WarningMight contain spoilers.

The show starts out very well, aided by a strong, memorable musical motif. It loses a bit of its quality as it goes on, but it’s always good.

Alina is a strong, capable, and likeable character when left to herself. Unfortunately, she spends a lot of time as the damsel in distress. I hope Jessie Mei Li has more to do in the next season. The collar Kirigan gives her that burrows into her neck is quite disgusting. I do wonder: if the stag chose to give Alina its power, how is Kirigan able to control her until he suddenly can’t?

I love Archie Renaux as Mal (though I had a bit of trouble understanding a few of his mumbled lines). I lost count of how many times he should have died: just to name two, I was sure he’d have a beautifully tragic death in the snow next to the stag, then I was sure he would die tragically in the last episode when he tackles Kirigan for no reason. I was very glad he survived in both cases.

The Crows are great characters. Jesper is awesome. I even liked Arken a lot, betrayal and all. You can’t help but sympathize with Kaz’s sadness at how quickly Inej goes from horror at having killed someone for the first time to killing again, and at Alina’s approval of her actions.

There are many more good performances. Dean Lennox Kelly’s Pekka Rollins intimidates with just his calm yet menacing demeanour. Julian Kostov is charming and easy to like as Fedyor, yet subtly and effortlessly pivots to an antagonistic role in the finale.[1] Daisy Head’s portrayal of Genya radiates honesty and authenticity. Even Tante Heleen, owner of The Menagerie, was memorable in her brief time onscreen. And of course, there’s Baghra (Zoë Wanamaker)’s amazing voice…

On the other hand, the supposed appeal of Ben Barnes is completely lost on me. I’m thoroughly unimpressed by his performance as General Kirigan, which sticks out like a sore thumb, and the stilted cadence of his dialogue.

Nina and Matthias are a complete bore, too. I felt bad watching Danielle Galligan pour her heart and soul into a charming, sultry, and fascinating character who has almost nothing to do except attempt to extract an ounce of emotion from Calahan Skogman as a block of wood. Their story has no resonance whatsoever, nor any real connection to anything else. It’s a forced and uninteresting distraction built on a vaguely disturbing foundation. Nina deserved much better.

There were a few unnecessary shots: people being sliced in half, Alina being stripped before her bath, an entire scene with Nina in a barely-adequate blanket—the last two obviously only to titillate, and perplexing considering how chaste Shadow and Bone is.

I almost laughed at Zoya suddenly revealing in the finale that she had family in Ravka. It certainly solved the mystery of what Kirigan had planned.

  1. I was struck by Popeye the Kerch Captain at the bar in the same episode.