Netflix’s 'Shadow and Bone': Author Leigh Bardugo reveals the darkling's past

Web Desk
October 03, 2022

Ben Barnes plays the villainous darkling in Netflix’s 'Shadow and Bone'

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Netflix’s Shadow and Bone series is an adaptation of the trilogy of the same name written by Leigh Bardugo.

The series follows Alina (Jessie Mei Li), a lonely orphan girl who discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the magical elite, the Grisha. Grisha is a human who practices Small Science, manipulating energy and matter.

While the Grisha are not supernatural beings, they have been gifted with sacred arts.

Alina is then discovered by General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), also known as the Darkling, who wants to use her ability for his own gain.

Those who have seen the show would know that the Darkling is full of disdain for humanity as he has outlived many of them for hundreds of years. But deep down, he seems to develop some feelings for Alina. However, those feelings are mangled into something else as he lacks that emotional capacity.

In an interview with The Collider, the author shed light on this aspect of the iconic antagonist.

“Look, I don't think villains are interesting when you can't tell where they're coming from. There should be a moment, and I certainly had plenty of them, when you think, ‘Oh, this guy's making a pretty good argument.’ And the issue for Kirigan, for the Darkling, is not his motive, which is a good one, to protect his people and to protect his nation."

"The problem is that he has lived so long, that he has lost his humanity, and so much so that he is taken aback and surprised by it when it rears its head. He doesn't know how to parse the actual emotions he's feeling toward Alina, and he does not know how to combat her humanity. So, he fundamentally misunderstands her connection to other people and how that empowers her,” shares Bardugo.

“The Darkling is probably the most, maybe second to Kaz, the most popular character I've written. And I think that's because something so compelling about somebody with that much power, and with that much conviction. And the fact that he's very attractive doesn't hurt either. But I also think, it's important for us to see antagonists who aren't caricatures, because I've found that the most dangerous people in our lives do not enter twirling a moustache, evil tattooed on their foreheads. They're people who are beautiful, and wounded, and compelling, but who can still do a lot of damage all the same,” she adds.

In the same vein, Barnes talks about his portrayal in the series. The actor finds that there is more depth to the character than it seems and he wanted people to be able to find him redeemable.

“I think there's still some humanity in him, despite the many years and the many crimes. But that is a scene that was invented by the writers. It doesn't exist in the books. There is a short story called ‘Demon in the Wood,’ that is about the Darkling at a much younger age, and his supervillain origin story."

"And to me, I remember a friend said to me, when I gave it to her to read, she said, ‘What are you doing? Everybody who loves him is just going to love him more. Even I like him now.’ And I said, ‘That's the fight that I'm asking people to take on’,” he elucidates.

“I always want people to be able to sympathise with this character, even if they decide he's not worthy of redemption, and not worthy of affection or humanity. I, at least, want them to know what he could have become in a different world if Ravka had been different.”


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