The Expanse will end with its sixth season

"It's better to go down swinging than rolling over."

Amazon Studios has announced that it’s renewed its science fiction series for a sixth — and final — season, bringing to a close the adaptation of James S.A. Corey’s (the pen name for Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) space opera series. The show’s fifth season is set to debut in just a couple of weeks on the streaming service. Over the course of it’s run, the series garnered plenty of praise for its sense of realism, its complicated and relevant storytelling, as well as its diverse cast of characters.

The series kicked off on the Syfy Channel in 2015, adapting the first two-thirds of the first installment of the series, Leviathan Wakes. First published in 2012, the novel depicted a future in which humanity had expanded far into the solar system and broken into some hostile factions: Earth, Mars, and the inhabitants of the asteroid belt and outer gas giants. When a crew of an ice hauler finds their ship destroyed from under them, they work to figure out who was behind the attack, while across the solar system, a detective on Ceres works to track down a missing woman.

Related: Evolution of a Space Epic: James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse

As it turns out, a major corporation has been testing an alien substance — dubbed the protomolecule — a potential new weapon that could shape the balance of power in the solar system. Over the next couple of novels — Caliban’s War and Abbadon’s Gate — the conflict widens and the alien protomolecule turns out to be something much stranger, creating a gate that opens up humanity’s access to hundreds of worlds around the galaxy.

The series ran for three seasons on the Syfy Channel before it was canceled. After the cancelation, the show’s production company shopped it around to other outlets, and it eventually ended up on Amazon. Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder and CEO, is reportedly a fan. The series debuted on the streaming platform last winter, adapting the next installment, Cibola Burn, which finds the crew of the Rocinante dispatched to the distant colony world Ilus to help settle a dispute between the settlers and the company that laid claim to the world. While there, they discover some ancient alien structures that shows that the universe is stranger and more hostile to humanity than originally thought.

Season 5, set to debut on December 16th, follows the events of the next installment of the series, Nemesis Games, in which the long-simmering conflict between the inner and outer populations of the system comes to a head, and Earth itself finds itself under attack.

Presumably, this sixth and final season will adapt Babylon’s Ashes in some form, in which the system sees further conflict between Earth and the Free Navy, which has begun attacking colony ships headed into deep space, while Captain James Holden and his crew are asked to help intervene. The final season is slated to begin production next January (COVID restrictions provided), and when it does, it’ll do so without one of the main actors, Cas Anvar, who was accused of sexual misconduct last year.

Despite that setback, the series has grown in popularity in recent years, especially after it moved over to Amazon. When asked about his thoughts on the completion of the series, Abraham told me that “I’d be lying if I said there were no hiccups along the way, but from a creative perspective, I think this is all working out really, really well.”

What’s interesting is that while the TV series is coming to a close with season six, there’s still some additional books in the series. The book series roughly breaks down into three trilogies — Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, and Abbadon’s Gate making up the first, Cibola Burn, Nemesis Games, and Babylon’s Ashes the second, and Persepolis Rising, Tiamat’s Wrath, and the forthcoming Leviathan Falls the final.

Ending with Babylon’s Ashes would make sense, given that between it and Persepolis Rising is a significant time jump that takes the characters 30 years beyond. The conflict in the solar system has cooled down, humanity has spread out and is working to establish an interstellar civilization, and everyone generally gets a bit of a breather. In the final trilogy, a technologically-advanced breakaway sect (Martians who fled the war earlier in the series) returns and proceeds to stomp over everyone as it works to take over all of humanity with the goal of setting up a fascist, interstellar empire. The crew of the Rocinante gets back into action, and we’ll find out how it ends sometime next year, when the final book hits stores.

Ending the series now would avoid that big time jump, and the show hasn’t really done a lot with the storylines that lead to those final books, allowing Amazon and Alcon to focus on wrapping everything up neatly — much like its run on Syfy wrapped up at a good point. Amazon could always bring the show back for a limited run or something if they felt the need down the road.

I’ve always felt that the series has been a model of what networks and studios should do when it comes to adapting novels for the streaming world: the show isn’t completely beholden to the ins and outs of the novel series, and it’s added in or taken out things as needed. What’s helped is that Corey has a number of ancillary works set in the world that add on some additional context and story around the novels, which the show has worked in and used.

I’m looking forward to seeing how they finish out the book series in the next year (as well as what they get up to with their next project, an untitled space opera trilogy that apparently will take some cues from the likes of Frank Herbert and Ursula K. Le Guin). The series has been a hugely influential on how I think about not only science fiction, but space and our place in it, and I’ll be sad to see it go when it does finally come to a close.

The series has also been important to me as a journalist — it’s something I’ve covered closely over the last couple of years, and I’ve visited the sets for the show twice, once in 2014 and again in 2018. Covering it has been a lot of fun, and I’ll be interested to see how its influence percolates out in the years to come.

In the meantime, Season 5 is coming, and if it holds to the books, we should be in for quite a ride.


As always, thanks for reading. The last week has been a busy one, but I figured this bit of news would be worth breaking out into its own thing. Stay tuned: I’ll have plenty more to say about it in the coming year. I’ll have some more for you later this week, but in the meantime, have a good Thanksgiving. (Please consider staying home!)

Andrew


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