It seems like just yesterday we were following Lyra across the rooftops of Jordan College, now here we are, at the penultimate chapter of this first season of His Dark Materials. And while I’ve had my doubts, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed where this storyline has gone in the last few episodes.
While last episode had its highs and lows, “The Fight To The Death” put our protagonist front and center as Lyra is left on her own at Svalbard, as a prisoner of the new armored bear king, Iofur Raknison.
This isn’t the first time we’re meeting old Iofur. We saw him having his secret conversation with Marisa Coulter a few episodes ago, but it is here that we meet him in full force and learn just what kind of bear he is.
After falling to her almost-death, Lyra wakes up to a Panserbjørne before who finds her and tosses her into Iofur’s jail in Svalbard. The palace of the armored bears is majestic and overbearing, a trail of blood leaving tracks in the white snow leading up to the carved hall. The throne room is foreboding, with giant bones strewn across the expansive room and bears lined up at court to see Iofur, the king of the bears.
Not completely defenseless, Lyra quickly turns to her greatest weapon: the alethiometer. Having been without it for the last couple episodes, it’s great to see it back in full force as she quickly reads it to learn that Iorek knows where she is and is coming her way.
The events at Svalbard play very close to the original source material of The Golden Compass/Northern Lights. It benefits from this as we see how quickly Lyra can think on her feet when she’s needs to defend herself against giant bears.
In the jail, she meets Jotham Santelia, a professor of cosmology. He informs her that Lord Asriel was in her exact position when he was captured by the bears. But, he managed to convince Iofur to continue his experiments in his northern lab on the mountain. It’s interesting that all three members of this family managed to pull the wool over Iofur’s eyes, not sure if that speaks to how far Iofur has strayed from the bear path or the expert ease with which Marisa, Asriel, and Lyra spin lies to people.
Jotham also tells her that even if Iorek manages to find her, he wouldn’t make it into Svalbard because the bears would kill him the minute they saw him approach. Iorek was supposed to be king, therefore Iofur now hates him and wants him dead.
Jotham tells her that Iofur’s greatest desire is to be like a human and have a daemon. We already know this from when we last saw Iofur. His desire to be like a human and receive a baptism ultimately is what leads to his demise. Lyra realizes this and quickly calls for a meeting with the king, hatching a plan in her mind.
In front of the king, Lyra lies to him, telling him that she is Iorek’s daemon. Mrs. Coulter’s experiments in Bolvanger involved more than just intercision. Knowing that a daemon is all Iofur wants, she lies further, tell him that if he challenges Iorek to single combat and defeats him, Iorek’s strength will flow into Iofur and she will become his daemon. Lyra’s deal with Iofur is meant to give Iorek a fighting chance, rather than have him shot down outside the gates.
To “prove” to him that she is a daemon, Lyra goes uses the alethiometer to answer a question about Iofur, revealing that the first being that Iofur killed was his father. She convinces him to tell the other bears that it was his idea to call Iorek to Svalbard. Oh, Iofur, you’re getting played like a fiddle.
When Iorek arrives, he is surprised to learn that Lyra tricked Iofur, since bears are typically impossible to trick. Iofur takes on Lyra’s advice and tells the other bears that he invited Iorek here to challenge him and the two bears immediately are latched in a life-or-death match.
It’s different from the books, where Iorek and Iofur fight with their armor on. In the text, Lyra fears that she’s betrayed Iorek because his sky armor is much more austere compared to Iofur’s extravagant armor. But because Iorek’s sky armor has his soul inside of it, it makes it far more powerful than any common steel armor.
Despite the difference, this scene is just as impactful simply because of ferocity of the fight. Lyra scurries around the ring, watching in horror as her friend is pummeled by Iofur viciously. The two bears fight without holding anything back and eventually Iorek gets the upper hand, defeating Iofur once and for all.
Later, as she soothes Iorek’s injuries with blood moss (Lyra’s world’s version of extreme Neosporin) he comments that Iofur wasn’t a bear anymore, Lyra showed him that. He agrees with Lyra to free Jotham and gives her the new name of Lyra Silvertongue, on account of her expertise in lying. This is a key trait of Lyra’s, one that we’ve seen slowly build this season, though rarely has it been as effective as it has been in this episode.
After the fight, Roger and Lyra are reunited. Apparently Roger also fell out of the balloon and Iorek simply told him to hide in the cold while he went off to rescue Lyra …Not the best parenting move, Iorek. The alethiometer tells Lyra that Lee crashed in his balloon but is still alive and okay. It also tells her that Mrs. Coulter and the Magisterium are coming. She tells Iorek that she needs to go north to find Asriel so that they can defeat Mrs. Coulter.
