Shadow and Bone’s Creator Has Mapped Out Far Beyond Season 2: “We Have A Bunch Of Crazy Plans”
Creator Eric Heisserer doesn’t plan on leaving the Grishaverse anytime soon.
Eric Heisserer knows that YA gets a bad rap.
“People will have just a misunderstanding of that genre by its label,” Heisserer tells Inverse. “I think they misattribute that it is meant for a certain audience, or a certain age group — when it's not.”
But the Oscar-winning Arrival screenwriter and creator of Netflix’s Shadow and Bone didn’t set out to disabuse people of the notion that YA is just for “young adults,” whatever that means. Instead, Shadow and Bone, which became a sleeper hit when its first season premiered in 2021, earnestly embraces that label, delivering on all those YA tropes — friends to lovers, chosen ones, so much yearning — with zeal. Because, to Heisserer, what lies beneath all those fluffy romantic clichés is what makes YA such a powerful genre.
“It’s one of the most powerful and provocative genres we have now,” Heisserrer says. “Particularly because, intrinsic to the types of stories that flourish in that space, it’s the sense that the problems of young people are not just a person-to-person conflict. It is a systemic problem. It is a system that's rigged against them. And I think that is so ultimately relatable today.”
Season 2 of Shadow and Bone (out on Netflix now), doubles down on what made Season 1 so great — delivering more romance, yes, but also exploring those systemic and sociopolitical conflicts that Heisserer finds so rewarding about YA. The result is a more sprawling and ambitious season that juggles several more storylines, several new fan-favorite characters, and many more romantic tropes.
Inverse chatted with Heisserer about weaving together the adaptations of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse books, the future of Six of Crows, and why “Darklina” is so beloved.
One of the innovations of Season 1 was how it wove together the two different stories of Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows. With Season 2 splitting up the characters even further, how did you make sure that the season’s subplots didn’t feel too disparate?
The answer is, we try. It's clear that in the first half of the season, they have to face the consequences of the actions that they committed in Season 1. And we felt in building out the season, if we didn't really pay that the proper attention, then it would feel like either group sort of got away on the scale with the choices that they made in Season 1.
For the Crows in particular, it was betraying Pekka Rollins, as well as betraying Dreesen and not coming back with the Sun Summoner. Alina has her own set of issues to deal with, in terms of not being able to tear down the Fold in Season 1. And her break from Kirigan, that was essentially done to a very small audience of survivors. So very few people know about that. Therefore, you have a few episodes where both groups really need to face the music about that, and deal with their own problems. And the uniting factor for both of those groups is about how they process trauma. Alina is processing the traumas and is experiencing PTSD and what happened to her in Season 1. And Kaz’s trauma comes back to haunt him at the top of Season 2.
“We have a bunch of crazy plans for where that goes from here.”
This season adapts Siege and Storm, but also introduces an original storyline featuring the Crows. What was the most challenging part of adapting what fans love about the Crows’ story and making sure they still fit within their new roles in the Shadow and Bone story?
There were a whole bunch of challenging problems for that. One of the mandates that we received from Netflix going into Season 2 was, “We loved the way that the Crows’ storyline integrated with the Alina storyline eventually, and you have to perform that magic trick again.” So we knew we had that challenge with them. But we also knew that we had Pekka Rollins as a villain character for Season 2 because we firmly established that in Season 1. We spent a lot of time attempting to create a conflict there with our Crows and Pekka as the villain. That in early weeks, in the writers room, really didn't bear any helpful fruit because we would either create something that ended in a stalemate, because we didn't need it. We didn't want either character who advanced into something that would encroach on future storylines for them. Or we found something that when we step back, realized it made either or both characters sort of look weaker in that fact that neither of them got what they wanted.
We then had to take a look at how we could possibly tell canonical stories, but in a different order. And to make sure that if we did that, that we did as best we could, sort of pulling the tablecloth and keeping the dinnerware on the table. And then figured out how we could then escalate things with the storyline and with those characters later, but that it felt like our Crows all advanced in their emotional arcs over the season. Because the last thing you want to do as a dramatic writer for this is to bring these characters in the world, and then have them feel like they're on pause until they get to a certain point in a book where you want them to suddenly grow. Because then you're essentially creating caricatures that don't do anything. Of course, all the actors wanted to do stuff. So that's what we ended up fashioning for the Crows. And we have a bunch of crazy plans for where that goes from here.
Were there any parts of the storylines where you thought, this actually fits together better than I had anticipated? The kind of pleasant surprise of “oh, this actually kind of works perfectly.”
