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These Stunning Photos Of The Great Season 2 Will Get You Excited

If you're a fan of creator Tony McNamara's "The Great" — the irreverent, "anti-historical" depiction of Catherine the Great's historic rise and rule of Russia — it's time to drop whatever you're doing and take a look at some seriously exciting photos from the upcoming Season 2. If you're not yet a fan, go ahead and drop whatever you're doing anyway, so you can go binge Season 1.

The Hulu series first aired in May of 2020, and by the summer of 2021, the sophomore season was announced, with a release date of November 19th of 2021 (via YouTube). Based on McNamara's play of the same name, "The Great" is a creative reimagining of the life of the revered empress, and one that's not afraid to get a little anachronistic (the "f" word is nearly a member of the ensemble cast), or take occasionally bonkers and frequently semi-true liberties with established 18th century Russian history. 

Elle Fanning stars as the show's namesake, depicting the young Catherine with a charisma that grows from starry-eyed confidence to swashbuckling determination as she learns more about her new country and her immature, erratic, cruel and (hilariously) inept new husband, Emperor Peter III (Nicholas Hoult). Season 1 covered Catherine's and Peter's early dynamic, and spent the majority of its narrative leading up to a (real-life) coup that audiences never actually see culminate in the finale. As for what Season 2 has in store for fans, McNamara told Entertainment Weekly simply that "It'll be fun...it just builds on what we did and turns it on its head a little bit. I think it's the same kind of show, but hopefully surprising in a slightly different way." 

Now that Hulu has released some telling images from the upcoming season, McNamara's vague description is beginning to make more sense. 

Peter III will undergo some dynamic changes

Along with a dazzling array of images from Season 2 of "The Great," Hulu released a synopsis that hints at Catherine and Peter's changing, conflicted relationship following her successful coup. According to the sneak peek, Catherine will "battle her court, her team, even her own mother in a bid to bring the enlightenment to Russia. Meanwhile she'll also battle her heart as Peter slowly transitions from much-hated husband, to prisoner? Ally? Lover?" 

Peter III's surviving Catherine and her cohort's usurpation of the throne is in keeping with history, though the overthrown emperor died shortly after his exile and imprisonment at Ropsha (via Britannica). Of course, McNamara's depiction of history has little interest in remaining faithful to its "source material," so while it's tempting to assume Season 2 will encompass the death of Peter, it's equally as likely he'll last much longer than his historical inspiration. 

Based on the images, one thing's for certain: Peter will undergo a humbling transition. While he's shown in one image wearing his characteristically elaborate Russian dress and headwear, the remaining stills reveal a progressively more submissive and stripped down ex-emperor. 

The coup comes to fruition

In another of Hulu's recently-released images, fans finally get a glimpse of Catherine, the frenetic but brilliant Count Orlo (Sacha Dhawan), and bumbling but loyal General Velementov (Douglas Hodge), holding what one assumes to be Peter III himself at gunpoint. Catherine became pregnant over the course of Season 1, and her attire in the images reveals she's still very much carrying in Season 2. While history has long described Catherine's role in the coup itself as, at most, "removed" or, at least, merely "rumored," McNamara not only places her at the center of the coup's mechanics, but it appears that Season 2 will see her play an active role in the actual, physical removal of Peter III from power, despite her pregnancy. 

In Season 1, Catherine describes her surprisingly complex, antagonistic husband as "cruel and thoughtless" but also "tender...entertaining...and bizarre." Unfortunately, before any semblance of genuine affection can develop between the pair, Catherine learns that her unpredictable hubby is responsible for the capture of the man she actually loves, Count Leo Voronsky (Sebastian de Souza, of "Normal People" and "The Borgias"). Though she makes an admirable attempt to murder Peter then and there, the emperor makes light work of overpowering her, before calling her "a real firecracker," and saying he's never been more in love. 

While the image of Season 2's coup suggests she's more determined than ever to bring Peter down, there's also a hint of forlorn disappointment in Fanning's face that suggests Catherine is, as ever, conflicted in her feelings toward her baffling husband.

