The BBC’s His Dark Materials has come to define Monday nights on HBO. Now in episode four, “Armour,” the story is hitting its stride with darkness, lore, and fantasy befitting of Phillip Pullman’s series of the same name. In episode three, we learned more about Lyra’s (Dafne Keen) background, her connection to the Gyptains, and the reason why Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) is pursuing her with the unrelenting force of the Church. With the lines of good and evil being drawn, Lyra is on her way North with the Gyptians, on the course to find their missing children and her missing friend.
While we know that Lyra holds great importance to Mrs. Coulter because of a blood relation, her ability to read the alethiometer has also set her as key to the success of the mission North and in “Armour,” causing her destiny and position in the story to be solidified further. Arriving in the North, Lyra and the Gyptians are seeking allies in the witches, along with an aeronaut and an armored bear. These allies define the first book in His Dark Materials, and the unfortunate adaptation that came in the mid 2010s. Because of this, I have been waiting for this episode, the one where we see the iconic characters that have defined the beginning of Lyra’s journey.
I’m happy to say that each piece of this episode works perfectly. The setting is cold, dejected, and desperate which sets the mood for the episode, one where Lyra and the Gyptians attempt to move towards hope all with the knowledge that the impending doom of the Church rushing toward them after the spy fly escaped with information for Mrs. Coulter in the last episode. The North is cold, but the fear that Lyra moves past is colder, all of which is what makes the relationships she begins to build all the more important and compassionate.
The world-building in “Armour” continues to astound me as a viewer and lover of the novels it’s based on. Instead of heavy exposition, we are shown the world; we watch it through Lyra’s eyes. We know what she knows; we learn what she learns. This ultimately helps teach the audience about the world that they have not seen brought to life before. The beauty of the show comes in its mundane fantasy. While we see the grandeur of an armoured bear, we also hear a discussion about the punishment for breaking defined Church laws.
We’re able to draw connections between previous unanswered moments in the series like the curious way that some daemons can leave their paired soul, the world of the North, and the power structures of Lyra’s world. But none of this is ever dry. Instead, the characters involved carry the world in them—in the stories of their experiences and in their adventure on the screen. By taking care to focus on small groups of characters per episode, His Dark Materials has been able to drive its narrative forward in an impressively immersive way.
From old characters who are rounding out their personalities to new characters being introduced for the first time, “Armour” seems to be the linchpin in this series. As the half-way point in the series as well, the episode is able to catapult the story into adventure and action, moving away from build-up and moving into pay-off.
As Lyra, Keen strikes a balance between a worried child and one who knows the power she holds. While she is strong, pushing back against Iorek Byrnison (Joe Tandberg), the bear, when Farder Coram (James Cosmo) would not dare, she is also worried, making choices and telling the truths of the alethiometer with a shake in her voice, knowing what the answers could bring. She’s not stubborn for the sake of being stubborn, she’s strong-willed because her moral compass moves her so. She holds empathy in her heart but not so much that it blinds her. Instead, Lyra holds everyone else up, pushing them towards truth and to act.
Lyra’s connection to each and every character connected to her is heartfelt and her actions are committed with confidence and love. Instead of heeding the warning to not trust people, she explains that she needs to trust people, and that’s how she’s gotten where she is. It is this trust in herself that showcases her ability to read the alethiometer, making those around her understand and come around to her plan.
In the scarred face of Iorek, the polar bear who has lost his armor and in doing so a piece of himself, we again see the danger of the Magisterium and their self-interest. With his armor taken, alone, and used for the gain of the town, Lyra has to save him and persuade him to help her and the Gyptains. She does this through empathy and confidence, never wavering in front of him.
Additionally, Lyra is also pivotal in pulling Lee Scoresby into her story. Played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Scoresby is unique from his mannerisms, his ability to fight, and to the cadence of his speech. The character is executed well and was clearly the best choice for the playwright-rapper-singer-actor to play. Speaking with an almost-Southern drawl that exaggerates some syllables while hastening others, he stands out from the crowd of brits. His otherness, compounded by his identity as a Puerto Rican actor, is what allows him to fit in with the Gyptians and with Lyra. A fan of the series, this is Scoresby and I can’t wait to see his large role come to fruition in the story.
Finally, Mrs. Coulter’s cruelty continues as she builds herself as a formidable opponent, not just to Lyra but to all those who oppose her in the Church. She’s forceful, she’s powerful, and she knows it, belittling and outwitting those around her and manipulating her way to Lyra. The moments of “Armour” that show her part of the story shows the other side of His Dark Materials’ coin. Where Lyra brings confidence and love, Mrs. Coulter brings a stifling need for power.
Overall, “Armour” is an episode where its characters to shine. From Lyra and Mrs. Coulter, to new additions like Scoresby and Iorek, this episode is beautifully done. With a large cast, this episode of His Dark Materials continues to show that the dialogue is about emotion and weight and not just words to fill the air while the costuming continues to set atmosphere and identity for every character. While some shows with ensemble casts become bogged down, each performance balances each other and shines on its own.
His Dark Materials airs every Monday night on HBO at 8pm CT/9pm ET in the United States.
His Dark Materials, Episode 4 - Armour
Overall, “Armour” is an episode where its characters to shine. From Lyra and Mrs. Coulter, to new additions like Scoresby and Iorek, this episode is beautifully done.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.