The Expanse Creators Explain Why Season 6 Is Only 6 Episodes Long

The Expanse Creators Explain Why Season 6 Is Only 6 Episodes Long
Things are afoot aboard the Rocinante. (Image: Amazon Studios)

The final season of The Expanse arrives this Friday, so Gizmodo hopped on a video chat with writers Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham (who co-author The Expanse books as James S.A. Corey) and showrunner Naren Shankar to talk about the show’s past, present, and (hopefully?) future.

Cheryl Eddy, Gizmodo: If you had to sum up season six with a single overarching theme, what would it be?

Daniel Abraham: The necessity of normal people to do the good thing in order to get us through. I mean, so much of this is about not just one hero — not just finishing up a conflict with two guys having a fistfight on a catwalk. [It’s about] everybody just being a little bit better in order to make things better, recognising people’s humanity, recognising people’s place, giving room to each other, giving respect to each other — the kind of banal goodness that actually makes society better.

Naren Shankar: I think recognising the inherent humanity in others is really part of the season in the big way. I’m trying to remember what we wrote on the board [in the writer’s room]. Remember we always would write the theme…

Ty Franck: Normally we would have had a theme looking at us every day as we worked. And this was the first year we didn’t do that. So now we’re just fumbling around like dumbasses [laughs].

Gizmodo: Was that because of covid?

Shankar: Yeah, we weren’t actually able to be in the same place physically at all this season. This [press day] is actually the first time I’ve been in a room with these guys in two years. We weren’t able to go to Toronto and be with the production like we always have been, with the actors. Even the writer’s room was virtual.

Gizmodo: Whose decision was it to make the season only six episodes? Is that also because of covid-related reasons?

Shankar: That was a decision between Amazon and Alcon Television. I mean, you always kind of agree on how much money you’re going to commit to the production of the show. And that was the decision. It came down to making six episodes of it. It’s always a negotiation to some extent. Could we have done 10? Absolutely. Could we have done eight? Certainly. Uh, I don’t think we would’ve been able to tell the season in any less than six.

Abraham: I think if we’d have gotten 13 we would have been in trouble.

Shankar: Yeah. I mean that can sometimes work against you — too many episodes also can be bad. So that was kind of presented to us as, “Can we tell this story in six episodes?” and our response was, “Let’s think about it.” We talked about it and we came back with, “Yeah, we can do it, but we’re going to have to supersize the sixth episode.” That one’s really like an episode and a half.

Franck: And these are not six inexpensive episodes. [Laughs]

A battle-weary James Holden (Steven Strait) in the season six premiere. (Image: Amazon Studios) A battle-weary James Holden (Steven Strait) in the season six premiere. (Image: Amazon Studios)

Gizmodo: Did they come at you with the six-episode plan before you had started planning out the season?

Shankar: We had talked about it loosely, but we weren’t officially back at that point. I think it was also a desire to make sure that we were able to finish it and get the episodes done to be back on [the air] a year after we had been off. That was part of it as well, because the way these cycles work on the streamers, I think that that probably entered into the situation.

Franck: And the real answer to your question is there’s never just one planning session. There’s multiple stages of planning. So there’s always like an early plan where Naren or Daniel or I will get together and kind of talk big picture what we would do for a next season. So that’s kind of the beginning of the planning, but at every step of the way as new constraints or new possibilities are laid out, then we have to revise the plan. We have to add more detail to it. So, yeah, at some point we kind of had a plan, then they said six episodes. Then we had to revise the plan and do a six-episode version of that plan.

Gizmodo: Were there storylines that you wish you could’ve explored more, if you’d had the traditional 10 episodes?

Franck: We actually had a bigger part for [season three character] Pastor Anna and a bigger part for [season two and three character] Prax. But as we were doing the season breakdown and figuring out what we were going to do six episodes on, it became clear we couldn’t do justice to those stories in the amount of time that we had. So then we trimmed them down to sort of cameos, but still got the point of that story in the cameo. Those are two examples, but there’s a lot of decisions like that where we realised we didn’t have the space to do the big version of that story. So we would trim it down to this small version.

