‘His Dark Materials’ Review: A GoT Fan’s Take On HBO’s New Fantasy
(Left) Lyra with her daemon (Right); Jon Snow with his pet ‘Ghost’.
(Left) Lyra with her daemon (Right); Jon Snow with his pet ‘Ghost’.(Photo: IMDB/His Dark Materials)

‘His Dark Materials’ Review: A GoT Fan’s Take On HBO’s New Fantasy

After fans bid farewell to the 10-year-old saga that Game of Thrones was, with its rather sorry final season, they were quite desperate to fill the void it left behind.

So, when His Dark Materials premiered on HBO on 4 November, the natural question that popped up was: Is this HBO’s next big fantasy series? The fact that the show was being touted as the most expensive production endeavour by BBC – the co-producer of the series – already set some high expectations.

The comparison is thus inevitable.

Dafne Keen as Lyra from 'His Dark Materials'.
Dafne Keen as Lyra from 'His Dark Materials'.
(Photo: IMDB/His Dark Materials)
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For those searching for a bit of Game of Thrones in this digital adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s trilogy, here's a clarification: The significance of ‘North’ is about the only thing common between the shows.

Does that make it any less watch-worthy? Absolutely not!

After watching the first 4 episodes of the series, here’s our verdict on it.

*Spoiler Alert*

Lyra’s World

If Game of Thrones gave you a Tolkienesque world where dynasties waged wars over a throne, His Dark Materials sets you up for a Harry Potter-like adventure of the orphaned 12-year-old girl Lyra (Dafne Keen) in an alternate universe.

Actor Dafnee Keen as Lyra in His Dark Materials.
Actor Dafnee Keen as Lyra in His Dark Materials.
(Photo Courtesy: Instagram/@daemonsanddust)

The opening sequence showing a modern-day chopper flying towards a fictitious ‘Oxford’ that came straight out of 16th Century Britain sets us up for the technologically anachronistic experience that the show is. It’s both a cinematographic effect and a key plot point, as we later come to know.

Visually, the show is stunning even when depicting seemingly mundane activities within Oxford’s Jordan College (real-life New College in England) where Lyra grows up with the curious mind of an explorer, vying to follow the footsteps of her (in)famous uncle Lord Asriel (James McAvoy).

The screenplay is so seamless that you almost don’t freak out at the talking animals that have been thrown into the mix as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Yes, talking animal familiars or ‘daemons’ as they are called in Pullman’s His Dark Materials universe, are as common as breathing. So are witches, spying bugs and giant armoured polar bears (who, of course, can talk too).

While there are moments when you’d wish the shadowing was done better, for the most part, the CGI animals don’t disappoint or pull you out of the story.

The Characters

You start the show with cliched but nonetheless interesting characters – you have your strong-headed and willful protagonist in Lyra whose acrobatic skills would put professional gymnasts to shame; her friend (and perhaps admirer) Roger Parslow (Lewin Lloyd), who has a knack for making blunders and yet coming out of the situation looking cute.

Then you have the exasperated college dean, the eccentric uncle who is interested in nothing but exploration and knowledge, and suspicious but over-friendly Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) who is obviously up to no good.

Mrs Coulter from His Dark Materials.
Mrs Coulter from His Dark Materials.
Photo: HBO

As more characters are introduced, you gradually realise that they have a habit of throwing the audience off. They may start off as one dimensional, but as the narrative progresses you see sides to them that both confuse and impress you. Characters you believe were the ‘good guys’ let you down, and characters that seem to be painted black initially, seem to often get you intrigued with their grey shades.

The icing on the cake is the array of strong female characters who hold their own in the plot, irrespective of their gender.

Should You Watch It?

For someone who has plunged into the show without reading Pullman’s work, the first couple of episodes might take some getting used to, especially with the jargon: Daemons, Alethiometer, Gobblers, so on so forth. You are thrown right in the middle of the plot without much explanation, thus you have to swim through all the information thrown at you while keeping track of characters and the narrative.

James McAvoy as Lord Asreil
James McAvoy as Lord Asreil
Photo: Screenshot from HBO’s His Dark Material

The confusion of it all might put you off and discourage you from sticking on. Now, many would look at His Dark Materials as a potential Game of Thrones alternative, but by design, the narrative and the world in which this story is set in is far removed from that of RR Martin’s tale.

But if you go past that, and survive the first two episodes, His Dark Materials is definitely a binge-worthy show.

(His Dark Materials will premiere on HBO and simultaneously on Hotstar on 4 November, while its Indian television premiere is on 24 November on Star World at 9 PM. )

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