The Expanse showrunner Naren Shankar interview: Season 5 “will blow your minds”

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 20: Showrunner Naren Shankar attends the #IMDboat At San Diego Comic-Con 2018: Day Two at The IMDb Yacht on July 20, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for IMDb)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 20: Showrunner Naren Shankar attends the #IMDboat At San Diego Comic-Con 2018: Day Two at The IMDb Yacht on July 20, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for IMDb) /

Season 5 of The Expanse hits Amazon Prime this month and there is so much to look forward to about the most prolific space exploration show on television.

The exciting fifth season of The Expanse is almost here, and fans of the show also got some bittersweet news about the series. The Expanse has been renewed for a sixth season, but it will also be its last, and will begin production in January 2021.

“We have prided ourselves on having one of the most diverse casts on television and giving a platform to stories that matter, said Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson, co-CEOs and co-Founders of Alcon Television Group and executive producers of The Expanse, according to Deadline.

“A special thanks to Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the writers of both the books and series, and to Naren Shankar, the series showrunner and executive producer,” Kosove added. “It continues to be an honor and privilege to work with this team. We also would like to thank Amazon for their continuing support to help us tell this story in its fullest and to bring The Expanse to a global audience.”

The Expanse series sets the standard in terms of space-exploration shows. The series brilliantly interweaves complex political, science-fiction, and action-packed narratives in seamless fashion. The series, based on the best-selling novels by James S. A. Corey (pen name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), has a passionate following, with fans rallying to save the show when Syfy canceled it after three seasons. Lucky for us, its new home on Amazon Prime Video — with a ramped-up special effects budget — has become the perfect fit.

“The dedication and artistry of everyone who helps bring The Expanse to the screen is incredible,” said Shankar, via Deadline. “Our fans are awesome, and we cannot wait to get rolling on season six.”

In an earlier interview, Culturess spoke with Naren Shankar about what to expect for season five.

Culturess: What can you tease about season five for us?

Naren Shankar: I will say this: Book five, which is the bulk of season five and, more or less, is, I would say my favorite book of the series — and I think that’s true for a lot of people — Ty [Franck] and Daniel [Abraham] did some really, really beautiful stuff in it. And I think when people see it, it’s going to kind of blow your minds a little bit. It’s got some really great character action and emotion. And it’s great when a show evolves, like the books do, and when you can take a show like this and constantly do new things with it.

Culturess: I have to say that the visual images and the visual world that you’ve created for The Expanse is so realistic. It wipes away all the disbelief of space and technology. How does that feel to be responsible for something that’s personally popular, but also sets a new standard for science visualization and technology?

Shankar: First off, so thank you for saying all those things because we really work so hard to accomplish exactly what you’re talking about and it was one of the things that attracted me to the project initially because, this time, Ty and Daniel had had baked the idea of the reality of life in space into the novels. It’s something that really set them apart.

And when I came to the project, Mark and Hawk’s pilot script, they had captured that. They loved the idea of like a working living perspective and sort of the working man’s perspective of life in space.

When I think about like shows that get space right, you know, there really aren’t like any. I mean, you have to go to 2001 [A Space Odyssey] on the features side to really look at something that really got everything right. And that movie was made in 1968, and it’s so good.

I think that there is, you know, there’s so much beauty in the way spaceships move, you know there’s in the way in visualizing. There’s a reason that Stanley Kubrick set the opening of the movie to the “Blue Danube.” It’s a waltz and it’s beautiful.

It’s almost become part of a culture, this false idea of battles in space, because it’s always the same thing as World War II fighter planes in the Pacific; it’s the same thing. And that’s not how these things move. There’s beauty in reality, there’s dramatic possibilities in actual physics, and I think that the ability to do that in a piece of fiction, in a piece of drama that has a lot to say about the world politics and economics and colonization and cycles of history, I think it was a great opportunity to make a show that hadn’t been made before.

Culturess: Well, I love how the ships sound on The Expanse. Every time the ships take off, it’s got this visceral reality about it, and I keep saying to myself, “Yes, that is how a ship would sound.”

Shankar: We talk a lot about those things, and you know, there’s no sound in space, that’s true, but sound is half of, you know, human perception. And so, we play with it. We play with the way we use sound. And, you know, I think that we’ve done some really interesting things, like when radios don’t work and you can press helmet-to-helmet and talk together in an intimate moment, because the sound is vibration. It’s like, we really, really try to make all of those things, you know, really come to life.

Culturess: On the other end of the spectrum is the politics, which is so relatable to our real world. One thing that I love about the show is the women in power. Segueing into season five, regarding Christjen Avasarala and Bobbie Draper getting together, what can we expect for their storyline? Because I love those two together.

Shankar: They are very fan favors. These are interesting, dimensional, complicated characters who happen to be women. There’s an interesting thing, I think, especially that happens in science-fiction. [It] is that there’s a tendency to just take a male character and make her female and then that’s the end of it. And that’s not what this is. And Ty and Daniel don’t write that way, and we’ve been really cognizant of that as we’ve gone through the series. The dynamics are fascinating. The women are powerful and flawed and interesting and sometimes mean and sometimes wonderful. It’s like they’re just human beings, and that’s what’s interesting about the show, and you see it as sort of like from every single dimension.

Culturess: And with Naomi, a character who we all thought we knew, and then now all of a sudden, she’s getting this like visceral punch with her son coming into the picture. Could you talk about where that is heading in the fifth season?

Shankar: What was interesting about season four, book four, is essentially a one-off. It almost entirely takes place on Ilus. It has very little to do the solar system. But when we were adapting the season because we had these really interesting characters who we didn’t want to abandon. It gave us all this opportunity to fill in some really interesting storylines.

And one of them was Marco, which was the introduction of that character. And episodes four and five [of season four] are kind of fascinating because, when you get Marco and Naomi’s relationship, pulled through third parties by each side of them… And where is the truth in that? We were able to actually directly discuss something that these characters have never really talked about themselves, but because we had this opportunity and the structure of the season. It gives the audience something really fascinating. And you’re right, it’s a platform to a very big storyline in season five.

Culturess: When watching season four, I had to do a double take with the change in casting for Avasarala’s husband, Arjun [originally played by Brian George, but replaced by Michael Benyaer in season four]. Why the case change?

Shankar: The thing about it, Brian George, who played a Avasarala’s husband in the first two seasons, had become a regular on an NBC series and we tried really hard to get him back because we loved him, and he really wanted to do it. But the schedules just would not permit, and we had very little flexibility because of how we were able to shoot it, and Michael Benyaer we brought in. It’s not something that you do lightly. And certainly, we loved Brian. It’s a tough thing to do. It does happen sometimes on shows of this nature where characters come in and come out, and you know, I think Game of Thrones went through this a few times with different characters. Yeah, and you try to do your best to avoid it, but it’s not always possible.

Culturess: Are there any plans to bring Brian George back?

Shankar: I can’t say. That actually falls into the spoilers category.

The first three episodes of The Expanse’s season five will drop December 16 on Amazon Prime Video. The remaining chapters of season five will air on a weekly basis through February 3, 2021.

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Have you seen the trailer for The Expanse‘s fifth season yet? Are you like me, and thinking that December 16 can’t come soon enough?! Share your thoughts about the new episodes in the comments!