His Dark Materials season two ended with quite a bang, closing off its second year with a finale involving tragic deaths, big hints to the future and more ephemeral CGI creatures than you can shake an alethiometer at.
And with so much going on, you’d be forgiven for being a little confused about exactly what went down when Lyra, Will, their allies and their enemies all met in Cittàgazze for the final clash. That’s where we come in.
Below, we’ve broken down exactly how the series ends character by character, along with a few hints as to what could be next for each of them and an overview of the new challenges faced in season three.
Obviously, we’ll be dealing in spoilers from His Dark Materials season two episode seven (aka the finale) from hereon out, so read on at your peril.
Let’s keep it simple – Asriel (James McAvoy) wants to kill God. After seeing the repression and ignorance forced by the Magisterium in his own universe and similar persecution in other worlds he’s visited, Lyra’s father decides it’s high time that he talks to the manager, planning a war against religion itself.
The God of Pullman’s books is called The Authority, though it’s suggested he may not truly be God – instead, he’s merely the first angel, who claimed to be the creator of those who came afterwards. Anyway, to take Him on Asriel has recruited some angels who similarly rage against the rule of The Authority and his lieutenants, along with a coalition of armies from across the known universes.
How do Lyra and Will factor into this? Well, the witches have a prophecy that Lyra will be a new Eve, mother to all – which means that she’s set up for a second “fall” that will set all living things free from the yoke of The Authority, bringing about “the end of destiny and the return of free will.”
Will is prophesied to help her do it, while the Subtle Knife (which Will is the bearer of) is notable as one of the only weapons that could hurt The Authority.
Obviously, back in Lyra’s world The Magisterium aren’t too happy about Asriel’s heresy and send troops to stop him and seize Lyra, while the witches split their allegiances depending on their beliefs.
With us so far? OK, let’s drill down into what actually happens in the season two finale. And for this first entry, you may need a few tissues…
After crashing his balloon in the penultimate episode’s cliffhanger, Lee (Lin-Manuel Miranda) finds himself an aeronaut no longer, forced to trek through the jungle with Jopari (Andrew Scott) and their daemons before being ambushed by the Magisterium (who sent a force through the portal to hunt for Dafne Keen’s Lyra).
Injured from their first skirmish, Lee volunteers to stay behind to cover Jopari’s escape on the condition that the shaman protect Lyra with the magic knife he’s been hunting – and after a brave battle, both Lee and Hester perish from their wounds, despite taking almost all the Magisterium soldiers with them.
“Don’t you go before I do,” Lee tells his daemon.
“I’m still here. We held them off. We held out. We’re helping Lyra,” Hester replies before both fade away, having unsuccessfully tried to summon their witch-friend Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas) for help. Sob.
Alexa, play ‘Remember the Alamo’ and order even more tissues, please.
Will and Jopari
After Lee helps him escape, Jopari finally tracks down the bearer of the Subtle Knife, who turns out to be… shock horror… his own son! Meanwhile Will finally learns who’s been mumbling in his dreams about destiny all these weeks, and gets to take his dad to task for his years away from Will and his mother.
In a change from the books Jopari and Will have something of a heart-to-heart about their estrangement, before the shaman tells Will of his important mission – to take the Subtle Knife to Lord Asriel , who needs its power to take on The Authority.
Jopari hopes that this, in turn, will mean the end of religious persecution and ignorance that has blighted so many worlds.
“This is your duty,” he tells his son – shortly before one rogue Magisterium soldier that had escaped Lee’s last stand snipes him from afar, ending their reunion. Jopari’s daemon Sayan Kötör quickly attacks the rival bird-daemon and kills the assailant but it’s too late for Will’s dad, who dies after delivering one last message to his sons.
“The night is full of angels,” he says. “They will guide you now.”
Fans of Philip Pullman’s original books may note that this is exactly what happens next to Will in sequel The Amber Spyglass, where he is guided by two angels loyal to Lord Asriel to help bring him the knife (though it’s unclear if future seasons of His Dark Materials will adapt this storyline directly).
For now, Will finally takes on his father’s mantle – or at least, his jacket – as he strides forward into an unknown future.
Off-camera, witch queen Ruta Skadi (Jade Anouka) visits Lord Asriel, learning of his plans to fight the Authority and recommending to Serafina that all the witch-clans join him, as this is “bigger than the Magisterium”.
Serafina agrees, but wants to continue protecting Lyra and opts to stay with her charge – but then she’s forced to abandon Lyra to rush to Lee Scoresby’s aid, leaving Lyra vulnerable to her mother’s schemes…
Lyra and Mrs Coulter
After hunting for Lyra through Cittàgazze and learning of her true importance to the war against the Authority, Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) and her Spectres finally find her shortly after Will has gone looking for his father. Using a Spectre to kill the witch guarding Lyra, Mrs Coulter abducts her and presumably drugs her, before locking her in a trunk and taking her to an unknown location in the episode’s final scene.
“I’m taking you somewhere entirely safe,” Coulter says, having already vowed that she’ll stop Lyra from playing the part of Eve while also protecting her from the Magisterium.
And in a post-credits scene, Lyra is visited by a familiar face – Lewyn Lloyd’s Roger Parslow, calling to Lyra through her drugged haze.
“Lyra… Lyra help me!” he cries.
“Roger… what is this place?” replies Lyra.
Nicely teeing up the events of The Amber Spyglass – which sees Lyra and Will travel to the Land of the Dead, another parallel world where they intend to find Roger’s spirit – the episode ends there, but we’re sure it’s not the last we’ve seen of Roger.
After following the instructions from Sophie Okonedo’s angel Xaphania, Mary has spent some time wandering round Cittàgazze, later helping the stray children still living there reunite with their parents.
Following this, she receives another message from Xaphania via her I Ching sticks, advising her that her quest looks successful but that she’ll need to “proceed with caution” – that quest, in case you’ve forgotten is to “play the serpent” with Lyra and help bring down the Authority, albeit indirectly.
In the final moments of the episode Mary walks through a cave and enjoys the beautiful vistas and flora around a waterfall, though doesn’t seem to yet travel to the separate world she’s destined to stay in (where she’ll meet creatures called the Mulefa who have a unique relationship with Dust) in the next season.
Surprise! Despite not appearing in the book this series is based on and having an extra episode starring him cut from season two thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, James McAvoy’s Lord Asriel does appear in the final moments of the finale.
“I have struggled through many worlds to get here. But you know this. I have sacrificed things… things that I did not want to,” Asriel says in narration as footage of the major characters (including Joe Tandberg’s bear-King Iorek Byrnison) plays.
“My fight is with the Authority, and those doling out cruelties in his name.”
As it turns out, Asriel is in this strange world looking to recruit angels to his cause – and after his impassioned speech they agree to help him.
“We stand with you, Asriel Belacqua,” one says.
“Good,” he replies. “Then let us prepare for war.”
Sounds like His Dark Materials season three may be even bigger and harder to explain…
Read more about the His Dark Materials cast, the His Dark Materials release schedule, 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 two is available to stream on BBC iPlayer. Want something else to watch? Check out our full TV Guide.