Gizmodo: Obviously we won’t be getting into any spoilers, but having watched the whole season myself, there was at least one storyline that left some dangling threads at the end. Some characters that maybe we might want to revisit. Is there any chance that we might pick back up with them in another medium?

Abraham: As we always say, there are three more books. There’s a lot more story to tell. Big world! Things could happen.

Gizmodo: I’m sure fans are going to be sad about only six episodes, although we all have to keep in mind that we almost lost The Expanse after the third season. Do you think there’s going to be a similar fan movement after the finale to demand more?

Shankar: For more of The Expanse going forward? Well, I leave that to them. [Laughs] Hey, you know what, if we do our job right and it happens? Great.

Abraham: I love working with these guys. I love working with this cast. If the universe saw fit to let me do that some more, I would show up.

Shankar: It is honestly, it’s so rare these days to get a show through six seasons. In the current era that we’re in, that’s a miracle in and of itself. I feel like we got great support at Amazon and Alcon to get the show to the end of book six, which was always, you know, a possibility that that was going to be an ending of the show because there’s a satisfying conclusion at that point. The door is open to other things. And if the stars align, I think you’d find a lot of people willing to participate in it.

Gizmodo: Including the fans, I’m sure. Looking back, have you had a favourite moment that was brought to life as part of The Expanse series?

Shankar: I keep going back to Julie and Miller. It’s just such a beautiful scene.

Franck: My jokey, half-serious answer is that I just really like anytime Amos gets to shoot somebody or Bobbie gets to beat somebody up. I look for those opportunities. [Laughs]

Abraham: I can’t tell you mine because it’s a spoiler for season six. The thing that I am happiest about, um, happens in this season.

A family dinner. (Image: Amazon Studios) A family dinner. (Image: Amazon Studios)

Gizmodo: Well, we do get to kind of see Bobbie and Amos become better friends this season. You can kind of imagine them as a dream team having their own adventures.

Shankar: And you’ll get one of those, on one of the “X-Rays” [after-show shorts] — you get a little Amos-Bobbie X-Ray adventure. We have five X-Rays for episodes one through five. They’re great little short pieces that illuminate individual characters or pairs of characters. They pop up at the end of the episode, so if you just stop and click on an x-ray, it’ll take you to that content.

Gizmodo: Is that new for this season? How did those come about?

Shankar: Yeah. Amazon wanted them.

Abraham: I think the X-Ray team at Amazon has been wanting to do this for a while, and this is the first time it’s really come together that we could make them. They’re really nice little vignettes — I’m very pleased with how they turned out.

Franck: The idea of doing these little short things is something we had talked about before, and we just never had the time or resources at that moment to do it. But this year Amazon gave us all the resources we need to make these and it’s fantastic.

Shankar: And they’re cohesive. There’s a philosophical thread that goes through them. They’re linked to the narrative and they reflect it and they illuminate it in a lot of ways. So I think people are going to get a kick out of them.

Gizmodo: So there’s going to be a Bobbie and Amos episode — what are the other ones?

Shankar: The first one is about Drummer and Naomi. The second one is Avasarala, the third one is Amos and Bobbie, the fourth one is Clarissa, and the fifth one is Holden.

Gizmodo: What do you hope people take away from The Expanse as a whole, and where do you see its legacy in terms of sci-fi on TV?

Abraham: I’m going to botch it now, but the there’s a quote from Camus that is something very much along the lines of, “there’s more to admire in humanity than to despise.” And that’s what we’ve tried to do with The Expanse, both versions of it — the books and the show look at humanity and find it worth loving, warts and all. With all of the violence and the prejudice and the tribalism, to see that we’re still a pretty amazing species. We’ve done some amazing stuff. And for all of the horror, kindness is still more common. For all the tribalism, the tribes keep getting bigger. If there’s a message that comes through, from that’s what I hope.

Franck: And its legacy is not something that people who make the thing get to decide. That is decided by the fans now — and to some extent, fans who don’t even exist yet. Future fans get to decide that. So we don’t get to pick.

The Expanse season six premieres Friday, December 10 on Amazon Prime. We’ll have a lot more Expanse coming up on Gizmodo this week, so stay tuned!