When last we saw Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen), she and the Gyptians — led by Farder Coram (James Cosmo) and John Faa (Lucian Msamati) — were headed north to track down the Gobblers, who have stolen more than two dozen Gyptian children for unknown but clearly nefarious purposes. His Dark Materials S1E4, “Armour,” begins with character we haven’t yet met: Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a Texan aeronaut with a hare daemon named Hester (Cristela Alonzo). He’s searching for an armoured bear named Iorek Byrnison (Joe Tandberg), who has apparently been tricked out of his armour by a seal hunter who got him drunk.
Lee observes from his hot air balloon that he and Hester are not the only ones charting a course to Trollesund, where Iorek was last seen. The Gyptians are also headed there.
Upon arriving in Trollesund, Lee attempts to ask an official-looking townsperson, Sysselman (Harry Melling), who the Gyptians are; he’s rebuffed, as his arrival in conjunction with theirs is already wreaking havoc on the oil port. Lee then tries a different tactic and asks after Iorek; Syssellman, apparently not one to be swayed, gets in Lee’s face and says he’s heard of an aeronaut “who creates bedlam wherever he goes.” He fails to notice when Lee picks his pocket and steals his watch.
“Friendly place,” he comments, showing Hester the watch. She’s unimpressed, and asks if they can please stay out of trouble. Rather than answer, Lee comments that he’s never seen Gyptians so far north.
Farder Coram and John Faa walk along the dock, laying out their game plan. The goal is to meet with the Witch-Consul, Dr. Martin Lanselius (Omid Djalili), in hopes of sending a message to Serafina Pekkala, queen of the Lake Enara clan of witches. She and Farder Coram have a long history, and he worries that seeing her again after more than 40 years won’t end the way he hopes. John Faa teases that he didn’t look much better than he does now as a younger man.
Meanwhile, Lyra walks with Pantalaimon (Kit Connor), who’s taken on the form of a snow fox. She remarks that although she’s wanted to go north all her life, now that she’s here, she’s not quite sure she wants to be. Farder Coram catches up and the two walk together while he asks how she’s able to read the alethiometer. She tells him she can decipher the symbols by feeling or seeing them, “like going down a ladder at night. You put your foot down, and there’s another rung. Well, I put my mind down and there’s another meaning. I sort of sense what [the symbols] mean. It’s got a trick in it, sort of like focusing your eyes.”
He asks her to walk him through asking the alethiometer a question, using the example of what her parents are doing right now. Lyra reveals that the Madonna represents her mother, Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson), the globe stands represents Lord Asriel (James McAvoy), and if she wants to know what they’re doing, she’ll put the third hand on the ant, which represents being busy. Farder Coram once again asks how she knows what the meanings are, but before she can answer, he spots Magisterium Secret Police and tells her to put the device away.
Together, Lyra and Farder Coram go to visit Dr. Lanselius; he warns her that this man is very important, and that he must trust them or he will not contact the witches. The Gyptians need the witches to aid in their quest because they know everything; if Dr. Lanselius contacts them, Farder Coram is confident Serafina will help.
In Dr. Lanselius’ home, Farder Coram explains the Gyptians’ mission, as well as why they need help from the witches. The Witch-Consul reminds Farder Coram that the relationship between the witches and the Authorities (the Magisterium) is quite cordial; it is his job to keep them that way, and he does not believe this fight belongs to the witches. Farder Coram disagrees; he says, quite plainly, that the Magisterium is stealing children and that “this is war.”
After a moment of consideration where his snake daemon makes an appearance over his shoulder, the Witch-Consul reveals that the children are not kept in Trollesund for long. They are taken some distance inland, where they begin what’s called the Maystadt Process, or intercision. “The process is shrouded in secrecy, but the rumors are disturbing,” Dr. Lanselius says. “There’s a reason why you don’t see a child on the streets of Trollesund. We, too, have felt the effects of missing children.”
With that, Farder Coram says he and Lyra will leave Dr. Lanselius to let Serafina know what they ask of her. As they gather their things, Dr. Lanselius reveals that he knows about Lyra’s alethiometer (“I have eyes everywhere in Trollesund”); she’s honest, and he asks to see the device. He asks about the books of readings, and she says she can read the alethiometer without them. Rather than take her word for it, the Witch-Consul asks for proof.
He brings Lyra and Farder Coram to a basement lined with shelves, all of which stock glass vials and bottles that contain sprigs of cloud pine. Dr. Lanselius asks Lyra which one of the lot belongs to Serafina Pekkala; she consults the alethiometer and picks up the right sprig on the first try, using the information she gets from the device. Each sprig is specific to a witch, and Dr. Lanselius uses them for summoning.
