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Exploring the Expanse: what comes after the show’s Ned Stark moment

Exploring the Expanse: what comes after the show’s Ned Stark moment


Time to pick up Caliban’s War

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The Expanse is a television show based on the novels by James S.A. Corey. Every week, I’ll be taking a look at one moment in each episode of the show’s second season, and chatting with the creators about how it was created and what it means for the larger story.

Spoilers ahead for the fifth episode of season 2, “Home.”

With every adaptation of a novel, there’s a point in a television show or movie that fans know is coming. We’ve read about it, and we wait in eager anticipation for newcomers to finally get to that point in the story, so we can finally talk about that moment. The Expanse had one of those moments last night with the episode “Home.” It’s a turning point for the show, lining right up with the end of the first novel in the series, Leviathan Wakes.

The end of Leviathan Wakes brings to a close first chapter of a larger threat to humanity: the protomolecule. As we’ve seen in prior episodes, Protogen, the company led by Julie Mao’s father, discovered the alien bug on one of Saturn’s moons, Phoebe. She decided to conduct experiments on Eros with it, looking for a way to remake humanity to adapt to a life in space. Once discovered, the various heroes in the show concoct a plan to destroy the asteroid and contain the threat. During that mission, Detective Miller was left stranded when the protomolecule wakes up and decides to move on its own — toward Earth.

“Home” accomplishes a few things. As both Earth and Mars launch nukes to try and stop the asteroid, it’s a terrific illustration of the cold war situation between the two worlds. This is one of the longer-term stories that plays out across the novels, and which the show has been building to. We also come to the end of the road for Detective Miller, who finally finds Julie Mao. We discussed last week Miller’s status as an isolated character in the show, and the end of his arc feels satisfying: he finally finds that he has a purpose. Miller understands what makes Julie tick, and realizes that she’s the one steering the asteroid toward Earth. He breaks through to her and helps to guide her away from Earth, saving the planet, even as he and Julie are apparently killed when the asteroid slams into Venus.

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End of one book, start of another

While Miller’s story might be over (or is it?), the show continues. “One of the things we tried to do in the books was have stories that resolve along the way,” Daniel Abraham, one of the book’s authors, noted. “So the Miller/Julie Mao story found its conclusion even while the larger story keeps going.”

Leviathan Wakes is a space opera, but with a heavy dose of noir to it. While that worked for the novel, keeping that type of story going indefinitely is difficult. “The problem that Miller was given, and the promise the story made at the start, was that he would find Julie Mao. And you have to keep your promises like that.”

Now that we’re midway through the season, the show will take on the next installment of the series, Caliban’s War. This approach to the series flies in the face of other television adaptions, namely Game of Thrones, which, until later seasons, largely stuck to a single book for laying out the show. “One of the things we decided early was that we weren't adapting a book and then a book and then a book,” Abraham explained. “We're adapting the whole story across all the books.”

That’s been seen so far: we got the story of “The Butcher of Anderson Station” in season 1, as well as references to “The Churn,” a short story that follows Amos. We’ve also seen characters from Caliban’s War pop up in the form of Avasalara and Bobbie Draper, who were brought in a bit early. Now, in the back half of season 2, we’ll see them come into their own as the tensions in the solar system escalate and move everyone toward open warfare.