His Dark Materials Executive Producer Opens Up About Adapting The Amber Spyglass And Adding 'Fun Extra Details'

Warning: light spoilers ahead for The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

The third and final season of His Dark Materials is underway on HBO, and it’s already clear that the show is remaining faithful to Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass in important ways while making some changes (like Will’s latest trauma) from what happened on the page. Readers know that the stakes will only get higher as the episodes continue in the build to what is bound to be an emotional series finale, and executive producer Dan McCulloch opened up to CinemaBlend about adapting the book into the show… and adding some details.

The first two episodes didn’t waste any time in getting the story moving again after nearly two years of hiatus, and some characters are in much better positions than others. While Will and Lyra have to deal with the subtle knife being broken, Asriel has been amassing an army, and Mrs. Coulter seemingly will go from being captor to captive. The plot is only going to thicken as the final season continues, so when I spoke with Dan McCulloch about His Dark Materials, he shared how closely they had to map out the season to adapt The Amber Spyglass:

In terms of the central journey, it's mapped out very closely, despite the fact that the book is much more far-reaching, and it has more in terms of world-building and more to understand, and more to process. The journey of Will and Lyra is pretty clear. Once Will uses the angels' help to locate where Lyra is and rescue Lyra from Mrs. Coulter, and then Lyra insists on where she would like to go, and then where they end up from there is pretty clear in the book, and takes us to that incredible kind of full-stop of an ending.

Any adaptation has to make cuts in what it brings to the screen and what just wouldn’t translate well into a script, so some of Philip Pullman’s world-building didn’t make it into His Dark Materials. The characters are quite fleshed out, however, which should make the emotional punches from the book hit very hard when they happen in the show. 

It’s not clear which key book moments have been adapted for Season 3 just yet, though! Asriel is already getting some more attention than he did in The Amber Spyglass, giving James McAvoy some screentime to make up for the Asriel standalone episode that had to be cut from Season 2. 

Given what McAvoy and Ruth Wilson said about Asriel and Mrs. Coulter’s relationship, Season 3 is going to be complicated for Lyra’s parents. Executive producer Dan McCulloch continued:

So for us in terms of adaptation, it was how much do we fill in around what Asriel has been doing? The book often doesn't go into too much detail, because he's just riding high, building bigger and bigger and bigger in where he's going, and Mrs. Coulter comes into that and kind of goes away. Obviously, we'd started Mrs. Coulter much earlier on in her journey, and we have more to unpack, to unfold, and to unwind around that, which we do in the series, which we think audiences will love because what she has to do is don her old armor and go in and be the Mrs. Coulter that we used to know, in order to elicit some information out of an old enemy in order to protect her daughter. So I feel like we kind of map out that central bit in quite some detail, and then we get to add in some more fun and extra details around that.

Earlier in the series, Mrs. Coulter would be more likely to don her armor to capture Lyra than help her. In Season 3, apparently she’ll need that armor to protect her daughter instead. Surprises are in store for readers and non-readers alike, with the promise of “fun” details that didn’t originate from the pages of Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass. Past changes have really paid off, particularly with the decision to include Amir Wilson as Will in Season 1’s adaption of Northern Lights, despite the character not appearing in Pullman’s trilogy until The Subtle Knife

Only time will tell what new details are introduced to go along with moments that readers will recognize from The Amber Spyglass, but it’s safe to say that the story isn’t going to get any more lighthearted for Lyra and Will. Dan McCulloch also shared that there was always a plan for a long break between Seasons 2 and 3 so that young stars Dafne Keen and Amir Wilson could “grow up that little bit more” for the “more difficult, darker themes” in this adaptation. 

Fellow executive producer Jane Tranter also explained why fans should be excited to get two episodes per week on HBO (or via an HBO Max subscription) instead of just one. With the series finale airing on December 26, the adaptation of The Amber Spyglass will officially wrap before the end of the year. New episodes debut on Mondays starting at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. 

If you want to look ahead for some viewing options after the His Dark Materials saga ends, be sure to check out our 2023 TV premiere schedule

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).