Why does Baghra push Alina Starkov so hard in Netflix’s Shadow and Bone? Here’s why she ultimately succeeds despite failing with her immediate goal.
WARNING: Spoilers for Shadow and Bone season 1.
Why does Baghra push Alina Starkov so hard in Shadow and Bone? Portrayed by Jessie Mei Li and Zoë Wanamaker, respectively, the characters have an awkward first meeting in the third episode, “The Making at the Heart of the World,” but ultimately have a mutually beneficial if tense relationship. While training the Grisha Sun Summoner in Shadow and Bone season 1, Baghra’s tough love methods directly link to her secret motivations.
In the world of the Netflix show, every Grisha is trained by Baghra to harness their powers. Everyone seems to acknowledge the woman’s strict and sometimes brutal methods; it’s revealed that she once even unleashed a hive of bees on one of her students. When Alina shows up late for her first training lesson, Baghra immediately schools her about the importance of self-confidence and tells the Sun Summoner that she can’t punch her way through the Shadow Fold. Right away, Baghra makes it clear that Alina needs to have absolute control of her powers, and that the first step is having full mastery of her abilities. Of all the Grisha, Baghra seems most invested in Alina’s evolution and growth, and she is a relentless taskmaster with Alina, sometimes bordering on awful.
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Baghra pushes Alina so hard, however, because she understands the stakes. Shadow and Bone’s fifth episode reveals that General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), knowing as The Darkling, is actually the immortal “Black Heretic” and that Baghra is his mother. Worse, his plan is to take control of Alina’s power by killing the Stag and fitting her with Morozova’s Collar then expanding the Fold to use as a weapon. Thus, the context around Alina’s training scenes takes on new meaning. Baghra doesn’t stray from her usual approach, but she pushes extra hard because she knows that her power-obsessed son is plotting against Alina and the Sun Summoner needs to be a worthy opponent. Either Alina to be strong enough on her own to dissuade the Darkling from seeking out the Stag, or she needs to be strong enough to fight him if he does it, anyway. Either way, Baghra’s ruthless pushing of Alina stems from her sense of urgency and the feeling time is running out.
Baghra fails to protect Alina from The Darkling but succeeds with her overall mission. For example, Aleksander does indeed bind himself with Alina but doesn’t realize how much she learned from his mother. Shadow and Bone’s seventh episode, “The Unsea,” explains how The Darkling inadvertently created the Black Fold out of pure frustration but also details Baghra’s practical approach when utilizing the “Small Science.” By training under a legendary and immortal Grisha, Alina learns the most valuable lessons about her powers and existence. When she finally locates The Stag, one of three amplifiers, her training and life experience allow her to make the right decision. She doesn’t immediately kill the deer but rather uses her powers to connect with it, and part of that is what she gleaned from Baghra.
Baghra sees the bigger picture in Shadow and Bone season 1. She can’t be entirely sure that Alina will defeat her son, but she can provide her with the right tools to protect herself, the Grisha under the Darkling’s control, and the people of Ravka. Shadow and Bone season 1 ending shows The Darkling surviving the Fold, but he’s at a great disadvantage moving forward because Alina has fully become one with the Stag – the result of Baghra going above and beyond the call of duty.
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