His Dark Materials season 2: everything we know so far

(Image credit: HBO)

An ingenious mix of sinister cabals, animal familiars and a labyrinthine plot – not to mention fighting, talking polar bears – always made Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials novels a compelling proposition. Even so, when Hollywood first came a-calling with the watered down, Daniel Craig/Nicole Kidman-starring The Golden Compass in 2007, fans were left distinctly nonplussed.

The epic BBC/HBO TV adaptation fixed most of what the film got wrong – and that looks set to continue in His Dark Materials season 2. With most of the show’s all-star cast returning, the new episodes will take us to strange new worlds, filled with new characters, and further revelations about Dust – the bizarre substance that seems to play a key role in humanity’s existence.

So as young heroes Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry take their first steps into a new universe, we look through doors to other worlds to find out what His Dark Materials season 2 has in store when it materialises in November 2020.

His Dark Materials season 2 release date: when we expect to see it

While Covid-19 put much of the world’s movie and TV production on hold, His Dark Materials season 2 has managed to get through the crisis relatively unscathed. That’s because production/broadcasting partners the BBC and HBO greenlit a second season before the first had even aired – partly to avoid teenage star Dafne Keen (who plays the story’s hero, Lyra Belacqua) ageing too much between seasons. 

A tweet from star Lin-Manuel Miranda confirmed he wrapped his scenes back in September 2019, while principal photography for the rest of the cast finished in mid-December.

While reshoots will now be rather problematic, and at least one standalone episode that was due to shoot in March has been dropped – more on that later – His Dark Materials season 2 is effectively in the can.

Expect to see it later this year. Season 1 debuted on November 3, 2019, and it’s been confirmed that season 2 will appear at a similar time, with the latest trailer announcing a November launch. That will give broadcasters time to finish the run by the holidays.

His Dark Materials season 2 trailer: can I watch one?

One advantage of completing principal photography on the season is being able to assemble a His Dark Materials season 2 trailer. Our first proper look at the new season debuted at the show’s Comic Con at Home virtual panel in July. Unsurprisingly, there’s no massive spoilers, but we do get a glimpse of returning characters Lyra, Will, Mrs Coulter, Lord Boreal, Lee Scoresby and Serafina Pekkala, as well as introductions to new characters such as John Parry and witch Ruta Skadi. There’s also first sightings of crucial new other-world location Cittàgazze and the eponymous Subtle Knife.

In fact, we've been really spoiled for previews of the new series, with new His Dark Materials season 2 trailers released in late August, 2020. With US broadcaster HBO and UK broadcaster BBC One each cutting their own promos – touching on slightly different areas of the plot – there's plenty of new footage for fans of Pullman's books to analyse.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? The second season of the critically acclaimed TV adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials novels.
  • Where can I watch it? Like the first run of episodes, His Dark Materials season 2 will air on BBC One in the UK, and HBO in the US.
  • When can I watch it? His Dark Materials season 2 will debut in November.

What can we expect to see in His Dark Materials season 2?

Where the first year focused on adapting The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights if you live in the UK), His Dark Materials season 2 will be mostly based on The Subtle Knife, the second book in Pullman’s trilogy. Don’t be surprised, however, if we see plot points from trilogy closer The Amber Spyglass turning up a bit early.

Season 1 integrated plotlines from The Subtle Knife – most notably introducing Will Parry, the kid from our world who becomes nearly as pivotal to the plot as Lyra – and even delved into Pullman’s prequel trilogy, The Book of Dust, when it showed baby Lyra’s arrival at Jordan College, Oxford. In other words, don’t assume you know exactly what’s coming just because you’ve read the books – while screenwriter Jack Thorne’s adaptation has generally been faithful so far, you may not see everything in exactly the right order.

We’ll be visiting a whole new parallel universe when His Dark Materials season 2 kicks off. After Lord Asriel severed Roger from his dæmon, killing the boy while generating enough energy to open a portal to another universe, Lyra followed him through it. Meanwhile, Will also found his way through a portal. The duo will meet in this other universe, visiting a city called Cittàgazze, while discovering the Subtle Knife of the title, a blade that can slash a hole between worlds. We can also expect plenty more diabolical behaviour from the sinister Magisterium, and more revelations about the nature of the mysterious substance known as Dust.

