feelings). Inej makes Kaz a better person, and she does so simply by being her unabashedly benevolent self. She is his moral compass, his strength, and the one thing he needs more than anything. A million kruge be damned, her safety is what matters to him. Kaz is far from selfish; he’d never stand back when everyone jumps in battle, and he’d especially never stand back when Inej’s life is on the line. Wherever she is and in whatever way she needs him, he’ll be there.
Which leads me to his expressiveness when he watches her tell Alina: “my hand is yours.” This moment by the campfire is a whirlwind of emotions immersed into a territory of promises that beautifully encompasses why this series succeeds as it does.
In the beginning, there’s a lot of pitting women against each other, but in this moment, it’s proof of the fact that character driven stories are better in every way, especially where female friendships are concerned. Inej’s faith, as we’ve said before is her anchor, it’s her True North. The belief in something bigger than herself, in prayers, in miracles, and in hope grounds her in a way that contributes to her endurance beautifully. She stands as bravely and as compassionately as she does because of her faith, and for the first time, she’s given the chance to really smile. To laugh, to giggle. To know that the Saints forgive her. And my God, it’s a beautiful sight. Amita Suman radiates such warmth in that scene, there are no words for it.
There are especially no words for when she states she knows just what to name the new knife Alina has given her. Sankta Alina. (I’m not even going to deny the fact that I’m crying at this point.) Alina does need Inej here. She and Mal, they can’t do this on their now, not for long. What’s up ahead for all of them is a dangerously treacherous slope, and the understanding of this makes the weight of Kaz’s confession that much more substantial.
The Crows are no longer trying to kidnap Alina, but the reality is, Kaz still has no idea how to cover Inej’s indenture so when Alina offers him the necklace, he takes it. He takes it because more than anything, he needs to keep his promise to Inej.
Kaz Brekker Uses His Words
As always and in the language they understand best, Inej brings up what he’s said to her and questions why he let Alina go. Kaz Brekker bottles almost everything up, but in this moment, he chooses transparency instead. In their moment of vulnerability in “The Unsea,” Kaz promises she won’t go back to the Menagerie and that continues to be at the forefront of every decision he makes. All that he does, every call he makes, it’s to ensure that Inej is given the freedom she deserves.
Except she mentions the fact that Alina needs her more, and this is where Kaz Brekker cracks because the very thought of losing Inej is more terrifying than vulnerability. In the same way that he finally spoke up when he realized he could lose her by the fire, Kaz opens up and states that not only do he and Jesper need her, but he needs her. And for someone like Kaz who keeps everything concealed, the choice to be vulnerable with her again speaks volumes.
Kaz Brekker wouldn’t be this way with anyone else because Inej is the only person he needs. Due to the sheer vulnerability and warmth that Freddy Carter laces the confession with, we know that it’s not just because she’s his best spy. There’s no one like Inej, but if need be, he could find a replacement for work. But Inej is irreplaceable because of her heart, and Inej is irreplaceable because she touches parts of his soul no one’s even cared to look into. She is his strength in more ways than one, but most importantly, she is the very reason for his soul’s contentment. She is his heart in a world where he believed he had lost everything. She is the reason he pushes forward and the reason that there’s now light in his austere world. Others may have Gods, Saints, and a Sun Summoner, but Inej Ghafa is the rare light in Kaz’s world. She is the one who fends off the darkness and illuminates the bleakest corridors of his being solely by existing.
In a world that broke him and left him jaded, traumatized, and alone, he found serenity through her. He found his person. And the confession tells her all that she needs to know in order to understand that her trust is placed in safe hands.
Trust is a flagrant steppingstone that grounds Kaz and Inej to a place of profound understanding. They give and they take freely, knowing with every part of their beings that they won’t ever be betrayed by the other. And this is a colossal moment for Inej to once again understand just how valuable she is to him. She knows admitting defeat or exhibiting vulnerability isn’t easy for him, and she knows that he doesn’t throw around words of praise without meaning to; thereby, she understands the mammoth weight of just how much she means to him.
Another detail we need to point out is that Inej sees all that Kaz is doing for her, and she sees her importance, but she also sees that he’s continuing to give her a choice.
