When His Dark Materials wrapped its second season in December 2020, the leading characters were in precarious positions. After a long search, Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) had finally located — and kidnapped — her daughter Lyra (Dafne Keen); knife Bearer Will (Amir Wilson) had just reunited with his father, Col. Parry (Andrew Scott), only for Parry to die in front of him; and after fighting to reunite with Lyra, Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) met his own untimely death, as did his dæmon Hester.
In the third and final season premiere, things pretty much pick up where they left off. Lyra is missing and Will is on the hunt to find her, while Mrs. Coulter is keeping her daughter "safe" with a sleeping spell, one that catapults her right into the Land of the Dead.
"The Land of the Dead is a very disturbing place, without choice and free-thinking," says executive producer Dan McCulloch, who along with executive producer Jane Tranter, consulted extensively with author Philip Pullman on his vision of the world.
"The world around them reflects that; it's made up of their old belongings and the people they're now starting to forget. They're starting to wonder why they're there and who it was they used to love and what might happen to them. It's pretty dark and scary stuff that our heroes adventure through," McCulloch continues.
The world is one of seven in the final season, but it may play into the proper send-off of characters like Scoresby and Parry, who are both confirmed to return.
"Parry's return allows for more reconciliation and settling into why he was justified to move through the worlds in the way he did rather than return to his wife and child," teases Tranter. "Lee Scoresby's return in death is essentially Lee Scoresby in life except that he's separated from Hester. His desire is to be with Hester and there's a slight break in his heart there."
"But Lee Scoresby is as much of a father figure, an optimist, and a leader after death as he is in life. We've allowed him to have a complete and proper ending, which is exactly what Philip did in the book," she continues.
Speaking of father figures, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) is back in full force in Season 3 after only appearing briefly in Season 2. As he continues to mount his army he'll also redirect his attention to his daughter, Lyra, although not necessarily in a positive way.
"He finally walks the walk in Season 3, and all that war that he's been brewing with his rhetoric, he's actually delivering," McAvoy tells Metacritic. "At times he's heroic, but he's a classic compromised hero."
Asriel isn't the only one Lyra, Will, and the other heroes should fear as the end ramps up, though. This season introduces the youngest member of the Magisterium's Consistorial Court of Discipline, Father Luis Gomez (Jamie Ward). The dangerous assassin is eventually sent to find Lyra after the Witches' prophecy reveals the child's other name is Eve, whom many believe will bring Dust and sin to mankind.
"Jamie is really exciting to collaborate with because he really wanted to get under the skin of, not just the character, but he wanted to understand what it's like to be alone with Gomez and someone whose mind is twisting and turning and obsessed," says McCulloch. "He loved the chills that gave us and he relished every moment of it."
The creatives reveal that once they saw Ward in the dailies, they even changed his dæmon, which was originally supposed to be a beautiful, still beetle.
"We saw how he was doing it and that soft kind of creeping around, and that's when we changed it to a prowling kind of spider," Tranter adds.
Story and character-wise, the duo adds there's a lot to cover in the final, eight-episode season. That ambitiously includes the introduction of the mulefa (sentient, almost elephant-like beings that can see Dust). Visually though, just putting the viewers in the right space was the biggest hurdle of all.
"The single biggest challenge was the size and scale of each individual world we constructed and finding a way in that felt believable, authentic, and faithful to the books," says McCulloch. "Season 3 was seven different worlds that were fully realized out of our studio in Wales, and then we also got to go to Spain."
His Dark Materials returns for its third and final season with a two-episode premiere beginning at 9 p.m. Dec. 5 on HBO. The series also