Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS are ahead for the first two episodes of His Dark Materials Season 3.
His Dark Materials is officially back for the third and final season, with a two-part premiere that paid off on the Season 2 finale cliffhangers and finally reunited Lyra and Will, after Mrs. Coulter tried (and failed) to keep hold of her daughter and Asriel assembled his armies to take on the Authority. Of the major characters who were actually conscious for both hours, Will was the only one to accomplish his top priority and rescue Lyra, but it came at a cost: the subtle knife is broken, and if that wasn’t enough, he suffered a fresh trauma to go on top of all the others.
It was a twist that readers of Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass could have seen coming, but it didn't go down exactly like it did in the book, and actor Amir Wilson shared his thoughts on it.
What Will Did In The Show
After recruiting allies in the form of the angel Balthamos and armored bear Iorek Byrnison, Will managed to locate where Mrs. Coulter was drugging Lyra and holding her captive. Unfortunately for all of them, Father Gomez caught up with them, and Mrs. Coulter had to distract him (and ultimately crack him over the head with a rock) while Will used the knife to cut through to Lyra, pick up Pan, and try to escape.
Mrs. Coulter apparently thought that Will was there to rescue both of them, and her attempt to manipulate him by mentioning his mother distracted him enough that he broke the knife. She then showed her true colors and pulled the unconscious Father Gomez’s gun on Will, before Lyra stepped between them.
It wasn’t clear how exactly the confrontation would resolve until the Gallivespian spy Lady Salmakia stung Mrs. Coulter, who fell to the ground and dropped the gun. Will picked it up, and unknowingly set himself up for his next trauma. With Lyra still sluggish from being drugged, they were confronted by a soldier with a very big gun pointed at both of them, and Will shot him dead.
He looked appalled for a few moments, but he and Lyra had to flee, so he dropped the weapon and they made a break for it into another world. Although he seemed more or less okay, he was clearly very emotional at night when they were trying to sleep, and she took his hand to comfort him. Will has killed again, and he never wanted it.
Amir Wilson Breaks It Down: 'It Was Self-Defense'
Although this was not the first time that Will caused somebody’s death, Amir Wilson played his character in a very different headspace than Will back before he even met Lyra. It was clear from his performance that Will didn’t just shake off what he’d done with the gun, but is this something that is going to stick with him in the remaining six episodes?
Amir Wilson and Dafne Keen spoke with CinemaBlend about His Dark Materials as well as their characters’ priorities in the final season. When I asked if this death was going to stick with Will as the season continues, Keen was quick to note that he didn’t do it “in a homicide way,” and Wilson broke it down
Even though Will blamed himself, he killed the intruder back in Season 1 by accident, when the show made a huge (and excellent) change from Philip Pullman’s book trilogy by including him in the adaptation of The Golden Compass. This time, he picked up the gun and deliberately used it to kill another person, and the fact that it was self-defense wasn’t exactly making Will sleep any easier. Amir Wilson had a lot more fun with it as an actor than his character did! He went on:
Well, executive producer Dan McCulloch did say that the show planned ahead for a more “adult” final season for Will and Lyra! Both have already gone through the wringer just two episodes in, and they haven’t even gone to the land of the dead (which was teased in the trailers) just yet! Will’s shock that he killed somebody and then the emotion that he tried not to show at the end got the final season off to a traumatic start for one of the young heroes.
But is this how it happened in the book? Well, readers of Philip Pullman’s trilogy know that there have been plenty of changes from the very beginning, but there were some very specific differences worth noting in this case.
Warning: spoilers are ahead through Chapter 13 of The Amber Spyglass, and no further.
How His Dark Materials Changed Will's Kill From The Amber Spyglass
Although there were changes in the lead up to the confrontation between Will and Mrs. Coulter and how he got the gun, he still took it from Mrs. Coulter when he and Lyra made their escape in the book. On the page, while Lyra was “still-dazed” from the drugs, they ran into some soldiers, and this is how it went down:
How Will killed the man in the book isn’t actually all that different from how it was adapted into the show, with the exception of facing down a soldier with a crossbow vs. facing down a soldier with a very big gun. In both tellings, Will killed out of self-defense with no other choice if he was going to get himself and Lyra away, and the two kids immediately ran to the window and escaped to another world as quickly as they could.
And that’s where the similarities more or less end. While show Will seemingly kept calm and carried on and only started to show his emotions in the dark when Lyra might have been asleep, book Will couldn’t hold his feelings in. Philip Pullman wrote:
Will “heaving with a mortal horror” while “Lyra watched helpless” are definitely not what happened in the show, as he seemed to more or less successfully bottle up his feelings until it was dark, and she took his hand. It’s not the first (nor will it be the last) time that the show has changed a key character scene from the book, and the show version arguably makes more sense for how old the two characters are in Season 3.
In The Amber Spyglass, both kids are about 12-13 years old. His Dark Materials hasn’t given their ages in Season 3, but it seems safe to say that Dafne Keen and Amir Wilson aren’t playing 12. An older Will might try to hold in an extreme reaction more than a younger Will. What’s true in both cases is that he killed a man because he had to, but feels guilty because of it. This wasn’t a twist that I included on my list of book moments that shouldn’t be cut from Season 3, but still pretty important for Will’s character.
Find out how much the kill continues to affect Will (or doesn’t) with the next two episodes of His Dark Materials, airing on Monday, December 12 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Executive producer Jane Tranter weighed in on why fans should be excited about getting more than one episode per week, and there’s a lot more in store for all the characters. James McAvoy and Ruth Wilson opened up about Asriel and Mrs. Coulter’s relationship, which is a whole different level of complicated compared to Lyra and Will.
Sadly, His Dark Materials will end with the series finale on December 26, but you can always revisit past episodes streaming with an HBO Max subscription, and plan ahead for the new year with our 2023 TV premiere schedule.
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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. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. 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).