Exclusive: ‘The Expanse’ writers Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck reflect back on the explosive finale and why season 5 was so special
Still reeling from the tumultuous season finale for Amazon Prime’s “The Expanse?” Have your feet settled back into the safety of Earth’s gravity well yet? Warning: Spoiler territory ahead!
The tenth and final chapter of season 5, titled “Nemesis Games” and directed by series veteran Breck Eisner, was just released this week and it capped off one of the finest seasons of “The Expanse” to date. The subtle balance of intimate character moments, tearful reunions, and frenetic outer space combat with swarming missiles and flaring point defense cannons made for a satisfying journey leading into next year’s sixth and likely final season.
Space.com spoke with the best-selling “The Expanse” authors and TV series writer/producers Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck after the shocking deaths and daring rescues were delivered to learn about the duo’s reflections on this absorbing season, why this year’s episodes were executed so well by the cast and crew, how the sad loss of a Rocinante crew member stayed true to the nature and risks of space travel, and what their plans are for future creative projects.
Space.com: Looking back on this past season, why did this feel like such a special year and hitting on all creative cylinders?
Daniel Abraham: I think that the story we’re telling here with the family torn apart by war trying to get back together, is just at its base a really affecting and powerful thing to start with. Plus when you’ve got really good actors and a really good crew, that helps a lot too.
Space.com: What was it like working with this talented group of directors, new and old, this season and how did they extract such intensity and consistency through ten episodes?
Ty Franck: Well, Breck Eisner has worked on every season of the show other than season one. So he’s a pretty known quantity as we’ve worked together a lot. And Jeff Woolnough has worked on every season of the show, including season one, so we’ve got a couple mainstays there. Of the new directors, there’s Marisol Adler, who directed episode seven and eight, which I think are two of our most emotionally intense episodes that we’ve ever done on the show. She brought a fine gentle touch to those episodes that helped make those two of the best we’ve ever done.
Daniel Abraham: We hadn’t worked with Nick Gomez before but we liked him, I thought he was great. He and Thomas Jane split up a block. Tom had been talking about wanting to direct on the show since very early on, and he did such a nice job with his episode that I kind of wish we’d used him before this. And the interesting thing is since Tom is an actor, you can really tell in that episode that he brought a real focus on the performance side of the episode.
Space.com: This season saw many striking performances by the supporting cast like Jasai Chase Owens (Filip), Jose Zuniga (Bull), Brent Sexton (Cyn), and Olunike Adeliyi (Karal). How did their work add to the overall depth and dimension of the series?
Daniel Abraham: I’m also going to mention the name Bahia Watson, who played Sakai. Of all of the new actors that came in, the way that she played Sakai as this friendly, approachable, charming character, and then this absolutely chilling person, almost without changing anything, just blew me away. The work that she brought to it really elevated that whole arc.
Ty Franck: Yeah, I agree one-hundred percent. And the other one, who really got his start way back in season 4, and has been a huge part of season 5, is Jasai Chase Owens, who played Dominique’s son, Filip. What a performance that guy put on! He’s a young guy and hasn’t been in a ton of stuff, but to come in and be as good as he was right out of the gate was astonishing.
Daniel Abraham: Olunike and Brent, they’re old hands at this. Olunike has been in a dozen things over the last year or two. And Brent, he’s been working non-stop. If you look at his IMDB page it’s like six or seven pages long. He’s been working non-stop for three or four decades. What they both did was come onto our show, and very quickly grasp the nature of what we’ve tried to do with those characters. And our show is a little unusual, it’s not a cop show or a doctor show. They saw what needed to be done and both of them killed it right out of the gate.
Cas Anvar as Alex Kamal in season 5 of “The Expanse” on Amazon Prime Video. (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
Space.com: Can you comment on Alex’s (Cas Anvar) sudden death scene “stroking-out” aboard the Razorback and how that difficult creative decision was made?
Ty Franck: This was always a discussion from the beginning of developing season 5. We’re telling a war story and the way you make war stories poignant and meaningful is that there’s always a sense of loss. So right from the start we were talking about how we were going to portray that, and are there characters that we can lose that can be the way we tell that story?
Fred Johnson dies earlier in the TV show than he does in the books, and that was partly because of those conversations. Can we have an early loss? Fred’s death in the books is during a combat maneuver under high-G when he strokes out. Which is a thing that we’ve talked about on the show a lot. Being under a high-G burn is a danger to the crew. The reason you take “The Juice” was so that you don’t die during those maneuvers. So that’s always been hanging over the show and Fred was our way of showing the legitimacy of that danger in the books.
But since he had been shot, we still hadn’t done that. And the conversation became, “Is that a thing we can still do?” To show that not every death in war is not a noble charge of the machine gun. Some deaths are painfully mundane in war. And that doesn’t mean the loss is any less. And that’s how we creatively ended up with the decision for that particular death for that character.
Daniel Abraham: I think the way that that death is going to carry forward and inform the next season, actually is a pretty good change from the books. It’s an effective way to tell the story that we’re telling. All in all I’m very happy with how that came out.
Dominique Tipper as Naomi in season 5 of “The Expanse.” (Image credit: Amazon Studios)
Space.com: Do you have any favorite moments or episodes from this season that stand out?
Ty Franck: The best thing I can say about season 5 is watching Dominique Tipper just f***ing kill it. Having an undoable assignment from us, being alone, acting by herself on a spare stage and just totally bringing the drama. It was incredible watching her do that.
Daniel Abraham: That’s a good one!
Space.com: With “The Expanse” season 6 on the horizon and the final book, “Leviathan Falls,” coming out this October, how do you encapsulate this 10-year-plus journey?
Daniel Abraham: It’s been much more than an eleven-year journey for Ty, I came into it late. I’m really looking forward to it. I think there’s a real joy to a good ending on a long project. From a book perspective, this will be the fourth multi-volume story that I’ll be putting to bed. If this is like the ones before, there’s a certain melancholy, but there’s also a real sense of accomplishment and closure that comes with sticking the landing.
Space.com: Peering into the future, what new projects are you excited to launch into?
Ty Franck: I can tell you that we have a new space opera trilogy coming out from Orbit, which we have not started writing yet, but which Daniel and I have had many conversations on developing the story. We’ll be starting on that pretty soon and that will be fun.
Daniel Abraham: We don’t have any projects we’re allowed to talk about, but we do have lots of other projects. The launch that “The Expanse” has given us and the opportunities it has opened for us moving forward, some of them are really cool. So it will be fun to see what comes next.
Season 5 of “The Expanse” is now available to watch now on Amazon Prime, along with Seasons 1 to 4.
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