How a Surprise Character Arc Shakes Up Dune: Part Two

5 minute read

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Dune: Part Two.


In the world of Dune, that descriptor is most often attributed to one character in particular: Alia Atreides. In Dune: Part Two, now in theaters, Alia, the younger sister of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), plays an important role despite being in utero for the majority of the film. She does however make a brief appearance—played by Anya Taylor-Joy—in one of Paul's visions, a narrative choice by director Denis Villeneuve that alters how a number of aspects of Frank Herbert's story play out. But the unique circumstances surrounding Alia's birth nonetheless play a role in the movie.

Rather than skipping two years ahead like the book does after Paul and his pregnant mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), integrate into Fremen society, Dune: Part Two doesn't include any significant time jumps. That means Jessica is pregnant with Alia for the entirety of the movie rather than caring for her as a young child. Yet Alia's presence is still felt throughout much of the film as she advises and goads her mother and brother from inside the womb. That's because Alia is "pre-born" as a result of Jessica agreeing to drink the Water of Life while pregnant in order to become the Fremen's new Reverend Mother.

While 2021's Dune: Part One establishes the setting and basic lore of Dune, Part Two wastes no time beginning to delve into some of the universe's more out-there concepts. One of these is the idea of being pre-born, which basically means that a fetus becomes sentient and gains access to all of its ancestral memories while still in utero—a situation that's a big no-no for the mystical, all-female order of the Bene Gesserit.

Here's what you need to know about Alia to understand her role in Dune: Part Two.

What happened to Alia in the womb?

Early on in Dune: Part Two, Jessica—a highly-trained and skilled sister of the Bene Gesserit—is given a not-so-subtle ultimatum by the Fremen: drink the Water of Life and undergo the ritual of Spice Agony, or die. A Bene Gesserit sister or Fremen Sayyadina taking part in this ceremony must internally convert the fatally poisonous Water of Life into a harmless substance in order to survive the ordeal, prove her abilities, and ascend to the rank of Reverend Mother.

Rebecca Ferguson as Jessica in 'Dune: Part Two'
Rebecca Ferguson as Jessica in Dune: Part TwoNiko Tavernise—Warner Bros. Pictures

Despite being pregnant, Jessica opts to drink the Water of Life, a bright blue liquid known as spice essence that is extracted from a young sandworm by drowning it. During the excruciating process, Jessica successfully transmutes the poison and, in doing so, inherits the combined ego and memories of all of her female ancestors as well as those of every Fremen Reverend Mother who came before her—a source of knowledge referred to as Other Memory. Unfortunately, so does Alia.

Read more about Dune:

Unaware that she was pregnant, the Sayyadina are horrified when they realize what has happened. The ritual is typically forbidden to pregnant women as it creates a pre-born abomination, i.e. a fetus with full consciousness, access to Other Memory, and all the powers of a Reverend Mother. This allows Alia to communicate telepathically with Jessica from inside the womb and be aware of everything going on around her throughout the rest of the movie.

Unlike Reverend Mothers, a child who is pre-born will often be unable to resist the influence of her ancestral inner voices and becomes susceptible to being possessed and driven insane by one of the spirits' personas. During the plot of Herbert's third Dune novel, Children of Dune, Alia tragically succumbs to this fate when she falls under the spell of her maternal grandfather, the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (played by Stellan Skarsgård in the movies).

How is Alia's story different in the movie?

Due to the time jumps that happen in the book, Alia is present for much of the second half of the story. At the age of 4, Alia is captured in a Sardaukar raid and held captive by Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV (played by Christopher Walken in Part Two). Ahead of the final showdown for control of Arrakis, the Emperor brings her to a meeting where she terrifies the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) by inserting herself into Mohiam's mind, and then kills her grandfather, the Baron Harkonnen, with the Atreides Gom Jabbar, a poison-tipped needle.

Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in 'Dune: Part Two'
Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in Dune: Part TwoNiko Tavernise—Warner Bros. Pictures

"That child is an abomination!" Mohiam tells the Emperor. "Her mother deserves a punishment greater than anything in history. Death! It cannot come too quickly for that child or for the one who spawned her...this child who is not a child must be destroyed. Long were we warned against such a one and how to prevent such a birth, but one of our own has betrayed us."

In the movie, since Jessica is still pregnant with Alia when Paul makes his move against the Emperor, things play out a bit differently. While Alia still frightens Mohiam by using her telepathic abilities from inside the womb, Paul is the one to kill the Baron before taking on the Baron's nephew, Feyd-Rauth Harkonnen (Austin Butler), in a one-on-one duel.

For those who aren't fond of these changes and wanted more Alia, worry not. Since Villeneuve has said that he also intends to turn Herbert's second Dune novel, Dune Messiah—which picks up 12 years after the events of the first book—into a movie, we'll likely get to see Taylor-Joy's full take on Alia further down the road.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Write to Megan McCluskey at