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How Netflix Built the World of SHADOW AND BONE

Shadow and Bone is one of the most anticipated series of 2021. But taking two bestselling fantasy books by Leigh Bardugo and combining them into an eight episode epic adventure show for Netflix was no easy feat. During a roundtable chat with the cast and crew, Nerdist got into the meat of making the show, adapting the books, and bringing the beloved characters to life. So put on your best kefta and get ready to dive into the True Sea with us.

Combining two beloved books
Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows side by side covers

Macmillan

Shadow and Bone has a unique take on adaptation. Instead of solely adapting its namesake book, the show combines it with characters and geography from Bardugo’s duology Six of Crows. Even with that choice the show feels representative of both stories. It’s something Leigh Bardugo was clearly passionate about. “I actually feel like we got a lot of book one of the Shadow and Bone trilogy into this first season. I think it’s very faithful in its big moments and its character discoveries,” Bardugo shared. “When it came to Six of Crows, we were really taking on the challenge of writing prequel material. These two series exist in the same universe, so it’s very organic to have them crossing paths. It’s something that happens in the novels as well. It just happens a little bit sooner and a little bit differently in this version of events.”

With her books all taking place in one universe, it was a decision that made sense. Despite Kerch and Ravka being separated by the Fold, the two stories made sense together for the creator. “The groundwork was laid for the way these two cultures and these two sets of characters could be put on a collision course with one another,” Bardugo said. “It’s something we wanted to do from moment one. We felt it would be a richer, more interesting show if we included the Crows. Thematically, they’re deeply linked to the story of Shadow and Bone because what you have is a lot of young people who the world views as expendable. And they’re just trying to find a way to survive together and find a place to belong.”

Crafting an immersive world by trusting the audience
The Darkling holds Alina's wrist in Shadow and Bone

Netflix

The world of Shadow and Bone is riveting and intricate. There’s no introductory exposition here. Instead, we’re thrown straight into an existing world, a living breathing space with its own language and landscape. It’s the kind of choice that might scare some creators, but for showrunner Eric Heisserer it was the only option. He said, “I just had to continue to remind everybody in the room about the genre literacy of our contemporary audience. We have a really smart and astute audience. We certainly had a legion of book fans that would already come sort of preset with their expectations and knowledge.”

Heisserer took inspiration for that narrative choice from an unexpected source. “My comparison was a medical show where a doctor or whoever can throw around a bunch of jargon that the general audience has no idea what it is,” the showrunner explained. “But they can take it in stride knowing that it has to deal with a patient, or disease, or medicine or whatever the case is. So I thought that was the approach to use here. Let the audience catch up to some of these things, let some of it be revealed later on. Let them feel like they’re just being dropped into and get to live in a world for a while.”

Journeying to the Little Palace
Alina and General Kirigan stand in front of the Grisha in the Little Palace in Shadow and Bone

Netflix

Shadow and Bone features a roster of fan favorite characters. From leads Alina, Mal, and the Darkling to the Crows, there are a ton of folks to keep up with. These include Alina’s fellow Grisha, Zoya and Genya, who play a major part of her journey to becoming the Sun Summoner. When we chatted with the actresses who play them, they were keen to talk about their readings of the powerful women that they’re playing.

Sujaya Dasgupta brings Zoya, a Squaller, to life. While her cold facade might make her seem like a classic mean girl, there’s more to her than meets the eye. Zoya’s also one of most powerful characters in the show. “She’s been with General Kirigan for a long time. She’s his best soldier and that comes with a lot of pride,” Dasgupta shared. “I think it can be perceived as arrogance sometimes, which I don’t think comes from self righteousness as much much as it comes from her confidence. It’s just a confidence in who she is and her abilities.”

Genya is another of the show’s complex women. The Tailor’s journey is a relatable one to many young girls who have had to survive a man’s world. And for Daisy Head, it was an exciting challenge to portray her. “It can be so difficult to be allowed to be who you are, without being judged or any of those other negative things. So for me it was just about bringing a truth to her. Leigh says this is a story about the people who have been told how much they don’t matter proving how much they do. For me, that’s such an important thing. It really highlights how important it is to be allowed to own one’s own space in a world.”

Bringing the Crows (and their weapons) to life
Jesper, Inej, and Kaz in Shadow and Bone.

Netflix

Of all the things fans are most excited to see in the series, Jesper, Inej, and Kaz Brekker might be highest on the list. The Crows are the stars of Bardugo’s duology, Six of Crows. They characters are also some of her most popular creations. And their roles are far more than the cameos some fans expected. We chatted with the cast about preparing for the roles and finding the heart of the Crows.

In the books, both Inej and Jesper have signature weapons. The former possesses a set of many knives, and the latter a pair of guns. The actors playing the characters had to get acquainted with their deadly tools. For Amita Suman who plays Inej, it was all about familiarity. “I was gifted these beautiful knives, and I played with them and held them and tried to really get in touch with them,” she remembered. “I was very mindful of where the knives sat and kind of made up stories about what is this knife capable of? What does this knife do emotionally?”

Kit Young was also gifted a pair of stunt guns. But it took him a little longer to get the hang of them. Young said, “I was not a natural at all! I dropped the first pair I was given and they smashed everywhere. Then gradually I had to get good at it and I was taken to the gun range. And gradually they just became an extension of both my arms. I was just doing it all the time. I carry them with me literally everywhere. I’ve got a pair here. I keep them going all the time.”

Breaking down Kaz Brekker
A poster for Shadow and Bone shows Kaz and his cane

Netflix

Kaz Brekker leads the Crows. He’s also a gangster with a thirst for vengeance, an eye for a plan, and an overwhelming affection for Inej that keeps him grounded. Freddy Carter shared his thoughts on those competing sides of Kaz. “There’s two sides of him pulling in totally different directions. I tried to lean into both my confusion of it as an actor but also for Kaz,” he said. “It’s really hard to define this stuff for someone who cannot talk about his emotions, it’s really confusing what’s happening to him. Trauma has been at the forefront of everything he’s done. And it’s quite interesting to lean into those gray areas.”

The witch hunter and the witch
Nina and Matthias in Shadow and Bone

Netflix

Another core relationship in the series is that between Matthias and Nina Zenik, a Fjerdan witch hunter and a powerful Grisha thrown together by fate. Nina’s passion for life, love, and waffles make her the perfect foil for the brainwashed soldier. It was something that drew Danielle Galligan to the character. She said, “She’s so sensuous, she’s so hedonistic, she just loves her body. She loves the experience of life, she’s the real Iggy Pop of the Grishaverse, I think.”

Matthias, on the other hand, is struggling with the anti-Grisha ideology he’s been fed his whole life and how it contrasts with the woman before him. Calahan Skogman explained his thoughts behind what makes Matthias tick. “It’s all about growth. He was raised in a particular place and a particular way, with a certain set of ideals. I think it’s not so much the laws and the structure of what Matthias initially believes that make him what he is. It’s more so his higher ideals to honor, faith, and love. Doing things the right way and being a good man. I think that’s what makes him able to slowly accept this crazy comet that is Nina into his life.”

What’s next for Shadow and Bone?
Siege and Storm book cover

Macmillan

While many fan favorite characters did make it to the screen, there are just as many who didn’t. For Bardugo, that’s one of the biggest appeals about potentially continuing the series. “There’s obviously a lot more in the series and we’re hoping we’ll have a chance to develop it. There’s certainly a lot of characters I would love to see brought to life on the screen but we just have to cross our fingers for that.”

We’ll certainly be hoping for a second season and a certain privateer to pop up.

Shadow and Bone hits Netflix on April 23.