Movies & TV

Dune: The Sisterhood Series Is On the Way

Though director Denis Villeneuve promises that the HBO Max prequel series is "moving forward."
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The world of Dune is remarkably vast, spanning planetary systems and parsecs. It's so enormous, in fact, that one movie couldn't contain even half of Book One of the source material—which, as Chris Nashawaty argued in his review of the film for Esquire, is actually a good thing. There are many good things about Dune (like Duncan Idaho, for example), and with excitement at an all-time high following the success of Denis Villeneuve's blockbuster adaptation, HBO Max is developing a television prequel series called Dune: The Sisterhood, which promises to take viewers behind the scenes of a mysterious matriarchal order with superhuman abilities.

Here’s everything we know about the series so far.

In June 2019, before the film released to wide acclaim, WarnerMedia gave a straight-to-series order for Dune: The Sisterhood. Set in the universe of Frank Herbert’s Dune, this prequel will focus on the Bene Gesserit, a secretive matriarchal order of nuns, spies, scientists, and theologians with superhuman abilities, whose powers include mind control, hyperawareness, and collective memory, among other extraordinary talents. (If you've seen the movie, this is the witchy community of Paul's mother.)

What does that mean, exactly? In the books, the Bene Gesserit are an ancient order of women who have mastered their minds and bodies through mental conditioning to gain superhuman powers. The Sisterhood uses its knowledge and power to help guide humanity according to their own plan of the future. And while their history—and purpose—isn't well known, members of the Sisterhood often work as advisors, wives, or concubines to leaders of the Great Houses, crafting alliances that help drive events toward their own somewhat shadowy goals. “The Bene Gesserit have always been fascinating to me,” Villeneuve said. “Focusing a series around that powerful order of women seemed not only relevant and inspiring, but a dynamic setting for the television series.”

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In Children of Dune, Herbert writes of the Bene Gesserit’s credo:

Religion is the emulation of the adult by the child. Religion is the encystment of past beliefs: mythology, which is guesswork, the hidden assumptions of trust in the universe, those pronouncements which men have made in search of personal power, all of it mingled with shreds of enlightenment. And always the ultimate unspoken commandment is 'Thou shall not question!' But we question. We break that commandment as a matter of course. The work to which we have set ourselves is the liberating of the imagination, the harnessing of imagination to humankind's deepest sense of creativity.

Back in October, which is also when the feature film debuted, it was announced that Villeneuve was attached to direct the pilot, and Jon Spaihts, his co-writer for the Dune film script, was attached to write. Villeneuve and Spaiths were set to executive produce the series, along with the late Frank Herbert’s children, Brian Herbert and Kim Herbert. Now, recent comments suggest that there may be a leadership shake-up afoot. In a new interview, Spaiths kept mostly mum about the project, but revealed that he's no longer attached.

“That is carrying on and I’m not allowed to talk about it very much. But that effort is alive and well,” he confirmed. “I ended up getting moved off of it to work not just on Dune: Part Two, but to investigate other cinematic prospects in the Dune universe, which we are still talking about and which, again, I’m not allowed to say very much about."

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Villeneuve is also playing it close to the vest, though with interest in Dune skyrocketing as it campaigns to win ten Oscars, he's back in the hot seat. Though the director claims he has no oversight of the series (that's a job for the show-runner—more on her below), he assures fans that wheels are in motion. “The TV series is a work in progress. It’s moving forward,” he told Deadline. Could his comments about having no oversight mean that he's no longer attached to direct and produce? It's hard to say.

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Herbert’s Dune novel examines a future in which humanity has spread across the galaxy to thousands of worlds, all ruled by the Padishah Emperor, The Imperium. Dune: The Sisterhood takes place in the same universe and explores the future through the eyes of a mysterious order of women: the Bene Gesserit. Given abilities by their mastery of the body and the mind, the Bene Gesserit expertly weave through the feudal politics and intrigue of The Imperium, pursuing plans of their own that will ultimately lead them to the enigmatic planet Arrakis — known to its inhabitants as Dune.

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This sounds like the series will take place leading up to the events of Dune and the Bene Gesserit's political maneuvers throughout the universe. Mum’s the word on release dates (when quizzed about it, Spaihts said, “They’re well down the road, but I honestly don’t know the details of the timing"), but the promising thing for fans of Dune is that THR reports that this series is all part of Legendary Entertainment's “larger plan for Dune, which also includes video games, digital content packages and comic book series.” The Duneiverse is clearly expanding, so even though things are as dry as the Arrakis desert now, it seems like we're in for a bright future.

Watch this space for updates as we continue to learn more.

FromEsquire US

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Adrienne Westenfeld
Assistant Editor
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.
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