Warning: This article contains spoilers for Shadow and Bone season 2 and the book series.
Netflix’s Shadow and Bone season 2 introduces a new character with Nikolai Lantsov, and his relationship with Alina is very different from the one they have in the book. In the books, Alina, Mal, and Nikolai enjoy an interesting friendship until Nikolai (who had been masquerading as the privateer Sturmhond) reveals his true identity, swiftly suggesting that he and Alina get engaged in order to inspire unity within Ravka. The books tease the possibility of a love triangle between Alina, Nikolai, and Mal. However, the show portrays Nikolai’s intentions very differently.
Netflix’s streamlined version of their strategic engagement is one of many changes Shadow and Bone season 2 makes to the story. After the proposed engagement in the books, Mal grows jealous and distant while Alina’s friendship with Nikolai deepens. Nikolai suggests that he and Alina might develop their friendship into a romance, and through his charming attempts to woo her, there is always an implication that the two could develop genuine feelings. Nikolai discusses the prospect of having children with Alina and sets her up to become his queen, even kissing her during a public appearance.
Shadow & Bone Season 2’s Nikolai Destroys His Love Triangle With Alina
The Shadow and Bone show takes a true romance between Alina and Nikolai out of the question by shifting the focus to Alina’s feelings for Mal. Even Nikolai takes every opportunity to acknowledge their relationship and remark on their love, reinforcing the fact that the engagement would be just for show. The series also removes Mal’s jealousy, and he agrees that an alliance in the form of an engagement would be the best protection for her and Ravka. Nikolai does very little to push the idea after its suggestion, but Mal takes many opportunities to try and convince Alina to agree.
Unlike the books, the show doesn’t devote much time to building the friendship between Alina and Nikolai, which makes it harder to imagine their romance. Instead, their relationship develops as a result of living through several life-or-death situations, and it’s clearly founded on mutual respect rather than attraction. For viewers who haven’t read the books, a romance between them seems unlikely, though it remains possible with Mal leaving at the end of season 2. Regardless, it’s clear that Nikolai will not be going out of his way to compete with Mal for Alina’s affections.
Why Shadow & Bone Season 2’s Romance Changes Were The Right Decision
The Shadow and Bone trilogy is told from Alina’s point of view, but Netflix’s adaption expands on the story to involve many characters from Leigh Bardugo’s other books. While this creates an enriching effect on the show’s world-building, it requires the show to condense certain storylines. There simply isn’t time for the show to examine every aspect of the books’ character dynamics, especially since Alina’s relationship with General Kirigan already inspired one love triangle in season 1. Luckily, her story isn’t dependent on a third romance with Nikolai.
Mal and Nikolai enjoyed a short friendship before the suggestion of the strategically-motivated engagement in the books, and by cutting out the love triangle, Netflix’s show is able to focus on the more crucial aspects of the characters’ relationships as they prepare to take on the Darkling. With so many books to adapt, the series needs to prioritize its chosen storylines moving forward, such as Nikolai’s merzost infection or Alina’s new power. Shadow and Bone twists several of the books’ existing plots and creates new ones, and eliminating Nikolai and Alina’s love triangle allows the narrative to follow the most important parts.
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