The Darkling had every chance to dispose of Mal during the show’s climax, but he resisted. Here’s why he didn’t kill Mal and didn’t use his powers.
Warning: SPOILERS for Shadow and Bone season 1 ahead.
In the season finale of Netflix’s new high fantasy epic Shadow and Bone, Mal and General Kirigan engage in a brutal fistfight, but the Darkling does not use his Shadow Summoner powers to overpower Mal – or even kill him. Based on the novel by Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone follows Alina Starkov, an ordinary cartographer who discovers she’s actually a rare Grisha, or, more specifically, a Sun Summoner. With her powers revealed, enigmatic General Kirigan, also known as the Darkling, seeks to use her to his advantage.
In episode 8, “No Mourners,” on Kirigan’s journey to push the Shadow Fold farther across the fictional nation of Ravka, Alina breaks free from his control over her abilities. Chaos ensues on the skiff they’re traveling on through the Fold and Mal, Alina’s oldest friend, tackles Kirigan off the side and onto the ground. As the ravenous volcra draw closer, the two duke it out without magic. While it may seem strange that Kirigan doesn’t employ his Shadow Summoner powers at first, specifically using The Cut to just kill Mal outright, there are a few reasons for why he may have held off.
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After Alina cuts the stag’s antler from General Kirigan’s hand, thereby severing his control over her, he appears to be injured. In all likelihood, the Darkling probably avoids using his powers against Mal because he needs both hands to call upon the darkness. He attempts to slice Mal in half with The Cut later on in the scene, but the move proves unsuccessful because he’s still hurt. The Darkling could also have spared Mal because he says in an earlier episode that time will be the death of him, implying that Grisha are immortal. While Mal will age and die, the Darkling and Alina will live on, which is what the Darkling would prefer. In his twisted worldview, it’s a greater punishment to Mal to let him live.
But more importantly, it must be remembered that the Darkling is still human, at least deep-down. When Alina separates herself from the Darkling and aligns with Mal, the Darkling realizes that no matter what he does, Alina will always choose Mal, the common otkazat’sya over him. The Darkling believing he and Alina are meant for each other doesn’t matter; Alina will never choose to be with him and he will be alone forever in favor of Mal. Thus, their Shadow and Bone season 1 finale fistfight stems from pure human emotion and male pride, the hurt and rage the Darkling feels after being rejected. Alina and Kirigan’s burgeoning relationship has faltered because of his manipulation and his quest to overtake Ravka, and he realizes her feelings for Mal outweigh any sort of temporary feelings she might have held for the Darkling. It’s a bond he can not understand and it enrages him. This blind rage likely figures in to why he attacks Mal with such ferocity and without his powers.
Lastly, the Darkling loathes destroying people he feels could be useful to him at a later time – it’s part of the way he views everyone and everything as a tool to be used or discarded. Though he tries to dispose of Mal earlier in the season, in the finale, it’s entirely possible he realizes Mal can be used as leverage in the future against Alina, so he resorts to fistfighting instead of utilizing the Shadow Fold. Likewise, it’s fairly clear by that point that the Darkling realizes Mal is the only tracker in the world capable of hunting down all of Morozova’s amplifiers. Whether or not Netflix’s Shadow and Bone will pit Mal and the Darkling against each other again remains to be seen, but it likely won’t involve fists.
Next: Everything We Know About Shadow & Bone Season 2
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