From surprise romances to people-eating monsters and an unlikely group of heroes banding together, Netflix's latest young adult fantasy series has it all. Yet for those who haven't read the book is based on (the series also incorporates characters from Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows novel), a few of the finer world details might need extra explanation.
Here's a rundown of everything you need to know about the so-called Grishaverse. Plus, a few thoughts on what might happen after that charged ending. Throw more questions into the comments and I'll do my best to answer them!
Warning: Spoilers ahead
Who are the Grisha?
Aside from bringing slick military coats back into fashion, the Grisha are people who can control the elements on a molecular level. They don't call it magic, but the "small science." The Grisha live in the Tsarist Russia-inspired Ravka, a land pinned in by magic-hating nations as well as the threat of the Shadow Fold. Times haven't been great for Grisha folk. Below is a look at where they live in relation to the rest of the world. Note the location of Kerch and, more specifically, Ketterdam, the gambling capital where Kaz, Inej and Jesper chase lucrative jobs.
Who's the Darkling -- really?
General Kirigan, aka the Darkling, leads the Second Army, which is made up of Grisha (Alina and Mal are grunts in the nonmagical First Army). The Darkling ranks No. 1 as the most powerful Grisha, wielding the ability to summon and manipulate shadows. The Darkling claims to be the great-great-great grandson of the Black Heretic. But psych! As we discover later in the series, The Darkling is the Black Heretic, aka Baghra's (Alina's magic tutor) son, aka the one who created the Shadow Fold around 400 years ago. The Volcra have been preventing him from expanding the Fold to gain more power, but when Alina comes along, the Darkling senses an opportunity to use her Sun Summoner abilities to fend off the monsters.
What's the Shadow Fold?
Also known as the Unsea, the Shadow Fold runs through the kingdom of Ravka, splitting it in half. It contains those flesh-hungry Volcra -- among other horrors, as we find out at the end of season 1 -- and provides a nasty obstacle between the mainland and the ports on the west coast. We discover later in the series that the Darkling created the Fold hundreds of years ago after the King's men, fearful of the Grisha's powers, killed his love. The Darkling attempts to create an army of his own using ancient magic, but the spell goes wrong and swathes of darkness plume from his back, forming the Shadow Fold.
What are the Volcra -- really?
Baghra reveals that the flesh-eating Volcra have a tragic past: The Fold turned humans into the monsters long ago. Those humans were soldiers in the King's army, who got in the way of the Darkling's botched spell to create his own army. They morphed into dark creatures and now haunt the Shadow Fold.
Why can't the Grisha just go around the Fold?
If you've been wondering this, fair enough. But there's a good reason the Grisha make attempts to travel through the Fold. Take a squiz at the above map once more and you'll see Ravka is bookended by the nations of Fjerda and Shu Han. The Fjerdans, Viking-esque folk who live in the mountains, train holy soldiers like Matthias to hunt and kill Grisha. The Shu people, known for their scientific and technological advancements, kidnap Grisha and experiment on them. (This is why Grisha frown on Alina when they discover she's part-Shu.) From top to bottom, Ravka is pretty vulnerable, at war with both nations.
What are the different Grisha powers?
Let's start with the Grisha who wear red robes: Heartrenders, like Nina, can control -- and stop -- heartbeats, and Healers, like Genya, can patch you up, scars and all. (Genya wears white because she's a servant of the Little Palace.) In blue, we have those who control the weather, including Alina, a Sun Summoner; Squallers, who control the wind; Infernis, who harness fire; and Tidemakers, who control water. In purple: Durasts, who manipulate solid matter, and Alkemi, who manipulate chemicals.
What's with the creepy Apparat?
The Apparat is that priest who pops up in the Little Palace after Alina demonstrates her powers. He informs Alina, "You have no idea how much larger a role you have to play, do you?" and talks of toppling generals, crumbling nations and birthing empires. He calls her Sankta Alina, believing she's a saint. A fanatic, the Apparat might have a bigger role to play in controlling Alina in later seasons.
What's the currency of Kerch?
Kruge. Jesper, Kaz and Inej are initially enticed to pull off the job to capture Alina for a tidy 1 million kruge.
What does the stag do?
Alina dreams of a glowing white stag, which she and Mal eventually encounter in person. This is Morozova's stag, an ancient creature that appears only at twilight. Morozova was the father of Baghra, obsessed with creating Amplifiers. The Darkling uses the stag's antlers to make an Amplifier for Alina's powers. The stag helps Alina at the end, guiding her to Inej's dagger, which she uses to stab the Darkling's hand, removing the piece of antler connecting him to her.
What's next for the Darkling?
After surviving the Volcra attack and dragging himself out from the Shadow Fold, the now-scarred Darkling calls on a few hulking shadow monsters to follow him to wherever he intends to go next. Even though Shadow and Bone the TV series differs from the book slightly -- thanks to the inclusion of Six of Crows characters Kaz, Inej and Jesper -- it's still probably safe to say that like the books the Darkling's next destination is wherever Alina and Mal head to. While he's lagging behind, Alina might set about working on her abilities to become powerful enough to one day take down the Shadow Fold for good.
Will there be a season 2?
While Netflix hasn't officially renewed the show yet, showrunner Eric Heisserer told Collider he has "exhaustive" plans in store and would "love to activate them." Some of those plans involve the Darkling's shadowy friends:
"In the books, these are called Nichevo'ya, which is Ravkan for 'nothing' and they will be a level up kind of opponent for Alina, Mal and anybody else who runs into Kirigan, should we be as privileged as to have a second season, because these are things that can walk around in broad daylight. Both of them have a level up going into the second season, but I think Alina knows somewhere in her gut that, even with the stag antler amplifier, she cannot draw enough light to take down the Fold. So we'll have to explore what other options are available for her in the second season."
Heisserer also said he's keen to see Six of Crows' Wylan introduced to the series.
"I would love to talk about what we might get to see from Six of Crows in the second season. I can tease this much that there will be a hundred percent more Wylan. We'd like to introduce him for sure. And we would like to spend at least a little bit more time in Ketterdam. We kind of had to yoink our Crows away from that in season 1 and throw them toward the Fold and beyond for their heist. And I think at least part of next season should be a home game for our team."