Impressed, Dr. Lanselius gives her a spray of Serafina’s cloud pine; if Lyra ever truly needs the witch’s assistance, she can use the spray to summon her. After she pockets the spray, Lyra asks him, “What question should we be asking you that we are not?”
Dr. Lanselius answers, “You’re weak. You may have heart, but the Magisterium have muscle. I would ask where I could obtain the services of an armoured bear.” When Farder Coram notes that the armoured bears do not work for humans, Dr. Lanselius reveals that one will: an exiled bear who shamed his people, but who is useful to Trollesund because of his skill with metal. He tells them where to find the bear — behind a local bar — but warns that it may be difficult to get him away. His name is Iorek Byrnison.
In an attempt to entice Iorek into working for the Gyptians, Farder Coram says there is likely a great battle coming, in which they will need the help of a creature like him. Iorek is resistant; he says he is employed, and describes his metal work — mending broken machinery, lifting heavy objects — which Lyra comments is poor work for a panserbjørn. Farder Coram also appeals to the bear’s pride, wondering aloud why Iorek isn’t living free on the ice and hunting his meals each day. This draws Iorek from his cavernous dwelling.
“I know the people you are seeking: the child-cutters,” he says, as he stalks into frame. “People of this town, they pretend not to see, but I see.”
“And are you a coward, like they are?” Lyra asks.
Iorek stalks closer, insulted, but he merely bites at the air in front of Lyra’s face. She says they need him, and he says he’s not for sale, then stalks back into his makeshift home.
Back in London, Mrs. Coulter goes to the Magisterium to meet with Father Garret (David Langham), Father Macphail (Will Keen), and Cardinal Sturrock (Ian Peck). The silence in the building makes her joke that they were warned of her arrival, though Father Garret insists that most everyone is at a big hearing in the Consistorial Court of Discipline. Her joke is not well-met; Father Garret disdainfully comments on her reputation for stirring up trouble. When Mrs. Coulter’s golden monkey daemon reaches up to hold her hand, she swats him away angrily.
In a private room, Father Macphail scolds Mrs. Coulter for refusing to keep her head down or show restraint, citing her raid at Jordan College. Cardinal Sturrock then joins the trio and offers Mrs. Coulter food, tea, or water. She asks him to skip to the punishment, and he assures her that’s not his intent, but he does get to the point of their meeting.
“I fear our project has become too noisy,” he says. “I’m passing leadership of the Oblation Board onto Father Macphail, and as of now, you are stripped of all official duties.”
Seemingly unmoved, Mrs. Coulter claps her hands, then tells Cardinal Sturrock that he won’t be stripping her of any duties, and that she goes north tomorrow. “I have Lord Asriel,” she reveals, which shocks both Cardinal Sturrock and Father Macphail. She says Asriel is in a jail controlled by armoured bears who are controlled by her; when she travels north, she says she will give Asriel to the Magisterium as an act of service, if in return she is allowed to pursue their project until its end and she is allowed to ask one question of Fra Pavel (Frank Bourke) and his alethiometer.
Cardinal Sturrock says the price is too high, but Mrs. Coulter argues that for Asriel, it’s cheap. Having taken total control of the meeting, she asks the two men to sit so that they can discuss how to proceed.
In Trollesund, Farder Coram scolds Lyra for how she spoke to Iorek Byrnison because he could have killed her. She counters with the argument that the Gyptians could have thrown her in jail when she showed up, rather than helping her; she insists she knows who to trust, and says that not trusting anyone would do more damage than not. Then, she asks about his history with Serafina. Farder Coram reveals that they loved each other, once, and had a child together who was killed in an epidemic. Serafina wanted to rip the world apart, and he wanted to mourn in peace. They haven’t seen each other since.
Still on his own hunt for Iorek Byrnison, Lee Scoresby walks into a bar where he’s met with the stares of nearly every bar patron. He loudly asks if anyone wants to play a game of Hazard, or a game of Flippety-Flop, and goes over to deal cards at a table where two men sit. No one takes him up on either offer, so he asks if anyone wants a round of hot rum, and says he’s looking for some conversation. Then he announces that he’s after a bear, “kind of royal looking, fancy armour. I know, strange for these parts. You know what a bear looks like, don’tcha? Thick coat, big teeth, cute little nose.” He directs this last last at one man in particular, who responds by punching Lee in the face.
Lee proceeds to brawl with the entire bar, while Hester plays the role of announcer and coach. He’s thrown out of the bar moments later and is warned to stop asking about bears. However, he gets away with three watches and a wallet, so it’s not a total wash.
