Fantasy fans don't need the Subtle Knife to escape into another world this autumn, because His Dark Materials has returned for its second season.
Dafne Keen and Amir Wilson are back as Lyra and Will, two children on a quest across multiple realities, and they're joined by lots of familiar faces and new additions to the cast – including a young His Dark Materials star you might recognise from Game of Thrones.
The first episode introduced us to Citagazze, a town in another world where Lyra and Will meet for the first time, while we also checked in on Mrs Coulter and the Magisterium, Lee Scoresby and the Witches.
“In season one, we had a witch. In season two, we had witches, and we have angels,” executive producer Jane Tranter said. “In season one, Lyra was going north in search of Roger and was intrigued by Dust. In season two, Lyra is going to other worlds to look for Dust and is grieving for Roger.
"So everything is just kind of building and expanding. There are many new characters and excitements.”
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Unfortunately, one thing that fans won't get to experience is a previously planned standalone centring on James McAvoy's character Asriel, which had to be scrapped as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Writer Jack Thorne told Metro.co.uk, "It was the hardest thing I’ve had to write for His Dark Materials by quite some distance, and we got four hours in and then it was like, shutters. Which was really upsetting but we were so much luckier than most, so we can’t complain."
You don't need an alethiometer to find out what to expect from the rest of the series – just check out all the key details below.
Read more about the His Dark Materials cast, the His Dark Materials books and the His Dark Materials age rating, plus find out where His Dark Materials is filmed, including the scenes set in Cittàgazze.
His Dark Materials season 2 release date
The series returned on Sunday 8th November, airing at 8pm on BBC One, while it will air in the USA on HBO Max on Monday 16th November.
The reason it's been able to come out despite the lockdown? Filming for season two had mostly finished before the first season even premiered, which now looks remarkably prescient given the coronavirus pandemic.
"Post-production is continuing with characteristic intensity and energy, but now filtered down over BlueJeans," executive producer Jane Tranter said.
"But rest assured, season 2 is coming and will be on air before the end of the year!"
"They're still working on season one as we're shooting season two, so it's an awful lot of work that everyone's doing," Ruth Wilson, who plays Mrs Coulter, told us.
Lee Scoresby actor Lin Manuel-Miranda tweeted that he had completed work on the follow-up season as early as 27th September 2019, and the rest of the cast were done by mid-December.
"It's quite nice in a way, because we're just getting it all done beforehand," Ruth Wilson said. "We're still focussed, we're still working really hard, we just haven't really had a reaction to it yet. You just keep ploughing on, hoping you're doing alright!"
"But we can't do anything about it, you've just got to get on with it and hope for the best. Maybe in the last month we'll be like 'argh, no, reshoot!'"
The series has seven episodes, which means the season finale will air on BBC One on Sunday 20th December. In the US, the last episode will air on Monday 28th December.
You can check out our full His Dark Materials release schedule for the dates for each episode in both the UK and the US.
Who is in the cast of His Dark Materials season 2?
Most of the main cast have returned, including Logan's Dafne Keen as feisty heroine Lyra Belacqu, Luther's Ruth Wilson as the terrifying Mrs Coulter, Lin Manuel-Miranda as aeronaut Lee Scoresby and newcomer Amir Wilson as Lyra's new BFF Will Parry.
The impressive ensemble cast will also see the reappearance of Ruta Gedmintas as witch queen Serafina Pekkala and Joe Tandberg and Helen McCrory as the voice of armoured bear Iorek Byrnison and Lord Asriel's demon Stelmaria respectively.
There are also some new additions - after a series of cameos in season one, Fleabag star Andrew Scott will star as Will's father Colonel John Parry/ Jopari.
"It’s always a little bit intimidating to come in, and you don’t want to mess it up," Scott said of his role.
"But it was really brilliant, and I got to work with incredible actors. Lin, a lot of my stuff was with Lin and we had such a good time, we really did, it was a total joy to do that."
Alongside him it's been revealed that Fleabag co-star Phoebe-Waller Bridge will play Andrew Scott's daemon, while other new castings include Terence Stamp as Giacomo Paradisi, Simone Kirby as Mary Malone and Jade Anouka as Ruta Skadi.
More recently, it's also been revealed that Game of Thrones star Bella Ramsay and Gangs of London's Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù will play roles in the series.
However, one season one cast member won't be returning – James McAvoy, aka Lyra's father Lord Asriel, whose scenes had to be scrapped thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
His Dark Materials season plot
His Dark Materials is set in a pre-industrial parallel world where everyone has 'daemons': physical representations of a person's soul usually as an animal. Season one saw 12-year-old Lyra Belacqua set out to the frozen North to save her kidnapped friend Roger, where she learns some revelations about her uncle Lord Asriel and his investigations into 'Dust.'
As season one was based on the first novel in Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, season two will be based on the second instalment The Subtle Knife.
