The Expanse season 4 — everything you need to know

(Image credit: Amazon Studios)

The last year has been tumultuous for the cast and crew of The Expanse, and for its very enthusiastic fans. After three seasons on Syfy, it was canned in May 2018, only to be picked up by Amazon Prime Video weeks later. According to the Los Angeles Times, The Expanse is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ favorite show, and the world’s wealthiest man is believed to have played a role in helping resurrect the show from its premature demise to make The Expanse Season 4 a reality.

When The Expanse debuted back in 2016, it filled the oddly shaped hole left by another instant classic of the genre, Battlestar Galactica. And in some ways, The Expanse outstripped Battlestar Galactica in terms of its ambitions. 

With its deft handling of class politics, power struggles, plausible settings, and commitment to scientific rigor, The Expanse has always grounded its fantasies with a welcome and reassuring dose of realism. Throw in excellent casting, playful toying with genres, and taut writing, and you have a recipe for seriously compelling viewing.

Being on cable network Syfy meant episodes in the first three seasons were confined to 45-minutes and the show had to constantly adapt to shifting network demands about profanity and nudity. Nevertheless, the first three seasons beautifully rendered the immense world imagined in the novels of James SA Corey (the joint nom de plume of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).

Here’s everything you need to know about The Expanse Season 4

The Expanse season 4 release date 

All 10 episodes of The Expanse Season 4 will go live simultaneously on Friday, December 13, which is great news for a show that benefits from bingeability. The Expanse is happy to intertwine multiple storylines often taking place literally millions of miles apart, so not having to wait a week between episodes should make it easier to keep on top of the narrative complexities. That is, the skullduggery, scheming, wheeling and interplanetary dealing that makes it so good.

(Image credit: Amazon Studios)

Pleasingly, Amazon’s also gone ahead and confirmed that it’s already signed off on a fifth season, so there’s no need for the show to rush things, especially as moving from a conventional network to streaming means fewer constraints. We’re expecting the expletives-per-episode count to grow along with the runtime both this season and in the next.

With eight books out so far and the ninth (and final) one due out next year, the other bit of good news is that we’re not even at the narrative halfway mark. Also, the close involvement of the authors –– both of whom are involved as writers and producers –– should mean we’re spared any Game of Thrones-style off-piste ventures, and the requisite risk and potential laying-everything-to-waste travesties that could otherwise entail. Phew.

Before we get to the trailer and what we’re expecting content-wise in Season 4, let’s have a quick recap of how we got here.

The Expanse Season 4 trailer

Here's the official The Expanse Season 4 trailer, which provides a good look at what kind of sci-fi action to expect.

The Expanse Season 4 cast and recap: The story so far 

(Image credit: Amazon Studios)

It’s the 23rd century and humanity has colonized the solar system. New cultures have emerged, along with fresh class struggles, based more on where you come from than the hue of your hide. Earth is run by the U.N., Mars is a militarily controlled Congressional Republic (terraforming takes discipline, after all), and there’s a collection of asteroids and the moons of outer planets that are mined for resources and collectively know as the Belt.

Years of separate development have given Earthers, Martians and Belters unique characteristics –– from dialects to physical differences –– and plenty to distrust one another about. 

It turns out, growing up in low gravity makes your bones and lungs poorly suited to Earth and Mars, and feeling like a second-rate citizen whose labor supports the wealthy (and stronger-boned) breeds more than a little resentment. Meanwhile, being a Martian tends to come with suspicions of Earthers and their comparatively cushy existences.

Tensions are running high and an escalation in the cold war-like detente that’s been hanging by a thread looks imminent. Throw into this mix some curious tech that looks ripe for weaponizing, terrorists (or freedom fighters, depending on your perspective), the missing, rebellious daughter of a wealthy powerbroker, and a misfit group of space cowboys thrown together by chance and you have the recipe for a complex, detailed tale that never underestimates its audience.

At the end of Season 3, our hero James Holden (Steven Strait) is somehow conversing with the deceased Detective Miller (Thomas Jane), who “died” with Julie Mao (Florence Faivre) in Season 2 after she, in turn, was “killed” by the protomolecule. Forgive the quotation marks, but like real-life, The Expanse is complicated.

Meanwhile, instead of destroying the problematic bit of proto when she could’ve, Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) has handed it over to Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman), the leader of the OPA terrorist group, so that everyone has it and the playing field is ostensibly leveled. Oh, and 1300 mysterious Ring Gates have been opened that enable passage to other inhabitable planets.

Got all of that? No? You might want to head over to Amazon to watch a recap of Seasons 1 and 2, and then it probably wouldn’t hurt to rewatch the last episode of Season 3 before getting stuck into Season 4.

The Expanse Season 4 plot: Stick a flag in it 

From the trailer, it’s clear the Belters have laid claim to one of the new planets beyond a Ring Gate, but there’s a land grab going on, and they’re not the only ones who want it. Holden and the rest of the Rocinante crew have been dispatched to the contested world by Chrisjen Avasarala, the U.N. diplomat (Shohreh Aghdashloo) who’s shown herself as comfortable behind a lectern as she is in a torture chamber.

Meanwhile, on the planet some are calling “New Terra”, peculiar swarms of bugs fill the air, the planet’s surface has giant, shark-fin-shaped protuberances, the male leads are sporting substantial beards, and someone with scars on his face is being menacing to mechanic/mercenary, Amos Burton (Wes Chatham), who in turn has fighting words of his own.

(Image credit: Amazon Studios)

In other words? Business as usual (except for the beards). People are going to be people –– squabbling and scrapping with only the short-term in mind. Après nous le déluge. Art mirroring life then, albeit in deep space. Sounds great to us.

What are we expecting beyond the benefits of an Amazon-sized budget? The usual, heady mix of politicking, clever treatment of topical issues like immigration and refugees and what gold-rushes and shortsightedness do to natural resources, and some more exposition about the protomolecule and how it could kill an ancient –– but possibly superior – civilization. 

There’ll also no doubt be plenty of reminders of the importance of nuance and compromise when those in power push for polarization and everyone thinks they’re in the right. Who knows, we might even get another look at the space Mormons, too. Finger’s crossed.