Shadow and Bone 1×03 “The Making At The Heart of the World” is an expansion hour. With the main relationships set up, the world established, the third episode of this first season cements the things we already knew, but also expands not just on the world of the Grishaverse, but the people who inhabit it.
This is especially fun as we get to meet, and see a little more of, characters that will become essential to the story going forward, for better or worse. There’s more of General Kirigan, Baghra shows up, Zoya is her usual book 1 not so-charming self (with a little added in, which we’ll get to), and Genya, Nina and Matthias finally show up.
Despite the fact that “The Making At The Heart of the World” introduces a lot of people, and more storylines to follow tends to be confusing, there was a good balance to everything that was going on, and everything felt organic to the story, even Nina, who could have just been so separated from the action that her story became a burden, a little like Daenerys was in the Game of Thrones books (and never in the series). We don’t like all characters, and we don’t agree with what they’re doing/saying all the time, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t invested in what’s going on with them.
So let’s go into Alina’s new world, these new characters that were introduced, and Jesper’s mad skills as we discuss Shadow and Bone 1×03 “The Making At The Heart of the World”:
IT’S LIKE I BLINKED AND THE WHOLE WORLD CHANGED
Alina is having a hard time adjusting, and Shadow and Bone 1×03 “The Making At The Heart of the World” introduces someone who will be integral to her acceptance of her powers, of her destiny, so to speak, in Genya, Alina’s first real female friend. With her, Alina is a little more open about her fears, about her desires. To Genya, she shows the true Alina. This is a tad ironic considering Genya absolutely does not reciprocate, but we don’t have to go there …yet.
“Don’t change my eyes,” Alina asks, early on in their first conversation, as there’s such vulnerability to being asked to just be able to present yourself as you are. Genya’s, “I don’t care that you’re part Shu. I care that you look terrible,” is not just reassurance, it’s acceptance, and it’s exactly what Alina needs. Clearly, the kids at the orphanage sucked, because despite the fact that Alina came out of that place with exactly one friend, she’s not actually bad at making them.
Probably because, as Genya herself points out, she’s sentimental. No one, not even Genya, will be able to erase that. And despite the possibilities that Alina sees stretching before her, despite General Kirigan’s promise that she will “change the future,” and despite how much joy and freedom there is in using her powers, Alina just doesn’t feel at home. In her mind, she belongs not with “her friends in the Army” as she continues to repeat, but with Mal. And the fact that she cannot be with him and can’t let go of him is leaving her trapped in the in-between, unable to access her powers.
“Everyone believes you are the one. Come back when you believe it too,” Baghra tells her, and the problem is that Alina can’t, because if she does, that means believing she has become a person Mal, her only constant, cannot truly love. She’s become the person they mocked. She’s become unrecognizable, not just to herself, but to him. If she believes she’s the one, then she has no home anymore.
“The world is hard and cruel, but we had each other and that was enough. That was everything,” Alina tells Mal in a letter, as she tries to work out through these issues. And the thing is, these issues she’s working through, they’re personal. She’s projecting them on Mal, sure, but Mal isn’t here to agree or disagree. She thinks if she isn’t the girl she was before she’s lost Mal, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be true.
Of course, part of that is amplified by the distance from Mal, the lack of communication, which we know is orchestrated by the very same people Alina thinks are on her side. “If Saints were once real, they’ve long since left us,” the letter also says, but everyone in the Little Palace has a vested interest in Alina becoming one of those saints. They just don’t understand that Alina cannot be who they want her to be unless they allow her to make her own choices. And the same thing applies to Mal, as well.
“True north is home,” the best part of what is basically a love letter, reads, “It is where you feel safe. And loved. You have always been my true north, Mal. And if I am to survive this, I need to be home again. With you.”
Zoya is not meant to be a likeable character in the first season of Shadow and Bone, just as she isn’t in the first Shadow and Bone book. The Zoya in Shadow and Bone 1×03 “The Making At The Heart of the World” takes the nastiness to a level she couldn’t have in the books, of course, because this Alina is half-Shu and book Alina wasn’t. So, when Zoya uses the words “half-breed” to insult Alina, to bring her down, to play mean-girl, it’s not just awful, it’s racist.
This is, of course, a deviation from the books, in that Zoya never had an opportunity to say anything like this, as Alina was white in the books. And it’s particularly shocking to book readers who know that Zoya herself is half Suli, and therefore that same insult she used could apply to her – even if she keeps her heritage a secret till much, much later.
But as sad as it is, this doesn’t strike me as completely OOC for Zoya, or for anyone, really. We’ve all been brought up in a racist society, and we are all racists, deep down. In the little or big ways. And when I say all, I don’t mean just white people. The latinx community, which I belong to, is incredibly racist, and though white latinos like me do a great deal of the damage, the racism comes even from other POC. I’ve seen it again, and again, and again.
