Spoilers ahead for Shadow and Bone season one. Netflix's new fantasy series, Shadow and Bone, begins with its heroine, Alina Starkov, saying, "When I was young, I was scared of the dark. When I grew older, I learned darkness was a place." Fear of the dark is a common childhood affliction, but imagine if the darkness around you was also teeming with monsters that attack if you dare to light a torch. In Shadow and Bone, which is based off Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse books, the fictional country of Ravka is split in half by the Shadow Fold, a region of darkness teaming with flying monsters called volcra. The series follows Alina as she discovers she has the power of sun-summoning, which can be used to destroy the Fold once she gets strong enough.
The action of the series revolves around the Fold and Alina's sun-summoning powers, with many characters having different motivations. While some want to destroy the Fold because it's killed many Ravkans, other want it to come down or stay up purely for political reasons. Here's what we know about the Fold, and where it stands at the end of season one.
What is the Shadow Fold?
The Shadow Fold, also known as the Unsea, is a region of nearly impenetrable darkness that contains pterodactyl-like monsters that eat human flesh called colcra. It runs north to south in the middle of Ravka, and it cuts directly across the Vy, the main road that connected Ravka's capital, Os Alta, to Ravka's western port cities. In the books, the region grows a bit larger every year.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Bardugo said the Fold was her way of making figurative darkness common in fantasy series literal. "The question became, 'What if darkness was a place?' What if the monsters lurking there were real and more horrible than anything you’d ever imagined beneath your bed or behind the closet door? What if you had to fight them on their own territory, blind and helpless in the dark? These ideas eventually became the Shadow Fold."
The only reliable way to travel across the Fold is in a sandskiff, the land-travel ship we see Alina and Mal take in episode one. A squaller, like Zoya, fills the skiff's sails with wind and it moves through the dark, lit only by a weak blue light. A stronger light, or fire, attracts the volcra and they attack. When Alina uses her sun-summoner power, it keeps the volcra at bay and allows the skiff to get through safely.
How does the Fold affect Ravka?
To the people of Ravka, the Fold is a menace. Crossing it is a treacherous journey even when using the skiffs. In the first minutes of Shadow and Bone, a flashback to Alina's childhood, we learn that her parents died in the Fold. No specifics, but the orphanage matron says, "The Fold ate your parents. It's the reason for many of the orphans here. People trying to cross."
On the politics side, the Fold splits Ravka in half, separating East Ravka and the country's capital from West Ravka and its port cities. Ravka's king, and his second-in-command General Kirigan, want the Fold to come down in order to unite the country again. There's also a separatist movement in West Ravka, which is original to the show. General Zlatan, a First Army general, supports West Ravkan independence and wants to lead an insurrection against the king. Zlatan also considers Alina an enemy, since she gives the East Ravkan side more power.
In the same childhood flashback, Shadow and Bone answers a seemingly simple question about the Fold: "Why cross it? Why not go around?" The answer also has to do with politics. The Fold extends to Ravka's northern and southern borders, and the country has been fighting the Border Wars with its neighbors for centuries. Fjerda, the country to the north, has Grisha hunters that kill or imprison people with powers who fight in Ravka's Second Army. Shu Han, to the south, guards its borders and is known for experimenting on Grisha. Ravkan people typically aren't welcome in either country.
How was the Fold created?
Spoilers for the plot of season one. For the beginning of Shadow and Bone, all we know is the legend of the Fold, that it has been around for centuries and was created by a shadow-summoner called Black Heretic. As Alina trains and grows closer to General Kirigan, he tells her that the Black Heretic was his ancestor, and that he has dedicated his life to destroying the Fold.
In the big twist of season one, we find out that General Kirigan, also called the Darkling, actually is the Black Heretic. He has been alive for centuries, and created the Fold using merzost, a.k.a. the power of creation, to expand his own power and save the Grisha with him. Using merzost has unexpected and devastating results; the devastating result of creating the Fold was that it transformed all the humans in its path at the time into volcra. So, whenever people pass through the Fold, they're being attacked by volcra who could've been their ancestors. (Or their ancestors' offspring, it's unclear whether volcra live forever or procreate. Dark thoughts to go with the dark region.)
What happens to the Fold at the end of Shadow and Bone?
In the last episode of Shadow and Bone, Alina travels into the Fold once more. This time, she's connected to Kirigan through Morozova's Collar (the stag's antlers), and he has control over her powers. After a demonstration of Alina's powers, the Darkling reveals his true plan. With the amplifier, he can control the Fold and make it larger, which he immediately does, swallowing the closest town. He threatens the foreign ambassadors with his new power, saying that there will now be peace, and if not he will extend the Fold to their countries. In the ensuing fight, Alina regains control of her powers and the heroes escape the Fold, with the Darkling presumed dead.
In the final scene of the series, the Darkling, not dead, emerges wounded from the Fold. He's followed by some monsters, now under his control. In the books, these monsters are called nichevo'ya, and they can walk around in broad daylight, while the volcra had to stay within the Fold. The show cuts off with the monsters emerging, so we have to wait until season two to see how the Darkling uses his new powers.