The second season of His Dark Materials promises more. More fantasy. More adventure. And more mature storytelling. The show, an adaptation of Philip Pullman’s best-selling fantasy series, enjoyed a critically well-received first go-round with Dafne Keen playing the feisty young protagonist Lyra Belaqua, who has a terribly important destiny and is surrounded by morally-questionable adults (played by names like Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda). Season 2 sees Lyra partner with a young boy named Will (Amir Wilson), traverse multiple worlds, and confront philosophically-complex ideas like the concept of Original Sin.
It’s… a lot. But it works, thanks to the show’s commitment to its source material and its charismatic cast. We chatted with His Dark Materials writer Jack Thorne on the twists of Season two, exploring darker storylines from the book, Fleabag fanfiction, and yes, Baby Yoda.
For fans who maybe came to the show and haven’t read the books, what are some things that you’re excited for people to see this season?
The first season we were constantly on the move, we were never really allowed to sit still. She was constantly making and forming new relationships. This series is much more about her being in one place and chartering the journey of one relationship, one very significant relationship, which is the relationship with Will. She is not the girl we met in series one. In series one, she was always anxious for what was next. What’s the next adventure? Here she’s had an adventure and it’s not turned out well and she’s battling demons that have been brought to her by her parents.
We always described it as a series about trust. Will and Lyra are learning to trust each other. Will has never trusted anyone because he’s a teenage carer that’s had to look after his mum. That’s had to act as sort of her protector for a very long time, from a very young age. Lyra is someone that did trust easily and now, in terms of that trust, [it’s] really basically broken by her uncle, who she subsequently discovered was her father, who did the worst thing possible towards her.
You had a planned stand-alone episode with James McAvoy that got scrapped because of COVID. You were editing this earlier in the year. Has what’s been going on with the pandemic affected the tone of the show in any way?
The bit that we didn’t get to film would have been — we all had pandemic in our heads then. But I mean, we hadn’t heard of COVID-19 when we were making this show. It’s interesting that this show deals with an empty town where adults are all petrified of creatures they can’t see. So, a virus they can’t see, whereas the children are seemingly less affected by [it]. In our world, children do seem to be able to move around a bit more than adults can. So that is fascinating for us. I firmly believe that Philip Pullman is a wizard, but I don’t think he necessarily prophesized this.
Speaking of darker themes, the second book in Pullman’s series is heavier, more mature. How do you strike a balance between the material and the audience you’re trying to reach?
It’s hard. For HBO and the BBC, we’re a family show — that’s one thing that they are most excited by. Because those sorts of shows aren’t in abundance right now. So it’s important that we are a show that young people can watch with their parents and that they won’t go to bed with nightmares. Getting that balance right is tricky. It’s tough. We are constantly discussing it. It’s not just a matter of how dark we go. It’s also how much conversation do we allow? Where’s the bit that will make the nine-year-old boy sit forward; the nine-year-old girl sit forward? As well as where are the bits that will appeal to the 45-year-old who’s watching it on their own? Do you know what I mean? And getting that, doing that 9 – 90 thing is the biggest challenge of the show because there’s so much temptation to descend towards the darkness, because the darkness is so thrilling.
The show had a big writer’s room change in Season 2. You were able to bring on a handful of voices to help flesh out certain storylines. How does that change manifest on screen?
We knew that I wasn’t going to be able to write anymore, that we just didn’t have the time to do it that way. So I wrote all the drafts on my own and then the writers came in and they took the first drafts that I wrote and then transformed them. I needed to lay out the story. When you’re chartering the relationship between Will and Lyra, you want to make sure that we’re not jumping to places too quickly. That we’re seeing that relationship develop, so I just wanted to make sure that was in place, and then this incredible team came in.
You think, “Well, their job is to take on and develop and do things.” And of course, what they do instead is they transform. In one case, they did so much work on the script, that it didn’t feel right for me taking credit at all anymore. But yeah, I’d say that the storyline, in particular, it felt like they took on and ran with was the witches. We always knew we wanted to bring Ruta in and I’ve written Ruta in. And I’ve written the relationship between and Ruta and Serafina, but they just deepened it and needled it, and just brought it to a much more worthy and interesting place.
You’ve also brought on a couple of new faces, Andrew Scott being the big one. And we get a mini Fleabag reunion later in the season. How did you convince Phoebe Waller-Bridge to do that?
We offered and Phoebe said yes? [Laughs] She’s lovely. I’ve worked with Phoebe a few times. We made plays together. I think maybe it was her second play, but we started out together in our 20s. And obviously, she loves Andrew, and she has always loved these books. So, she was delighted to be asked and we were beyond delighted and she said, “Yeah, sure.” We’re very lucky.
I hope you know having Hot Priest and Fleabag working together to destroy God is going to spark a lot of fanfiction once the show premieres.
Another new character is Simone Kirby’s Dr. Malone. What’s her relationship with Lyra this season?
Well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but I love Mary. I think she’s an interesting character from here onwards. Whether or not she is good for Lyra? I think that’s a really key question for Philip, and I wouldn’t want to answer it yet.
The Mandalorian Season 2 is out. If it’s a fight between Pan and Baby Yoda, who’s cuter?
[Laughs] I think it depends on what form Pan is in.
He’s an adorable red panda this season. You knew what you were doing.
There’s an advertisement in Cittàgazze for a drink and that all comes from that. That’s how that sort of thing happened. But yeah, no, I think he’s unbearably cute, the red panda.
Take that, Baby Yoda.
I wouldn’t want to fight Baby Yoda, to be honest. The idea of being in competition with that thing is beyond us.
HBO’s ‘His Dark Materials’ returns on Monday, November 16.