It’d be another thing if we were arguing that the Grishaverse, that Ravka, is devoid of these kinds of prejudices, but we know it’s not. The books make it clear, and the numerous times characters have already remarked on Alina’s appearance in three episodes confirm it. Racism is present in Ravka, and though Zoya is just the mouthpiece for what the society she lives has taught us. Perhaps the real thing we should be discussing is if the books/show should go into this, are equipped to handle the matter at hand with the nuance it deserves, and that’s a discussion I’ve already seen on twitter, and a really important one.
When it comes to the show, and the characters, though, the casual racism doesn’t make Zoya irredeemable. Zoya has a long journey ahead of her, a journey of understanding that she isn’t defined by why a man thinks, a journey of believing that another woman’s powers don’t make her any less, a journey of accepting who she is, a journey of letting people into her heart, her life. We can all grow up and be better, and Zoya is no exception to that.
A part of me wishes she hadn’t said this, because Zoya is one of my favorite characters, and I want her to remain the character I love. The other part, however, doesn’t just understand, but appreciates the chance for growth this allows the character. Sometimes our own prejudices, the things that make us self-conscious, are the things we lash out about. This is a clear example of that. The show might have gone a little too heavy handed in this attempt at showing something every minority already knows, and yet I’m not sure trying to handwave it would have worked, either. Not in the world they’ve built.
Now, I just hope Shadow and Bone gets a chance to show everyone who’s coming into this with no preconceived notions the Zoya I fell in love with. We might need a few more seasons for that, but I will gladly take them.
GIFTED ME TO THE QUEEN
Genya’s appearance in Shadow and Bone 1×03 “The Making At The Heart of the World” is both a delight, and heartbreaking setup for what comes later. Because it’s clear that the Genya we see with Alina is truly her, that she’s being authentic, that she enjoys Alina for who she is. Genya might be a solider, but she’s also a young woman who’s been alone most of her life, and in Alina, she finds a kindred soul.
But the thing about Genya that is made clear from the beginning is – she isn’t what she appears. She isn’t as soft and carefree and resigned as her words make her seem. No one who throws words like “gifted me to the Queen” to refer to what happened to her as an eleven-year-old, could be. Genya is full of righteous anger, and let me be absolutely clear, she should be.
Not just with the Queen, either.
The thing with anger, though, it’s that it’s not always a good advisor. And her anger isn’t exactly misdirected, but it’s not encompassing enough. From my perspective she shouldn’t just be mad at the Royal Family, she should be mad at General Kirigan too. Book readers know his reasons for gifting her to the Queen, and even if you happen to think those reasons hold up, the truth of the matter is, Genya should have been protected, and the man whose entire motivation is purportedly protecting Grisha never cared enough to protect Genya the way she deserved.
THIS IS ALL I HAVE LEFT OF THEM
Despite all the issues Kaz had with, you know, communication, last episode, he and Inej are back on good terms, we assume because she now knows she can accompany him and he absolutely did not tell her what he did to ensure that. We continue to see an Inej that is confident expressing her opinions around Kaz, that never holds herself back from rolling her eyes at him when he’s earned it (which is a lot of the time), and an Inej who, despite her fears, trusts Kaz Brekker.
But we get to go deeper into another side of Inej, the one that’s mourning for a family that she has no idea if she’s truly lost for good. Because she was taken as a child, and she isn’t exactly in a position to go search for her parents – or her brother – Inej is stuck hoping and dreaming and even though the idea that her parents names might be in the monument at West Ravka is scary, Inej checks anyway because as scary as finding their names would be, not knowing is tearing her apart.
“Hope is dangerous,” Kaz warns her when he finds her there. “It clouds your judgment,” which is a funny thing to say coming from a person who literally let either hope – or love – cloud his judgment at the end of “We’re All Someone’s Monster.” But Inej cannot exist without hope. That’s just who she is. And that’s part of what draws Kaz, and everyone else, to her.
But a part of Kaz is trying to protect her by telling her to put aside hope. Inej might hate it, but she understands that. Whatever her issues with Kaz might be, they’re kindred souls in this. Just as they are kindred souls in the mission, because they’re both thinking of the same thing: what the money means.
It’s not lost on me, and it shouldn’t be lost on you, that Inej is thinking of her cut of the money as a way to pay off her indenture, and Kaz now needs to use his cut of the money to get back his club, which he staked on Inej. So, basically, this is a better deal for her than him. Another thing not lost on me is that, after the parallels of the last episode, this hour does a lot to focus on Kaz and Inej as just …friends. Unconventional friends, at that, but friends.
There’s the running commentary form Inej, even when Kaz is seeing exactly the same thing she’s seeing. There’s the way they always look at each other, to confirm, to ask, to reassure. And of course, there’s the way the only thing they could focus on when they thought they were going to die was …each other.
Okay, fine, maybe that’s verging on romantic, but you get my point.
