His Dark Materials caps off its best season with a resonant finale.
This recap contains spoilers for His Dark Materials season 3 episode 7, “The Clouded Mountain”, and His Dark Materials season 3 episode 8, “The Botanic Garden”. It also openly discusses the ending of His Dark Materials season 3.
Despite being released before Christmas for fans in the UK thanks to BBC iPlayer refusing to play by the rules, U.S. audiences have had to wait another week to watch the final two episodes of His Dark Materials on HBO. Now those final two hours have been and gone, and the adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s trilogy of novels has come to a satisfying conclusion.
But what happened? How were the various plots resolved? Who lived and died? Let’s break it all down here.
His Dark Materials season 3 episodes 7 & 8 recap
The general idea throughout the series has been a battle between organized religion and free will, with plucky underdogs like Lyra and Will on one side, joined – sometimes reluctantly – by allies such as the noble bear Iorek Byrnison and Lyra’s ethically and morally compromised parents, Asriel and Mrs Coulter, and the dictatorial Authority on the other, a God-like omnipresence represented in various worlds and realities through theocratic bodies like the Magisterium.
In the midst of all this has been Dust, a mysterious substance believed by the Magisterium to be the physical embodiment of original sin. Its particulars notwithstanding, Dust is integral to life in all the worlds of this universe, and especially so in these final two episodes, “The Clouded Mountain” and “The Botanic Garden”.
As we saw in the fifth and sixth episodes, Lyra and Will’s quest took them to the Land of the Dead to rescue Lyra’s friend Roger and emancipate the lost souls of that purgatory by slicing open a portal the dead can pass through to finally become one with the universe. It was an important journey, both in how it reunited Lyra and Will with friends and relatives from their pasts, such as Roger, Lee Scoresby, and Will’s father, John Parry, but also thematically. Getting there required Lyra to experience a painful separation from Pan, and to grow through that pain, finding independence and coming of age by leaving behind the most vital and longstanding part of herself.
This isn’t the only difficult decision a character has been forced to make. One of the most notable aspects of these final two episodes is Asriel and Mrs Coulter, initially two of the show’s most ruthless and self-serving characters, coming together for the greater good – the fight against tyranny and oppression – and for Lyra herself. In the latter stages of the show, the Authority as a concept has been supplanted by his archangel, Metatron, a more concrete embodiment of the ideas and control the concept of a divine dictator represents. Both Asriel and Mrs Coulter sacrifice themselves to send Metatron into an abyss.
His Dark Materials season 3 ending explained
I’m not sure this necessarily qualifies as “romantic”, but it’s certainly more romantic than the payoff for Lyra and Will’s relationship, which has developed beyond the platonic this season. Reality, as is so often the case with young relationships, gets in the way. When it becomes clear that opening portals between worlds with the Subtle Knife has been allowing Dust to escape, weakening life throughout the universe, the kids realize that they must close all the portals besides one – the exit from the Land of the Dead. That means returning to their own worlds, and living their own lives separate from one another, hopefully forever informed and bettered by their experiences together. They share a last, metaphorically rich kiss goodbye and depart, promising to meet up in the only way they can, occupying the same space at the same time once a year, only in their own, separate lives.
A final title card, reproduced below, offers us our final notes of conclusion:
“Will and Lyra continued to return to the bench at the same time, every year.
“They kept their promise to each other, going on to live full lives in their own worlds.
“Will became a medical student and later, a successful surgeon.
“Lyra went on to be educated at St Sophia’s College in Oxford, where she was taught how to once again read the alethiometer…”
“Which would come in useful one day, when Lyra and Pan would go on to have a further great adventure.”
You can stream His Dark Materials season 3 episode 7, “The Clouded Mountain”, and His Dark Materials season 3 episode 8, “The Botanic Garden” on HBO and BBC iPlayer.