“The story revolves around Lyra,” says 14-year-old Keen (Logan) of the series’ central heroine, an orphan living among tutors at Jordan College in Oxford. Her journey — with still-evolving daemon Pantalaimon (voiced by Kit Connor), a sometimes ermine (above) that won’t settle as one creature until puberty — begins after the kidnapping of her best friend, Roger (Lewin Lloyd).
“She starts out with selfish goals, wanting to go to the north and have an adventure, but along the way discovers her real goal is to be good and make the world a better place,” adds Keen. When the resolute Lyra eventually makes her way north, she faces a dangerous organization’s child-stealing plot, rides a bear, meets witches, and much more.
Iorek Byrnison (Voiced by Joe Tandberg)
The talking bear develops an allegiance to Lyra and becomes her protector during the young girl’s perilous travels. “Iorek was once a prince [and heir to the throne of his kind, the panserbjørne], but when we meet him, he’s been exiled,” explains executive producer Jane Tranter. “He’s working as a laborer, trying to get through the day, and drinking too much at night. Lyra turns it all around for him.” Iorek’s armor, which is the panserbjørne’s soul, has been stolen, and Lyra helps him recover it.
“He’s a brilliantly complicated character,” Tranter adds.
Lord Asriel Belacqua (James McAvoy)
“Lord Asriel is the trigger for everything that happens in His Dark Materials,” Tranter says of Lyra’s uncle, who visits her periodically at Jordan College with his snow leopard daemon Stelmaria (left, voiced by Helen McCrory). His talk of Dust — the Magisterium has banned the study of this mysterious substance — sets in motion events that play out through the season. Asriel also believes in the existence of other worlds, a theory he thinks Dust could factor into.
Asriel is “a scientist and explorer who, while aristocratic, is antiestablishment,” notes McAvoy (X-Men: Apocalypse). “He believes Dust may hold the key to the enlightenment of humankind, and he relishes the chance to challenge the Magisterium.” But are Asriel’s intentions honest? “There is a mystery surrounding his motivations,” McAvoy teases.
Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson)
Don’t underestimate the elegant Mrs. Coulter. This merciless power seeker — the only highly placed woman in the patriarchal Magisterium— “is 25 times cleverer than any of them and uses her arsenal of talent for manipulation,” Tranter says. Mrs. Coulter is eventually responsible for taking Lyra away from Jordan College, hiring her as a live-in assistant.
But the enigmatic Coulter “will do anything to get what she wants,” warns Wilson (The Affair), “leaving a trail of destruction in her wake.” It’s no surprise that her daemon is a vicious, speechless golden monkey (inset). Whether for good or ill, the determined woman “has a deep connection to Lyra,” Wilson teases, “which drives Coulter’s pursuit of her throughout the series.”
Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda)
Scoresby, says Tranter, “is one of the nicest characters in the piece, motivated by the love of Lyra.” Played by Hamilton creator Miranda, the Texas cowboy travels via a hot-air balloon he won in a poker game. “He can fight and he can fly,” Miranda boasts. “When we first meet him, [he’s all about] survival, but in Lyra, he finds a kindred spirit and vows to help her at all costs.” (Tranter calls him “the father figure Lyra’s been missing.”)
The key to Scoresby, according to Miranda? His daemon, Hester (voiced by Cristela Alonzo), in the form of an Arctic hare (left). “They may look cute,” he notes, “but they’re built for rugged weather and survival. That’s all you need to know.”
While we ponder what could fill the void left by Game of Thrones, HBO offers up this lavish epic based on Philip Pullman's bestselling YA fantasy trilogy.
The dark coming-of-age tale is set in a world ruled harshly by the Magisterium, a religious and civil power that suppresses scientific knowledge. Also, humans are born with daemons: physical manifestations of their souls that speak, commonly taking the form of an animal.