At the Magisterium, Mrs. Coulter goes to a well-guarded room where Fra Pavel reads the alethiometer. He tells her that whatever she asks may take him weeks to find an answer for in the books, and she says she wants a guarantee that she’ll be the first to know whatever he discovers. He agrees. She asks, “Who is Lyra Belacqua?” He’s skeptical, but she insists.
Meanwhile, Lyra finally meets Lee when he stands outside and asks at the top of his lungs if anyone has seen a bear. She asks why he’s asking for a bear, then comments that he’s bleeding; he says it’s a hazard of his job as an aeronaut and advises Lyra never to upset a seagull. “You’re not serious,” she drawls, and he replies, “Not if I can help it.”
Recognizing an opportunity, she asks if Iorek would want to see Lee, and he says he hopes so, then comments that Trollesund is no place for an armoured bear. Rather than converse with Lyra, Lee turns to Farder Coram, who says he’s following her lead. This prompts Lyra to ask more questions, and Lee says he’ll tell her what he knows if she exchanges her information with him, too.
“Another time,” she says, leading Farder Coram away. “We need him, and I’m not sure that you won’t take him from us.”
The scene skips ahead to that night, as Farder Coram tells John Faa about a prophecy Serafina once described concerning a child. He says he thinks it could be Lyra, because “people see something in her.” This includes Dr. Lanselius; Farder Coram tells John Faa that when Lyra answered the Witch-Consul’s questions, he looked “greedy.” There are clearly things at play they do not understand, and John Faa says the further north the Gyptians go, the closer they must watch Lyra.
Their conversation is then interrupted by the cry of a goose. From the sky overhead, Serafina’s large gyrfalcon daemon Kaisa (David Suchet) descends. Farder Coram and Kaisa greet each other with bows, and they reflect on how things have changed since they last saw each other. Farder Coram introduces John Faa and Kaisa, and Kaisa says, “Serafina sends you happiness, and she asks if you have come to make war.”
“If it takes war to get our children back, then we are ready to wage it. I’d hoped the witches would help,” Farder Coram says.
Kaisa reveals that some witch clans are working with the Oblation Board, otherwise known as “those who search for Dust.” The Gobblers are four days north of Trollesund, at the Station; the witches call it Belvangar, which translates to “fields of evil.” Serafina Pekkala will support the Gyptians in whatever route their path takes, but Kaisa will not take them to the Station.
On the boat, Lyra and Pan observe the Northern Lights for the first time. She asks him what he thinks makes the sky look that way, and he says he doesn’t know, but “it’s amazing.” Lyra asks if Dust looks that way, then sits up and leans forward when she observes something in the Lights. “It looks like a city,” she notes, recalling the same observation made by Lord Asriel and his photographs in the His Dark Materials pilot. Lyra suggests that the alethiometer is telling them where to go to find Roger (Lewin Lloyd).
Tony Costa (Daniel Frogson) joins Lyra in her musing and reveals that he keeps thinking about his younger brother Billy (Tyler Howitt) at “the strangest times.” They talk about her Iorek Byrnison, which she says was neither fun nor scary, but confusing. Then they agree that they will do whatever it takes to get Roger, Billy, and the other children back.
Since no one will tell him where to find Iorek, Lee traipses all across Trollesund looking for his old friend. He eventually finds him in the same place Lyra and Farder Coram did — behind the bar. Iorek reminds Lee that it’s been three years since they last saw each other, and “it has not been a good three years.” Lee offers help, because he owes the bear for his life.
Iorek emerges to ask how Lee can help, which prompts Lee to comment, “Some look good naked. You do not. Who has it? Your armour!” Rather than answer, Iorek says he’s grumpy and not behaving as a bear should, that he wants to be left alone. Lee persists, but Iorek refuses to tell him what he’s done even when Lee swears not to judge. At Hester’s urging, Lee tells Iorek that they came to Trollesund just for him, but again, he tells them to leave because he did not ask them to come.
The next morning, Lee meets with Sysselman and attempts to convince him that the armour that was confiscated from Iorek actually belongs to him. He presents a bill of sale and states that Iorek lost his armour to Lee in a card game; he’s come to Trollesund, he says, to reclaim his property. Sysselman informs Lee that the armour belongs to the Magisterium, and Iorek is in Trollesund paying off a blood debt.
When Lee’s attempts fail, he asks Syssellman who paid him to write the paperwork declaring Iorek to be in the Magisterium’s debt, and asks how much it will cost to have him re-write it. Sysselman warns Lee to be careful throwing out accusations like that, and Lee wonders when someone in the untamed north started letting the Magisterium in to take control. Sysselman pulls a gun from under his desk, Lee takes his bill of sale, and leaves with a final shaming word for the man.
