With COVID-19 decimating filming schedules across the world in 2020, the fall TV season is understandably up in the air. However, there are a few shows that fans can look forward to because the productions worked so far in advance. His Dark Materials, a massive hit in the U.K. (and a modest one for HBO here in the U.S.), is one of those, having started work on Season 2 months before Season 1 premiered on BBC One. With so much anticipation riding on the series helping carry fantasy fans through the back half of 2020, the show was one of San Diego Comic-Con's high-profile panels for the first day of the "at home" virtual convention.
The series didn't disappoint either. Much of the panel from last year's Comic Con dialed in for a virtual conversation broadcast on YouTube to talk about the show with moderator Stacey Wilson Hunt. Both producer Jane Tranter and writer Jack Thorne (Harry Potter & The Cursed Child) returned, along with cast members Ruth Wilson (Mrs. Wilson), who plays Mrs. Coulter, Dafne Keen (The Refugees), who plays Lyra, and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), who plays Lee Scoresby. Newcomers this year included Amir Wilson (A Letter For The King), who was a surprise part of the first season as Will Parry, as well as Season 1's breakout star Ariyon Bakare who plays Lord Boreal. Also, Andrew Scott (Sherlock), who plays Will's father John Parry, joined the panel. He will appear in person on the show for the first time in Season 2. (His appearances in Season 1 were limited to videos and photographs.)
Both Tranter and Thorne emphasized how grateful they were to the fans for coming along with them on the on-screen journey, and Tranter touted that Sir Philip Pullman, the series' author, had reached out to everyone in the cast to thank them for their performances, and express how pleased he was with the results. Keen talked about how great an experience this has been for her -- her father, actor Will Keen, is also in the show as Father MacPhail, though their paths haven't really crossed. (She is glad her father's character hasn't killed anyone, so far. "That's great!")
But of course, the thing everyone wanted to see was the new trailer. Season 2, like Season 1, will cover an entire novel from the His Dark Materials trilogy, in this case, book two, The Subtle Knife.
But where most panels would be good with just a trailer drop and then give little to nothing away from there on out, the His Dark Materials panel wasn't done with the surprises. Scott, for instance, when asked about his experiences filming Season 2, revealed that not only was his favorite part of this world the relationship between human and daemon ("it's beautiful,") but that his daemon, an osprey named Sayan Kötör, would be played by his very good friend, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag). Miranda noted that most of Season 2's filming was during the height of the Fleabag craze peaking in the U.S., so all your hot priest jokes are officially as legal as you'd like them to be.
There were lots of little behind-the-scenes tidbits dropped during the panel which you can watch in full below. But perhaps the most interesting was Tranter and Thorne's discussion of how the show worked in Will for the first season. Wilson's schedule was such that the Earth scenes were filmed after work completed on all the Lyra's world scenes.
While trying to work out how to fit Will and the Earth storyline in, Thorne saw the dailies with Bakare as Boreal, a fan-favorite villain on par with Mrs. Coulter. Bakare's performance inspired Thorne as use him as the way to bring in Will's world, as the crossover character, basically doubling the size of his role in the process.
The casting of Waller-Bridge and the trailer will be treated as the most significant news out of the panel. But Tranter did have one other potentially important tidbit to share. As I said at the top, His Dark Materials filmed Season 2 early, with main unit production finishing before the end of 2019, making the show lucky in regards to being able to air on time. But Tranter revealed that wasn't the whole story.
Fans will note that James McAvoy, who plays the leading role of Lord Asriel, was absent from today's event. That's not an accident of scheduling; his character does not appear in the second novel. But Thorne had an idea to do what will essentially be a bottle episode, bridging the events of Season 2 and 3, giving the show a way to include McAvoy. Unfortunately, writing this extra eighth episode for Season 2 took long enough that they didn't start filming it until the beginning of March 2020.
As one can imagine, they didn't finish. Tranter says that has been put to the side. The team is working on post-production for the seven completed episodes, and the current plan is to air them as the completed Season 2 since it covers all the book's events. If the final episode can be completed in time, it will air with the rest of them, but right now it's being treated as a standalone, and may air that way as a BBC special, either tied into a holiday or just as a bonus HDM standalone.
His Dark Materials Season 2 is currently on track to air on BBC One and HBO this Fall. Season 1 is streaming on both iPlayer and HBO Max.