The Expanse showrunner explains season 5 finale shocker
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the season 5 finale of The Expanse.
One life saved. Another lost. One problem solved, and another emerging in its place. That's what went down on the season 5 finale of Amazon Prime Video's The Expanse. The mission to save Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) was successful after she endured a seemingly endless float in space and was retrieved by Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) in a dramatic rescue that was not even shown, as cameras instead focused squarely on what appeared to be Naomi's final breaths.
But there was a cost to the mission, as pilot Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) suffered a stroke in the process — a surprising move considering the character is still alive in the books on which the show is based. And that wasn't the only unpleasant news for the crew of the Rocinante. After all reuniting and enjoying cocktails and an inspiring speech from recently reinstated Secretary General of the United Nations Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) the allied forces were shocked to learn that big bad Marco Inaros (Keon Alexander) had taken control of the Ring.
But there is something else out there. The final scene of the season showed some sort of mysterious entity tearing up a Martian vessel that had been in cahoots with Marco the entire time. What does it all mean? We shot a tight beam transmission over to showrunner Naren Shankar to ask about that final scene, the rescue of Naomi, and whether killing Alex was always the plan or was instead a decision that came later due to offscreen concerns about one of the cast members.
We also peppered the showrunner with questions about what comes next, in the sixth and final season. For the latest intel on what just went down and what's to come, read on!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's start with the Naomi rescue scene, where instead of watching the rescue play out, we really just center on a profile of her face. Tell me about the decision to show the rescue from that angle, which means we don't actually see the rescue at all and are just kind of there with Naomi throughout it. I thought was a really unique and dramatic way to show it.
NAREN SHANKAR: It's top full marks to Breck Eisner as a director, because that was his concept, and what he really wanted to convey was the isolation of Naomi and what she was going through. And I remember the first time I saw it in his director's cut and it feels like you're inside the suit with her suffocating, and that's really the point. She's alone, it's just her, she can't breathe; it was a really gutsy, bold decision. And I loved it, I just loved it. It's essentially unchanged editorially, and every tiny little thing enhanced it. It's the visual effects guys. The visor basically isn't there because of how we have to shoot it. It's visual effects — the condensation, the droplets inside the suit — all of that is all just visual effects, and so it just beautifully comes together.
It's great, and then it's jarring then when you hear that muffled voice and that tap. It's like you're waiting to see the rescue, and you don't see it and then all of a sudden Bobbie comes out of nowhere.
Yeah, I've never seen it done that way before. And sometimes the bigger, more literal action movie rescue is less effective because here it's about resignation to your fate, and then suddenly disorientation. What's happening? And then suddenly you can breathe. And even how the sound is transmitted there on the sound mix; she can't hear anything until Bobbie clips in, and then she can't say anything until she has air in her suit to actually vocalize, so it's pretty cool.
Alex meets his untimely demise here courtesy of a heart attack while rescuing Naomi. Was this always the plan, or was this in response to stuff off screen with actor Cas Anvar, who was the subject of sexual misconduct allegations, and therefore involved rejiggering of the story and some reshoots?
As we were drilling into season 5, really talking about the kind of story that we were telling — which is this disaster movie, right? It's this tremendous cataclysm and everybody trying to claw their way back together. It's the beginning of a war story. We started realizing we're telling a war story that wasn't heavy because it didn't have consequences. And really the way to drive those things home is when you start talking about losing characters who are important to the audience because especially in science fiction, you have this plot murmur that characters develop that you just feel, "Oh, they're just never… Because they're the heroes, nothing can happen to them." And so these discussions began very early in the season as we were developing the story.
And you think about it, and you've read the book, so Fred Johnson's death is really Alex's death. And in the books, Fred Johnson doesn't die in what happens in Tycho Station. And so at the end of the day, this is a creative choice, and it's really driven by the fact that, and we felt really strongly that, the story had to have some cost. And when you think about Naomi's message that she gives to Holden from the very beginning and she's talking about herself, right? But when Holden plays it and she's there, it has a completely different context because of who the loss is relating to, right? And so these are hard decisions, but it gave realism and cost and a real sense of loss to this incredibly epic season. And from a dramatic perspective, it has tremendous ramifications going forward in how the loss of this very important part of the Roci crew hangs over every character in season 6.
So as you started to plot this out during season 5, is this tied into the move of introducing Bull at this point, and could we be looking at the new Roci pilot in the form of Bull? Because there's a job opening!