Somewhere in the sky, Mrs. Coulter travels via private airship to the north while she practices a speech for one of the panserbjørn. She refuses help from her daemon, insisting that she is more than prepared.
In Trollesund, the Gyptians are packing up to leave, despite the fact that Iorek has not agreed to go with them. Lyra refuses to accept that, because the Witch-Consul said they should hire the bear. John Faa tells her that her father has been taken prisoner and is being guarded by armoured bears; the Magisterium are everywhere, and the Gyptians have to leave. Now. However, Lyra takes this as more proof that they need Iorek’s help, even when John Faa tells her why Iorek is trapped here working off a debt.
Lyra takes out the alethiometer, which tells her that the bear was tricked; he didn’t choose to drink and then destroy the town. John Faa denies her attempt to appeal his decision and storms off.
His angry gait transitions to Lord Boreal’s (Ariyon Bakare) as he stomps through the Magisterium and pins Fra Pavel to a wall, demanding to know what Mrs. Coulter asked the alethiometer. Fra Pavel refuses to say, so Boreal threatens him with knowledge of Fra Pavel’s “filthy predilections.” Still, Fra Pavel won’t reveal what Mrs. Coulter wanted to know.
Boreal lets him go, then says he too needs an answer from the alethiometer. He wishes to know what Doctor Stanislaus Grumman discovered, which Fra Pavel reminds him is a heretical question. He demands that Boreal get permission from Cardinal Sturrock or Father Macphail, but Boreal says he doesn’t need their permission — just Fra Pavel’s consent. Once again, Boreal turns to blackmail, threatening to expose Fra Pavel to the world if he doesn’t agree. Then he says, “I rethought it. The question I want to ask. How can I find what Grumman discovered?” Fra Pavel agrees, grudgingly, and Boreal says he should send word as soon as he has an answer.
When Lyra can’t convince John Faa to hire Iorek, she sulks at the dock until Pan reminds her that there’s one person in Trollesund who knows the bear and might be able to help them. She interrupts Lee’s breakfast to tell him that John Faa wants to hire him to aid in their search for and fight against the Gobblers and the Magisterium. Although he’s reluctant, she steals bacon from his plate and talks him into it by being confident and clever — and then disappearing to act on her own.
Her plan is simple: steal back Iorek’s armour to gain his trust. Lyra finds Iorek working in the scrapyard and tells him she can help him find it, knowing now after talking to Lee that Iorek’s armor is his soul; the bear tells her it’s made of sky iron, specifically for him. No other armour will ever compare. To convince Iorek that she can find his armour and help him, Lyra shows him the alethiometer. He agrees to come, on one condition: if anyone in the town tries to stop him from taking his armour, they die.
Lyra thinks that’s a fair trade; she consults the alethiometer, then tells Iorek where the Magisterium have his armor hidden. He rampages through Trollesund, Lyra and Pan trailing behind, and bursts into the church to take back what’s his. Syssellman and the Secret Police arrive, ready to fight, but with his armour returned, Iorek is no longer under their control.
The police shoot at him, but miss, and Iorek tosses them all aside and then goes after Syssellman. Even though Lyra told him he could kill anyone who fought him, she convinces him to let Syssellman go. Iorek and Lee join Lyra and go to leave with the Gyptians. When Lee meets John Faa, he quickly realizes Lyra has sought his help under false pretenses, but her convincing works. John Faa invites Lee and Iorek aboard, and the group prepare to leave.
Mrs. Coulter, meanwhile, has arrived at her destination: Svalbard, where King Iofer Raknison rules the armoured bears now that Iorek has been outcast. She reveals that she helped him dispose of Iorek and take the throne, which she says makes him indebted to her. He says he repaid that debt by capturing Lord Asriel, though now that he’s Iofer’s prisoner, Iofer can do with him what he likes.
To bring him back around, Mrs. Coulter offers the bear a baptism — which will allow him into the Magisterium and make him the first and only bear to be baptized. Iofer craves this status, and it’s clear he’s tempted. In exchange for the baptism, he would keep Asriel at Svalbard, but make sure his laboratory is destroyed and his research into Dust erased. Mrs. Coulter also wants control over the prisoner.
“How soon can this happen?” Iofer asks, apparently agreeing to the terms.
“The wheels have already started turning,” Mrs. Coulter replies.
The final image of His Dark Materials S1E4, “Armour,” is of the Gyptians, Lyra, Lee Scoresby, and Iorek heading toward Bolvangar.