The Expanse Season 4: What To Expect

The Expanse season 4 will explore the impact of hundreds of planets suddenly becoming accessible, according to showrunner Naren Shankar.

Rocinante landing on Ilus in The Expanse
Photo: Amazon Prime Video

After a longer-than-normal absence due to its transition from Syfy to Prime Video, The Expanse season 4 will finally return on Friday, December 13, and, appropriately enough, the series will shift its entire perspective from the squabbles between Earth, Mars, and the Belt — although those certainly still exist — to the possibilities presented by the opening of the Ring gates in last season’s finale. Veteran showrunner Naren Shankar gave us his unique perspective on the story to come during a season 4 set visit last year, and he’s clearly thankful that Amazon rescued the show so that the adventures of the Rocinante could continue.

“What occurred when Syfy cancelled The Expanse was remarkable,” Shankar admitted. “It was a fan community that we had engaged with on Twitter. We would do the live tweets with each episode, so there was a relationship, the extent to which people put their arms around the show and really banged the drum and got people to notice. From the banner over Amazon and sending a model of the Roci up into space — that was an amazing thing; it really got things snowballing… It finally got to the voices of the people who could make decisions, who loved the show as much as all of us did, to have a really great outcome. It was a remarkable, remarkable thing!”

Thankfully, that means that The Expanse season 4 will get to delve further into the James S.A. Corey novels, and Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham (the co-authors behind the pen name) have honed their adaptation skills to a fine point over the years in the writers room. “Because Ty had been involved with George R. R. Martin and had been around for Game of Thrones and getting that whole thing rolling, I think Ty and Daniel had a very unique perspective,” says Shankar. “They set things up two books ahead that pay off three books later. It’s unbelievable the level of detail! So my approach has been I don’t want to break the big elements of the plot because it is a tightly linked structure. It has a lot of ramifications as you go forward into the world.”

further reading: The Expanse Season 5 Confirmed

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Not that the show has been able to encompass everything from the books; some things would not have translated well to the small screen, according to Shankar. “Sometimes the way we get from point A to point B in that plot structure is different,” he explains. “It is more focused on the emotional journey of our characters, the Roci crew. We have compressed things; we have changed chronologies; we have combined characterizations. We have come to things differently that served the needs of a television series that they chose to do differently in the novels… They change perspective and point-of-view characters pretty extremely from book to book. That’s something that would be very difficult for us to do. It would suddenly feel like it was a brand new cast.”

The Expanse season 4 follows the occurrences of Cibola Burn, book 4 in the series of novels, in which the opening of the ring gates has brought new habitable planets within reach. But who has a right to settle there, and what dangers are inherent in colonizing abandoned planets? “What you are seeing through the course of the season is it’s destabilizing… the relationships between Earth, Mars and the Belt,” Shankar explains. “The focus for much of the season is the situation on the planet — called Ilus by the Belters and New Terra by the Earthers. A bunch of Belter squatters have squeezed through the Gate very early on, and they have set up a colony. It becomes a point of contention that the Roci crew gets involved in as Holden and Miller are trying to figure out if there is a much, much larger danger involved in the protomolecule that exists on these worlds beyond the Rings.”

That larger danger will have members of the Roci crew fighting for their lives, both on the planet’s surface and on their ship in orbit. “The whole idea of the season is this planet with protomolecule technology coming to life and what happens and what the problems it causes as a result,” says Shankar. “The kinds of things you are going to see this season, which are pretty amazing, is there is a massive fusion explosion that creates this planet-wide tsunami… You are going to see some great orbital dynamics with the Roci when the Roci ends up towing another ship to keep it from burning up in the atmosphere. There’s a lot of cool stuff we haven’t done before!”

The finale of the previous season of The Expanse aired in June of 2018, almost a year-and-a-half before the season 4 premiere, and fans are anxious to see what the show has in store, especially with the network change. At the very least, it should allow Avasarala to swear more as she does in the novels, but if what Shankar told us is any indication, the show is about to hit us with everything we’ve come to expect: from hard-science spaceship maneuvers to the logic-defying powers of the protomolecule, from the contentious politics of the solar system’s many factions to the evolving relationships of the characters we’ve grown to love. Honestly, who could ask for more?

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Michael Ahr is a writer, reviewer, and podcaster here at Den of Geek; you can check out his work here or follow him on Twitter (@mikescifi). He co-hosts our Sci Fi Fidelity podcast and coordinates interviews for The Fourth Wall podcast.