We are now only one episode from the end of His Dark Materials Season 1, and for anyone who has read the books, you will be aware of roughly what comes next for this story. Next week we can look back and judge just how good Season 1 has been overall, but before we get to that, let’s look at this week’s episode entitled ‘The Fight to the Death’, shall we?
The Fight to the Death
This week’s episode sees Lyra stranded from her friends and walking into danger as she approaches Svalbard, the palace of the armored bears, ruled by King Iofur Raknison, a very different bear to that of Iorek Byrnison. Meanwhile Mrs Coulter’s plans are in disarray and when the Magisterium arrive, she will have to use all her skills of manipulation to convince the hierarchy to allow her to remain involved in the pursuit of her daughter Lyra.
Iorek is on his way to Svalbard to try and save Lyra, but there is no way he can stand against a whole army of armored bears loyal to King Iofur. Lyra must find a way to save herself and her friend Iorek from certain death. But Lyra has become a master of lies, even out witting her own mother last week, can she really trick a bear, something Iorek already told her was not possible?
Was it any good?
Well, yes, it was pretty good and I thoroughly enjoyed the episode. However, like many weeks, there are some changes made from the books here which are quite difficult to fathom the reasons for. I think for fans that have not read the books, then there would be little to complain about, but I will get to the issues for book readers.
Overall though, and despite a few niggles, this episode still works, and the drama is focused this week on Lyra and her dealings with Iofur Raknison which for me they nailed completely. The performances, which I won’t do a separate section for this week, were as good as we have come to expect from this show, and it’s those characters and the performances of the actors which really drive this series home for me. The fight to the death of the title of this week’s episode involves a battle for the Kingship of the armored bears and thus Iofur Raknison and Iorek Byrnison have a battle. The drama here is that Lyra has to use her wits and her powers of manipulation to make King Iofur realise that he has to fight Iorek, instead of just sending his armies to stop him instead. After that it is up to Iorek himself to decide the battle against Iofur and it is this battle where I felt a tad disappointed this week.
The build-up, however, was great, and this episode really drives him that introducing Will’s story so early in the show was the correct decision, as we got to see things from his point of view which helped stretch out the drama of Lyra’s situation as the cutbacks to Will provided the respite. It’s hard to say what Will will do next week, but no matter. This leaves things ready for a meeting between Lyra and Will at the beginning of Season 2, which won’t require any lengthy exposition of Will’s story before getting straight into his meeting with Lyra, and how the story progresses from this point forward.
And I have to mention James McAvoy who makes his first appearance this week for a few episodes, and his reaction to meeting Lyra and then her friend Roger were perfection from McAvoy a self-confessed fan of the books. I won’t say why this was so on point, for anyone not familiar with the books, but all will be made clear in next week’s Season 1 finale.
Ok, here it is, when Iofur and Iorek battle in the books, it’s pretty brutal, and realistically this is based on polar bears not humans, and we know how polar bear males compete for females by fighting, sometimes to the death. My issue is that because this is a pre-watershed show on BBC in the UK, (that means it’s is on prior to 9pm) that the fight felt a little less brutal to me. What’s more annoying is that this week the show actually appeared after the 9pm watershed due to a special event on the BBC, and therefore could have been a little more violent anyway. Now, I’m sure they didn’t know that when filming this, so it was aimed for a less mature audience. Even then I have some issues with this, as your average David Attenborough documentary about polar bears probably has just as brutal things happening anyway. There is a difference I think between animal on animal violence and violence involving Humans. Ultimately, we never got to see an iconic moment as Iofurs removed jaw slides past Lyra, signaling the king’s death.
Secondly, within the same fight, they made a strange choice to have the bears fight without their signature armor on. A bear’s armor is their soul in this universe and one of the reasons we know that King Iofur isn’t fully ‘bear-like’ is the fact he wears very ornate and less practical armor when compared to the simplistic yet functional armor that Iorek wears. I feel like this was an important part of the battle between these two. Iofur is wearing his armor when he calls out Iorek who arrives (also) wearing his armor, and then we cut straight to the fight and neither are wearing any armor at all. It was a jarring cut and I can think of no good reason why it was shot like this, even budget wouldn’t be an issue as the bears are far harder to get right with CGI than the armor is. Just a very strange call to make from the showrunners on that one, and it simply didn’t work as well this way. Weirdly the fight was much more accurate and brutal in The Golden Compass movie, where that film was lacking was the character moments between Lyra and Iofur leading to this fight, which again, like last week, the show seems to consistently get right.
An exciting and tension-filled episode filled with great performances and spectacular visuals. However, some decisions made around the kid-friendly approach to the violence of a bear fight and a weird decision to have the bears fight naked both felt out of place. If they had gone for it with both these aspects then this might have been my favorite episode yet. As it was though, this was still a hell of a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to see the finale next week. Overall this has been a really good adaptation with some exceptionally strong performances and some interesting changes from the books.
Barring next week’s episode being an absolute disaster (unlikely given what I know is going to happen) then this first season has been even better than I had hoped for on His Dark Materials, and I can’t wait to see Season 2, which covers the content of my favorite book of the three The Subtle Knife.
Unless you are a picky book reader like me, you are probably going to love ‘The Fight to the Death’.