Shadowhunters has not been true to the books so far, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Every film adaptation needs to make a few changes, and I can accept that. But watching this show I’ve felt like there has been something missing – something that I haven’t been able to identify, but that has bothered me about the Nephilim every episode. I think I’ve finally figured out what that problem is.
The Shadowhunters in the TV show aren’t warriors.
Over the course of eleven episodes, we have been introduced to a number of Shadowhunters at the Institute, from the main cast to Maryse and Robert to Lydia to the Inquisitor to those random Shadowhunters always wandering around in the background. And what have they done? They’ve talked. And talked. And talked. They haven’t trained. They haven’t gone out into the field. They haven’t done any fighting.
In fact, the only people who have actually gone outside the Institute and battled demons, Downworlders or other Shadowhunters are Jace, Isabelle, Alec and Clary. Everyone else stays behind, looking at screens or talking about politics. When the Lightwoods go out hunting without the permission of the Clave, it’s even seen as something reckless, immature and out of hand, which suggests that Shadowhunters don’t go on these kinds of missions very often. When Isabelle and Alec are tasked with bringing honor to their family name, they stop engaging in any battles and instead spend their days hanging out at the institute doing who knows what.
Even the fighting itself is different. The few training sessions we have seen have consisted of either simple boxing or waving seraph blades around. There’s no supernatural aspect, no jumping from tall buildings, no flips, no throwing knives, nothing spectacular. With the exception of their specialized weapons, the Shadowhunters’ fight training doesn’t seem to exceed that of the average cop. And the more I think about this, the more I realize how much this changes the Shadowhunters’ culture, political system, and the heart of the show.
In the books, every Shadowhunter fights and they are unbelievably good at it. They are all elite warriors tasked with protecting their world from demons, and that is not a task they take lightly. They train from the moment they are able to hold knives, and their entire lives are dedicated to their cause. They go hunting every time they hear about anything dangerous involving the shadow world, because that’s their job.
Nephilim children have to grow up extremely quickly, because they live in a world in which they or their loved ones go into battle often and could be killed at any moment. They marry young because very few of them live to an old age. And they fight until they are no longer physically able to. Everyone – whether they be the consul, the inquisitor, the head of an institute or a parent – is a warrior first, and anything else second. We saw this with Jem, Charlotte, Henry, Maryse and Robert. Even if they have kids, or other responsibilities, or they’re not exactly in prime physical condition, they still fight because for Shadowhunters, not fighting is like not breathing. It’s a part of who they are, and a big reason why they’re so obnoxiously smug – I’m sure being a half-angel warrior and the only thing standing between this world and total annihilation kind of gets to your head after a few centuries.
The Shadowhunters are what make Cassandra Clare’s books so interesting. Werewolves, vampires, warlocks, faeries and demons have all been done before, but Shadowhunters – these elite, badass warriors with cool tattoos – are unique to the shadow world. You’d think that a show called Shadowhunters would know to focus on them.
But the thing is, the Shadowhunters in the TV show are nothing like the ones in the books. To me, they feel more like a branch of the military or police force that specializes in supernatural events. Besides the runes they rarely ever use, there’s nothing special about them. They’re human. What’s special is the creatures they deal with. In fact, as we learn more about the Clave, it’s hard to find any reason to appreciate or root for the Nephilim. There haven’t been any particularly cool fights. I can’t really picture any of the Shadowhunters outside of the main cast putting on gear and hunting demons, and even the Lightwoods have little chance to show off their skills before their opponents explode at the first touch of a seraph blade. The Nephilim spend more time standing around talking about the Mortal Cup and political alliances and Downworlder treaties than they do actually taking action, and that is completely uncharacteristic of them.
I’m not saying that this can’t be fixed. Ed Decter has teased that the show will go to Idris next season, and I’m sure we’ll get to experience more of the Nephilim culture there. But at the moment, the Shadowhunters in the TV show don’t seem like Shadowhunters to me, and that’s something the show should work on if it wants to attract a bigger audience.