His Dark Materials 2×07 “Æsahættr” is the kind of episode of TV that is only easy to process if you already know what’s coming. Given that His Dark Materials is based on a book, chances are a substantial amount of the viewership will have come into this episode expecting the devastating deaths of Lee Scoresby and John Parry, as well as Lyra’s kidnapping. For those people, like me, the ending might have been easier.
Not easy, no. This is an episode about losing a parent, the one you found, the one who protected you even though he didn’t have to, for Lyra, and the one you’d lost, the one you thought you’d never really get to have again, for Will. They are different experiences, and only Will gets to truly feel it in the moment, but they are both devastating in their own way, especially because both Lin-Manuel Miranda and Andrew Scott play the characters’ sacrifice brilliantly.
For others, though, and I was watching with one such person, the ending might feel as brutal as Game of Thrones routinely felt. And I can’t really argue with that.
This is a hard episode, and the moments where these things transpired were some of the hardest in book 2 of His Dark Materials trilogy, titled “The Subtle Knife.” Pullman’s story was always about growing up, yes, but it was never just about growing up. And though we’ve sort of been stuck in Lyra’s personal growth, her personal relationships, and because of Asriel’s absence, put the rest in the back-burner, in this season finale, everything comes back with a vengeance.
And absolutely nothing is resolved.
The Great War is still coming. Asriel’s plan against the Authority – God – is starting to take shape. The angels are joining him. And Lyra is set to be the next Eve, just as Mary is meant to be the serpent, the one providing the temptation. But we’re not there yet, and the show hasn’t really explained what any of this means.
Except, at the end, we see a glimpse of the future. Asriel’s voiceover (yay James McAvoy!) clearly states he cannot win alone, just as Will is walking into the light, the holder of the one weapon his father promised Asriel would need to win the coming fight.
“There is no neutral ground,” Asriel also says. They – and everyone – is either for him or against him. We have already seen what Asriel is capable of doing, capable of sacrificing, for his cause. We do not yet know, or have not yet decided, if his cause is just for us, the viewers. But we know he believes in it so much he would give up everything he loves.
If you watch till the end of the credits, you will see something else, Roger asking Lyra for help as she wonders “what is this place?” they both seem to be stuck in.
So where’s Lyra? How can Will find her? Because if anything is made clear by the episode is that whatever mission his father might have set for Will, his priority is his friend – best friend in the world – Lyra. He will not rest until the finds her, damn the mission and the war.
And then there’s Mrs. Coulter. She has been an enigmatic figure for a while, but I think at this point it’s fairly easy to see that she does care for Lyra, in her own way. That’s why she wants to keep her close, keep her hidden, keep her drugged. This is her way, just as exceedingly tough love is Asriel’s. Thankfully for her, Lyra doesn’t have to rely on her parents, not anymore.
She has Will, and he will move heaven and earth to find her.
Then it will come time for those decisions that the show doesn’t force us to make in this season that was basically just about falling in love with these two kids together, as an unit, not as a couple, but as partners in this journey, whatever the journey might end up being. Now they’re separated, but we feel, deep in our hearts, that their story together isn’t nearly over.
Eve still has to be tempted, and make her own decisions, and though it’d be easy to cast Will in the role of Adam, he’s actually the temptation. He’s the one thing – the only thing – that might make Lyra change her mind, or impair her judgment. Because love, true love, whatever kind it might be, is the strongest force in the universe, for better or worse.
The Subtle Knife is my favorite book of Pullman’s trilogy, but it is the saddest, and the harshest. I thought I was prepared for the scene with Hester and Lee. I thought I was prepared to see Will’s reunion with his father. I thought I was ready to see Mrs. Coulter take Lyra away. But I wasn’t.
We’re still in for quite a ride when this show returns with The Amber Spyglass, but before we even start thinking about that, I want to tell you all something: whatever you think this story is about …it might be time to reexamine those ideas. What’s coming is deep and big and emotional and I have every belief the writers of this show will do it credit, which is a good thing and a bad thing.
I’m always, always a proponent of reading the book first, but in this case, that might be more true than ever. There’s just no other way to be prepared for when we meet again. And no real way for me to explain what’s coming, or even what you just saw, without spoiling what you have yet to see.
But I’ll be here when we come back, to hold your hand through the rest. That I can do.
See you in season 3.
His Dark Materials is available on HBO.