The Expanse showrunner answers series finale burning questions
Warning: This article contains spoilers about the season 6 series finale of The Expanse.
The Expanse ended (maybe?) its six season saga with a bang. And a really big one at that. The Roci led an assault on Marco Inaros and his Free Navy by trying to take control of his rail guns mounted on the Ring gate surface. While they were unable to take over the guns, Amos, Bobbie and the strike team did survive several close brushes with death thanks to some heroic moves and some timely assistance from the Roci.
The team then went to an audacious Plan B: deciding to throw everything at the Ring to wake up the mysterious alien entities that would put an end to Marcos for once for all. It was Naomi who pressed the button, committing not only her former lover to death, but her son Filip as well. Or so she thought.
We learned later that a disillusioned Filip — who had come to the realization that his father Marcos cared more about himself and personal glory than the actual well-being of his fellow Belters — had left the ship before the fateful strike, off to a new life with a new identity.
While the sixth — and, for now, final — season of The Expanse mostly mirrored the action of the sixth book, Babylon's Ashes, it also dropped clues and references as to some big players (like Admiral Winston Durate, and precocious siblings Xan and Cara) that inhabit books seven through nine, which take place after a 30-year time jump.
Does that mean there could be more life for the show, which was already saved once by Amazon Prime Video after SyFy bowed out after season 3? EW spoke to showrunner Naren Shankar to get some answers to our burning questions about the series finale and possible future of The Expanse.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's talk about how you wanted to approach this finale. You're adapting these books. There are obviously three more books out there. When you knew that this is, at the very least, the end right now for this Amazon run, tell me about how you wanted to approach this ending.
NAREN SHANKAR: Well, this is actually something that Ty and Daniel and I have been talking about for quite some time is how might we end the show if we had to end the show before the end of the full run of books? And there is this kind of an off-ramp at the end of book six. And if you think about the show in terms of where it started, Ty recently pointed out how episode 1 of season 1 starts with that text call talking about Earth, Mars and the Belt on the brink of war with each other. And all it would take is a spark. We then provide the spark in terms of the protomolecule.
And season 6 is the culmination of that and it's the resolution of that. Where it ends is essentially in a new political order for the solar system that resolves the situation that we started with in the very, very beginning. And, of course, it leaves the door open because there are things going on in Laconia that are going to change the order in the solar system. But the time gap between book six and book seven is almost 30 years. So it's a natural place and a natural ending in many ways.
The ending that we had in the last scene of episode 6, that's a natural place to bring the narrative to a close. And if you watch the end credits really closely, we even put a little something in there. If you notice, the Ring entities are sort of coming to life at the very end.
I did notice that! Okay, let's get into some of the specifics of what you did in your final episode here. Everyone on the Roci sort of has their hero moment. You have Bobbie taking out the railguns, you have Amos seemingly sacrificing himself to save Bobbie by covering her up. Then Holden and the Roci come in to save Amos. Tell me how you wanted to stage that big final battle.
Well, it's actually kind of going even further back in the episode. What we were talking about was when you take the approach like we did in season 5 of losing one of the core cast members, suddenly you pull away all the plot armor from every one of the other characters. You feel like you could lose any of them at any moment.
And so, what happens is the way we built the last episode was it really escalates. You think, "Oh my God, Drummer's going to die! And then, oh my God, Clarissa's going to die! Then, oh my God, Bobbie's going to die! Then, oh my God, Amos is going to die!" Yeah, none of those things happen, but they feel like they might. And if you feel like they might, that's the essence of drama, if you feel like you're going to lose somebody.
In that moment, that is the dramatic moment. We don't lose anybody, and there is a resolution to the larger conflict, but I think that that's really how we constructed that ending. We really wanted it to feel like you could lose any of these people at any moment.
And you do feel that, because in the books, not all these people make it through book nine. So knowing that this is the end of the show, it's like, "Well, maybe they're going to move up this death or that death."
Exactly. Now, again, the high-class problem in doing books seven, eight, and nine is that there are many, many big endings along the way. I think tonally that's its own thing. And I hope to get to do it.
I want to talk about the Naomi and Filip thing a little bit. They come up with this plan. They're going to throw everything at the Ring to wake the entities up. Naomi ultimately is the one to press that button that she thinks at the time has just killed her own son. Why does she press that button? Obviously, it goes back to Holden and him disarming that missile, but what is going on there?
That's a gut-wrenching decision to make. But the scene that happens earlier in the wake of Holden disarming the missile saying, "I can't be the one to kill your son." And Naomi says, "By not taking that opportunity, you're putting the blood of everybody else who dies on my head. And I can't deal with that." And so, what happens is she makes the most terrible choice any mother would have to make is consigning her child to die.
She says to Holden in that fourth episode, "I tried to face him, and I did everything I could, and I failed. He chose his father." And so, she is forced to make this terrible, terrible decision to end life of her child. Because the stakes are so high, because it is such a profoundly important moment with such gigantic ramifications, she pushes that button.
