The Expanse showrunner explains that shocking season 4 finale twist
Warning: This article contains major spoilers about season 4 of The Expanse.
While the majority of season 4 of The Expanse consists of material about events on the planet of Ilus that come from book 4 in the series, Cibola Burn, showrunner Naren Shankar (who already discussed the big changes from the book with EW) also brought in a fair amount of what he calls “bridge” material to connect events from books 4 and 5 — and subsequently seasons 4 and 5 of the Amazon show.
That meant the earlier introduction of a key villain from book 5, Marco Inaros. Naomi’s former lover, and the father of her child, Filip, Marco has a plan to attack Earth and install Belter dominance — and we saw that plan unfold at the end of season 4. Using stolen Martian clocking technology, Marco launched an invisible asteroid toward Earth in the season 4 finale, a move that could wreak havoc among all three factions (Earth, Mars, and the OPA).
Marco’s big move has already claimed its first victim, as David Strathairn’s Ashford (a bad guy in the books who whose story was extended and redeemed on the TV show) hunted down the renegade, only to be captured by Filip and sent out the airlock by father and son to his death.
We asked Shankar what the season 4 asteroid cliffhanger means moving forward into season 5, why they killed off Ashford, if we’ve seen the last of bloodthirsty Murtry and protomolecule Miller, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First of all, you really changed up the role of Ashford from the books, and made us actually root for the guy. And you do that only to then make us later mourn his death. Why decide to kill of that character and make him one of Marco’s early victims?
NAREN SHANKAR: It wasn’t anything other than we loved David Strathairn in season 3, and then, as you know, the character of Ashford doesn’t extend beyond the end of the third book, but David had a great time, and we had a great time with him. The relationship that was developed with Drummer and Ashford was so interesting, and he was very open to coming back to the show for season 4. And as we started talking about how do we do the bridge adaptation into season 5, it gave us a great way of starting the Marco storyline and introducing the character and then having this really tragic end.
Because, also, the reality is, a lot of times with actors and with the way this show works in terms of how it shifts perspective, having a guy like David on for years and years and years is probably not even practical, so there were a lot of different factors that came into it. Believe me, we would’ve loved having him till the end of the series, such a delight to work with and everybody just absolutely loved him.
And [Cara Gee, who plays Drummer], she was so emotional at their parting, genuinely emotional about it because he was just such a great presence on the show. But it was all of those factors that worked together that gave us this great opportunity, and it’s heartbreaking at the end. And when you think of the complex number of things that are happening at the end of it, that he doesn’t get Marco and he knows that Filip is Naomi’s son as well, and the fact that he knows he’s going to die, so he tries to do something smart at the end of it, even as he knows that he’s about to killed, it’s heroic and tragic and moving. Yeah, I’m just glad it worked out the way it did.
You end the season by sending that giant rock hurtling towards Earth. Can we expect a similar result from what happens in the book?
I don’t know if I can talk about season 5 spoilers, but when you think about it — again, obviously, you’ve read the books — it takes a lot of time for these things to get from the outer reaches of the solar system to the inner planets on ballistic trajectories, so it’s a great opportunity because in the books, these things were launched a while ago, so here we get to see a launch. Here, we also get to see really what stealth technology is. We talked about it for years. You can even think about it going back to episode 1 of the show — the Belter they’re torturing is somebody who stole stealth composites, that Avasarala is torturing, right? That’s a serious thing. Now we see why it’s so serious.
And when you see it getting sprayed on the rock and then it gets activated and then the rock turns essentially just into space, blackest space, you understand what it is. When you’re watching season 4, the storyline is so loaded towards Ilus, but it’s really the secondary storyline back in the solar system that’s going to take precedence in season 5, and so this was a sneaky way of bringing it back to that focus at the end of the season in a way that people, I don’t think, really would have expected.
You extended Ashford past where we saw him in the books, so what about Murtry? Is his story on the show complete and is this the last we’ll be seeing of that character?
Yeah, Murtry was always that way. He’s certainly in the world, so who knows? Again, we had such a great time with Burn Gorman, but Murtry the character is not in book 5 of The Expanse, but you never know. You never know who’s out there.
And is this the end of Miller?
We brought the poor man back from death so many times, but the version of Miller that is the protomolecule refracted version of Miller’s consciousness that has been projected into Holden’s head, that version of him says, “It’s the end” in episode 9. “This is the end for me.” Now, the protomolecule is a hive mind. It’s like one part of it communicates with all other parts of it. Does that mean there’s no Miller at all left period? I don’t know.
You talked about bridging into season 5. Obviously, the big crux of book 5 is this relationship that you clearly seem to be setting up between Naomi, Marco, and their son, Filip, who’s introduced at the very end here. I have to assume that’s going to be a major story moving forward, right?
It certainly is setting up that way, without question. The idea of stealing stealth composites, we thought that that was a great way to tie the story on Mars to the larger story in the Belt because, and it’s tricky to see, but Filip is one of the Belters that’s stealing the stealth composites. And that’s a big deal.
It’s interesting because you show how fractured parts of the OPA are here in season 4. What does that mean for the OPA moving forward as Marco’s plan is carried out?
Well, it’s a fundamental problem with how they’re trying to form a government. It’s like they have a whole bunch of warring factions and people who’ve got a lot of personal animosities and grudges. It’s hard to unify that kind of a group. They’re not a constitutional government, everything is negotiated, and those are very, very difficult structures to hold together because everybody tends to pursue their self-interest of small groups, and that’s what Fred and Dawes have actually been working against. Dawes has Ceres station as a power base, Fred has got Tycho as a power base, so they’re a bit more stable and larger, but they’ve got a lot of people who don’t necessarily want to tow the company line, and that’s a very difficult group of people to govern.
A big part of Amos’ story in book 5 takes place on Earth. Will we see any of that in season 5 or do you have different plans for Amos?
Look, obviously, that’s a huge storyline in book 5, and the evolution of Amos as a character is just one of the really fascinating things in the storyline. It’s like this sociopathic personality who has enough inside of him to understand when he’s being bad and the fact that he wants to try to be good by attaching himself to good people. That storyline is continuing. And what’s happened, obviously, on Ilus is he got uncorked a little bit and he got, yeah, I guess, in a “relationship” But there are clues in season 4 as to the direction of Amos in season 5, and so I would just say think about his storyline quite carefully from episode 1 on and you will see, I think, at least indicators to where we’re going in season 5.
I think my favorite shot of the entire season might’ve been after Murtry hits Amos and he just turns around with that bizarre grin and goes, “Thank you.”
[Expanse co-author Ty Franck] was very specific about that, and I think [actor Wes Chatham] was too. When Murtry tries to sucker punch him, it gives him permission to release the beast, so to speak, and it was just so scary. And it was like, “Oh, f—, I gave him my best punch and he wasn’t expecting it and that was in response? Uh-oh.”
Holden’s had this thing in his head, and it looks like it is finally out. What does this mean now for that character moving ahead?
He’s been hanging on to this for a long time. He’s been the prophet, right, with getting visions effectively, if you want to talk about Miller in that sense. So, it is a good question: What is Holden’s next step? Because, now, he really has, maybe inadvertently, but he really has opened the door, because what Holden’s actions have basically laid bare in season 4 is that, unless you have a chunk of protomolecule, the machines aren’t going to come to life. They brought that with them when they came to Ilus, inadvertently because it’s on the Roci, and Miller turning everything on is what caused the problem because that’s what the protomolecule was designed to do. What Holden and his guys have proven is that these worlds are safe, right? Well, they’re safe so long as there’s no protomolecule to turn things on.