Kaz would never force her to stay if she decided against it in this moment. When he tells her he needs her, he puts the cards in her hands in order for her to make the decision she feels most comfortable with. If she decided she wanted to leave, he wouldn’t have stopped it. He would pay off her indenture and set her free, but Inej not only states that she wants to see the look on Heleen’s face when he clears the books, (a moment delivered enticingly by Amita Suman), but she states that she’ll make her decision afterwards. And Kaz’s lack of objection to the “we’ll see” is all that we need in order to understand that Inej’s happiness is of prodigious importance to him. If she decides she wants to leave afterwards, the door is open for her. Carter’s subtle smile and stern nod show us that Kaz fully understands what Inej is saying, and he accepts it. He chooses to be vulnerable with her in spite of the fact that it might not go his way, and she chooses to believe in his sincerity while simultaneously making the call that she needs time to decide.
Kaz and Inej can’t be separated for long because the two need each other in ways they’ve yet to even fully comprehend—they’re resilient on their own, but an avalanche of strength together. And it’s a beautiful sight to see even while they dance around their inability to express themselves. At the end of the season however, we’re at a place where they’re each starting to understand just how much they’ve grown to care for each other. She is safe with him. He is safe with her.
And when he later tells Nina that they aren’t sure whether Alina is dead, but that he’s sure she’s a Saint, he looks to Inej with a smile full of conviction that reaffirms the fact that his belief is entirely because of her. He hears her. He sees her. And most importantly, he trusts in all that she stands for.
No Mourners Indeed
Jesper’s inability to shoot Ivan’s pretty face is understandable only because it brought to life an enamoring scene with Kit Young showing off his chops as an actor. But more than that it’ll further touch on just how much of his abilities he wants bared for us. Jesper might not have found religion, but Jesper made a new friend (Milo, obviously), but more than anything Jesper wasn’t just the perfectly stylish comedic relief, Jesper’s growth was subtly impactful in showing us that there’s so much more to him that we’ve yet to see. He’s skilled in a number of ways, but even Jesper harbors demons we might not understand, and we see that most palpably when he tells Kaz “please tell me you have a plan, I don’t care if it’s a lie.”
It’s clear in this moment that uncertainties are Jesper’s kryptonite to a degree, which is also fascinating if we take into account his gambling addiction. But what’s in store for him when they’re back home if Kaz doesn’t have a plan? The full of range of emotions Young touched on in that final scene floored me, and I can’t wait until we’re given more opportunities to see Jesper’s layers next season.
They’re each headed somewhere, and they’re headed there together. Kaz has a plan. They need a Heartrender and she’s sitting right by them. Oh, and The Darkling isn’t dead because, really kids—no body, no death, haven’t we learned this lesson by now? His shadow people now have shadowy bodies, and they walk? What the actual …
Whatever is in store for season two, because of the finale’s riveting conclusion, we’re here for it.
Midnight Heists and Further Thoughts
- We rightfully talk a lot about Kaz’s “Jes?” in the previous episode but can we talk about “Have you found religion, too?” It’s unholy how many times I’ve replayed that scene because it’s HILARIOUS.
- “You cannot claim what was not given to you” is such an incredible line.
- THE STAG. I love the stag. A lot.
- Mal and Darkling fighting felt way too young adult and I just … don’t even know how to comprehend. This is the part that sort of felt rushed and I would’ve liked to see more of it if it was going to be more evocative. But it was a nice parallel to their conversation in the barn. The “your past will do it for me” hits. It really does.
- It’s really insulting that Jesper seems to be the only one who keeps remembering Milo. Get it together, Crows. He’s integral to this team.
- Petition for Matthias to please a grow a beard next season.
- How exactly does Kaz still have a hat in this episode? Can he please lose it, so he can tell the treasure of his heart to get him a better one? I swear that satchel he carries is like a Mary Poppins bag. What isn’t in there?
- “I’m not done tormenting you.” Well that’s just stupid cute, Nina.
- INEJ IN EVERY FIGHT SCENE IS MORE MASTERFUL THAN WE DESERVE.
- “Follow” is such a stunning theme for such a jarring scene.