Bolvangar is in ruins. The Gyptians are going home. And Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) just fell from Lee Scoresby’s (Lin-Manuel Miranda) hot air balloon. His Dark Materials S1E7, “The Fight to the Death,” picks up right where S1E6 left off, with Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) at Bolvangar, examining what’s left of the General Oblation Board — her project to cut daemons from children before they reach puberty, thereby removing the possibility of Dust from settling on them as adults.
She’s angry; that’s obvious. And when she encounters Sister Clara (Morfydd Clark) — one of the only adults that the Gobblers “successfully” severed from their daemons — crouched in the snow, Mrs. Coulter takes that anger out on her. Sister Clara can’t say where Lyra went — she knew the girl as Lizzie — so, Mrs. Coulter nearly strangles her to death. At the last second, she backs off and says she didn’t mean it, but Sister Clara still looks terrified as she says, “I don’t know where to go.”
After the opening credits, we see Pantalaimon (Kit Connor) come to on the side of a snowy mountain, just feet from Lyra. She holds her side as if injured when she sits up, but otherwise seems unhurt. Once she stands, she starts to call for Lee and Iorek Byrnison (Joe Tandberg), but Pan is quick to shush her. The cliff-ghasts could still be near, and on their feet with no weapons, they’re no match for the terrifying creatures. Lyra takes just a few steps forward and thinks she sees Iorek in the fog, but it’s one of the current Svalbard bears, who roars at her. The bear walks behind her to King Iofur Raknison’s (Joi Johansson) castle, where he throws her in prison.
As Lyra bangs on the cell door and tries to climb the wall, Pan reminds her to check the alethiometer and ask if anyone is coming to rescue them. More specifically, Lyra asks where Iorek is, and the alethiometer tells her that he saw where she and Pan fell, as well as the direction of the bear tracks. He’s coming to rescue them.
Lyra bemoans the fact that she isn’t a witch, so she and Pan can’t separate; she’d like her daemon to fly off and check to see if her father, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy), is also imprisoned here on Svalbard. Across the room, a scholar named Jotham Santelia (Asheq Akhtar) sits up and mocks her wish. They introduce themselves, and Lyra asks after her father; he was here, Jotham says, but Lord Asriel manipulated his way back to his laboratory. Even still, Jotham predicts Asriel will die there; Iofur has no intention of letting him leave the lab.
As for her assurance that Iorek is on his way to rescue her, Jotham shoots that down too. Svalbard is the home of more than 200 bears; they’ll kill Iorek before he even reaches the kingdom gates. Iofur is king, and Iofur hates every inch of Iorek Byrnison. Jotham tells her she’s just as stuck in this cell as he is — “until you wilt, or they break you.” In spite of his prediction, the camera cuts to show Iorek running across the snow in pursuit of Lyra.
In their shared cell, Lyra tells Jotham she once heard that Iofur wants nothing more to be human. This is true, Jotham says; he tells her Iofur hired him to help him become more like a human, but Iofur imprisoned him when Jotham said that Iofur is a bear, and always will be. Unless Lyra is a witch who can magic Iofur a daemon, Jotham says, she’ll fail to please him. This sparks an idea in Lyra, who goes to the door and shouts for the guard.
“I need to speak to Iofur Raknison!” she shouts. “It’s about Iorek Byrnison. There’s something I know that the king needs to know.”
Jotham assumes Lyra is betraying her friend, but she has other plans. She tucks Pan into her jacket and asks him to stay hidden, seconds before the guard opens the cell and asks what she wants.
In another world, Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) watches an old interview with Doctor Stanislaus Grumman/Colonel John Parry (Andrew Scott) on his phone. In the video, Grumman says he plans to write his son “some pretty epic letters.” Boreal rewinds to hear the statement again, then seems to ponder the implications.
