His Dark Materials season 2 premiere: How did it compare to the books?

Photo: Ruth Wilson in His Dark Materials.. Courtesy of Alex Bailey/HBO
Photo: Ruth Wilson in His Dark Materials.. Courtesy of Alex Bailey/HBO /

Whether you’re a fan of the books or not, read below to find out how the His Dark Materials season 2 premiere differed from the source material.

The season two premiere of HBO’s His Dark Materials finally brought Lyra Silvertongue (Dafne Keen) and Will Parry (Amir Wilson) together on screen, immediately following the aftermath of the first-season finale, as the two collided in Cittàgazze, a world overrun by Spectres (beings who feast on Dust) and orphaned children.

As Lyra and Will meet and unfurl the realization of a multiverse around them, “The City of Magpies” zooms out to the larger conspiracy with the Magisterium. After the destruction and havoc at Bolvanger, the Magisterium is licking their wounds.

But the icy and calculating Marisa Coulter (Ruth Wilson) remains determined to stay one step ahead of Lord Asriel’s (James McAvoy) plot and volunteers to torture a witch for details on the prophecy surrounding her daughter, Lyra.

How the Premiere Deviated From the Books

This is where the episode’s main departure from its source material, The Subtle Knife, takes place. In the book, after the events at Bolvanger and Asriel’s experiment opens up a new world, a great fog overtakes everything (which Lyra briefly references in “The City of Magpies”).

In The Subtle Knife, Serafina Pekkala gets lost in the fog and finds herself aboard a Magisterium ship. Using her witchy ability to turn invisible, she spies on Mrs. Coulter and the Magisterium as they discuss what has happened and their plans to torture a kidnapped witch.

In the book, Marisa engages in fairly standard torture, breaking fingers as an invisible Serafina watches and tries to figure out what to do. The adaptation took a much creepier turn with this, transforming the witch’s “cloud pine” (a version of a broomstick needed to fly) into an implanted sprig that Marisa painstakingly pulls out one by one as she torments her captor.

As author Philip Pullman writes in the original novel, The Subtle Knife, when the witch invokes the goddess of death, Yambe-Akka, Serafina Pekkala gladly steps in:

"“She became visible at once and stepped forward, smiling happily, because Yambe-Akka was merry and lighthearted and her visits were gifts of joy. The witch saw her and turned up her tear-stained face, and Serafina bent to kiss it and slid her knife gently into the witch’s heart.”"

After she delivers mercy to the witch, Serafina has to fight her way out and kills the Cardinal, shooting an arrow into his heart.

In “The City of Magpies” we see this play out differently, as Ruta Skadi, another witch queen, invades the ship, narrowly stepping in between Marisa and the tortured witch.

It makes for an exciting moment of action with impressive visual effects as Ruta blends between invisibility and visibility to fight and take out multiple Magisterium operatives.

However, unlike the book, she doesn’t fatally wound the Cardinal, leaving room for more political maneuvering for Marisa to suggest a not-so-subtle murder plot to Father MacPhail.

The HBO series seems to want to make Ruta Skadi a larger figure in the overarching conspiracy due to her relationship in the books with Lord Asriel. This was seen earlier in the episode during the clans’ debate, an event which happens in the book after Serafina escapes the ship.

In “The City of Magpies,” the discussion paints Serafina Pekkala as being focused solely on finding and protecting Lyra, while Ruta Skadi, decides to look for the kidnapped witch in her effort to fight against the Magisterium.

Regardless of the exact mechanics, “The City of Magpies” was a fun start to the second season of His Dark Materials. Make sure to follow along with Culturess each week for more comparisons between the book and HBO series.

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What did you think about Ruta Skadi’s big moment in the His Dark Materials season 2 premiere? Tell us in the comments below!