Major spoilers for Shadow and Bone on Netflix are ahead. “When we were shooting that scene, it was quite funny. In order to have an eye line, Simon J. Aguirre, who was our first AD, had to be The Stag,” Shadow and Bone star Jessie Mei Li recalled with a laugh over a Zoom call with Refinery29 earlier this month. “All those shots in the show, I was staring at Simon. He was walking towards me.”
The scene’s final product elicits anything but a chuckle. It arrives as finale “No Mourners'' reaches its ending crescendo. Mei Li’s heroine, Alina Starkov, is trapped on a skiff in the middle of the supernatural Fold with her almost-lover, now-enemy General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), aka The Darkling. Kirigan is using a pair of magical amplifiers to connect his powers as a shadow-based Grisha to Alina’s abilities as a Grisha Sun Summoner. The mystical dead stag whose antlers created the amplifiers appears to Alina in a vision, pushing her to reject Kirrigan’s unwarranted control and embrace her vast powers for herself.
To understand the finale’s many amplifier twists, we need to go back to Shadow and Bone season 1’s penultimate episode, “The Unsea.” In the first half of the chapter, Alina and her childhood friend/love interest Malyen “Mal” Oretsev (Archie Renaux) race to find Morozova's Stag, a long-mythologized animal, before Kirigan. As viewers learn earlier in the series, body parts from animals like The Stag can be used as amplifiers to increase a Grisha’s powers. It is believed that the Grisha who kills the magical animal in question is the only one who can utilize the amplifier. The Stag’s antlers are suspected to be the most powerful would-be amplifiers in the world.
Despite Alina’s best efforts to protect The Stag, Kirigan kills the creature. Minutes later, Kirigan has a small Stag amplifier embedded in his hand and a major section of Stag antlers forced into Alina’s collarbone — thereby permanently connecting them, and their powers. Alina is left with bones shooting out of her body. “When you see that happen, it’s unexpected,” Mei Li noted.
Shadow and Bone production initially considered featuring other Grisha amplifier users earlier in the season, but ultimately decided against it, Mei Li confirmed. That way, the reveal is all the more shocking. “Rather than the amplifier being this piece of jewellery, which obviously it was in the books, it’s this thing that is completely gruesome and Alina can’t escape from it,” the actor continued. “She can’t take it off. It’s part of her. Which is terrifying.”
Shadow and Bone’s finale “switches around” that grim perspective on the amplifiers with lightning speed. At the start of the episode, Kirigan takes Alina into The Fold to prove “their” combined strength to ambassadors from would-be Grisha enemy countries. Kirigan abuses his increased powers, attacking the emissaries, Alina’s surprise allies on the skiff, and, ultimately, the innocent city of nearby Novokribirsk. When all seems lost, The Stag comes to Alina in a spiritual fantasy, helping highlight the “more supernatural element” of Shadow and Bone, as Mei Li said.
“While obviously it’s like a vision, it’s my belief that vision was actually just a part of Alina in that moment … like this strength was in her all along. This Stag is a part of her, hence why she sees it,” Mei Li continued. While The Stag and Alina technically never speak, Mei Li hoped the exchange would read as a conversation to viewers. “When I was watching [the episode], I was giving [the Stag] a voice. I was like, ‘Hello, Alina. You just have one more thing to do,’” she explained.
Alina’s final task is recognizing the Stag amplifier is hers alone, despite the fact that Kirigan killed the animal. Because, as Alina says in the finale, “You cannot claim what was not given to you” — The Stag chose her. Understanding the truth in those words, Alina cuts the amplifier out of Kirigan’s hand and claims her sun summoning power for herself. Immediately, The Stag’s antlers slide into Alina’s skin, no longer a macabre sign of Kirigan’s control over her. The rousing music and dazzling light display makes this small character moment one of Shadow and Bone’s most spine tingling sequences.
“It’s part of her. That’s lovely and cool,” Mei Li said of Alina’s epic development. Mei Li is also pleased that the atlar’s new placement inside of Alina means she no longer has to wear the prosthetics during filming.
With Alina in control of her powers, Shadow and Bone is able to glimpse a short-lived happy ending. Alina, Mal, the Six of Crows Dregs, and foe-turned-friend Zoya (Sujaya Dasgupta) escape The Fold and make it to a destroyed Novokribirsk. Everyone agrees to go their separate ways — although Mal and Alina end up on the same boat as the Dregs. Everyone is able to ponder the future, since they believe Kirigan was murdered by a Volkra monster while inside of The Fold.
The last section of “No Mourners,” however, reveals how wrong Shadow and Bone’s heroes are. Kirigan survived. In an added deadly twist, Kirigan leaves the Fold in control of at least two new shadow monsters. In the closing shot of the finale, Kirigan sets out upon the city formerly known as Novokribirsk with his shadow army in tow. Alina, none the wiser, is left pondering her next steps on a boat from Os Kervo to Ketterdam.
“Alina and Kirigan’s relationship isn’t done, necessarily. It can never — and will never — be the same as she may have hoped it would have been,” Mei Li predicted. “But, going forward, their relationship is going to become more complicated and interesting. I hope people watch season 1 and have a debate about it with their friends. Over Zoom. Obviously.”