'The Expanse' Showrunner and Creators on How the New Season Differs from the Books and Choosing to End the Series [Interview]
The Expanse season 5 takes the crew of the Rocinante from the alien planet of Ilus back to our own Solar System. It’s not much of a spoiler, however, to suggest that things won’t go well for the crew just because they’re back home. Those who have seen the first three episodes of season 5, which dropped today on Amazon, know that this season will pack a wallop.
/Film had the opportunity to talk with showrunner Naren Shankar, as well as Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (AKA the writing duo of James S. A. Corey), executive producers and co-authors of the Expanse book series, about what’s in store for us in the upcoming episodes, as well as what fans can expect for the sixth and final season.
This conversation contains minor spoilers for the first three episodes of season 5. It was edited for length and clarity.
For season 5, we’re moving from Ilus back to the Solar System, where there continue to be geopolitical fallout from the protomolecule. It’s very clear you all put a lot of thought into what would be the ramifications of something like the protomolecule coming into human civilization. Could you talk about the process you went through to figure out how that would all play out?
Abraham: I think the real beginning of all of that was Ty’s reading of history. Even way before this was a project, the understanding of the patterns in history and of the things that we have seen happen legitimately when new worlds or new territories or new sources of wealth have opened up, and the kind of displacement that happens. So, we had all that to draw from. The beauty of this project is that it’s trying to argue that the future is going to look like the past, and there’s a richness there to pull from.
You’ve talked before about the process of translating what’s on the page of the books onto the screen, how there’s a book version of a character and how there’s a show version of the character. In season 5, we get two relatively new characters with Marco and Filip. How does the book version of those characters differ from the show version of those characters?
Franck: I would say that the show version of Marco is very close to what I picture the book version being. I think there’s some physical differences, I think of him as blonde, but [actor Keon Alexander’s] just natural charisma is very much how I pictured Marco being just naturally charismatic in that way, the kind of person people want to be friends with. And Filip, [actor Jasai Chase Owens] has done a fantastic job of inhabiting the version of Filip that we had always imagined. And we were lucky in that we found an actor who looks exactly like the child of Keon and Dominque, that was a happy accident.
Shankar: There was one really important difference between how they ended up on screen and in the books. This came somewhat late in our writers’ room but, in the books, Marco’s plan is to get Naomi from the very beginning. And what we did is we changed that to an impulsive action that Marco had never planned for — it was that Naomi forced herself into the situation, and Filip impulsively acts to grab his mother. That had significant ramifications into how Marco dealt with it, how he processed it, and I really liked the way that played. It gave us a lot of story to play with, in a good way. But in terms of who they are — Marco’s Alexander the Great in the books and that’s how we played him in the show. And Filip is a mixed up kid who’s not reckoning with his own actions very well, so the types are very similar.
It’s been announced that season 6 will be the last season and obviously there’s a lot more beyond that in the books. Because of that, there’s been a lot of curiosity from fans about how things will wrap up in the final season. Is there anything you can share about what fans can expect or not expect moving forward?
Abraham: The thing we’ve been talking about is there was a six season version of this story that we have been talking about since season 3. Since the last time we got canceled. So, this shape was something that we’ve had in mind for a long time.
Franck: The end of book six is a natural breakpoint, I keep calling it a natural pause in the story. So, you get to the end of season 6, you’re going to feel like that’s a satisfying ending to the story that we’ve been setting up for five seasons. It doesn’t mean that we’re done. There’s still more stuff we can be doing and Alcon [the production company behind The Expanse] seems very interested in doing more stuff but I don’t know what the shape of that will be yet.
We’re jumping a lot around a lot this season within the solar system, and I was really impressed with how you were able to create the sense of place, from Baltimore to Luna to Mars. Could you share the creative process around being able to create such a clear sense of place?
Franck: One of the things that we talked about when we’re doing art department production meetings is creating that sense of place where the instant a shot starts you know where you are. And so the art department works very hard to make sure there is a look for Luna. And no matter where we shoot in our Luna sets, the minute the cameras are rolling, you know, “Oh, we’re back on Luna again,” and we don’t have to have a chyron say where we are. There’s a lot of thought from the art department, and from Naren guiding the show to make everything feel like a separate place. So Mars has a look, and the Mars sets we saw in Season 4 are different from the Mars sets in Season 5, but you can instantly tell they’re from the same place. Where we first starting doing this is in Season 1 with the ships. Naren said very early on, if I’m on a Belter ship, I want it to look like a Belter ship. I want to instantly know I’m on a Belter ship or a UN ship, or I’m on a Martian ship. And so, the art department very quickly got into that mode that each of these places have a very distinctive look and feel. And we’ve carried that through for five seasons now and they’re very good at it.
Shankar: There were some nice elements as well this season, where we had the ability to use some locations more so than we’ve done in the past. For example, the Martian War College, where Admiral Sauveterre gives his big speech. That’s the same kind of brutalist architecture that the Martian Embassy we saw in season two. It’s literally the same style ,there’s another building that we went to and it just ended up being a perfect expression of that Martian look.
Absolutely. The specific scene that made that question pop to mind was the Baltimore scene with Amos, and you start high in the sky and then pan down.
Shankar: That’s an amazing shot. That is a helicopter unit that comes into a 200-foot crane. The camera was on the 200-foot crane and comes down and is picked up by an operator who then walks through the through the Baltimore ground scene. That was [director] Breck Eisner’s big shot for Episode Two. It’s really pretty impressive. And the visual effects guys stitched it together and it’s a great look for Baltimore.
The first three episodes of season 5 of The Expanse are currently streaming on Amazon. The remaining seven episodes will then be released every week on Wednesday, with the season finale dropping on February 3, 2021.
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