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The Expanse: How the Roci crew splinters to face their 'ghosts' in S5, as space empires rise and fall
After five years, the crew of the Rocinante are finally facing their demons — and there look to be plenty to go around. The world of Amazon Prime's sci-fi original The Expanse has changed quite a lot since the days of the Canterbury and the first mysteries of the protomolecule — and in Season 5 it changes a whole lot more.
The story for the fifth season is based on the fifth book in James S.A. Corey’s Expanse book series, Nemesis Games, which opened up a unique opportunity to break up the crew of the Roci and delve into the solo stories they’ve only been hinting at in prior seasons.
That means you have Amos (Wes Chatham) heading back to Earth to tie up loose ends; Alex (Can Anvar) returning to Mars to figure out if there’s anything left for him there; Naomi (Dominique Tipper) setting off to find her son; and Holden left largely on his own, facing a new threat from an old protomolecule. Steven Strait, who plays James Holden on the series, told SYFY WIRE this season was a rare opportunity to explore how these characters function when they don’t have one another to rely on. To see who they are when that found family is taken away, at least temporarily.
“I think it gives an amazing opportunity to jump into — as a fan — some of my favorite pieces of the books. I think it speaks to the confidence in the writing that they’re unafraid to change the formula in Season 5,” he says. “I think, so often, especially if a show is successful there’s a hesitancy to shake things up and try new things. They’re very confident in what they’re doing and they deserve to be because the writing is amazing. Every year we try to improve on the last year and to try something new and push the boundaries a little bit. I think we succeeded this season, and I think it’s the best one we’ve made in all honestly... It’s just kind of a kaleidoscope this year.”
In mapping out Season 5, showrunner Naren Shankar says they broke down the major plot points to see how they would adapt Nemesis Games, and realized the narrative crux of the book matched up perfectly with the season’s structure. Sure, there’s a bit of remixing in there as well, but Shankar explains this was arguably the easiest season to frame when laid out on top of the book’s story.
“The stories were very clean, the individual arcs were very clean, and it lent itself to the larger narrative really well,” he told SYFY WIRE. “It’s probably one of the more faithful adaptations of the novel, and we actually pulled material in from Book 6 into the narrative for Season 5. It all felt very smooth.”
Shankar went on to reveal the major theme for the fifth season is “you reap what you sow,” which fits with the idea of splintering the Roci crew and having them all go their separate ways to explore the lives they lived — and often times left behind or escaped — when they set off on what turned out to be the grand adventure of the Rocinante. With the Roci down for repairs, all those separate bills finally come due.
“What happens is you have every character in a unique storyline that confronts all of those things, and it’s stuff we built up over so many seasons,” he says. "We took tiny little bits of Amos’ back story, and laid these little foundations for Naomi, and suddenly you get all of that in one season. It’s really cathartic, and it feels like we’ve earned it, because the show has been such a slow burn to get to this point.”
For the Roci’s captain, that solo arc means Holden has lost his support system as he faces a new crisis, and Strait notes his character finds himself “all alone” while his ship undergoes repairs after the events of last season’s journey through the Ring Gate.
“Holden, like every other character this season kind of falls into a larger thematic category of dealing with the ghosts of the past,” Strait explains. “Holden is the only one left truly concerned about what the protomolecule has unleashed, and he’s the only one who really understands and knows the entities that ended their civilization and how much peril humanity is putting itself in by using the gates. Especially now that Miller is gone in totality. Then on the macro level, he’s still on his journey to protect humanity from what he feels he’s partially responsible for. in the protomolecule and the ring gate.”
Another story that will continue to be explored throughout Season 5 is the fate of Mars, as Bobbi (Frankie Adams) learned last season that the society is slowly starting to crumble under the weight of corruption, as attention and excitement turns toward the worlds on the other side of the ring gate.
Executive producer and co-writer of the book series Daniel Abraham (aka half of the James S.A. Corey pen name, alongside Ty Franck), explained the story of Mars is one we’ve seen mirrored through history for centuries — and showing the way that cycle continues in a space-faring future remains a key part of the new season, as Mars’ saga is told through the lens of both Bobbi and Alex’s exploits on the Red Planet.
“It’s fascinating watching empires fall, and watching empires fall specifically not to any kind of outside military attack, but from within because the foundations they were built on begin to crumble,” Abraham told SYFY WIRE. "We’ve seen all kinds of examples of that through history. One we keep referring to with Mars is the collapse of the Soviet Union, and these assumptions a vast nation was built on falling away under them and the certainty falling away, and the psychic damage to the people when that happens. Mars is really our way into that, and watching how that collapses and how it evolves, both, and the reactions to it.”
Season 5 of The Expanse premieres on Dec. 16 on Amazon Prime. The series has already been renewed for a sixth and final season, which is tentatively set to arrive late next year.