There is one series in the vast ocean of television content that is pulling off the grand storytelling ambitions of Game of Thrones. That series is The Expanse. All the world-building, multiple factions, political intrigue, and character development that you would associate with Thrones, is what makes The Expanse now in its 5th season special in the TV landscape.
Comparing something to the biggest series of all time can seem ridiculous, but there are parallels. The Expanse like Thrones is adapted from the book series by James S. A. Corey. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck authored the TV series and they are both heavily involved in the show which has already been greenlit by Amazon for a 6th and final season.
The Expanse is set 300 years into our future. A future where mankind has colonized the solar system. The three major powers the show follows are The United Nations of Earth and Luna, The Martian Republic of Mars, and the OPA or Outer Planets alliance which is made up of the asteroid belt and moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Earth is the home and center of humanity and is a military and technological powerhouse still holding on to its massive influence over the solar system.
Mars, originally an Earth colony, is a militaristic and political rival to Earth aiming to exceed its home of origin and build something better. The OPA and the belters are the exploited class of the system. They work in dangerous conditions providing the resources Mars and Earth need to sustain themselves. Often caught in the aftermath of the machinations of Earth and Mars they are trying to band together after generations of living under the thumb of the inner planets.
The world The Expanse establishes is interesting and rich with lore. But the part of the show that draws you in in the beginning isn’t the scope of the world, but the characters and the relationships they form — most notably the crew of the Rocinante. James Holden (Steven Strait) is from Earth and is in the reluctant hero archetype. He is a natural leader with a knack to always do the right thing even if the right thing isn’t the smartest thing. Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) is a belter with a mysterious past who is a gifted engineer. Amos Burton (Wes Chatham) is from Earth. He is emotionally dissociated and has violent tendencies. He has a bond with Naomi and looks to her for guidance. Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) is an ex-Martian Navy pilot who abandoned his family back on Mars. They come together through traumatic events and end up working together to get to the bottom of a vast conspiracy involving alien technology.
This characters are what drives the series. The development of their relationships and their adventures and trials together is what has allowed The Expanse to continue to expand the scope and scale of its story without compromising what has made it a success.
In Season 5 the crew gets split up. Amos has loose ends to tie up back on Earth, Alex attempts to reconcile with his family, Naomi leaves to confront her past, and Holden is basically left with their ship — overseeing its repair and helping the OPA on their space station. The fact that they can send these characters to opposite ends of the solar system and still offer compelling narratives is a testament to the great job the series has done developing these characters and the wider world around them.
That world includes Chrisjen Avaserala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) who is one of the earth’s most powerful politicians and former secretary-general of the United Nations. Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) a former Martian marine who finds herself in conflict with her nation’s ideals. Detective Miller (Thomas Jane), a detective in the belt who is worn down by his job and becomes obsessed with figuring out the conspiracy he stumbles upon. The political chess game of the solar system, life in the belt, the relationship between Mars and Earth are all explored through various points of view that demonstrate how complex and layered the world of The Expanse is.
Another part of The Expanse that makes it special is its picture of the future with a poignant view of humanity and our relationship to the world we live in. In the early seasons, there are shots of walls keeping the ocean at bay due to rising sea levels, mentions of destructive wars, and irreparable damage done to Earth’s environment.
Game of Thrones changed TV with the size and scale of its world and storytelling. Its quality took a dive in later seasons as the world got smaller and the roster of characters was shrunk to only the most essential players. The Expanse is only getting more ambitious in its storytelling and world-building and is worth watching for anyone who misses that feeling of spectacle.
Watch The Expanse Season 5 on Amazon Prime.