At Svalbard, Lyra is taken to meet Iofeur Raknison, where — in spite of Iorek’s warning that bears can’t be tricked — she attempts to trick the king. She tells him she’s not a human, but a daemon — Iorek’s daemon. Iofur doesn’t believe her, but Lyra insists: Iorek Byrnison was the first bear to get a daemon, though that honor of course should have been Iofur’s. She tells him she can be away from Iorek because she’s like a witch’s daemon, and can travel without breaking their connection. Lyra says she was created at Bolvangar, under Mrs. Coulter’s watch. Iofur is skeptical, because he imprisoned Lord Asriel for Mrs. Coulter; why wouldn’t she tell him she could create a daemon for him? But his skepticism is underscored by jealousy and anger, which Lyra is banking on.
She tells Iofur she wants to be his daemon, not Iorek’s, and that the only way that can happen is if he kills Iorek in single combat. If Iofur wins, she says, Iorek’s strength will flow into him and he’ll get to take Lyra as his own daemon. “Why should I believe you?” he asks. Well, she can prove it. She tells him to ask her something only a daemon would be able to find out, and he asks her to identify the first creature he ever killed.
To answer, Lyra insists, she must be allowed to go into a separate room. It’s not so she can trick him, she says; but until she’s his daemon, she’ll die before she reveals her secrets. Iofur grants her the freedom to go as far as the hall. Once there, Lyra consults the alethiometer with shaking hands. First, she asks where Iorek is now, and how she can tell him what she’s done. The device tells her to trust him. Then, she asks about Iofur’s first kill.
When she returns to Iofur, she kneels before him and says, “I beg your pardon, Iofur Raknison. I didn’t know you were so great and powerful.” He accuses her of playing for time, until she says, “The first creature you killed was your own father. I think you’re a new god. Only a god would have the strength and power to do such a thing.”
Clearly shaken, Iofur remarks that Mrs. Coulter deceived him. Lyra insists she deceived them all, and tells him to act as if calling Iorek to Svalbard was his idea — a show of strength, to kill Iorek once and for all. He agrees, and she tells him that for now, she must leave; if Iorek knows their single combat fight is for Lyra, it will decrease Iofur’s chances of winning too much.
Meanwhile, Lord Boreal knocks on Elaine Parry’s (Nina Sosanya) door. Like the first time he approached her, he pretends to have known her late husband at Oxford. When she refuses to let him in, however, he forces his way in and admits that he never went to school with John Parry. He reveals just part of the truth: that he has information about her husband, but he can’t reveal it on her front porch. Without waiting for her permission, he goes into the living room, where he makes small talk about the warm atmosphere of her home, noting that some houses must obviously be occupied by happy families.
Distraught, Elaine replies that he doesn’t know anything about their family. He replies that he knows she has a son, Will (Amir Wilson), and holds up a framed photo of the boy. “Stay away from him,” Elaine demands. Boreal insists he has no intention of going after Will and says he’s on Elaine’s side. When she asks who he works for, he says he was offered the opportunity to do intelligence work after leaving the marines, but doesn’t offer anything more specific than that.
They sit at Boreal’s urging, and he tells her that his organization believes John may have been entangled in something “nasty.” Around the time of his disappearance 13 years ago, Boreal explains, some very valuable, dangerous objects also went missing. As they continue to investigate the case, John’s name “keeps getting brought up.” He says they may be able to find John — alive — with the right information, but Elaine insists there’s no chance of that. She says she can’t help, because she knows nothing.
When Boreal reminds Elaine that John wrote to her every day, and his letters could contain vital clues, she insists she has nothing left from her husband. This, too, Boreal contradicts; Elaine gets money each month from an account in her husband’s name. The change in tactics does little. Elaine insists she won’t help him, and when Boreal threatens to search the house for the letters with or without her cooperation, she demands to see a warrant.
Of course, Boreal has no such thing, nor does he have any kind of identification to prove he works for the government. He attempts to threaten her, but Elaine says simply, “I’m frightened of everything. Being frightened of you is just one more thing.” Then Boreal’s snake slithers out from beneath his collar, and she panics. He insists her mind is playing tricks, but she won’t have it; he tells her he’ll leave, but that he’ll return with the “right paperwork.”
