Shadow and Bone Season 2 is almost here, and that, of course, means new adventures, new reasons to love (or hate) these characters, and a new journey for all of them that, will, hopefully, take them to some interesting places. Fangirlish had a chance to participate in a roundtable interview with Jessi Mei Li, Daisy Head, and Ben Barnes, where the trio discussed their respective characters and the growth we can expect in Season 2, and this is very clear from hearing them talk about their characters – they care.
For fans, that’s one of the most important things. It doesn’t exactly guarantee things are going to go in a way you will enjoy, but it does help if the people involved in creating the characters you have invested in, have invested in them as well.
Barnes, in particular, was very vocal about his role as the villain of this tale, the Darkling, and what he feels his role in the show was in Season 1 versus what it is now. “I feel like my job in the first season was to utilize the powers of his sort of charm and manipulative skills,” he explained, “and to show his social standing in this world as we kind of build it and share it. And then to have this turn as you realize he has these ulterior motives and you see his power in that way.”
In season 2, however, there are no masks. There is no pretending. General Kirigan, aka The Darkling, is going full villain, something Barnes was really excited about. “Those masks have all dropped. And we’re looking at the way he’s sort of being poisoned from within by his literal shadow demons.” But it’s not just the shadow monsters, it’s that the position he finds himself in “affords him the opportunity to tell the truth how he sees it, and sort of really let rip and kind of go full dark on everything because he’s got nothing left to lose.”
There’s nothing more dangerous than a villain with nothing left to lose.
“He’s basically alone. And he’s cut all ties, all the loyalties. So, you can just see him kind of go for full villain.”
On the other side, we find the women the Darkling has hurt, and Jessie Mei Li’s Alina and Daisy Head’s Genya are on a collision course – and very much against the Darkling. For Mei Li, stepping into the Season 2 part of the journey was definitely “exciting,” especially because the cliffhanger at the end of Season 1 leaves her storyline wide open. “It was really interesting to play Alina as she’s trying all these new things,” she told us, “and trying to be a leader.” Plus, she’s having to contend with having “so many different forces against her.” As an actor, that’s always a great challenge.
Head, whose Genya Safin goes through quite a harrowing journey in Season 2, called the evolution of her character “incredibly challenging, but also incredibly thrilling.” She especially stressed the differences between the Genya of Season 1 and the one of Season 2 – and it’s not just in the fact that we get much more of her now. “The first season has her suppressing everything and hiding a lot of her scars and her trauma. It was all beneath the surface.” In Season 2, “she suffers yet more abuse at the hands of the Darkling,” except this time, it’s different. “This time, it shows.” In that regard, Head found it “an exciting challenge to navigate through having to wear (Genya’s) vulnerability so openly because before, she could hide behind a bit of a mask. But this time, it’s so visible. And it’s really about learning how to adapt to that.”
For both Alina and Genya, the “big bad” is the Darkling, but Barnes shared that the Darkling doesn’t see himself as the villain. “Like all really kind of toxic villains he believes himself to be the victim,” he told us. And he finds someone else to blame for his actions, or for the decisions he’s made. “And then when it comes to Alina, he feels their connection and sees something of himself in her, but I think he discovers that if he’s not going to be able to kind of dig out an old version of himself who is capable of love, then it’s going to be hate and anger instead, and he’s going to lead with that.”
Barnes, however, also teased that the Darkling would, later in the season, start to ask “more difficult questions of himself, as he sort of wrestles with his own humanity and mortality.”
The Darkling can be the villain, but that doesn’t make him less compelling a character. And for Barnes, that starts with the books – but it’s also reflected in the stylistic choices the show makes. For example, the kefta the Darkling is wearing in Season 2, “has the little gold thread sewn through what was all black before.” That’s intentional, and Ben sees it as Kirigan and Alina “leaving a piece of each other” in one another. Not only that, he added that for his character, “that’s a very difficult thing to shake.”
“She was representative of something hopeful to him, something he really did put stock in — her power and who she was — and really felt that they started something which might have made a difference to what he was hoping to achieve.” But at the end of the day, as Barnes put it “with this kind of villainy, he believes in his agenda and is willing to suffer the consequences of chasing it.”
Even if that means losing Alina.
Season 2 gives them a connection, though, one that Barnes “wanted to sort of ground it in something that felt mindful and kind of meditative. And when he realizes this kind of new power that’s fueling him,” it doesn’t take long before “they both start to sort of abuse that connection in their own ways, for their own agendas, and both end up basically trying to kill each other.”
“It’s a very unhappy marriage,” he joked.
But the Alina on the other side isn’t the naïve Alina of Season 1. “She’s so grown up now,” Jessi Mei Li shared, adding that in Season 1 “her arc was all about her accepting who she is and accepting her responsibility and not hiding away from her truth.” And then Season 2 “is about what she then does with that responsibility,” which is really exciting to see – and to play.
“What’s really nice about Alina is that when we meet her in Season 1, she is so vulnerable and weak and frightened.” Not anymore. “So, she’s had such an emotional journey throughout these two seasons, and it was really nice to play that journey whilst also holding on to the parts of her that make her this lovable character that you will root for.”
And that’s something about her that won’t change “no matter what situation she is in.” Even if the Darkling himself is standing on the other side.
Shadow and Bone Season 2 premieres March 16th on Netflix.