Yeah, I think the Crows one is the one that we could look at and say [that]. It's largely because we know the piping that we've laid down, and we also know the timeline and the order of events that worked for us. And some of what we've already written, which is a little bit of a spoiler, but whatever. That works really well and integrates in some pretty exciting ways with the Alina storyline.
A few fan-favorite characters get introduced in Shadow and Bone Season 2. Which of the characters were you most excited to introduce in Season 2?
Oh, my gosh, that is a really good question. I would say maybe it's got to be a tie. Like I was just as excited for Wylan to be integrated in the group as I was for Nikolai to be in the other storylines. So for each of those storylines, those were the characters that I was most thrilled with seeing come alive. To be able to write essentially a Gaslamp Tony Stark character. There's an innocence with Wylan, but there's also an extreme competence and knowledge, and that he is far more observant than people give him credit for.
Yeah, and people have been really anticipating the casting for both. There's a lot of chatter in the fan circles of people looking forward to Nikolai and Wylan. So was there pressure to introduce them as well?
We took to Season 2 casting the same process that we did with Season 1, and part of that was to not get pulled into the fan sphere and find the performers who have the right chemistry with our existing actors. And that was the gift that we had going into Season 2 is that we could put various Wylan candidates with Kit [Young] and we could bring Jesse [Mei Li] up for chemistry reads with our small army of Nikolai candidates. We just kept doing that until we found that spark.
Shadow and Bone’s great appeal is its packed ensemble full of likable characters, but the central conflict remains between Alina and the Darkling. The first season really played up their opposing dynamics (and romance) in delicious ways — through character moments as well as cinematography. Can you speak to how their cosmic connection develops in Season 2 and how it affects Alina’s journey from fugitive to leader?
I would say that the evolution of both those characters in Season 2 is Alina, recognizing that she has to be a leader in order to affect change her way. And that as she is gaining power from additional amplifiers, she's also sort of unlocking different emotions that those amplifiers are tapping into. For the Sea Whip that is essentially unprocessed rage, that we then had a lot of trial and error to figure out how to visualize that in VFX. And, of course, the Firebird has its own evolution that speaks to that. I'm trying to be as careful as possible about this as we go in.
And, as I said earlier, Alina’s main obstacle is processing trauma, and then finding strength within herself to make the hard choices that a leader does. And I think she makes as many mistakes as she does right choices. But they're all human. And we can empathize with her every step of the way.
And the Darkling, on the other hand, finds himself in — as someone who is nearly immortal — a very slow Groundhog Day. He is now reliving a chapter in history that he's lived before. They’re after Grisha, this again. And he feels that more and more he's going to be stuck in this kind of life unless he manages to hang on to the one relationship he knows can endure all of that, which is with Alina. He doesn't see himself as the toxic boyfriend, and that is his flaw. He becomes more and more obsessed with this, you know, fictional idea of a relationship with Alina, as the season progresses. And that gets him in trouble.
This is a YA fantasy show, after all, and I can’t not talk about the romance. The show offers the best kind of YA romance tropes: Alina and Mal’s childhood friends to lovers, Kaz and Inej’s mutual pining. But let’s talk Darklina and their twisted cosmic connection. Why do you think Darklina is so appealing to fans? I personally find it intriguing, not from a romantic point of view, but from that conflict point of view where it's opposing dynamics, and they bring up both best and worse in each other.
I think you hit it on the head, that they are these opposing dynamics, these opposites attract, and that they see sort of the mirror image of each other in that relationship and that dynamic. And there is not only an amplification of power, but of just emotional chemistry that is helped by Ben Barnes being cast. I will say right off the bat, that is one of our best moves. And of course, Jessie who is an actual sunbeam in real life. She's such an amazing and bright personality. So those two accentuate the dynamic of Alina and the Darkling.
And it's helped by the fact that while the Darkling has always been inherently toxic and villainous, Leigh [Bardugo] writes him so well, because he's not wrong about a lot of things he says or the things that he believes. Some of that comes from a pure place and some of it comes from a wounded place. Demon in the Wood, the short story that explores his childhood, shines a light on that. But when they can't bridge the gap between them is what ultimately puts them on their separate paths.
You touched on briefly that you have plans for the storylines moving forward and how they're going to be interweaving. What future storylines are you personally most excited to adapt for Shadow and Bone?
Well, there are some really exciting storylines in King of Scars that I'm excited about. Particularly with Nikolai. And Six of Crows, that is as clean a port from book to adaptation that I've found in my career, so it would be an absolute delight to tell that story.