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Why Netflix's Shadow And Bone Made That Key Change To Ben Barnes' Darkling

Jessie Mei Li and Ben Barnes as Alina and the Darkling about to kiss in Shadow and Bone
(Image credit: (Netflix))

SPOILERS are ahead for Shadow and Bone.

Netflix subscribers’ latest obsession is Shadow and Bone, an epic adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s YA book franchise. The series follows the story of Alina Starkov, a teen orphan who finds out she has powers that can change her home of Ravka as she knows it. She learns to harness her light through the help of Ben Barnes’ mysterious General Alexander Kirigan, later revealed as the Darkling. The series allowed for the complex character to be updated for TV in clever ways.

When Shadow and Bone hit streaming, book fans noticed the Darkling was going by another name than they knew him by. General Kirigan is not among the named characters in the expansive Grishaverse books, but adding this facade to the Darkling character did allow for Ben Barnes to deepen the character. Here’s what the actor told CinemaBlend:

We chose to call him General Kirigan as opposed to the Darkling from the outset and have that be something more nefarious that other people could level with him later in the show. I think that fed into the theme of being able to humanize him, because that’s your job as an actor when you’re playing a character as problematic, manipulative and dark as he is, you want to reach for humanity and try to find the warmth and vulnerability in him. And you want to find the ‘why’, the reasons why he behaves how he does and says the things he does.

One major change between the first Shadow and Bone book and the series is how much more compassionate viewers may feel toward the Darkling. In the series there’s a real sense that the Darkling cares for Alina, wants to undo the mistake he made with the Shadow Fold and do what’s best for his people, despite the twisted ways he goes about it as the season progresses.

And there is a large number of fans who root for a romance between Alina and Darkling… because of course, it was a great decision to flesh out a villain like the Darkling. Ben Barnes continued with these words:

Some of those reasons are to safeguard and protect his people on his own and some of those reasons are more to do with his own past and how isolated he feels he’s become. And I think it’s intriguing for me to walk that tightrope in the first few episodes where you’re not quite sure if he’s charming, powerful and helpful or if it’s actually something more nefarious. Confronting those topics head on was something I was very keen to do, especially as it relates to the power dynamics between him and Alina, and whether there is some real kernel of love, chemistry and connection between them.

It’s almost been ten years since the original Shadow and Bone book reached bookshelves and Leigh Bardugo has shared that some of the changes made in the series were welcome in hindsight. Fans were undoubtedly going to see the chemistry between the Sun Summoner and the Black Heretic in the series, so why not give their relationship a more palpable arc? The Netflix series chooses to take us with Alina as she becomes drawn to General Kirigan before learning of his dark history as the man behind her world’s great divide.

For Ben Barnes, having General Kirigan only helped his performance showcase the human elements of the Darkling. And when the season reaches its third act and he says those memorable words: “Fine, make me your villain,” there’s more tension within Alina’s heroic journey. What did you think of Ben Barnes’ Darkling? Vote in our poll below and get to know the Grishaverse more here on CinemaBlend, and check out Shadow and Bone on Netflix (opens in new tab) now.

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Sarah El-Mahmoud
Sarah El-Mahmoud

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.