Editor’s Note: The following contains full spoilers from Shadow and Bone Season 2.
Netflix’s fantasy show, Shadow and Bone, relies on the genre’s classic conflict of good verse evil. This age-old dichotomy is personified in the characters of Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) and The Darkling (Ben Barnes), but these two are more closely connected than other hero and villain pairs. Their abilities are polar opposites as Alina summons light and The Darkling controls shadows, but the characters are not so different. As two of the most powerful Grisha, each with a unique ability and destined to live much longer than anyone else, Alina and The Darkling are more similar than they initially seem. But it is so much more than simple similarities that tie these two together. By nature, their abilities make them so connected. Light and shadow create a balance, which explains why Alina is expected to destroy the Shadow Fold. Since learning of her powers, The Darkling has been obsessed with getting Alina on his side.
Whether this is motivated by his fear of being beaten or, as he claims, by the fact that with her, he would no longer face eternity alone is unclear, but he didn’t go about it in the best way. The Darkling spent the majority of the first season manipulating Alina. And once she discovered the truth, that bridge was burned. Yet The Darkling didn’t give up. In Season 2, they are more connected than ever before, although Alina doesn’t understand how. She has nightmares of The Darkling but consoles herself with the belief that he’s dead. As she discovers that the Fold is expanding, just like in her dreams, she questions if her dreams could be more than that. And they are. Alina discovers she and The Darkling share a tether that defies logic, but she is uncertain if it is a strength or weakness.
What Can the Connection Between Alina and The Darkling Do?
The mysterious connection Alina and The Darkling share does more than allow Alina to discover he’s alive. It becomes an integral part of their fight as each attempt to weaponize their tether against the other. Through their connection, Alina and the Darkling can hear each other’s voices and see each other wherever they are. The tether enacts involuntarily. It’s almost like sleeping, but Alina can visit The Darkling without leaving her location, being in two places at the same time. This connection allows Alina and The Darkling to communicate no matter where they are, meaning The Darkling can continue manipulating Alina. He lures her away from the battle as he still has plans for her. As she learns more about it, Alina attempts to use the connection as well, but she isn’t as effective.
They each try to learn more about it, concluding that it is a result of their unique amplifier made from the antlers of Morozova’s stag. While The Darkling killed the stag, he put the collar on Alina in an effort to gain control of her power. The Darkling had a piece of the stag’s antlers embedded into his hand to complete the connection between them, but Alina managed to sever his control, cutting the bone from his hand and reclaiming the stag’s power for herself. The Darkling may not have control anymore, but they are still connected. As no one has ever forged an amplifier like the one in question, they don’t have any answers, but they both believe it goes back to the remaining wound on The Darkling’s hand. As The Darkling grows stronger, Alina views their connection as a weakness and wants to end it. So she plans to destroy it. Using the tether, Alina visits The Darkling and mimics his tricks to get close. He readily believes that he won, but in the last second, she attempts to close the wound on his hand with her powers, yet she is pulled out of it, and the tether remains intact.
Though Alina fails to destroy it, their tether doesn’t last forever. The Darkling’s mother helps Alina learn about the tether, though she has long hesitated to fight her son directly. It’s not the first time Baghra (Zoë Wanamaker) has defied her son. In the first season, it was Baghra who told Alina of The Darkling’s designs and convinced her to leave. As an experienced teacher of Grisha, Baghra encouraged Alina to learn about the tether, and she was as aware of the dangers as anyone. She, of all people, knows what the Darkling is capable of. Baghra blames herself for his ruthlessness, citing how she raised him. But she still loves him. Yet when it puts them in jeopardy, Baghra takes a stand. As The Darkling uses the connection to visit Alina at the worst possible moment, Baghra takes over the tether. Though mother and son have no amplifier to tie them together, as Alina and The Darkling do, they are family. And the inherited power of being a living amplifier seems to be a sufficient substitute. Baghra is able to reach into The Darkling’s mind as Alina does, projection herself into his location. In their confrontation, Baghra uses her powers to sever his hand, cutting off the wound Morozova’s stag amplifier left. Baghra dies in the process, but her sacrifice allows Alina and Mal (Archie Renaux) to escape and finally ends the amplifier’s tether between Alina and The Darkling.
Alina and The Darkling are Connected Even When It Is Severed
Yet The Darkling doesn’t stop chasing Alina. With the unnatural tether gone, he still believes they are connected through their abilities. He has always wanted her light to balance his shadow. Their connection persists because of what The Darkling believes Alina to be. He is constantly referring to her as “my Alina,” which is creepy, but that is the true depths of their connection. While they can only visit and communicate through the tether forged by Morozova’s stag, the root of their connection is in The Darkling’s expectation. He believes Alina to be his counterbalance. That’s why he creates the stag amplifier, to begin with. And because of his unwavering belief that they are meant to be a pair, the connection between The Darkling and Alina exists as long as they are both alive.