Warning: contains spoilers for His Dark Materials season two and The Amber Spyglass
That’s the lid closed on season two. Like Lyra, His Dark Materials is all packed away for the time being. The episode’s closing scene showed our hero kidnapped and drugged and stashed in a steamer trunk by her mother, who was promising to take her somewhere safe. Having learned that Lyra was destined to be the new Eve – the fate of every world resting on a choice she was foretold to make – Mrs Coulter vowed to stop her daughter from bringing about another Fall. She would protect Lyra and thereby save humanity from Dust and sin.
In another realm, Lyra’s father was preparing to take on the Authority. Unaware of the prophecy surrounding his daughter, Asriel would take an opposite view to his ex-lover. Believing that Dust and ‘sin’ are consciousness and free will, he would want his daughter to fall, freeing the worlds from the Authority’s tyrannical rule. Families: never not complicated.
With a reunion, two painful goodbyes and a little hint at what’s to come tucked away at the end, here’s how everything was left by the stunning season two finale…
Roger’s cry for help
After the credits rolled on the finale, a familiar voice was heard in the darkness saying “Lyra. Lyra help me!” As the little figure of Roger Parslow emerged from the shadow, Lyra’s voice replied: “Roger! What is this place?” Good question. Roger was killed by Lord Asriel in the season one finale, who used the energy created by cutting the boy from his daemon to open a window into another world. His death cast a shadow over Lyra throughout season two.
[Book spoiler ahead] Unless it’s a dream, the exchange seems to be a flash-forward to the third season. Roger and Lyra are in the World of the Dead, another of His Dark Materials’ parallel universes where people’s ghosts go after they die. In book three of Philip Pullman’s trilogy The Amber Spyglass, Lyra and Will travel to the Land of the Dead by cutting a window there using the Subtle Knife. It’s a desolate place ruled by the Authority, where ghosts are tormented by harpies. Part of Lyra and Will’s mission is to help to free ghosts like Roger, and bring them peace.
Lyra, the New Eve and the Fall
In the finale, Mrs Coulter finally found the answer to a question she’d asked the alethiometer in season one: who is Lyra Belacqua? According to the Witches’ prophecy, Lyra’s other name is Eve, the mother of all. Like the biblical Eve, the child is destined to be tempted by a ‘serpent’ and either to resist, or give in and in so doing – in the eyes of the Magisterium and Mrs Coulter – to bring Dust and sin once again upon the heads of mankind.
It all depends on your perspective on Dust. The Magisterium sees it as sin and therefore bad, while Asriel and his followers see it as consciousness and free will, and therefore good. The Angels originally bestowed Dust on mankind, making them sentient beings. The Magisterium wants to separate humanity from Dust so that it can have absolute control over its subjects. That’s the war Asriel is waging, on the Authority and those seeking to control and repress free will.
Who is the Serpent destined to tempt Lyra?
Dr Mary Malone. Dust/the Angels told Mary that she was destined to act as the serpent. She will be the one to tempt the new Eve to do the equivalent of Biblical Eve eating a forbidden apple from the tree of knowledge, after being tempted by a serpent in the Garden of Eden.
Why all the biblical references?
Philip Pullman’s original His Dark Materials trilogy is a reimagining of John Milton’s epic biblical poem Paradise Lost, which tells the story of rebellious angel Satan being exiled from heaven, and his role in tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden to eat the forbidden fruit and, as Christian myth has it, lead humanity into sin. The title ‘His Dark Materials’ is a quote from Milton’s poem. Pullman wanted to tell an inversion of the story in which Eve wasn’t responsible for humanity’s sin, but for bestowing free will and consciousness on humankind.
Asriel recruits the rebel Angels
When we saw Lord Asriel for the first time since the season one finale, he seemed to be speaking from a parallel world called the Republic of Heaven, where he builds a basalt fortress from which he raises an army to attack the Authority.
Asriel’s blistering recruitment speech to the rebel Angels ended with them pledging their allegiance to his fight against the Authority. As the Witches said earlier in the season, “If Asriel has Angels on his side, he can do anything.” What Asriel wants to do is defeat the Authority and overthrow his oppressive reign. But to do that, as we learned in the finale, he’ll need the Subtle Knife.
Why does Asriel need the Subtle Knife?
For that, it’s useful to know that the Subtle Knife’s other name (from where the finale takes its title) is the Æsahættr. That’s the name Jopari used for it, and what the cliff ghasts call it when Ruta Skadi is eavesdropping on their conversation about the coming war. Æsahættr translates as ‘God-Destroyer’. It’s the only weapon in any universe that is able to destroy the Authority, just as it’s the only weapon that scares the Spectres.
What were those creatures Ruta eavesdropped on?
Cliff ghasts, last seen in season one attacking Lee Scoresby’s balloon and causing Lyra to fall out and into the Panserbjorn kingdom, where she managed to trick the usurper king into facing Iorek Byrnisson in battle, winning Iorek his rightful throne.
What was different from the book?
Jopari’s death was slightly different in The Subtle Knife. He was still running from Magisterium soldiers to meet Will at the ravine, but he wasn’t killed by one of them. In the book, Will and his father met, and fought in the dark, not realising who each other was to begin with. The moment Jopari realised Will was his son, he was shot by a Witch. Juta Kamainen was the Queen of the Lake Visha clan of Witches. She had fallen in love with Jopari but he refused her, staying loyal to Will’s mother, which hurt and angered the Witch. When she saw Jopari speaking with Will, she shot him with an arrow through the heart, and then killed herself.
In the TV series, Jopari and Will met in the light, and recognised each other almost immediately, giving them a little time for an emotional father-son talk before Jopari gave Will the mission of taking the knife to Asriel. Jopari spotted a Magisterium soldier about to shoot, and spun Will around to take the bullet himself and protect his son.
Lee’s death played out almost exactly as in the book. He told Jopari to go on ahead while he held off the Magisterium soldiers, taking them out but hit by a bullet in the process. He calls for Serafina Pekkala’s help, but she arrives too late, and says a protective spell over Lee’s body to prevent it from being desecrated. In the books, Lee’s good friend Iorek Byrnisson eats his corpse as a mark of respect, but this adaptation may have decided that was a bridge too far on screen?
Are Jopari and Lee really dead?
Yes. We saw their daemons dissipate, which means that in this world, they’ve definitely gone. The little glimpse we saw of Roger though, shows that there is a place where ghosts go after people die…