The Expanse showrunner on that epic cliffhanger
Naren Shankar talks about what looks like could be the end of the world, and more from season 5's first three episodes.
SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains information relating to major plot points from the first three season 5 episodes of The Expanse.
BOOM! That is both the sound of one of Marco Inaros’ cloaked asteroids hitting the Earth as well as the sound of viewers of The Expanse having their minds blown at the end of season 5’s third episode as millions of lives were seemingly ended… beginning with a lonely fisherman.
The cataclysmic event has been in the making since the end of season 4 when Marco spaced Ashford and sent his asteroids cloaked with Martian tech hurling towards Earth, and the impact from the weapon hitting its target capped the first three season 5 episodes that were released Dec 16 on Amazon Prime Video. Clearly, the asteroid is not great news for Amos, who happens to be down on Earth revisiting his roots in Baltimore. Only we learned that Amos is not really Amos, but actually Timothy — and that he assumed the name from another Amos when he first made his way up into space.
But the person in the biggest trouble of all may be Naomi. Desperate to be reunited with the son she left behind in Filip, Naomi found her offspring, who wanted no part of her… until he decided he wanted her ship, and wanted her to come along with them. His forced abduction — a big change from the Nemesis Games book on which this season is based — means an impending reunion with her former flame (and Filip’s father) Marco.
We spoke with Expanse showrunner Naren Shankar to get the scoop on the attack on Earth, Amos’ backstory, Naomi’s future story, breaking up the Roci family, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, the interesting thing about this book and therefore this season, is that everyone’s split up. When you first looked at adapting Nemesis Games, were you concerned at all about having the Roci crew all apart on their own separate missions?
NAREN SHANKAR: I wasn't. I actually thought it was a great new way to tell the story of our Roci crew in a way that we haven't done before, because they've always been together. I mean, literally been together from the beginning, right? Few people going off here and there, but nothing really like this.
And, in fact, one of the first decisions we came to in the adaptation was in the book, like a lot of times, I think, with Ty and Daniel, because the novels, they sort of reset a bit, right? So in the novel, the entire gang was on Tycho. One by one, they sort of peel off, and my feeling coming into the season was, Wouldn't it be more interesting to set everybody sort of in motion? We only really see one parting, which is Holden and Naomi in episode 1, but by putting everybody on individual paths, it gave everybody, at the outset, a clear storyline that they were going to be the stars of.
And it also sets up the tone of the show in the sense of the family is scattered at the outset. And so as an audience member, you want them to get together, especially once you realize the danger that's kind of hanging over everything. Once you realize there's this natural desire. "Oh my God, how are they going to get together? We need them to come together. We need them to solve the problems." Those are the things I think that you feel unconsciously. And so it was a nice structure, right from the beginning, to put them in different places because it just kind of, it creates that need, I think, in the audience.
Yeah, I love it because they're all on their own missions, and it gives you different vantage points to this one big event from all these different perspectives. I told you when we last spoke that the stuff with Amos on Earth was some of my favorite material from the whole book franchise. Tell me a little bit about adapting that and what more we may find out in terms of spelling out who the original Amos Burton was and why Timmy took his identity.
You know, we certainly hint at it and it's one of those things that we've been talking about for the longest time, because The Churn is such a great novella. And we had talked over the years about like, "Oh, maybe we could tell The Churn in flashbacks?" And I think one of the downsides to things like that is, and I think this is one of the things that I always loved about Game of Thrones was there was so much history and so much backstory in Game of Thrones. And they almost never, ever really gave you flashbacks. Because flashbacks are sort of a way of showing, in my mind, objective truth, where it's more interesting when everybody has their own subjective version of the past.
And so what happens on Earth with Amos is, in his relationship with Erich, it's like you feel their past, right? You hint at their past, you see these two guys who were kids in this sort of criminal underworld and how they kind of helped each other through it, but that's all told in the present day story.
And I think it was a really great, interesting way to do it, to hint at the elements of The Churn. And who knows? We've talked about, at one point we even talked about doing, like as an Amazon x-ray, actually doing the entire novella of The Churn. So so it was just the way we came at telling the Amos backstory in the present day. I was really happy with the way it turned out.
Let me ask you about the Naomi stuff. Obviously, she's reunited with Filip. We see he doesn't want her help, but yet he then takes her and her ship. So what can you say about why he decides to do that?
It's actually one of the bigger changes from the books. In the books, it was Marco's plans to bring Naomi on board from the very beginning. And the more we talked about it, we realized that for Filip to almost impulsively abduct her — because they needed the ship, because they were sort of marooned there a bit on Pallas station in episode 3 — but by taking the ship and putting her on board, he's making a choice.
So by taking his mother, and when you think about what happens at the end of episode 3 and what Marco's got planned for Earth, you could make the argument that he's trying to protect his mother or save her or bring her with him. It's a complicated decision, and it's made impulsively and it does change things. Because Marco's not expecting this. He's not planning for this. It actually causes complications for him. It has significant repercussions as the season goes on.
Speaking about things that are a little bit different from the book, going back to everything that you did with Ashford last season. And then now we see Drummer seemingly letting go of her pursuit of Marco. She forwards the transmission that she found of Ashford to Fred Johnson and she's seemingly letting go of this. What can you say about what is next for her and her crew?
Well, the story that we're telling with Drummer and her crew is, as much as you can want to not be involved in the world, you're in the world. And the world has a way of finding you and events affect us all. So even though it's a perfectly understandable desire to not want to be part of politics, to not be part of this messy business between the inner planets and the OPA and all Fred Johnson's bulls--- and politics, all the stuff that she tries to push away from herself and just say, "I just want to have my life and engage in salvage and maybe a little piracy and just be a belter and live."
It's hard to avoid it, because it will find you. And at a certain point, it requires you to act and make decisions. You can't just live your life in a cave. And that storyline is really about, think of post-9/11, how did mainstream Muslims react to those events? Suddenly, you're confronted with this thing that's happened, that people kind of blame you for that you had nothing to do with. It's that kind of a storyline. And I think it's actually quite fascinating how it turns out with her over the course of the season.
The last shot is of Marco’s asteroid hitting Earth as we see this poor fisherman just get obliterated. So just tell me a little bit about the talks you had in deciding, "How are we going to put this huge, seismic event on screen?"
We talked about it very early on and we landed on this notion of it, because I think it's one of those things that I try to keep a very close eye on all the time, is you have to be able to give human scale to events. Because if you just see a shot of earth and then an explosion on it, you don't really get a sense of it. It's sort of like when you, and this is just a thing about human perception, if you're just looking at a spaceship, in space, you have no idea how large it is.
So the only thing that you can really do to give people a sense of it is to put a human figure on it, because that's a natural way that we process the world, so that's how we understand scale. And so, in a sense, that's what the fisherman is doing, is giving a human face and human scale to a cataclysmic event. And I felt like the idea of just one nice little guy feeding fish on this tiny spit of land where there's a sign there. I forget what language it's in, it's Africa, but the sign says, "Do not feed the fishes." [Laughs]
And he's feeding the fish. But what it gave you is that experiential front row seat to this horrible cataclysm, and I think it's important because it lets you process the event in a different way than if we just showed a big explosion from space. You get the size of it. And we certainly do that later on in the season, but this was a way to make it feel very personal.
And what can you say about this means for Earth moving forward?
Not a real happy time for Earth.
Good time to be on Luna.
Yeah, maybe a better time to be on the moon. This has always been my favorite book of the series and it's been so nice to get to put this one on the screen this season.