[WARNING: Contains spoilers for the Season 5 finale and Books 5 and 6 of The Expanse. Read on at your own risk.] Expectations were high entering Season 5 of The Expanse. The Cibola Burn storyline of Season 4, while captivating, lacked a certain punch. That made translating Nemesis Games to the screen, and nailing it, all the more important. After watching the Season 5 finale, there’s no question that Amazon Prime Video knocked it out of the park.
This season’s final episode had a lot to cover. First and foremost was Naomi’s eventual rescue from the Chetzemoka. If there is one thing that’s certain about The Expanse’s fifth season, it’s this: if Dominique Tipper’s portrayal of Naomi this season doesn’t earn her an Emmy, then I don’t know what will. Right up through the Season 5 finale she gives one of the must gut-wrenching, deeply emotional performances we’ve possibly ever seen in a series of this nature. That she was able to convey the pain, physical and emotional, that we read about in the book so perfectly is a true testament to her ability as an actor.
The Expanse Season 5 finale delivers
The episode, bearing the Nemesis Games title of the book, also returned to the plotline alluded to early on in the season. Monica Stuart discovered that ships were disappearing when traversing the rings early on …. But little else was made of it until the Season 5 finale. We finally got to see what was happening to Admiral Duarte’s rogue Martian ships of the Free Navy. It wasn’t pretty, as the “creators” of Season 4 devour the ships upon passage. But… are they really gone?
By and large this season stayed as true to the source material as it could. Amos and Clarissa make it to back to Luna and reunite with the rest of the Rocinante crew. Avasarala unifies Earthers and Martians towards the common goal of saving humanity. And Marco Inaros wreaks the same havoc upon the outer planets and the ring. But this season, and the Season 5 finale in particular, makes three, significant departures from the books. Each could have a big impact on the upcoming, and final, Season 6.
The Expanse: from page to screen
First there’s the obvious. The studio removed actor Cas Anvar from the show. His departure comes as the result of a sexual misconduct controversy of his own making. So what would they do with Alex Kamal in the Season 5 finale? Well, now we know. Unlike in the book, Alex in the show strokes out and dies after rescuing Naomi. Thus, despite his continued presence in Babylon’s Ashes (Book 6 of The Expanse) and beyond, the television Rocinante will have a new pilot next season. That, though, should be easy to deal with.
The bigger issue is the second major change. In the books, Fred Johnson survives the attack on his life. He goes on to become provisional governor of Ceres after Marco Inaros leaves the station eviscerated at the beginning of Babylon’s Ashes. In the show, however, Fred Johnson (at last as far as we know) dies from the attempt on his life on Tycho Station. How the studio will handle the Ceres plotline in Season 6 is, as of now, completely up in the air.
Season 5 Finale sets up exciting Season 6 of The Expanse
Lastly, we have Camina Drummer. Once Fred Johnson’s right hand, Drummer (Cara Gee) was too popular a character to leave on Tycho. (And speaking of Cara Gee – her performance as Drummer was on par with Tipper’s this season. That’s especially true considering she performed some of her most emotional scenes while 8 months pregnant!) Ultimately, Drummer would settle in as the television equivalent of the book character Michio Pa. We fully expect Season 6 to pick up where the Season 5 finale leaves off, with Drummer continuing to loosely follow that Michio Pa subplot from Babylon’s Ashes.
All in all, Season 5 of The Expanse has earned strong consideration for the best of the entire series. The emotional twists and turns of the Season 5 finale alone earn it plenty of praise. With the glimpses of the protomolecule (ship? station?) we see in the ending scenes, it certainly sets up what will likely be a non-stop thrill ride of a final season. We can hardly wait.
All episodes of the The Expanse are now available on Amazon Prime Video.