A former Rebel spy is heading for Arrakis. Indira Varma, who played Tala in Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones, will join the cast of the TV series Dune: The Sisterhood on HBO Max. Her character is named “Empress Natalya,” which seems to mean that the new series will step outside of the canon of even the spinoff novels.
So who is exactly Empress Natalya? Clues from the character description might indicate she’s actually a composite of two different characters from the 2012 novel The Sisterhood of Dune.
Who is Empress Natalya in Dune?
According to Deadline, Empress Natalya is “a formidable royal who united thousands of worlds in her marriage to Emperor Corrino.”
Because Dune: The Sisterhood takes place in roughly 5 “Before Guild” (B.G.), that puts it 10,196 years before the film Dune: Part 1. If you search the entire text of the novel Sisterhood of Dune — upon which the new series is based — you will not find the name “Natalya” one single time. However, there is an “Empress Tabrina,” who is married to Salvador I, who was, nominally, part of the Corrino line. In Dune parlance “Emperor Corrino,” could mean a lot of things, but because of the timeline of the show, this could mean some version of Salvador I, who was the Emperor during the events of this book. Then again, there’s also Empress Orenna, who was married to Emperor Jules (another Corrino) who preceded Salvador I and therefore is also close to the events of this book.
Because we know Natalya is “formidable,” and seemingly in charge, it’s possible she is a composite of both Orenna and Tabrina. But if she’s a direct adaptation of either, Orenna is the slightly better bet simply because her Emperor husband (Jules) was done in by a brain tumor. In this period in Dune history, there’s an anti-technology movement afoot, and Jules dies because he refused tech-reliant medical treatment. If Natalya’s “Emperor Corrino” is dead, then that would mean she’s possibly the one in charge of the known universe in the show.
How Dune: The Sisterhood changes book canon
However you slice it, Empress Natalya is new to Dune canon, whether in name only or in what she does. This is doubly interesting since the source material for the new series is also relatively new, too. Dune: The Sisterhood isn’t based on any novels by Frank Herbert, but instead, on the 2012 spinoff/prequel novel by Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert, as well as Kevin J. Anderson. This book is just one of several sequel/prequel Dune books written by the duo, which, as of this writing is a total of 17 novels. (Which is outside of the six original novels written by Frank Herbert.)
That said, Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert aren’t writing the TV series. Diane Ademu-John is the showrunner, and Johan Renck is directing the pilot, which means, those are the folks that are making the calls, and likely crafting the story of Empress Natalya.
In any case, if her performance in Obi-Wan Kenobi is any indication, Indira Varma is ready to rule the known universe.
Dune: Part 2 hits theaters on November 3, 2023.