As he leaves, Boreal says, “We can get him back for you. You have every reason to cooperate with us.” Once he’s gone, Elaine screams into a pillow; outside, Thomas (Robert Emms) and Boreal’s other associate sit in a car, watching the house. Boreal tells them he wants the letters, and he doesn’t care how they’re acquired.
Iorek Byrnison arrives at Svalbard and is greeted by a distraught, apologetic Lyra, who tells him that she tricked Iofur, but the two bears must fight in single combat. “I thought I was doing a good thing,” she says, though now she fears that Iorek may lose. He reassures her that she did do a good thing; Iorek must fight Iofur to end his tyranny.
Lyra gives Iorek a short, but sincere pep talk, while Iofur tells the bears he invited Iorek back to Svalbard to die. The two bears exchange some trash talk, then fight, sans their armor. More armored bears watch from the sidelines, along with Lyra, who at one point is nearly knocked out by a large piece of bone that Iofur and Iorek knock over in their battle.
At first, it looks like Iofur has won, when he drags Iorek around by the neck and then puts one paw on his head. Then Lyra runs to Iorek’s side, and Iofur is infuriated when he figures out her lie. He goes to kill her, and Iorek attacks Iofur in her defense. He wins the fight.
In a secluded hallway after the battle, Lyra puts bloodmoss on Iorek’s wounds, and the pair discuss how Iofur didn’t act like a bear, how Lyra helped Iorek get his kingdom back, and how he will free Jotham from the dungeons. He tells Lyra she’s one of the bears now, and gives her a new name: “You’re no longer Lyra Belacqua, but Lyra Silvertongue.”
Elaine shows up at Will’s school, upset about Boreal’s intrusion. He doesn’t like her showing up this way and tells her so, but she ignores him to tell him about the man with the snake and the worry that his dad was involved in something dangerous. “What he started, it’s still happening,” she says. Then, she drops the bombshell: John Parry may still be alive. At this, Will seems to pay more attention than he did before, and he takes his mom home.
The scene transitions back to Svalbard, where Iorek tells the bears they will no longer kill; they will live by bear ways, not human. He dons his armor again to reunite Lyra with Roger (Lewin Lloyd), who tells her that Iorek Byrnison made him stay out in the cold while he rescued Lyra. The pair fell out of the hot air balloon together; “I don’t know what happened to Lee, but he was still airborne when I last saw him,” Roger explains. Lyra runs toward him and they hug tight, while Pantalaimon and Salcilia (Eloise Little) nuzzle each other.
At Iorek’s request, Lyra asks the alethiometer about Lee, who crashed his balloon — but is very much alive. Also at Iorek’s request, she asks about the Magisterium, who are en route to Svalbard with Mrs. Coulter. “Once she knows Iofur is dead, who knows what she might do?” Lyra says. She insists Lord Asriel needs the alethiometer, and tells Iorek she needs his help to get to him. Roger says he’s coming, too, and Iorek calls for backup from the bears.
The Magisterium is in a tizzy. With Iofur Raknison dead and Lord Asriel free, the entire organization is going north; that includes Fra Pavel (Frank Bourke), who owes both Mrs. Coulter and Lord Boreal readings from the Magisterium’s alethiometer.
In the north, Mrs. Coulter crosses paths with Father Macphail (Will Keen) at what appears to be an airplane hangar filled with Magisterium members and airships. He tells her she’s to go home, where Cardinal Sturrock (Ian Peck) wishes to speak with her. Father Macphail, meanwhile, is going after Asriel, whom Mrs. Coulter is surprised to learn has been experimenting even under Iofur’s imprisonment. Now that Iofur is dead, he’s been set free, and the Magisterium aims to stop him once and for all — with an execution.
Mrs. Coulter pulls on this string, to inquire why Father Macphail is so frightened of Asriel. She also insists on traveling with him, because not only has she studied Dust, but she knows Asriel — intimately. “I can smell his next move,” she says. “Please don’t deny the Magisterium my help.” He agrees, albeit reluctantly.
