‘His Dark Materials’: How Does Lyra’s Mom, Marisa Coulter, Control the Spectres?

His Dark Materials season 2 ended with Mrs. Marisa Coulter (Ruth Wilson) using deadly Spectres to get to Lyra (Dafne Keen). But considering she was only in the middle world for a short time, many viewers wondered how Marisa controlled the Spectres and got them to do her bidding. The HBO series is a little different from Philip Pullman’s novels, so here’s a break down of her abilities in both. 

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for the Season 2 finale of His Dark Materials.]

Ruth Wilson in 'His Dark Materials'
Ruth Wilson in ‘His Dark Materials’ | HBO

‘His Dark Materials’ is based on the books, but features a few small differences

His Dark Materials is an adaptation of Pullman’s fantasy trilogy of the same name, including The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. The show is very similar to the books, but it does deviate from the source material to accommodate and entertain a TV audience. 

“There isn’t sort of that major shock…but there’s a series of micro-shocks that together probably challenge the foundations in a more interesting way,” series writer Jack Thorne told the press as reported by Radio Times

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“Our thing is always how can we tell Philip’s story best,” he continued. “We are not trying to do something different from the books. We are only ever trying to feed the language of TV into these books. And so sometimes we do step away and do different things — but always we’re  going back to the text and saying how does this help us tell his story best.”

In the ‘His Dark Materials’ books, Mrs. Coulter reveals how she controls the Spectres 

In Pullman’s books, after Mrs. Coulter first encounters the Spectres, she tells Boreal that she could convince them she could provide them with more prey. And before she meets the Spectres, they are unable to fly. But through her interaction, they learn to take flight. 

But her use of the Spectres is the same in the books and the His Dark Materials TV series. In both, Marisa uses the creatures to kill the witch, Lena Feldt (Remmie Milner), when she is found spying on her in Cittagazze. She also manipulates the Spectres to find Lyra and kill the witches guarding her. 

On the HBO series, Marisa suggests her dissociative powers are what control the Spectres

While Pullman’s books suggest Marisa lured the Spectres with the idea of finding them more souls to feed on, the His Dark Materials TV series made her power over them more instinctual.

When Carlo Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) asks her how she repelled them, she says it has to do with her detachment ability. 

“They consume what makes us human, so I just hid that from them,” Marisa tells him. “I suppress myself.”

Viewers saw Marisa’s dissociative abilities earlier in the season when she traveled a far distance without her daemon. And the Spectres’ victims look and act a lot like the daemon-severed children in season 1 — alive, but zombie-like. So, seeing this, Marisa may have figured out how their connection works. 

Hopefully, fans will get more answers in season 3 of His Dark Materials. And for those looking for deeper insight, Pullman’s book, The Subtle Knife, is a great place to start.