It’s been almost two years since Season 1 first debuted on Netflix, but it’s finally time to return to Ravka. Wait, though—what is Ravka, again? Who are Alina, Mal, the Darkling, and “The Crows”? And what the hell is merzost?!
Author Leigh Bardugo created a massive, captivating world with her Grishaverse, but as we learned when this show first debuted, this place can also be pretty confusing. If you need a quick refresher, read on for a quick primer on this fictional universe, and where the wildly popular Netflix show left off last season.
First things first: What is a Grisha?
The Grisha are a supernaturally gifted bunch who practice the Small Science—which might look like magic but is, in this universe, a distinct practice. Unlike magic, a creative and generative force in this world, the Small Science is more a matter of manipulation; a Durast, for instance, can bend and melt metal, but they cannot create it out of thin air. All children in Ravka are tested at a young age for Grisha abilities, and those who have them go to train at the Little Palace. Grisha are known to age more slowly than humans because channeling their natural element rejuvenates them; those who do not practice much will grow weaker and die faster.
Actual magic in this world is called merzost, and it turns out badly for pretty much everyone who uses it; it’s seen as an abomination. (The results are pretty gross-looking.)
OK. And where is the Grishaverse set, again?
We’ll be doing a lot of traveling in this series, but generally, we’ll be talking a whole lot about Ravka, a fictional landlocked nation that most closely mimics Russia. Ravka’s been at war with multiple neighbors for a century—the icy Fjerda up north, and Shu Han down south. We’ll also be visiting Kerch—an island nation with a crime-infested capital, Ketterdam.
Beyond its ongoing territory disputes, Ravka’s got a bigger problem: Thanks to our villain in chief, General Kirigan aka “The Darkling,” a giant shadow realm called “The Fold” is tearing the place in half. It’s basically like if the “Outlands” from Lion King had giant flying monsters whose chief passion in life is feasting on human flesh. (They’re called volcra, and they used to be people themselves; it’s all pretty dark.)
Right, right—but who is General Kirigan, and why did he create the Shadow Fold? … And why do we call him the Darkling?
In the books, he’s actually just called the Darkling—and if you’ve watched even five minutes, it becomes obvious why. Kirigan, played by Ben Barnes in the series, is an ultra-powerful Grisha, known as a living amplifier; his essence can enhance the power of those around him. His mother, Baghra, is extremely powerful and, like him, naturally immortal. Although she is protective of her son, she also does not support his agenda.
Kirigan dresses in all black and can summon shadows; he’s obsessed with humans’ resentment for Grisha, and the primary objective of his supernaturally long life is to create a world in which they are safe at all costs. That would be why, as we discovered last season, he was actually the “Black Heretic” who created the Fold when cornered by humans, in an effort to expand his power.
For a time, Kirigan led Ravka’s Second Army—which recruits only Grisha. The human First Army largely mistrusts and resents them, especially after Kirigan’s past actions.
Who is the hero of this story, then?
That would be Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li)—an orphaned cartographer who, as it turns out, is also the Chosen One in this universe. She didn’t think she had any powers, but it was found out last season that Alina was the Sun Summoner, the only one who can destroy the Shadow Fold with an incandescent burst of light. She just needs to find three amplifiers—the Stag, the Sea Whip, and the Firebird—in order to channel that much power.
If you notice a strange, kind of sexy rapport between enemies Alina and Kirigan, that would be because of what transpired last season. Basically, Kirigan is very lonely as an immortal being, so he’s very invested in the idea that he and Alina belong together. She’s been in love with her best friend, Malyen “Mal” Oretsev (Archie Renaux), since they were kids together in the orphanage of a small village called Keramzin.
For a while last season, however, Alina fell for Kirigan’s overtures. (This was when she and Mal were still “will they, won’t they”-ing, and Ben Barnes can be very persuasive-looking when he makes that face.) Then Kirigan betrayed her; he made sure that when she bonded with the Stag to expand her power, he would also be able to control her. It wasn’t great, and Alina understandably didn’t like it.
Thankfully, Alina eventually realized that the Stag chose her, not Kirigan, and was able to wield her powers. She was able to subdue the Darkling as they battled in the Fold, and then a volcra swooped down and snatched him. Alina and Mal thought he was dead, but as we found out at the end of the season, this was not so. As we saw, Kirigan emerged from the shadow world with some fresh cuts across his face and shadow monsters that can walk in the sunlight. We’ll presumably have to deal with all that in Season 2.
Phew, OK, and who else do I need to know about? Hopefully not a ton more people?
LOL! Well, we covered Mal—aforementioned love interest, who also happens to be a First Army soldier and a preternaturally gifted tracker. As for Alina’s friends, there’s also Genya (Daisy Head), a gifted Tailor—that would be a Grisha who can change people’s physical appearance. Genya, like Alina, believed the Darkling was a good man with good intentions. During Season 1, we also discovered that she had poisoned the former king of Ravka after years of ongoing sexual abuse.
Now, on to Alina’s allies: Last season, she and Mal got an assist from the Crows of Ketterdam—a mercenary gang of extremely lovable misfits. Their leader, Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), is cunning but outwardly cold, obsessed with gaining his revenge against his lifelong nemesis, Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly). He’s got a soft spot, however, for Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman)—a rogue-like Wraith who specializes in sword fighting and knife throwing. She’s also indentured to a brothel called the Menagerie, an arrangement she and Kaz have been working to break. The third and final member of the crew would be Jesper (Kit Young), a master gunslinger with serious swagger and a penchant for top hats. (This world can get very steampunk.)
We’ve also got the star-crossed lovers Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan) and Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman). Those two fell into a very steamy love affair last season, even though she’s a Grisha—a Heartrender, specifically, which means she can control people’s heartbeats—and he’s a Fjerdan Grisha hunter. (They call them Drüskelle, and they’re notoriously ruthless.) Matthias was Nina’s prison guard when they first met (kinky), but then they got shipwrecked and soon enough, all bets were off. Unfortunately, they eventually got spotted by Grisha—who, understandably, are not particularly fond of Grisha hunters. To save Matthias’ life, Nina began shouting that he was a slave trader—which got him sent to prison, where Grisha can’t hurt him. Matthias, who did not know any Grisha had found them, is understandably pretty pissed at Nina right now.
That was so many people!
I actually left a few out, but those are the ones you definitely need to know; the rest are pretty well explained in the season ahead.
OK, OK, so where did Season 1 leave off? What are these guys actually going to be doing in Season 2?
Right—so, after Alina and Mal left Kirigan for dead in the Fold (albeit apparently not dead enough), they and the crows were able to escape. The Crows promised not to reveal the Sun Summoner’s identity, in exchange for some extremely valuable loot that’ll more than cover Inej’s Menagerie debt. Kirigan has shadow walkers and will surely regroup, and Mal and Alina are on the run together. (Hot.)
We’re definitely going to need to deal with Kirigan and his new shadow pets, and Alina obviously still needs to destroy the Fold. Meanwhile, Ravka remains at war, both with the darkness and with its neighbors. Alina and Mal might be tired after their crazy journey last season, but hopefully the two years away from our screens have provided enough rest; they’ve got a lot of work to do.
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