The Golden Compass Ending, Explained: What Is Dust? What is Intercession?

Helmed by  Chris Weitz, known for his work on ‘American Pie‘ films, ‘The Golden Compass’ is a famous epic fantasy action movie boasting a star-studded cast ensemble. Based on the novel ‘Northern Lights’ by Philip Pullman, the 2007 movie plunges its audiences into the corridors of a quasi-mythical world where Dyson spheres fuel automobiles, and people can communicate with their daemons, shapeshifting animal spirits. However, it is also a world where religion and science, and romanticism and rationalism, remain at loggerheads.

Lord Asriel seeks to find the source of the mysterious northern substance Dust, but the Magisterium thinks differently. In the middle, the Gyptians and landlopers are worried that the kids are disappearing in the emergence of mysterious entities called the Gobblers. Our protagonist is Lyra, who can hone the secrets of the titular golden compass. It may seem a bit too overwhelming, especially after the final epic battle. However, if you seek to understand the finale in greater detail, allow us to intervene further. SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Golden Compass Plot Synopsis

In a retro-futuristic world, a liturgical body named the Magisterium governs a theocracy. The world is segregated between various magical clans, from the witches of the air to the Gyptians, the Samoyeds, and bears of the ice. In the world, people’s spirits live outside their bodies, as “daemons” or animal companions who must stay near their owners (except for the witches). After Lyra’s voiceover introduces us to “Dust,” a hidden connection between worlds and universes, we see Lyra’s world through her own eyes as she plays with Roger, Gyptian boy Billy, and the gang.

After frightening Billy about a room where the scholars punish the trespassers, Lyra and her meerkat-cat daemon Pan return to the Jordan College of Oxford University, her home. As an orphan, Lyra has been reared by uncle Lord Asriel, who is busy researching Dust, the mysterious particles that govern the multiverses. Hiding in the cupboard, Lyra discovers Fra Pavel of the Magisterium poisoning Lord Asriel’s drink and dissuades him from drinking it. Lord Asriel gives a stellar presentation before the College Council, asking for a fund for the journey and sneering at the Magisterium member.

Lord Asriel gets the fund and leaves for the north pole, the land of the mighty bears. Curiously, his departure coincides with the arrival of Mrs. Coulter, who is a friend of the college. In Lord Asriel’s absence, the Master of the College entrusts his alethiometer, or the titular truth-seeking golden compass, with Lyra. Lyra and Mrs. Coulter have an intense connection. But after understanding that Mrs. Coulter is after the compass, Lyra flees from the town, embarking upon a sprawling journey to the north pole. Meanwhile, Billy and Roger get Gobbled, and Lyra must also decode the mystery surrounding the missing children.

The Golden Compass Ending: What Is Dust? What is Intercession?

In the mythology of Philip Pullman’s universe, Dust is a central substance of fascination. The story begins with Dust, as Lyra’s voiceover notes that it is the hidden link between the multiverses. Even the scientists in Lyra’s world do not know much about Dust, as it remains the focus of Lord Asriel’s research. In his presentation, Lord Asriel denotes how Dust has been found in the North Pole, as it encompasses a person and his daemon. Dust is something humans in the world cannot fully comprehend. But Lord Asriel imagines the immense possibilities the particles open for them to communicate with the parallel worlds.

However, the Magisterium sees imagining other realities than its own as heresy, and they pose some hurdles in the way of Lord Asriel. As is evident from Lyra’s final conversation with Mrs. Coulter, even the Magisterium is fully aware of the existence of Dust. They think of Dust to be an aberrant substance that creates adult maladies. According to her, Dust does not affect innocent children. However, Dust unfurls all the nasty thoughts and unhappy feelings when the daemon begins to settle down. But then, humans can do nothing about Dust since it is not in their capacity. Therefore, Mrs. Coulter suggests the Magisterium cutting off children’s daemons to keep them “safe.” The process of eliminating one’s daemon is intercession, a word Lyra first comes across while reading the General Oblation Board papers.

Who Are The Gobblers? Where Do They Take The Children?

Gobblers remain in the dark from the beginning, although the fear surrounding Gobblers manifests among the children quite fast. Children from the tribes are disappearing, and Gobblers are seemingly to blame. Following Billy and Roger’s disappearance, Lyra comes across a committee named the General Oblation Board and intuitively connects it to the Gobblers. Oblation means an offering, and the Gobblers are seemingly preparing the children to be offered to a higher spirit. In her journey, Lyra finds some more facts about the covert operation.

While on a nautical journey with the Gyptians, Lyra knows from witch queen Serafina Pekkala that the place is Bolvanger, the site of fear, where the child abductors remain at work. The Tartars guard the hostile region with their wolf daemons. After freeing exiled bear king Iorek Byrnison, Lyra flies with aeronaut Mr. Scoresby to Bolvanger, tucked away somewhere in the north pole. Lyra finds Roger alive, although she almost experiences the intercession herself, saved by Mrs. Coulter in the final moment. When Mrs. Coulter asks for the alethiometer, Lyra sabotages her wishes while revealing the spy fly. She wrecks the room of the operation and frees the children. However, an army of Tartars waits for her.

Is Lord Asriel Dead or Alive? Does Lyra Find Him?

In the big revelation of the finale, Mrs. Coulter suggests to Lyra that she is her mother. Lyra is fast to fill the missing blanks, and she realizes that Lord Asriel is not his uncle but his father. The movie ends as Lyra, Mr. Scoresby, and Serafina Pekkala go further towards the north pole to find Lord Asriel. In the movie’s scope, we do not know whether Lyra finds him or not. Is Lord Asriel dead after the encounter with the Samoyed tribe?

We are never to see unless we probe further into the world of Philip Pullman. Asriel travels to Svalbard, but after a fight with the Samoyed clan, he is imprisoned by the bears as per the order of the General Oblation Board. However, he can cut a deal with the bears. The deal allows him to have his laboratory, own guests, and even an attendant named Thorold. Lyra finds Asriel in good health in Svalbard in the original story, but Asriel is shocked at Lyra’s arrival.

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