Having been introduced by stealth in year 1, Will’s father, John Parry, will become a pivotal figure in His Dark Materials season 2. An ex-royal marine-turned-explorer, Parry Sr went missing from our world years earlier. This time out we’ll learn that he found his way into another world, got himself a dæmon and taken on the alias of a scientist named Dr Stanislaus Grumman. He’s also known as Jopari – a corruption of his real name.

Continuing the motif of absent fathers, Asriel – now revealed to be Lyra’s dad, rather than her uncle – remains pivotal to the plot, even though he won’t actually appear in His Dark Materials season 2. That wasn’t always going to be the case, however…

While Asriel doesn’t feature in Pullman’s The Subtle Knife– the character returns in The Amber Spyglass – the new season was all set to include a standalone episode explaining what he’d been up to in the interim. It could have been the most radical departure from the books we’d yet seen, but then coronavirus struck in March, shutting down production, and leading to the episode being canned. So now His Dark Materials season 2 will feature seven episodes rather than the eight originally planned.

“It was separate from the other seven episodes because it was a standalone episode which Jack had written with the blessing and input of Philip Pullman,” explained executive producer Jane Tranter at the show’s Comic Con at Home virtual panel in July. “[It] looked at what Lord 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.”

“[Cutting the episode] meant that we could continue post-production on the seven episodes that make up The Subtle Knife and just put the Asriel standalone episode to one side and maybe in the future we can revisit it as a standalone,” she continued. “But essentially our adaptation of The Subtle Knife had been completed.”

“We were all absolutely gutted about this,” added Jack Thorne on Twitter. “We had the read through, got to set... Covid. Had some incredible actors raring to go and some new story to explore. But the brilliance of many departments on our show went into override to make up for the loss.” 

So keep your fingers crossed that His Dark Materials season 2 does well enough to get a third and final outing – aside from the myriad plotlines to wrap up, it would be a shame if we don’t get to see McAvoy’s Asriel in action again.

His Dark Materials season 2 cast: who’s joining the regulars?

Aside from James McAvoy, whose Lord Asriel is sitting out a year, the most significant absentee from the first season is set to be Lewin Lloyd, who played Roger, Lara’s friend who was killed by Asriel in the season 1 finale. That means returns for Dafne Keen as Lyra, Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter, Amir Wilson as Will Parry, Ariyon Bakare as Lord Boreal, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby and Ruta Gedmintas as Serafina Pekkala. We’ll also be seeing plenty more of Andrew Scott as Will’s dad, John Parry (aka Stanislaus Grumman/Jopari).

There are some exciting new additions to the His Dark Materials season 2 cast. The one that’s got the internet most excited is a Fleabag reunion, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge lined up to voice John Parry’s osprey dæmon, Sayan Kötör.

Elsewhere, Terence Stamp has signed up to play Giacomo Paradisi, a Cittàgazze resident who carried the Subtle Knife before Will; Simone Kirby as Dr Mary Malone, a physicist from our/Will’s world investigating the phenomenon of dark matter; and Jade Anouka as Ruta Skadi, the queen of the Lake Lubana clan of witches. Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù will voice her dæmon, Sergi.

And finally, Game of Thrones’ Lyanna Mormont, Bella Ramsey, has a yet-to-be revealed role in His Dark Materials season 2.

Richard Edwards

Richard is a freelance journalist specialising in movies and TV, primarily of the sci-fi and fantasy variety. An early encounter with a certain galaxy far, far away started a lifelong love affair with outer space, and these days Richard's happiest geeking out about Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and other long-running pop culture franchises. In a previous life he was editor of legendary sci-fi and fantasy magazine SFX, where he got to interview many of the biggest names in the business – though he'll always have a soft spot for Jeff Goldblum who (somewhat bizarrely) thought Richard's name was Winter.