In a world where there’s an impenetrable section of darkness called the Shadow Fold, a name like The Darkling doesn’t exactly connote someone heroic. Although he initially embarked on a interesting relationship with the protagonist and solar summoner Alina Starkov, in the second season he fully became the villain of the series “Shadow and Bone”. Although he’s simply called The Darkling in the books, for the Netflix adaptation showrunner Eric Heisserer ultimately decided to give him a new nickname: General Kirigan.
Played by Ben Barnes in the Netflix series, The Darkling is a powerful Grisha, aka someone who can manipulate matter at its most basic levels. He is also the leader of Ravka’s Second Army, which consists almost exclusively of Grisha. Known as a shadow summoner, The Darkling has the rare ability to manipulate shadows around him, which initially bolsters his claim that he is a descendant of The Black Heretic. In season one, he recruits Alina to join him in hopes of destroying the Shadow Fold, and the pair grow closer during their training.
Attracted to each other from the start, The Darkling and Alina’s relationship quickly turns romantic before she learns his true intentions. Instead of wanting to destroy the Shadow Fold, he plans to use Alina’s light to repel the volcra as he extends the Shadow Fold’s range. Of course, Alina turns against him once she learns the truth and spends much of the second season trying to gain enough strength to destroy him and the Shadow Fold once and for all.
Born to another Shadow Summoner by the name of Baghra centuries before the start of “Shadow and Bone”, The Darkling initially poses as the great-great-great-grandson of the Black Heretic. The Black Heretic, later revealed to be another of The Darkling’s aliases, created the Shadow Fold and, with it, left a legacy of darkness and destruction.
The revelation that General Kirigan and the Dark Heretic are one was a major twist in the first season, though some viewers could see it coming thanks to contextual clues. After all, the show takes place in a world where there are literal monsters (aka the volcra) in the dark. Then there’s the fact that The Darkling is Alina’s equal and opposite. Either way, by the end of the first season, General Kirigan has fully embraced his dark side, emerging from the depths of the Fold with new, seemingly indestructible ghost monsters called nichevo’ya by his side.
Still, Barnes’ character manages to remain complex despite his apparent villainy. His shadowy monsters take their toll on him, and at the start of the second season, he is plagued with headaches and excruciating pain. Meanwhile, he continues to stick to his theory that destroying the Shadow Fold wouldn’t help the Grisha at all, as ordinary people – called the otkazat’sya – will never accept them anyway. He also seems to have a lingering, unbreakable connection with Alina.
“If a character delivers a line, I want to know why they chose each of those words,” Barnes told Comics Beat of the 2021 portrayal of General Kirigan. am your villain”, but he says ‘All right, make me your villain.’ He doesn’t believe he’s the villain of the story and I think all the villains you really believe in have their own motivations.”
The second season of “Shadow and Bone” hits Netflix on March 16.