Spoilers for Shadow and Bone on Netflix are ahead. Netflix’s Shadow and Bone is defined by ambiguous relationships. Alina Starkov and General Kirigan (Ben Barnes) go from would-be lovers to foes quickly, but even Alina’s portrayer Jessie Mei Li can’t deny the sizzling chemistry between them. Alina and her “friend” Malyen “Mal” Oretsev (Archie Renaux) spend Shadow and Bone pining for the other’s presence, but never make a move — or define their feelings. Yet, no pairing is murkier than that of Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman) and her literal partner in crime, Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter).
Amita Suman, who portrays Shadow and Bone’s knife-wielding Inej, is just as taken with the duo as any viewer. “Inej can’t help but be pulled towards Mister Brekker. They’re two kindred spirits,” Suman tells Refinery29 over Zoom ahead of the series’ 23rd April premiere, the sun shining in her face as she speaks animatedly about the show. (“Miss Alina has really shown her presence.”)
As Suman explains Refinery29, Inej and Kaz not only share “this chemistry that cannot be helped,” but also trauma. Kaz’s painful history is only nodded to over the course of Shadow and Bone season 1, as we see evidence of his physical disability. Inej, however, is allowed to openly speak about the horrors inflicted upon her in the past as a Suli immigrant in Ketterdam who has been separated from her missing family (including her long lost brother Gregor). Inej — desperate to find her loved ones — was also enslaved and forced to work at Tante Heleen’s (Deirdre Mullins) brothel, The Menagerie. While Shadow and Bone does not dwell on this fact, Inej is a former sex worker who was coerced into the profession. According to Suman, Inej has been working with Kaz’s criminal enterprise known as The Dregs for about six to eight months before the events of Shadow and Bone.
“If Kaz Breeker had not come in at the time that he did to save her, I think Inej was down a very, very dark road of not surviving much longer,” Suman — who did a lot of research into the real-world effect of her character’s trauma — says gravely. “Her faith means every single thing to her. It’s the one thing that’s kept her alive in all of those disgusting situations that she has been through.”
Inej is broken. But from the pieces she’s forged something even stronger and more dangerous.
Viewers see the long-term effects of those “disgusting situations” throughout Shadow and Bone. One small scene still stands out to Suman: The moment after Inej performs her silk trick in fourth episode “Otkazat'sya.” Once Inej slides off of the silks, troupe leader Marko (Pedro Lloyd Gardiner) touches Inej to congratulate her for a job well done. The camera captures the exchange from behind Inej’s shoulder, but, if you look closely, you will notice her shudder from the abrupt unwanted contact.
“You see that jolt of reaction in her body and how she’s always so uncomfortable,” Suman notes. “Not even uncomfortable, just… traumatised.”
Because of Inej’s “really traumatic sexual harassment past,” Suman knows her character isn’t in a place to start fretting about boys and romance yet — she has to work on herself. “I absolutely adore Kaz and Inej’s friendship … They have one of those relationships where they can’t talk about their feelings, but their actions speak a lot louder than their words,” Suman says. Those actions include Inej breaking her no-killing morality rule to save Kaz’s life in Shadow and Bone’s fifth episode, “Show Me Who You Are.”
“Everything isn’t, ‘Oh, wait, does Kaz have feelings for me?’ for Inej. It’s more like, ‘Okay, I know he saved my life. And I owe him everything. He’s the guy who gets the job done,’” Suman continues. “She’s not ready. Also someone with such a traumatic past, to start thinking, ‘Wait, does this guy like me?’ Absolutely not. To her, right now, there are more important things.”
That’s why Suman is happy to explore more of Inej’s journey of growth without ignoring what she has survived. “It’s not sexualised either,” Suman says. “It’s one of the reasons why I took on the part. Women in the industry, we are sexualized all of the time. That’s not fair and that shouldn’t be the reason to tell a story. With Inej it’s really not.”
Although a Kaz romance may be possible in Shadow and Bone’s future (this is a Netflix show after all), that isn’t what is on Suman’s mind looking ahead. “For Inej, the aim is to get her own ship … and take down all of the slavers. To make sure that another person doesn’t go through this [same trauma],” she concludes. “Inej is broken. But from the pieces she’s forged something even stronger and more dangerous.”