In a world where there is a section of impenetrable darkness called the Shadow Fold, a name like The Darkling doesn’t exactly call to mind a human hero. Despite the beginning of a interesting relationship with the protagonist and sun summoner Alina Starkov, in the second season, she completely became the villain of “Shadows and Bones” series. Although he was simply called The Darkling in the books, for the Netflix adaptation, showrunner Eric Heisserer ultimately decided to give him a new moniker: 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 level. 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 extraordinary ability to manipulate the shadows around him, which initially bolsters his claim to be a descendant of The Black Heretic. In the first season, he recruited Alina to accompany him in hopes of destroying the Shadow Fold, and the pair became close during his training.
Attracted to each other from the beginning, The Darkling and Alina’s relationship turns romantic before she learns of his true intentions. Instead of wanting to destroy the Shadow Fold, he plans to use Alina’s light to banish the volcano while he expands the reach of the Shadow Fold. Of course, Alina turns against him when she learns the truth and spends most of the second season trying to gain enough strength to destroy him and the Shadow Fold once and for all.
Born to a fellow shadow summoner by the name of Baghra centuries before the beginning of “Shadows and Bones,” The Darkling initially reveals himself to be the 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 of a legacy of darkness and destruction.
The revelation that General Kirigan and the Black Heretic are one and the same was a major plot twist in the first season, though some viewers saw it through due to some contextual clues. After all, the show is set in a world where there are literal monsters (aka the volcano) in the dark. Then there’s the fact that The Darkling is Alina’s equal and opposite. Regardless, by the end of the first season, General Kirigan had fully embraced his shadow side, emerging from the depths of the Fold with new, seemingly indestructible shadow monsters called nichevo’ya at his side.
However, Barnes’ character manages to remain complex despite the evil he portrays. His nebulous monsters torment him, and by the start of the second season, he is plagued by headaches and severe pain. Meanwhile, he continues to stand by his theory that destroying the Shadow Fold won’t help Grisha, because regular people — called otkazat’sya — will never accept them either way. He also seems to have a long and unbreakable connection with Alina.
“If a character delivers a line, I want to know why he chose each of those words,” Barnes says. Comics Beat about portraying General Kirigan in 2021. “He doesn’t say, ‘Fine, I am your villain,’ but he says ‘Fine, 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 understand their own motivations.”
“Shadow and Bone” season two hits Netflix on March 16.