Up until now our main exposure to animals in His Dark Materials has been through the character’s dæmons – with Lyra’s dæmon Pan and Mrs Coulter’s monkey dæmon both playing a prominent part already.
With this week’s episode, however, we are introduced to a new animal character who is very much not a dæmon - Iorek Byrnison. Iorek – who will go on to play a large role in what remains of the series – is an armoured bear, another species which is crucial to Philip Pullman’s world.
So, what is an armoured bear?
An armoured bear looks pretty much like a polar bear, but it differs in a number of crucial ways. For one, armoured bears are sentient, and can interact with humans – as you saw in this episode - while they also have opposable thumbs and normally wear their own armour, which is fashioned from sky-iron.
You might have heard Lyra (Dafne Keen) use the word Panserbjørn at one point during this episode – this is another term for an armoured bear, and the two are used interchangeably. Panserbjørn are great lovers of war and battle, but are also generally solitary creatures.
Do armoured bears have dæmons?
No, much to the despair of some Panserbjørn, only human characters have dæmons in Pullman’s universe. However, something else fulfils the same function for a Panserbjørn as a daemon does for a human – its armour.
A Panserbjørn fashions its armour as it matures, having a complete suit by the time it reaches adulthood, and this armour is considered to be its soul. This is one of the reasons why when we first meet Iorek, stripped of his armour, we find him in such a terribly foul mood.
Where are all the other armoured bears?
The majority of Panserbjørn live on the island of Svalbard, where they are governed by a sovereign - Iofur Raknison, who we briefly see Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) speak with at the end of this week’s episode. Iorek had lived there too in the past, but was exiled from the community due to a nasty incident – but more on that later…