"I think this series is all about trust,"screenwriter Jack Thorne said. "I think what Philip’s written in the Subtle Knife is a beautiful poem about trust, about the way that characters have to learn to trust again.
"Will’s come from a situation where he’s not been able to trust anything, his life has taught him to trust nothing. And Lyra has learnt through series one that she can’t trust anything."
The book sees Lyra continue her investigation into the mysterious Dust and search for her father, and together with new companion Will Parry (played by Amir Wilson) she explores strange new worlds.
Meanwhile, Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) must track down the mysterious Grumman (aka John Parry) in his balloon, meaning Miranda had to be separated from his on-set friend Dafne.
"I don't get any time with her! Very little, if any," he told RadioTimes.com.
"So I'm gonna miss her, honestly. It's weird to be in Cardiff and not spend every day with Dafne. But it's the next facet of the story, and I'm excited to tell it."
New episodes feature Cittàgazze (pictured), a city in a parallel world haunted by soul-eating creatures called Spectres, which has been impressively built in its entirety on the lots of Bad Wolf studios in Cardiff.
However, there are a few changes - some elements of The Subtle Knife worked their way into season one, most notably Lord Boreal crossing over into "our" world and co-lead character Will beginning his Subtle Knife storyline in the latter half of the series.
With that said, Philip Pullman himself has confirmed that there won't be any major changes to the story, reassuring fans on Twitter that the basic plot will be staying the same.
"We are not trying to do something different the books," screenwriter Jack Thorne added recently.
"Sometimes we do step away and do different things, but always we’re going back to the text and saying, ‘How does this help us tell [Philip's] story best?’"
Why was James McAvoy cut from His Dark Materials season 2?
While McAvoy's character Lord Asriel isn't present in second His Dark Materials novel The Subtle Knife, the production team have revealed that there were originally plans to include the character in a special standalone episode.
"We had one standalone episode that we were filming in March, and it was separate from the other seven episodes, because it was a standalone episode that Jack had written with the blessing and with input from Philip Pullman, which looked at what Asriel had been doing between going through the anomaly at the end of season one, and when we see Lord Asriel at the beginning of book three, the Amber Spyglass," executive producer Jane Tranter said.
"Because Asriel isn’t actually in The Subtle Knife. He’s very much talked about, his presence is very much felt, but he’s not actually there. So we played kind of detective with The Subtle Knife and figured out what Asriel might have been doing."
Unfortunately, this last episode had only just started filming when the UK locked down during the pandemic, and after a while the production made the tough decision to just cut the episode – a choice that screenwriter Jack Thorne said left them "absolutely gutted".
Still, as Tranter noted, the series was relatively lucky given that the other seven episodes had been completed long before lockdown.
"Really we did have an incredible piece of luck," she said. "We were filming when the pandemic hit, and we did have to stop filming. But we were in a peculiar situation where our main unit had wrapped just before Christmas 2019
"For us it meant that we could continue postproduction on the seven episodes that make up The Subtle Knife, and just put the Asriel standalone episode to one side. And maybe at some point in the future we can revisit it as a standalone. But essentially, our adaptation of The Subtle Knife had been completed."
Sadly, barring any surprises RadioTimes.com has confirmed that this means James McAvoy won't be appearing in His Dark Materials season two - though given how big a role Asriel plays in the third book, we're sure it won't be the last we've seen of him.
How many episodes of His Dark Materials season 2 will there be?
While season one was eight episodes long, following the loss of the standalone Asriel episode season two has been confirmed to have only seven episodes.
This should cover all the events depicted in The Subtle Knife and possibly beyond, with season three thought to have a higher amount of episodes to adapt the third book (The Amber Spyglass) in the trilogy.
And Philip Pullman is already making his pitch for how season three should end...
Is there a trailer for His Dark Materials season two?
There are a few! Released during online San Diego Comic-Con replacement Comic-Con @Home, the first trailer shows the meeting between Lyra and Will in another world, as well as introducing new key characters like Mary Malone, Ruta Skadi and Andrew Scott's John Parry.
Also full of action, hints at terrifying monsters and much, much more there's a lot to enjoy in the new teaser - check out our His Dark Materials season two trailer breakdown for a full list of the big moments.
More recently a longer "official" teaser dropped giving us a better look at the all-important Subtle Knife and the growing war between the witches and The Magisterium.
Still not enough trailer action for you? Well, a new "countdown" teaser - featuring interviews with the cast and crew - has also now debuted, revealing the series' release date (November 8th, fact fans) as well as giving a better look at the terrifying Spectres that haunt the deserted town of Cittàgazze.
Read more about the His Dark Materials cast, James McAvoy's cut episode, the His Dark Materials release schedule and the His Dark Materials age rating, plus find out where His Dark Materials is filmed, including the scenes set in Cittàgazze. And why not look at our latest His Dark Materials review?
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