New episodes of The Expanse are officially arriving in December (although it’s U.S. at the moment) — and we now have a better idea of what to expect from the sci-fi show’s fourth season, its first after moving from Syfy to Amazon Prime in the U.S.. The first trailer and clip from the new season blew our minds, but we pulled it together to absorb even more details straight from the cast and crew.
While previous seasons of The Expanse have focused on the tensions between the residents of Earth, Mars, and the Belt, much of it wrapped up in a mysterious alien substance called the protomolecule, season four will find the show exploring new territory, literally, as the characters head to Ilus (also called New Terra) a newly colonised Earth-like planet. Of course, while the setting may be new, there are still conflicts galore waiting when they arrive.
The Comic-Con panel participants included cast members Steven Strait (James Holden), Dominique Tipper (Naomi Nagata), Wes Chatham (Amos Burton), Cas Anvar (Alex Kamal), Frankie Adams (Bobbie Draper), and Shohreh Aghdashloo (Chrisjen Avasarala), as well as showrunner/executive producer Naren Shankar and executive producer Ty Franck. Executive producer Daniel Abraham (who writes the Expanse novels with Franck as James S.A. Corey) also participated in the roundtable interviews after the high-energy panel.
The panel kicked off with everyone agreeing they were both shocked and stoked as hell when they found out that Amazon would be saving the former Syfy show from an early grave. The camaraderie on stage spoke to one of the reasons why the show has resonated so much with fans: Everyone involved seems to genuinely love making it.
“We love being together, and we’re dedicated to bringing you a show that speaks for humanity, that represents you in a way that maybe you don’t feel represented [elsewhere], and so we feel a responsibility. We want it to be awesome,” said Tipper, who plays Belter and Rocinante engineer Naomi. “It’s a profound place to work, it’s a profound cast, it’s a profound production to be a part of.”
After the first clip from season four was shown as part of the panel, Franck pointed out that it’s the first time the Roci has ever landed on a planet. “It was a big deal because we had to sort of redesign the ship, we had to add those landing struts that come down. And all the stuff with [Tipper’s character] showing all the brutal physical things that a Belter has to go through to prepare their body for that, Dom was super committed to it, and we got to show a side of Belter life that we hadn’t seen before.”
When asked about what it was like adapting his book series for TV, in a question that not-so-subtly referenced the controversy over how the end of Game of Thrones was handled, Franck also invoked the spirit of dedication. “Daniel and I have always had this rule writing this books, and it’s true [in the writers’ room for the series]: the best idea wins, the only thing that matters is that we make a thing that’s good, and everyone has that commitment. So you don’t have a lot of fighting about whose idea should win, people arguing for their version. Everyone’s version is the same, and it’s the best one.”
Shankar added: “Ty and Daniel have also never been precious about things. They’re willing to change chronology, we’ve folded character arcs into different characters, we’ve moved things around and pulled storylines forward. I think it’s a unique part of the adaptation process in this particular case.”
For instance, Bobbie Draper — the tough Martian Marine played by Adams — isn’t in Cibola Burn, the fourth Expanse book. But she’ll still be in the fourth season. “Bobbie’s not in book four at all,” Adams said at the press roundtable. “So the writers had the challenge of putting me in a story that hadn’t been written. But it was also really exciting for them, because they could veer off and you get to see more of Bobbie the human as opposed to the Marine in this season, and I really enjoyed doing it.”
None of the actors could divulge too much about what lies ahead for their characters, but Anvar, who plays Roci pilot Alex, said “there’s a very nice evolution between [Alex and Naomi] that has to do with the huge shift that we’re taking going to the planet.” Added Tipper, “Also the Roci crew, generally, it’s kind of the first time you’ve seen them really as a family, and kind of settled in who they are and their relation to each other… we start off with them in this lovely family dynamic that we really haven’t seen before.” Emphasis on the “start,” she adds with a chuckle, “because you know it’s gonna go downhill, basically!”
The writers and showrunner also played it close to the vest with season four details. “We’re actually taking a character that we did not include in an earlier season for the show that’s in the book for that season,” Franck teased. “Because we didn’t use them, we suddenly realised that they were still available, so now we’re pulling that character into this season.”
“It’s the first time that we’ve pulled anybody from the past,” Abraham added.
“The book readers will be very excited when this character shows up, because they think we forgot about them,” Franck said.
One of season four’s new characters that fans already knew was coming — Murtry, played by Torchwood’s Burn Gorman) — can be glimpsed prominently in the season four trailer, but even then, the trio didn’t want to share many details about him.
“That character has a perspective, and one of the things we like doing in the show is not having anybody in there who is just evil for the sake of being evil. Everyone who’s in conflict is there because they think they’re doing the right thing,” Abraham said. “That’s not going to be any different going forward.”
Added Shankar, “From the clip, you see the Earth corporation, you see Belters, and you see the Roci crew. And understanding what this show is and the kinds of things we often talk about, that gives you a good sense of what a core conflict in the season is going to be about.”
New characters, new conflicts, and — according to Strait, who plays Roci captain Holden, season four will have a different tone, too. “Anyone familiar with the books knows that book four is kind of a gear change. It has a very different flavour to it. We approached that on a technical level with lens changes, we have anamorphic lenses that are kind of wide screen. It’s got that frontier look to it,” he said.
“But also, there is a kind of gritty intimacy that you experience with the folks on the Roci crew and the people on New Terra/Ilus, whatever you’d like to call it,” he continued. “You move into this vast and different space, and yet you kind of delve deeper into each character as well — which is a testament to the books and also to the adaptation and the writing, because they manage to do both. The world does get much larger, and yet it also gets far more intimate at the same time.”
The Expanse is coming to Amazon Prime on December 13 in the U.S. — stay tuned for news on an Australian release.