Unfortunately for Mrs. Coulter, she doesn’t seem to be getting the upper hand in any situation. After the failure of her project in Bolvanger, she nearly goes mad with anger. Again, Ruth Wilson is fantastic in her display of Marisa’s raw fury as she stares at the face of her own failure.
The intercision machine, her hard-won personal project, destroyed by her daughter, who she let slip through her grasp once again. And upon returning to London, she learns that Iofur is dead, Asriel is free (his lab still running, against her orders to Iofur), and the Magisterium is ready to cut ties with her before going north to kill Asriel.
While characters like Father McPhail are almost too easy to hate and paint as the mustache twirling villain, it’s always a little conflicting for me when I watch this show. Yes, Mrs. Coulter is undoubtedly a monster. Her project effectively spiritually lobotomized children, and she didn’t have a single issue with it — at least, not until it was her own child. But, at the same time, against the might of the Magisterium, you kind of want her to have a victory.
So as Mrs. Coulter watches the Magisterium prepare to fly north in the large plane hangar, it’s hard to imagine her going anywhere else other than up north alongside these zealots.
As the paths of the characters converge, we finally get a reunion… of sorts.
Lyra and Roger head further north towards Asriel’s lab riding on Iorek’s back. They are greeted by Thorold, Asriel’s servant. He is surprised to see Lyra, but he’s not nearly as surprised as Asriel, whose jaw literally drops to the floor as he sees his estranged daughter. The shock overwhelms him, but instead of embracing his daughter (and let’s be real, Lord Asriel is not a hugger) he is heartbroken. He is immediately desperate for her to leave, begging and pleading that he did not send for her.
Before his hysterics can continue, his daemon, Stelmaria stops him and turns his attention to Roger. Hm… wonder what calmed Lord Asriel down so quickly? Book readers: we both know what’s going to happen. We’re going to discuss next week about all of our combined feelings.
But for now, we’re left in the unknown. Asriel ordering hot baths for the children, a family half reunited, a king rightfully back on the throne, a balloon destroyed, and a whole fleet of religious lawmakers headed north. It’s about to be chaos at the tip of the world.
Well, this world at least.
Yeah, I used to be anti-hot-Boreal, and the early introduction of Will’s world into the show, but I signed on when “The Lost Boy” episode nearly brought me to tears seeing Will for the first time. Admittedly, I had just finished reading the entire series and that already had me emotionally fraught.
As things pick up in Lyra’s world, so too do things pick up in Will’s. Lord Boreal is back and ready to terrorize an emotionally fragile single mother and her self-sufficient son.
Watching the same interview of John Parry that we saw Will watching last episode and takes note that he mentioned that he planned on writing his son some epic letters. Ahh… yes, the infamous John Parry letters.
This sets Boreal on the hunt for the exact correspondence that Elaine spent so much time hiding. He strong arms himself into Will’s house, terrifying Elaine when his daemon shows herself. He’s every bit the menacing villain as he threatens Elaine and makes himself out to be a government spook, taunting her with the hope that John Parry might still be alive.
Despite her frailty, Elaine holds up well against Boreal and rightly demands that he leave her house, not believing he’s with the government or in any official capacity. Annoyed and determined, he tells his henchmen to get Parry’s letters, no matter what.
Horrified, Elaine goes to Will’s school again, but her account sounds more like the rantings of a mad woman than truthful facts. While she’s there, the Parry house is getting ransacked by Boreal’s men searching for the letter. Despite their efforts, the letters remain safe. Upon seeing their house in a mess, Will takes Elaine to his coach’s house where she can stay and he can check the house one more time. It’s not exactly the most responsible thing to do on behalf of the coach, but he’s not exactly able to stop Will as he returns back to his home to get his father’s letters.
Inside his closet, Will pulls out the hidden letters, but before he can read them Boreal’s men arrive. Unable to stay hidden, Will attacks one of the men, pushing him off the second floor of his house. It seems like the man is either knocked out or injured, but he could also potentially be dead (however, that seems unlikely given that the guy only fell one story. He returns back to his coach’s house, but instead of going in to pick up his mom, he decides to venture out on his own.
Next week will mark the final episode of the first season of His Dark Materials. This show has certainly had its peaks and valleys, but the ending of Northern Lights is one of my favorite in the entire series, and I can’t wait to see it happen. Will we finally see the estranged family reunited? Will Lee get a new balloon? Will Will go back and get his mom? What is Lord Asriel so happy about? We’re excited to see what’s coming up next week!