Netflix's Shadow And Bone Combines Books, Creates New Tales, and Goes Big With Story (Set Visit Report)

In adapting Shadow and Bone into a series for Netflix, showrunner Eric Heisserer had a lot of [...]

In adapting Shadow and Bone into a series for Netflix, showrunner Eric Heisserer had a lot of important choices to make. He had to get creative with some original story ideas of his own which were not laid out fully in Leigh Bardugo's novels but he also had to make key choices in regards to production. For example, should he runn the show for 10 episodes or 8 episodes in its freshman season? He chose eight, knowing the series would have the same amount of funding either way, and decided to add production value to his story. The decision seems to have been the right one. Upon stepping into the Budapest set of Shadow and Bone, it was clear that this show is going big -- like, life-size and breathtakingly built Sandskiff which took up nearly an entire sound stage, big. visited the set of Shadow and Bone in early 2020, witnessing the production of the first season's final scene. No spoilers about what we saw there will be shared here but, let's just say, they are confident and ambitious heading into a second season. Although our journey with the show started at its end, Heisserer was excited to share how his began and it all started with a tweet.

"I got a call out of the blue from Netflix and they said hey, 'We know you tweeted the author a year ago,'" Heisserer explained. He had sent a tweet to Bardugo about obtaining the fantasy-adventure trilogy of books. Having written titles like Arrival and Netflix's Bird Box, the streaming brand decided to give him an opportunity to crack this story after they obtained the rights. Plus, Bardugo approved. "I went in with this big plan, and midway through the first meeting, they stopped me and said, 'Oh it's nice that you have grand designs, but we only have the rights to Shadow and Bone, you don't have Six of Crows' and I said, 'Well, that's it for me' and I just walked right out," Heisserer explains.

(Photo: Netflix / Shadow and Bone)

The Six of Crows story is integral for Heisserer's vision. The showrunner has thoroughly developed backstory for characters like Kaz, Inej, and Jesper which are interwoven with the Shadow and Bone story's timing. It's a prequel of sorts, rather than a follow up to the Shadow and Bone story as it is in book form.

"The way they've done this show is they've made the Six of Crows characters fit in with the Shadow and Bone story with their own kind of prequel," Sujaya Dasgupta, the show's Zoya actress, explained. "But it's really clever how they've done it because you could almost read Shadow and Bone again and kind of nothing's changed even with the way that they've added in the characters. It's almost like you could think, 'Oh, but they were there at that time! Like maybe they were just behind that wall?' So it's really interesting the way they've managed to sort of sneak them in."

The show is not shying away from making some changes to the characters by comparison to the source material counterparts but all of the choices seem to be steps in directions which will only serve the series to be more interesting and complete while also honoring Bardugo's works. "It required building some story -- a prequel worth of story for some characters -- so that we don't break anything in Leigh Bardugo's timeline," Heisserer explains. "It's interesting the way that Six of Crows is built in that you do get into backstories that are outside the current timeline. And so we touch on some of that for a few the characters and for others it's brand new."

Archie Renaux, Shadow and Bone's Malyen Oretsev, sat beside Ben Barnes (who plays General Kirigan) while the two shared the excitement for how this interwoven story plays out. "A big thing that stood out for me was how much he delved into each character's story," Renaux says. "Especially as the book is coming from being in a first person [perspective] in the series, we as people have quite short attention spans these days and we need lots of things going on, which Eric and his team of writers have achieved really well."

Barnes adds: "That's one of the bonuses of meshing the duology and trilogy together is that you get lots of different perspectives."

(Photo: Shadow And Bone / Netflix)

Barnes is, in fact, a major player in this series serving as the character book readers know as the Darkling. "I play General Kirigan who is the Commander of the Second Army which is the Grisha Army, the army with the small science and magical powers. At the beginning of the season, he is, after having been alive for a very long time, very frustrated with the situation, which is that there is a war being threatened from both the north and south, and there is this divide of The Fold, which is nigh on impossible to cross and Ravka is slowly being choked out."

Barnes notes that this first season of Shadow and Bone will touch on his character's key moments from Bardugo's first book. Still, Heisserer is ready to tease a showdown between Barnes' Kirigan and Freddy Carter's Kaz Brekker. "You think about -- is there a moment with a face-off between Kaz Brekker and the Darkling? Do we have a f---ing Batman v Superman moment in this thing? And who's gonna walk away from that? I may know," Heisserer teases.

Another showdown which will be coming throughout the show is the relationship between Sujaya Dasgupta's Zoya and Jessie Mei Li's Alina Starkov. The two were not exactly friendly with one another in the books and Dasgupta teases a bit of a "mean girl" style to their interaction in the series but the dynamic will be explored as viewers get to know Zoya through the series.

"It's a real lovely journey that [Zoya] goes on and understanding her motivations and kind of like fleshing it out a lot more and adding a lot more depth to her," Dasgupta says. "What makes her human and why she does these things, why doesn't she like Alina, why she's so mean in the first books, is really really interesting to kind of delve into that and why she is how she is. So I think I think she's a gorgeous character." It makes sense the often compare their roles to those in the books, too. Most of the actors read the novels as a means to prepare for the Netflix series.

One key change from the source material is a welcome idea: Heisserer and the team have made the Netflix series more diverse in its cast than the book series is with its characters. "I think it was part of the reason why Leigh and I were excited about making Alina, the lead, half Shu, because then we already stepped out with something that was different," Heisserer says. "We liked the idea that the way she bonded with Mal is that both of them were mixed, and that just carved out a different space for us in the adaptation."

(Photo: Netflix / Shadow and Bone)

The series seems primed with great creative choices on top of already beloved source material. From the gigantic Sandskiff, the impressively detailed and immersive costume design, and fully realized camp outside of the Fold, Shadow and Bone seems to be headed in a direction which will make even the toughest critics of book adaptations happy.