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'His Dark Materials' Season 2 finale review: Æsahættr

Lyra and Will come to terms with their fates in this terrific finale episode.

A man stares over a sky filled with angels
(Image: © HBO)

Our Verdict

A stunning finale that sticks the landing.

For

  • ✨ Impressively slick and engaging after a season of struggling with too many storylines.
  • ✨ Ruth Wilson gives amazing villain once again here.
  • ✨ The witches finally come into their own this episode.
  • ✨ Andrew Scott and Amir Wilson are stunning together.
  • ✨ Hi James McAvoy!
  • !!! ROGER !!!

Against

  • ✨ Wilson and Scott should have had a little more time together.

This post contains spoilers for His Dark Materials.
Check out our last review here

His Dark Materials was always seen as a near unadaptable text. The unsuccessful film adaptation of the dense and dark kids book proved why. But with the second season of HBO and BBC's gorgeous series, that is all changing. Although the first season struggled with consistency, the sophomore offering has been a vibrant and exciting fantasy adventure which ends with a stunning finale that cements this into 'the very good adaptation, actually' camp. Much of that is due to the impressive and loveable double act of Dafne Keen as Lyra and Amir Wilson as Will. They've been at the heart of every standout moment and episode this season, and of course after a long journey to get here they are at the core of this season's finale. 

When we last left the inhabitants of His Dark Materials they were all drawn to the Cittàgazze and that's where we find them as we begin. Will and Lyra are still with the witches in the forest on the outskirts of the town as they search for the former's father. Speaking of Jopari (Andrew Scott), he's not too far away with Lee (Lin Manuel-Miranda) after crashing into the dense woodland during a battle with the Magisterium. In the towering golden city, Coulter (Ruth Wilson) is searching for her daughter and has found her old hiding place. Mary Malone (Simone Kirby) has reached the outskirts of the Cittàgazze, helping some of the strange feral children who were once trapped there to escape and find their parents. 

After a season that occasionally struggled to keep hold of multiple threads and plotlines, the finale does an impressive job of bringing everyone together in a way that feels totally organic. Sadly, that isn't a good thing for everyone as one of the witches heads into the Cittàgazze to warn Coulter about the spectres. Of course, Coulter already learned how to control the ghastly beings and is only worried about one thing: the location of Lyra. In a brutal moment, Coulter kills the witch after torturing her for information about her daughter, and that's where we get the first big finale reveal. According to the witch's prophecy, Lyra is "Eve before the Fall" meaning she's the "child who will bring about the end of destiny and the return of free will." It's all very vague but Coulter is inspired to do one thing: make sure that this time Eve doesn't fall. 

While she and her demon try to find Lyra, Lee and Jopari are set upon in the forest by the Magisterium Authority and their violent forces. The Authority have finally become fascistic enough for the witches to align themselves with Asriel (James McAvoy) and help him defeat them, which will clearly play a key part in the next season. The only problem, though, is that Asriel is hunting something called the "Æsahættr" which fans of the books will know is also known as the Subtle Knife. Yep, the very same artifact that Will is the bearer of--that his father is hunting down--is what Asriel needs to win the great war. Seeing as we know Asriel doesn't shy away from killing children in order to get what he wants, it's likely we'll see him and Lyra face down next season as she protects her friend from her father once again. But before that, Will has to meet with the man he's been searching for in Jopari, but with the Authority closing in Lee offers to stay in the forest and clear the men so that Jopari can find the children. It's an epic one man shootout driven by Lee's love for Lyra. But despite clearing the way for Jopari, Lee was hit. Despite the attempts of the witch Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas), we say goodbye to Lee and Hester as they turn to dust in the forest, having played their part in helping Lyra and Will. 

Understandably, Will is less than eager to risk trusting more adults and is keen for him and Lyra to continue their quest alone. But Lyra's loyalty to Serafina means that she can't make that choice, leading to Will's visions drawing him into the forest where he finally comes face to face with Will. It's the moment that the whole season has been leading to and Scott and Wilson deliver. Will has been asked far too much by his father in every sense. Back in his world he had to care for his mother who was destroyed by his dad's disappearance. In this world that man is now asking him to take on the fate of the universe as the knife bearer. Wilson is the perfect reluctant hero, a child aged before his time, and Scott does a great job as a useless absent father drenched in a fantastical world, truly believing what he put his son through was all worth it. Their reunion is short-lived, however, as Jopari sacrifices himself to save Will from the Authority, meaning that both of the children have lost their father figures as they head into the great war. 

While her best friend meets his father and learns his fate as the knife bearer--Jopari enlisted Will to find Asriel and let him know about the Subtle Knife--Lyra is discovered by Coulter, who kidnaps her daughter while Seraphina is attending to Lee and Will is distracted by his daddy issues. It's a shocking twist as we know that Will and Lyra's fates are tied together, but it does set up a solid conflict for the season to come. And when it comes to conflict there's only one person more eager for it than Coulter, and that's Asriel. James McAvoy has been nowhere to be seen this season but he returns in the final moments of the show to enlist the angels/dust in his war against the Magisterium. They agree to help him, meaning that the Great War will be one not just for all worlds but also for Heaven and Earth. His return isn't the last surprise the finale had for us, though, as during a post credits sequence we see an unexpected face: Roger (Lewin Lloyd), who is asking for Lyra's help. We know he was killed by Lyra's father... but Lyra is currently drugged and in a trunk, so in her trance state could the pair be communicating beyond the veil??? 

It's a great ending to a great episode that made this reviewer immediately want to dig into the already confirmed third and final season. But we'll have to wait a while to get our eyes on that.