SUCH HONOR, HOW NOBLE
We get very little of Nina Zenik by herself before she’s taken captive by Fjerdans, particularly Drüskelle, and her storyline with Matthias Helvar begins. There isn’t much of them in Shadow and Bone 1×03 “The Making At The Heart of the World,” this is just the setup to both Matthias and Nina, and also, a little necessary depth added to the puzzle of what Fjerda is, and why they hate Grisha so much.
Nina, like Alina before her, wasn’t doing anything against Fjerda when she was captured. She was just a Grisha, she existed, and for that she’s hated by the Fjerdans, who literally have an elite force whose only job is to capture Grisha and “take them to trial.” Except, as Nina points out, no one is ever found innocent in those trials. There’s no righteous cause here, there’s only prejudice and fear.
Matthias, however, doesn’t see it that way. For him, his cause is just. He’s been brought up to hate Grisha, and it never occurs to him to question what his country, what his people have told him. For him Nina isn’t even human, she’s Grisha, and she doesn’t deserve any sort of consideration.
This isn’t a two-sides issue, in any way shape or form. Yes, the Grisha fight back – Nina attempted it, just as the team protecting Alina did when attacked by Fjerdans. But defending yourself against people who want you dead just because of who you are isn’t the same as hunting people because of what they are. When Nina mocks Matthias, when she throws truths in his face, she is absolutely right. And when he turns away from her, leaves her in chains, and tells her to never talk to him again, there’s nothing in Matthias we should be rooting for.
But the story isn’t over, and where this story takes us, and how that affects us viewers, and the characters alike, is certainly anything but simple.
Book readers understand that, as much as the show is making it seem like Jesper has a gambling problem, Jesper’s issue goes deeper than that. Jesper is an adrenaline junkie, as Kit Young himself teased in our interview with him, and he is always looking for that rush of adrenaline, however he can get it. Is there a better way to than having to shoot your way out of a train being chased by volcra as you attempt to cross the Shadow Fold? Me thinks not.
Shadow and Bone 1×03 “The Making At The Heart of the World” isn’t just meant to showcase Jesper’s issues with gambling – and following instructions – but to showcase his skills with guns, skills that end up getting him out of trouble enough that Kaz has more or less learned to put up with the times when Jesper is anything but reliable.
But why is Jesper so good with guns? How did he literally shoot his way out of the biggest mess this show could possibly set up that did not involve Fjerdans? And did the goat really help? Well, I cannot speculate on anything but the goat’s involvement – I think it absolutely did – because the books do provide us with an answer, and I don’t actually want to spoil it this early on. If you cannot resist, I’d recommend the books over Google.
If I bring this up now it’s just to bring attention to the myriad of ways the show is setting up The Crows backstory, without giving us the answers we’re getting in the other storyline. Part of this, I think, comes from an attachment to the ways some answers are procured in the book, and part of it just comes down to a choice to focus on character dynamics over backstory, particularly when it comes to Kaz, Inej, and Jesper. Season 1 was set up as the season where the Shadow and Bone crew got the backstory, and the Six of Crows crew got to bond. It stands to reason that when – not if, when – we get a season two, we’ll see the exact opposite.
Things I think I think:
- Do I love The Crows in the title card? If you don’t know the answer to that, you don’t even know me.
- I’d be super confused if I didn’t know what the stag is all about.
- Using the letters to maintain the Mal/Alina connection is a brilliant storytelling choice.
- Look, I hate to be the one to point this out, but she didn’t really …bathe. She just sat in the water and they sorta washed her arms for a few seconds.
- “I don’t pick my staff. The Queen assigns them,” explains it all.
- Kaz’s “alleged” will never stop being funny.
- Jesper’s entire reaction to Kaz and Inej will never stop being funny, either.
- A …goat?
- I’d pay attention to the library too.
- “We do not conjure from nothing. We manipulate that which already exists around us.” Another good explanation, said in a pretty casual way.
- Ben Barnes could literally read me the phone book and I’d be like, “Yes, sir.”
- The way he says, “the King is still the King,” like he wish it were otherwise.
- Kaz and the goat might be my favorite part of this episode.
- But I also appreciate how nothing gets past him.
- “Don’t get attached,” Kaz? Where would you be if Inej didn’t get attached?
- I love how Kaz is like, “Jesper, get here now.” like Jesper isn’t TRYING to do just that. He doesn’t really need to be told to run away from the people shooting at him.
- Nadia’s, “When she could be with me,” is a nice nod for book fans, and also confirmation that her character is canonly queer.
- The Apparat is as creepy as he should be.
- Baghra’s energy is a whole MOOD.
- She can’t train if she doesn’t eat, how hard is that to understand?
- “Hug the goat. Shut the hell up.” Good plan.
Agree? Disagree? What did you think of Shadow and Bone 1×03 “The Making At The Heart of the World”? Share with us in the comments below!
Shadow and Bone is available to stream on Netflix.