(Ed. remark: This article contains spoilers for Shadow and bones season 2 and Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse books.)
From the very beginning, Netflix’s Shadow and bones adaptation took great liberties with the source material, mixing characters and storylines from Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology. In its first season, the show improved upon the books in many ways, leaving fans optimistically curious about what Shadow and bones would then do with the source material.
Fans were especially excited about the introduction of one of the Grishaverse’s most beloved characters: Sturmhond, the privateer “don’t call him a pirate” persona of Nikolai Lantsov, the Prince of Ravka. A lot of Siege and storm follows Alina and Mal’s journey on Sturmhond’s ship, as they track down the sea whip on the orders of the Darkling and later escape its control in a mutiny led by Sturmhond. While fans love Nikolai – enough that he got his own duology – so do they beloved this time with Sturmhond. However, the abbreviated timeline of Shadow and bones season 2, which covers the whole Siege and storm And Ruin and risemeans Nikolai reveals his true identity in episode 3, giving us just one episode of Sturmhond, Mal and Alina’s sailing adventures.
It was a disappointing twist for Sturmhond fans, who enjoy seeing the more riotous and carefree side of Nikolai that he gets under the privateer persona. Patrick Gibson, who plays Nikolai, said he also found it “hard to let go of Sturmhond” this season. “I had so much fun exploring the differences and similarities between those two characters and finding that line where Nikolai begins and Sturmhond ends,” Gibson told reporters. However, even after Nikolai shed his alter ego, Gibson enjoyed finding ways to “bring little elements of Sturmhond into Nikolai as he starts to own his power a little bit”.
In the books, the revelation of Sturmhond’s kingship isn’t the end of the privateer’s saga. The Shadow and Bone trilogy ends with Nikolai ascending the throne of Ravkan, but he never relinquishes his Sturmhond persona, not even reappearing under the guise of working with Crows in crooked kingdom. Here’s where the Netflix series makes the most drastic departure from the books to date: Shadow and bones Season 2 ends with Nikolai ascending the throne, yes, but also finds him passing the Sturmhond identity entirely to Archie Renaux’s Mal.
If Sturmhond revealing his princely identity so quickly was surprising to readers, Mal who became Sturmhond probably gave fans a shock powerful enough to reboot a heart. The twist is a complete break from the ending of the Shadow and Bone trilogy, in which Alina and Mal settled in the countryside to enjoy their happily ever after. But showrunner Eric Heisserer sees the Sturmhond change as a lucky way to set up both Nikolai’s next challenges as king of Ravka and Mal’s exploration of identity following the revelation that he was – and no longer is – the third of Morozova’s amps.
All his life, Mal never doubted that he was by Alina’s side. He was deeply nourished by his dedication to do everything for her, even if it meant sacrificing his own life. But after Alina destroys the Fold and he is resurrected without his amplifier abilities, Mal discovers that he has “lost his identity,” Heisserer told Polygon. “He realized he had something he was meant to be, and he fulfilled that role and had a void of purpose that he needed to fill. And I think over the course of the season we did our best to show his interest and affinity for sea travel, for the Volkvolny and Hummingbird and so on. So to give him the opportunity to step into that and take on this role, we thought it was appropriate and gave Mal a new dimension to explore and an opportunity for him to be comfortable with who he is before deciding to come back and give chase. Aline.”
And yes, you read that right. Naturally Mal will return to Alina one day. The pair is canonical endgame! For her part, Jessie Mei Li, who leads the cast as Alina, is thrilled that this time the pair split before their inevitable happy ending. Li sees this as proof of how “healthy” their relationship is. “It reminds me of a childhood romance of my own. You know, that person you care about so much, but you go your separate ways and you have to get back together if you choose to be together,” Li shared with reporters. “I thought it was incredibly mature and a really great choice by the writers. (…) It’s so exciting to think that Mal has his own trajectory, his own story, so that we see more of him outside of Alina, because he’s such a great character.
And as for Nikolai, Heisserer did indeed say that the king should “withdraw Sturmhond’s identity, at least for the foreseeable future” (emphasis on ourselves). So we’re sticking to our dream of seeing Nikolai in the privateer regalia again, this time as Mal is the one ready to shed a character and embrace his true identity – one that will take him right back to Alina’s side. will bring.
Additional reporting by Petrana Radulovic.