The Time Killer

Dune Part 2's biggest prophecy could be redefined in the HBO Max prequel

The HBO Max prequel series will kick off 10,000 years before Paul and his family land on Arrakis.

Warner Bros

The faces of Dune: The Sisterhood have revealed where the show takes place in the sprawling Dune canon. While it’s been known for a long time that the upcoming HBO Max series was a prequel set in the same continuity as the Denis Villeneuve films, it wasn’t clear just when it’s set. But thanks to the casting of Emily Watson and Shirley Henderson as Valya Harkonnen and Tula Harkonnen, we know this new series will unfold roughly 10,000 years before the events of Dune. Here’s why, and what that means for Timothée Chalamet’s Paul in Dune Part 2.

Emily Watson will play Valya Harkonnen in the Dune: The Sisterhood.Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The Harkonnen Bene Gesserit Explained

Variety and Deadline have confirmed that actresses Emily Watson and Shirley Henderson play the leads in Dune: The Sisterhood. Because both of their characters have the last name Harkonnen, you might assume these characters are villains. However, as the Dune novels reveal, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood secretly crossbred the Harkonnen and Atreides bloodlines for generations. Although this isn’t revealed in the 2021 film Dune Part 1, Paul Atreides’ (Timothée Chalamet) maternal grandfather is actually the wicked Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård).

The Harkonnens have been around for a long time. And because Dune: The Sisterhood takes place at least 10,000 years before Dune, the Harkonnens here are likely not the Harkonnens we know. That said, chances are we can expect these two sisters to have very different views on House Atreides.

Although this TV series is a prequel to Dune Part 1, it’s based on a 2012 prequel novel written by Brian Herbert (Frank Herbert’s son) and Kevin J. Anderson called The Sisterhood of Dune. Valya and Tula Harkonnen also appear in two more prequel books, Mentats of Dune (2014) and Navigators of Dune (2016). This means that while the new HBO Max series is drawing upon info about the Bene Gesserit sisterhood from the original 1965 novel, it’s mostly relying on Dune expanded universe ideas from the past decade. Neither of the leads in The Sisterhood come from Frank Herbert’s six books. While they exist in the distant backstory of Dune, the characters are fairly new creations.

Shirley Henderson will play Tula Harkonnen. Except the two Harkonnens to have very different worldviews. Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

When is Dune: The Sisterhood set?

Although the text on the screen at the beginning of Dune Part 1 reads “Year 10191,” it’s not using our current calendar. In the chronology of Dune, the movie is set in 10191 AG.

AG refers to “after guild,” meaning after the spacing guild is created. In the Dune timeline, the spacing guild forms roughly a century after the Butlerian Jihad, a massive conflict fought from 201 to 108 BG (“before guild”) in which humans revolted against machines. If you match the BG years to our calendar, that would put the Jihad about 10,950 years in our future, putting the beginning of Dune about 20,000 years from now.

The novel Dune: The Sisterhood takes place in 5 BG, putting it in the middle of a galactic conflict about a century after the Butlerian Jihad outlaws all AI. If the show follows this timeline, that puts it exactly 10,196 years before Dune Part 1. In simpler terms, Dune: The Sisterhood will occur at a point in history when the Spice isn’t flowing, and the familiar political machinations from the “present” of Dune are in flux.

Because of this massive time gap, it seems possible — and probable — that Dune: The Sisterhood will explore how the Bene Gesserit planted mythological seeds on Arrakis, which 10,000 years later enabled Paul to become a faux-messiah, ride some sandworms, and start a revolution. So even though this prequel unspools millennia before Dune, its events will have a direct impact on Timothée Chalamet’s desert wanderings.

Dune: The Sisterhood does not yet have a release date on HBO Max. Dune Part 2 is scheduled for release on November 17, 2023.