While most of the previous three seasons have been set on various space stations, asteroid colonies and aboard spaceships, The Expanse Season 4 will land the crew of the Rocinante on the alien world of Ilus. Taking the science fiction series planetside will change the show's visual approach, right down to the shape of the frame. Appearing on The Crash Couch podcast, The Expanse showrunner Naren Shankhar shared how Season 4 differs from previous seasons, while also providing an update on Season 5.
"On The Expanse, what I find interesting about it, in terms of hard science and science fiction, is that we really embrace the idea of space as a character, the environment as a character, and it is used to generate drama in an unusual way that most science fiction simply ignores," Shankhar told The Crash Couch. "That gives the show a very unique visual style, a signature that is quite beautiful, but it's a unique identity I think, in terms of science fiction."
With the activation of the Ring Gates, humanity now has access to hundreds of new worlds, including the planetless "Belters" caught between the political machinations of Earth and Mars. The first world to be colonized by spacefaring homesteaders is Ilus, one of the primary settings for Season 4.
"It's the first season that we've done a substantial amount of location work. Up to that point, pretty much everything was on sets and sound stages," Shankhar said. "We haven't really spent this much time on a planet before. So just being outside in weather, that was a huge difference for us."
The new, planetary focus will be marked by a stylistic change proposed by The Expanse cinematographer Jeremy Benning. "We chose to shoot all of the stuff on Ilus in anamorphic, 2.39 to 1 — it's a very wide aspect ratio," Shankar said. "So every time you're on the planet, it actually opens up, so you feel the vista is much larger. You watch the show and it seamlessly switches back and forth from 16:9 and 2.39." A widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9 has become high definition standard, while the wider 2.39:1 anamorphic format is more commonly reserved for theatrical movies.
"We're happy creatively where it went," Shankar said of the upcoming season. "We left Season 4 with just a great, fulfilling ending that kicks into Books 5 and 6."
In July, Amazon renewed The Expanse for a fifth season, which will be based on the book Nemesis Games, by James S.A. Corey, the joint pen name of writers Daniel Abrahama and Ty Franck. It's Shankar's favorite book in The Expanse series and he believes Season 4, based on the previous novel in the series, Cibola Burn, effectively tees up the future of the series.
Season 5 of The Expanse is already in pre-production. "It's pretty awesome, Shankar said. "Everybody is psyched. Pretty much we've been able to get our entire crew back in Toronto. Everybody is gearing up. We're ready to go. We're already writing the first scripts."
Every episode of The Expanse Season 4 premieres on Amazon Prime Video on December 13.