Catherine takes over

Of the many compelling images in Hulu's sneak peek, there's one that very directly reveals Season 2's coverage of an historical event — that is, the coronation of Catherine the Great (makes sense, given that coronations do tend to follow coups). In the image, the empress is wearing one of the most infamous accessories in royal portraiture, the imposing, extravagant, and excessively bedazzled Imperial Crown of Russia. 

The crown was originally commissioned by Catherine, and the fact that she's wearing it in one of the images strongly suggests fans will be treated to McNamara's retelling of the notoriously lavish event. Peter III's presence in the image may not be in keeping with history, but it looks as if he'll be formally (if unwillingly) "handing" the throne over to his wife. Again, Fanning's facial expression is telling. Although she appears both serene and pleased with herself, her gaze is fixed on Peter as he reads through his ostensible abdication. Catherine allowed her "great love" Leo to die at the end of Season 1 so she could successfully carry out her coup, and her overtly formal body language seems to suggest she's refusing to let an ounce of regret or heartbreak seep into a moment for which she's already sacrificed so much. 

"The Great" Season 2 will still focus on the women

The success of Season 1 of "The Great" illustrated that while history may "love a Mad King," audiences, at least, are far more interested in a powerful, complex, and necessarily cut-throat queen (or, in this case, empress). But Catherine isn't the only woman at the heart of the series' narrative focus. In (yet another, for McNamara) refreshing twist on the historical fiction genre, "The Great" foregrounds multiple women's stories, imbuing each of them with an intellect, drive, and grace that most of the series' male characters simply don't possess. 

In a revealing image from the first look at Season 2, Catherine is shown being flanked and seemingly supported by two of Season 1's most compelling characters: Peter's aunt, Empress Elizabeth (Belinda Bromilow), and Catherine's noblewoman-turned-handmaid, Marial (Phoebe Fox). Although the delightfully manipulative, deadpan, and cunning Marial is entirely McNamara's creation, Empress Elizabeth was not only an actual historical figure, but a formidable one at that. In addition to (quite successfully) ruling the empire for over two decades after obtaining the throne via her own coup, it was Elizabeth who made her nephew Peter her heir, and arranged his marriage to Catherine (via SaintPetersburg.com). Though she's portrayed as a butterfly-training, Polonius-esque eccentric in Season 1, her regal expression in this first look image suggests audiences will get to see more of Elizabeth's strength, smarts, and artful puppeteering in Season 2. Moreover, despite the fact that Marial's loyalties and confidences were split in Season 1, her position by Catherine's side — as well as her attire, which evidences a return to her former title — hints at her becoming an even more important support system for the young empress in the events to come. 

Catherine sheds the last of her naiveté

One of the most telling and potentially darkly comedic images from Hulu's first look at "The Great" shows Catherine under a tent on (what appears to be) a battlefield, possibly waiting — based on the desk behind her — to engage in some sort of political negotiation. But it isn't the empress' elaborate, purity-reiterating, lavish and silvery white attire that speaks most directly to what Season 2 will bring. Instead, it's the fact that she's — somewhat stoically — grasping a large, bloody sack in her hand. Behind her, two faceless members of the Russian military (whose uniforms suggest varying titles and degrees of import) stand firmly against an expansive, sweeping landscape. 

From the looks of it, Season 2 will see Catherine shed even more of the naïve optimism that so characterized the fledgling Russian royal at the start of Season 1. The image appears to speak almost directly to her conversation with Voltaire (Dustin Demri-Burns) in the latter's finale, wherein she tells her idol that he's "an unexpectedly dark character." Voltaire's reply — that he "would not seek enlightenment if (he) did not think we all flailed in the dark" — sparks something in the conflicted empress, and causes her to choose the enlightenment she feels she can bring to Russia over her love of Leo. 

Changing the world comes at a cost, and although Catherine is determined to drag Russia into modernity without bloodshed (as fans know from the Season 2 trailer), it seems the next chapter in her rise to power will force the empress to re-think her all-too-idealistic approach.