Kaz Brekker Is the Hot, Disabled Antihero TV Needs

In the sprawling fantasy series Shadow and Bone, our resident hot antihero, Kaz Brekker, is practically a legend. Known to many as the “bastard of the Barrel” in the seedy port city of Ketterdam, Kaz is known for cunning, his devoted gang of “Crows,” and above all, his ruthlessness. Tortured by childhood trauma and hopelessly in love with a fellow Crow, Kaz spends most of his time either scheming against his enemies or dreaming about a romantic future that feels just out of reach—for now.

As fans of both Leigh Bardugo’s book series and Netflix’s adaptation know, Kaz also happens to walk with a limp and use a cane—a detail that, refreshingly, informs Kaz’s characterization without defining him. Kaz lives in a fictional universe teeming with healers, but he never considers “fixing” his mobility issues.

As Bardugo writes in her Grishaverse novel Six of Crows, “There was no part of him that was not broken, that had not healed wrong, and there was no part of him that was not stronger for having been broken. The cane became a part of the myth he built.” With the recent news that Netflix is testing the waters for a Six of Crows spin-off, which would give the Crows of Ketterdam their own series, there’s potential for Kaz to evolve even more.

Kaz is not exactly the norm for disability representation. Fictional characters with canes tend to either be elderly or spiritually corrupt. Bardugo told Refinery29 during a 2021 interview that some fans have told her they envisioned Kaz—a teenager in the books—as an old man. “I know why!” she said. “It’s because you’ve never seen anyone in media with a mobility aid that isn’t an ancient crone.”

In some cases, like Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, disabled people can be portrayed as objects of pity. Kaz might be a fantasy character, but next to the tropes often deployed to tell disabled people’s stories, he feels a lot more believable than most. It also doesn’t hurt that in both the book and the TV series, Kaz Brekker is devastatingly hot—even if he is, like most of us, an absolute mess on the inside.

That’s not to say that Kaz doesn’t have his issues. His disability might not be the result of a traumatic backstory, but he does have a traumatic backstory: As the show’s fans learned during Season 2, Kaz’s arch nemesis in the Barrel, Pekka Rolliins, cheated him and his brother Jordie as children, setting off a chain of events that resulted in Jordie’s death due to a plague. Kaz constantly relives the memory of waking up on a raft covered in dead bodies, including his brother’s, covered in pox. He still has touch aversion and wears gloves everywhere he goes.

It’s no accident that Kaz is so carefully developed; Bardugo has discussed how her own degenerative bone disease (and use of a cane) inspired her to create a character whose power seems to stem directly from his cane. It was only after she’d finished writing her story and subsequently read it that Bardugo realized she’d created Kaz as a self-insert. As Bardugo told Refinery29 in 2021, “I will candidly say a lot of Kaz’s swagger has helped me on the days when I’m feeling self conscious—or when, quite honestly, my own internalized ableism gets the better of me.”

During that interview, Bardugo also addressed the frustration some book readers expressed when the series first debuted with the decision to cast Freddy Carter as Kaz. Carter, who has discussed practicing a limp for the role, does not appear to need a mobility aid in real life. In choosing him over a disabled actor, some argued, the show undercuts its own writing.

“I would point out that we don’t actually know,” Bardugo told Refinery29. “In the same way that we don’t know if somebody is queer unless they’re out. We don’t know if somebody is suffering from chronic pain or if someone is dealing with a different kind of disability. And I don’t think it’s appropriate to put that on the table for discussion. I think that’s unfair and intrusive.”

Kaz’s cane introduces him in the Netflix series; he slams it on a card table as his pal Jesper Fahey (Kit Young) reaches for a giant cash pile at his casino. In one shot, we see not only Kaz’s power—the cane as an extension of his arm, his reach, and his command of his body—but also the mobility aid that might cause many to misjudge him. As we see throughout the series, Kaz’s foes occasionally underestimate him thanks to the cane, always at their own peril. In one scene during Season 2, which premiered last Friday, Kaz tells Inej that people often mistake his cane and his limp as his weakness. “No one’s ever smart enough to look for the real one.”

For Kaz, his disability is an outward-facing symbol of his resolve—one that also, conveniently, conceals his actual weaknesses. Still, like anyone, he has limitations. During Season 1, for instance, Kaz sneaks around the Little Palace in disguise without his cane and, at one point, darts into an alcove to take a break and soothe the pain in his leg. The moment does not, however, play into the idea that Kaz’s disability could somehow derail a future mission; instead, viewers see that Kaz had planned for this possibility before he ever set foot in the palace. It’s further confirmation that Kaz has earned his formidable reputation by staying in tune with his body rather than fighting against it.

Aptly enough, it’s a fight sequence that perhaps best sums up Shadow and Bone’s approach to Kaz Brekker. When he saunters into a dive bar looking for some hungry and hardened mercenaries, Kaz quickly finds himself surrounded. He strikes with his cane first, catching one enemy by surprise before threading his cane into a nearby chair and whipping it across the room into another. Kaz stabs one fighter in the leg, and as the last of the brawlers fall, Kaz smirks at the men who are still standing, afraid to challenge him, while calling out, “I’d recommend a cane.” In one breath, Kaz sends two messages—the first, a taunt to the man whose leg he just maimed, and the second, a taunt to the room. Perhaps if they all knew how to fight with canes, they wouldn’t have lost.

Fans are still waiting for Netflix to greenlight a Shadow and Bone Season 3, but there’s also an even more tantalizing possibility on the table with this potential Crows-focused spinoff. No offense to Alina and Mal and the “save the world” plot at the center of the Grishaverse, but Kaz and the Crows and their abundant chemistry have already kind of run away with the show.

There’s also that nuclear “will they, won’t they” energy between Kaz and Inej (Amita Suman), who ended this season with some smoldering tension. The potential romance promises to deepen two characters who both already offer a delicate understanding of trauma.

When Kaz asked Inej to stay with him in Ketterdam during the finale and confessed, “I want you,” she challenged him. She knew that he was not ready to be there for her romantically; he still has some pain to sort through. She murmured: “I will have you without your armor, Kaz Brekker, or I will not have you at all.” As co-showrunner Eric Heisserer recently told TVLine, “The tension will be palpable the next time those two are in the same room together.” No kidding!

It’s unclear whether Kaz and Inej will ever get together, or even kiss. (We won’t spoil what happens in the books here.) In truth, the outcome of their mutual romantic interest is beside the point. In spite of the assumptions others might make, these characters really see one another—and like all the star-crossed lovers and allies of the Grishaverse, it’s the way these characters open each other up that makes them so compelling. That said, if they do kiss? Not even merzost will be able to revive me.

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