Will and Elaine arrive home to find the house ransacked. Boreal’s and Thomas’ associate is still in the bathroom, but the Parrys are only home for a minute or so before Will drags Elaine to his boxing coach’s house. As they rush through the city, she makes him stop long enough to tell her he believes her, which he does. They arrive at Mr. Hanway’s (Ray Fearon), who wants to call the police about the break-in — but Will insists he can’t, because if the police see his mom so distraught, they’ll take him away from her. She just needs a place to stay while he cleans up, he insists, and Mr. Hanway promised his door would always be open.
He keeps his promise, even offering Elaine some extra pajamas if she has to stay overnight. Will insists Mr. Hanway will keep her safe, hugs her goodbye, and gives her a kiss on the cheek. He waits until Elaine goes inside before he leaves.
At the crash site, Lee grows frustrated as he tries to determine whether or not his balloon is permanently destroyed. Hester (Cristela Alonzo) insists it isn’t; they just need someone to look at it. Unfortunately, it’s their only means of travel, which basically leaves them stranded in the snow, with no one around for miles. Well — except for the witch Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas), whose sister was tracking Lee’s route.
“I failed you, and her,” he says. “I lost Lyra.” Serafina is quick to reassure him that this isn’t true; Lyra, Roger, and Iorek Byrnison are all alive and well. In fact, Iorek is king again, thanks to Lyra, which makes Lee literally scream with joy. Serafina tells him that because Lee fought for Lyra, he did what was right; now her fate is in another’s hands — but that doesn’t mean he’s finished playing his part in this war.
When she returns his pistol, he assumes as much, but he doesn’t think he’s of any use now. It’s Lyra who needs him, Serafina insists. Lyra needs all of them. “Then I hope I’m strong enough,” Lee says.
Elsewhere, Iorek transports Lyra and Roger to her father’s mountainside laboratory, while Will returns home to find his father’s letters. Mrs. Coulter, meanwhile, inspects the Magisterium’s armory efforts before they head further north to find and kill Lord Asriel.
Will packs an overnight bag and goes to read his father’s letters, when he hears a noise downstairs. It’s Thomas and Boreal’s other goon. Will shoves the letters in his bag and prepares to fight by wrapping a belt around his hand. When he makes to punch Thomas, however, Thomas trips over the cat and falls backward over the landing, falling to his death. Before Will can be caught by the other man, he grabs his bag and leaves. Though he approaches Mr. Hanway’s house, he doesn’t stop.
At Lord Asriel’s lab, Iorek promises he’ll stay close after he stands down the bears keeping him prisoner. He tells Lyra and Roger to stay safe; as the pair walk to the door together, Roger asks Lyra if she’s alright, since last time she saw Lord Asriel she still thought he was her uncle. She insists she is, and that once they give Asriel the alethiometer, perhaps they can go home. Roger hugs her, which he says is for both of them. “I know you’re brave, but hopefully you know that if you are ever scared, I’m here,” he says. They hug again. Lyra takes a deep breath, then knocks.
Asriel’s assistant Thorold (Gary Lewis) answers the door, obviously surprised to see her on the other side. He ushers Lyra and Roger inside. When Asriel sees her, he drops the paper he’s holding. He rushes down the stairs and grabs Lyra with both hands to pull her closer as he kneels in front of her, screaming, “No! No! I did not send for you! I did not send for you! You have to leave! You have to turn around and leave. I did not send for you.” He moves to drag her outside, but is interrupted by his daemon Stelmaria (Helen McCrory), who draws Asriel’s attention to Roger.
Immediately, Asriel is relieved that Lyra didn’t come alone. He doesn’t remember Roger from the kitchens at Jordan College, so Roger introduces himself when asked. Asriel laughs, then asks Thorold to prepare a hot bath for the children and to make them some food. Asriel tells Roger he’s “very pleased” he came, in a weirdly intense voice, and the camera pans from Roger, to Lyra, to Asriel. Then the credits roll.