[Laughs] I can't give you that kind of spoiler, but the funny thing about Bull, part of it was we started off season 5 with the Roci crew all split up, so Holden and these new people. And even in the books, he had a new crew on the Roci, but what we wanted to do is we wanted to put people that the audience had some familiarity with. So Monica is not on the ship in the books and Bull's not on the ship because Bull is dead, because he's dead in Behemoth Station in the book, right? But what it gave us the opportunity to do was to bring in another character in season 5 that connected to Fred, that was connected to the story. It gave us a lot of options and also allowed us to put with Monica people that the audience was connected to as characters in the show that Holden could interact with. So it sort of just wound up that way and yeah, obviously the Roci needs the pilot.
We'll see if two plus two equals four… Space math, you never know. All right, so we see the big party and the celebration and everyone's together, and Avasarala makes a nice little speech, but then the news comes down that Marco is now controlling the Ring. What does this mean going forward?
Well, again, this is the beginning of a war story. The model for Marco was Alexander the Great, and that's certainly how he views himself, right? It's like surprise audacity brilliance on the field. Well, what he's done by the end of the season is more than just take a little revenge on Earth for past crimes and atrocities by hitting them with a few rocks, he's literally taken control of Earth's new empire. And so what we're setting the stage for is a war story, right? Season 5 is a disaster movie, or the beginnings of the war, and 6 is the war. And that's the war that we've always promised the audience from the text crawl at the beginning of episode 1 of season 1. This is like that this is a powder keg and that the solar system was at this point in history. Well, now we're in it. And that's going to be the story in season 6.
We see that final scene with what was an epilogue from book 5, where some sort of entity comes in and tears up the Martian vessel. What can you say about what's happening there and how much that will be explored in season 6?
Well, it's a huge portion of what happens later in the novels, that's for sure. But it also really speaks to what Holden has been trying to keep his eye on, because it's his connection to the protomolecule, the connection that he developed through Miller and the Ring Station and that sense that he's always been the guy looking down the road. When he and Amos and Elvi found that artifact on Ilus, the thing that destroyed the people who created the protomolecule in the beginning of season 5, he's talking to Fred about the potential danger from that thing. And so that's working underneath. And so even while the entire solar system is wound up in this war, the struggle of all humanity's sad, selfish interests, there's a much, much bigger and scarier thing lurking underneath.
And that's something that Holden has always been concerned about. And that's really what that's speaking to, and that's tied up in the protomolecule. We weren't just going to throw that away because whereas what we learned at the end of the season is that Marco was just trading this for ships and power in the solar system, that's got some significant and severe ramifications going forward.
Obviously you'll be covering the events of book 6 in season 6. Since at this point that is slated to be your final season, might we also be meeting Admiral Durate or taking a trip to Laconia, since they were both mentioned in that final scene you just showed? Because that is a later payoff in the books that we don't get to until book 7.
I can say you are an insightful reader.
That's all you're going to give me, you secretive bastard, you?
[Laughs] That's all I'm going to give you, man. I will say this, in terms of playing the long game in this show: If you go back and look at the end of season 4, when before Bobbie goes and interrupts that arms deal on the docks in the season finale — she's flicking through all these personnel who've been reassigned. On that graphic you'll see that the head of the commanding officer is Winston Duarte. So yeah, it's been set up.
Any time jumps in season 6?
Well, we've always had a little reflecting-the-time-between-seasons time jumps, that's for the most part how we've done it. When we haven't ended on like straight cliffhangers, like in seasons 1 and 2, but let's put it this way, there's not going to be a 30-year travel.
Okay, you know what I'm asking!
I know what you're asking.
What can you say about any blasts from the past we may be seeing in season 6, like Anna or Prax or Anderson Dawes — if you can ever pry a few days out of Jared Harris — who all play a part in the next book?
You know what, I can't really get into spoilers right now, but once again, I will simply say that you are an insightful reader.
Flattery will get you nowhere, sir.
All right then, let me put it this way. Part of the idea in book 6 is that any solution to problems of the scope that are presented requires good deeds and good acts by people in all sorts of places that you may not see or know or register. It's a collective thing, and that putting good out into the world without knowing the results is sort of incumbent on all of us if we want things to improve. So that idea of lots of the people that we've met over the course of the series having a portion of the solution, that's part of what book 6 is about. And we've been adapting the books.
Obviously you have one more season on Amazon, that's the plan for now. But you never know with this show. With that in mind, are you planning for season 6 to end as a series finale, yet with the possibility of potentially reopening it, especially since there will be three more books' worth of material out there?
Well, the show has had so many near-death experiences, it's forced us to look at it like, "Well, what would happen if the show ended here or here or here?" So we have lots of different plans for how that could play out, and one of them was at the end of book 6. There is an ending of sorts, right? It's like, it is not the end of the series, there's three novels to go. So, that's the trick. It's like, what is the balance between something that's satisfying and something that keeps the door open for more to come? I would say that the end of season 5 passes that test; that it does resolve the events of the season, but it does open the door for more to come. Maybe that's a way to think about it.