In Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune, it’s said that “he who controls the spice, controls the universe,” and that sentiment holds true in Denis Villeneuve’s two-part film adaptation. Produced exclusively on the desert planet Arrakis, melange (or “the spice”) is not only capable of expanding a user’s consciousness, but it’s also vital to space travel. So, yes, the resource — and the planet — have been long fought-over. But what happened in the Dune universe prior to the story of Paul Atreides? HBO Max’s Dune: The Sisterhood intends to answer some of those questions.
Set 10,000 years prior to Villeneuve’s Dune: Part One (2021), Dune: The Sisterhood focuses on the origins of the Bene Gesserit, a spiritual order whose members train their bodies and minds to attain seemingly mystical powers. Thanks in part to these abilities, the sisterhood of the Bene Gesserit wields social, religious, and political power, though they intend on amassing more of that influence to steer the course of humanity. So, how will the HBO Max series fit in with the Dune films, and when will it debut? Here’s everything fans need to know about Dune: The Sisterhood.
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Who Is Working on Dune: The Sisterhood?
A prequel to Denis Villeneuve’s Dune films — Part One came out in 2021 and Part Two is set to debut in 2023 — Dune: The Sisterhood is a joint effort from HBO Max and Legendary Television. It will be helmed by showrunner Alison Schapker (Fringe, The Flash), who also serves as a writer and executive producer on the series.
When the series was first announced in 2019, Villeneuve was set to direct and produce the pilot, alongside writer Jon Spaihts and fellow executive producers Byron Merritt and Kevin J. Anderson as well as Kim Herbert and Brian Herbert, the granddaughter and son of Dune author Frank Herbert, respectively. However, given the series’ focus on the powerful, influential order of women first introduced to viewers in Dune, this first conception was met with criticism — Kim Herbert was the only woman announced to be working behind the camera.
After going through a few other showrunners — including creator Diane Ademu-John (The Haunting of Bly Manor), who’s still an executive producer and writer on the series — the show landed with Schapker. Since Villeneuve had to work on the second installment of Dune, he stepped down as pilot director, with Emmy-winner Johan Renck (Chernobyl) replacing him. Renck confirmed in November 2022 that production on Dune: The Sisterhood had finally begun. Filming will take place primarily in Budapest, Hungary, alongside Dune: Part Two.
Dune: The Sisterhood Cast
Dune SIsterhood Leads
In October 2022, HBO Max and Legendary Television announced several of the series’ stars, including Emily Watson (Chernobyl), Shirley Henderson (Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker), Indira Varma (Game of Thrones, Obi-Wan Kenobi), Sarah-Sofie Boussnina (Tides), Shalom Brune Franklin (The Tourist), Faoileann Cunningham (The Witcher: Blood Origin), Aoife Hinds (Hellraiser), and Chloe Lea (Foundation).
Other primary cast members include Travis Fimmel (Vikings), Mark Strong (Shazam!), Jade Anouka (His Dark Materials), and Chris Mason (Riverdale). Josh Heuston (Thor: Love and Thunder) and Edward Davis (Emma.) will appear in recurring roles.
What Is Dune: The Sisterhood About?
Given the mysterious nature of the Bene Gesserit, it feels almost fitting that HBO Max and Legendary Television haven’t released too many details about the series’ plot. The show’s log line does provide some details, though. For starters, Dune: The Sisterhood takes place 10,000 years before the ascension of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) in the two-part Dune films. The series will follow the Harkonnen Sisters — Valya (Watson) and Tula (Henderson) — as they safeguard the future of humankind by establishing the coven of the Bene Gesserit.
Other key characters include Empress Natalya (Varma), who “united thousands of worlds” by marrying Emperor Corrino (Strong), the man responsible for maintaining the universe’s fragile peace. Acolytes training at the Sisterhood School will include the reserved Sister Jen (Cunningham), the zealous Sister Emeline (Hinds), the young and empathetic Lila (Lea), and the ambitious and talented Sister Theodosia (Anouka), who may be hiding a dark past.
There’s also the independent, but immensely under-pressure Princess Ynez (Boussnina); Mikaela (Brune-Franklin), a determined Fremen woman in the service of the royal family who’s never known Arrakis; Desmond Hart (Fimmel), a talented soldier who will do anything to gain Corrino’s trust; Keiran Atreides (Mason), a swordmaster from the noble house that will one day birth Paul (Chalamet); Constantine (Hueston), the illegitimate son of the emperor; and Harrow Harkonnen (Davis), a politician who’s dead-set on making his house respectable and influential once again. Other cast members have yet to be announced.
Dune: The Sisterhood Release Date
Lady Jessica and Paul from Dune
After garnering legions of fans, critical acclaim, and six Academy Awards — including Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture — Dune is an ever-growing, highly anticipated franchise. While fans are eagerly awaiting Dune: Part Two(2023), they also have Dune: The Sisterhood waiting in the wings (of their Ornithopters). While HBO Max initially anticipated a 2023 release, various delays have likely pushed that timeframe. As of early 2023, an official release date is still unconfirmed.
Who Are the Bene Gesserit?
While melange is a resource that’s capable of creating and destroying empires, the spice isn’t the only source of power in the Dune universe. Orders like Bene Gesserit also hold sway. Secretive, calculated, and only loyal to their own, the sect avoids interactions with outsiders. Any interference, after all, could throw off the Bene Gesserit’s collective goals and plans for humankind.
One of the most prominent characters in Dune with ties to the Bene Gesserit is Lady Jessica, (Rebecca Ferguson), who is the Bene Gesserit concubine to Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and mother to Paul (Chalamet). It’s common for the Sisterhood to install members as wives, concubines, and others who would have subtle sway in political affairs.
Lady Jessica is unique; a soldier in her own right, Jessica purposely conceived a son, not a daughter, as the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) had instructed. The Bene Gesserit have curated bloodlines through generations, all with the intent of birthing the Kwisatz Haderach — an incredibly powerful woman who will appear as a messiah to outsiders but, for the Bene Gesserit, serve as a key figure of their long-term manipulations. When Jessica disobeyed the orders of the Reverend Mother, she is thought to have inadvertently given birth to the Kwisatz Haderach: Paul, who learns the mystical abilities of the sect under his mother’s guidance.
What Are the Bene Gesserit Abilities?
While Reverend Mothers of the Bene Gesserit are dependent on melange for their enhanced powers — increased lifespan, more impressive mental skills, and Other Memory, an ability that lets them tap into the genetic memory of their ancestors — acolytes of the Sisterhood can tap into several powers.
These abilities include Truthsay (acute observation), a kind of hyper-awareness that can also help a Sister know if someone is lying; The Voice, a means of exerting control of others by speaking; Simulflow, a mental multitasking of sorts; Prana-bindu training, which provides a Sister control over every muscle, and the “weirding way,” a very precise, powerful form of combat enhanced by this muscle control; internal organic-chemical control, the ability to master their organ function and chemical processes; and seduction and sexual imprinting, which is used to sway powerful men into favoring the Bene Gesserit.
To focus their minds in times of danger, the Bene Gesserit are taught the following mantra: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Survival is the ability to swim in strange water.” Surely, the origins of this influential sect will make for a compelling watch when Dune: The Sisterhood debuts.