Ben Barnes Loves Being Shadow and Bone's Best Villain

The Netflix series based on the Grishaverse series by Leigh Bardugo is back for season 2 with a vengeance and a brutal villain arc.

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Ben Barnes in Shadow and Bone
Image: Netflix

After Shadow and Bone fans went wild for Ben Barnes’ General Kirigan in season one, io9 famously asked the audience at large, “what do you see in this douchebag?” It remains a perfect article. However, I think regardless of people’s personal feelings toward the character, we can all agree: Barnes has an absolute blast chewing on the scenery—and he’s back in season two, ready to look fine as hell doing it all over again.

Barnes sat down with io9 in a roundtable interview to support the season two Netflix release and discuss Kirigan’s new ambitions and instability. After stating that his job in season one was to “utilize his charm and manipulation” to establish the social hierarchies of the world, he said “this season, I was excited because those masks have all dropped. We’re looking at the way he’s sort of being poisoned from within by his literal shadow demons. But it also this power card affords him the opportunity to just tell the truth, how he sees it and sort of really let rip and kind of go full dark on everything because he’s got nothing left to lose.”


In addition to losing control of his power and a lot of the masks that previously protected him, Kirigan also loses a lot of his allies. Not only does Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) cut ties with him at the end of season one, but his own mother, Baghra (Zoë Wanamaker), and much of the Ravkan court decide he can no longer be trusted. When asked if he sees this as a consequence of Kirigan’s actions, Barnes said, “I think like all toxic villains, he believes himself to be the victim. He says to his mother, ‘Everything I am, I learned at your knee’, blaming her.”

Throughout season two, Alina and Kirigan “visit” each other through a kind of magical psychic connection. They don’t get the same kind of push and pull they had in season one, but their stories are still very much intertwined. “When it comes to Alina, he feels the magnetism and connection and sees something of himself in her,” Barnes adds. “But he discovers that he’s not going to be able to get her back”—although Barnes does say that Kirigan “believes in his agenda, and is willing to suffer the consequences of chasing it.”


He also speaks about the connection that his character has with Alina, and how it kind of broke apart the preconceived notions of magic laid out in the first season. “I wanted to ground it in something that felt mindful and meditative. Then, just when he realizes that this new power is kind of healing for him, [he and Alina] both start to abuse that connection in their own ways for their own agendas, and both end up basically trying to kill each other within that space.”

The series hints at the shadow summoner’s redemption, but not in a way where Kirigan actually receives forgiveness. He just learns that maybe he’s been a villain all along, and he realizes what he has had to sacrifice in order to get power. “He digs out an old version of himself who is capable of love. Then it’s going to be hate instead and anger, and he’s going to lead with that... And it’s not until much later on in the season when he starts to ask more difficult questions of himself, as he sort of wrestles with his own humanity and mortality.”


All eight episodes of Shadow and Bone season two are available on Netflix.

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