It was actually one of the changes from the novel, but I think worked really, really nicely. In the book, Filip's not on the ship. He has left. So, it doesn't quite have the same weight. Oh my God, that scene is just gut-wrenching and beautiful. When she pushes that button, and just before that, she's imagining Filip as a baby. And then Dominique in that moment with that howl of anguish. It's such a great moment.
I love that change from the book. If memory serves, I don't think he's ever heard from or seen again in the books.
He's not. He only comes in in the novella, Auberon.
So what's your take here in your TV universe? What's Filip's future? Where is he off to and what is he going to end up doing?
We talked a little bit about it. The issue is not even so much what is he going to do, is that he is going to do. The point of him changing his name on the ship's registration is him saying I'm going to chart my own course. And so, that's the important thing. What that moment does is say that you can't fix the terrible things that he's done, but maybe you can sort of have growth towards atonement. And there's maybe a chance for him to redeem a little part of his soul.
Let's talk about the Transport Union. You have Holden assume the presidency after he is asked to do so, and then he immediately gives it up to Drummer, who obviously in the books later on does assume that position. You've kind of merged her with Michio Pa here on the TV version anyway, so it kind of works on two levels.
We didn't feel that Holden would be the guy that proposed it. We felt like there was a better way in that conference scene to have emerge. What we did was, there's that moment where Avasarala says, "You should step up and do this." And Holden looks at Drummer, and she gives him permission to. And then what we imply is subsequent to that, the two of them hatch this plan in the intervening time that once everybody ratified it, made sure all the contracts were signed, so to speak. And then he just kind of steps down.
That felt like the most interesting way to do it because Holden, he's not that guy. He never wanted to be that guy. So for him to sort of lay down the law and say, "We should be this way," I actually really liked the way we landed on it here, because if you think about the end of episode 5 in the season, it's where Drummer says, "Are you going to try to screw us if we actually help you, because that's what always happens?" And Avasarala goes, "No, I can only promise you that I won't." And then there they are in that room. And Drummer is like, "You guys just clashed with us." It's kind of a fun moment.
The story of Kara and Xan becomes super important in the later books. What made you want to incorporate their back story via the Strange Dogs novella here?
Again, it gave us a window into Laconia and an eye on the protomolecule while simultaneously helping us answer some of the outstanding questions at the end of season 5. And it does have that added advantage that it does hint towards the future because the last image of that episode, in essence, is the two kids running off into the woods, both of them destined to be changed by the protomolecule, although we don't know that at the end of the episode.
And then there is Duarte looking up at the orbital platforms, which are coming to life to build the battleships that he's going to need. It's spooky and weird and creepy, and it shows that the protomolecule is still out there doing things. And that gives you as an audience member, the sense that, well, maybe there's more out there, that there's three more books.
I love the POV shot of Xan's once he's been changed and the repair drones have sort of brought him back, and you see that weird, purple vision of his.
It's Miller's vision. We need to establish that visual language in the show when you see Miller, how the protomolecule projection of Miller views Holden. So, suddenly the audience knows that. I mean, there are all these little bits and pieces in there. If you look at the shape of the Strange Dog really closely, the forehead is sort of the same shape as the repair drone that Miller projected his consciousness in. And so, what the implication is, is that's a native life form on Laconia that was sort of co-opted and hijacked by those repair drones and then turned into some combination of the two.
Speaking of people that become super important in the later books, you mentioned Duarte looking up at those orbital platforms. Tell me about how prominent you wanted him be in this story. Again, it looks like you're laying some stepping stones out there.
Well, yeah. I mean, we are. It's pretty clear. And it's tricky. There's a lot of juggling that goes into these things, and this is kind of a fine line to walk because you don't want to feel like the whole thing is a setup. You don't want to feel like we're just leaving stuff out there and have no intention of resolving it, but it also gave you a little bit of insight into the why of what is Laconia.
The thing that really answers that is when we introduced Duarte at Xan's funeral, when he just shows up and he just talks to the girl, he's talking about why he came through here and what they're trying to do and why it's important. It felt like what a great way to introduce this character in the context of explaining what these Martians are doing. Why did they come here? Why did they risk all of this? What is the mission? And that's what Duarte tells her.
We're kind of stepping around it, so now I'm just going to ask you directly: What is the future of The Expanse now? We know there are three more books. We know you've set a few things up. We know this has been announced as your last season on Amazon. What are your plans?
Well, I mean, look, this has been such a delightful experience. We love the show and we love making the show. Right now, the future really lies with Alcon Television, which is the studio that makes the show, and Amazon, if there is in some form, an appetite for more.
I think from the standpoint of just the pure creative, I think what we tried to do at least was come to a satisfying conclusion of a huge chunk of the story while leaving the door open for more if the appetite and the desire is there. I'm certainly not betraying any confidence to say that Ty, Daniel and I — speaking for ourselves — would love to do it. It would be a remarkable thing to complete the whole book series that way. And I certainly hope we get to do it.
All right, I've saved the most important question for last. Did Amos and Bobbie hook up in the brothel at Ceres? He offered her an invitation…
Oh my God! I can't give you a definitive answer. You know what? That scene is deliberately constructed. Because look at this way: Both of these characters in the show have used sex a little transactionally. I mean, is it possible? Absolutely. Did it happen? I can't say for sure.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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