'The Expanse' Ends Its Fifth Season With A Major Departure From The Books

The finale of The Expanse season 5 has arrived on Amazon, and wow, there's a lot for fans to unpack from the last 10 episodes. If you haven't watched the season in its entirety (and I do mean all 10 episodes, not just the first nine), check out our non-spoiler review

If you've finished this season, however, read on for a spoiler-filled take on some of the major events of season 5. We have a lot to discuss.

This is your final warning: MAJOR spoilers for season 5 below!

Let's start at the end of the season, and talk first about the finale, "Nemesis Games." Readers of the James S.A. Corey books will recognize this as the title of the fifth book in the series. And as the episode title suggests, a lot of the events in the finale mirror what happens in the book. 

There is, however, one very notable exception. I'm talking about Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) — an integral member of the Rocinante crew — stroking out and dying during a heavy burn to save fellow Rocinante crew member, Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper). 

Alex's death was a major departure from the books, but not a complete surprise to those who knew that the show already announced that actor Cas Anvar would not be back for season 6. The decision to remove Anvar stemmed from an investigation into the actor's alleged sexual misconduct, which came to light in June 2020, four months after primary filming for the season wrapped. 

I strongly agree with that decision, and commend the show for taking appropriate action, even though it likely required adding Alex's death in post-production. This scenario seems especially likely given the relative lack of fanfare for Alex's passing. In a season where literally millions of people have been killed, however, one could argue that the crew mourning the loss of one person after so much devastation is simply too much; as Bobbie (Frankie Adams) said earlier in the season when talking about her dead pet rat, sometimes your grief gets all used up. 

A counterpoint to this, however, was the show's handling of other significant character deaths this season — Fred Johnson, for one, (which also came as a surprise to those who've read the books); Arjun, Avasarala's husband, and; Cyn, Marco's right-hand man who still had a soft spot for Naomi. Each of those deaths had a major impact on the storyline and/or major characters, and that impact reverberated through the rest of the season. Alex's death, which happens in the last half of the finale, didn't have the room to do that yet. 

But I think that's okay — there's a whole other season for the crew of the Rocinante to mourn the character. And from a glass half-full perspective, it gives the writers more story to chew with, of how the ramifications of losing a beloved family member will play out. I'm particularly interested in seeing how adding Clarissa Mao (Nadine Nicole) to the crew may cause even more tension now that Alex is gone. 

There are other major events to talk about in season 5, of course. Any spoiler-full wrap-up has to mention pretty much all of the fourth episode, "Gaugamela." In the span of 46 minutes, this episode kills off millions on Earth when Marco's (Keon Alexander) asteroids hit, an event that the series has been building up to since the protomolecule was first introduced in the pilot episode, and — in the universe of the show — a tragic consequence of the tension that had been building up for centuries between the inner planets and the Belt.  

"Gaugamela" is also where Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman) is killed by Sakai (Bahia Watson), a Belter on Tycho who was secretly working for Marco. It's also when Filip takes a kidnapped Naomi to the Pella, where she sees Marco for the first time in over a decade. 

Naomi's journey this season is one that stands out, in no small part because of Tipper's portrayal of her character, especially when she's on her own on the Chetzemoka, desperately but determinedly doing whatever she can to save her family, even if it costs her her own life. 

Naomi ends up surviving, though — as mentioned above — at the cost of Alex's life. As also mentioned above, the ramifications of that will undoubtedly carry over to the sixth and final season. There will also be geopolitical machinations that the Rocinante crew will have to deal with, as the last few minutes of season 5 reveal that the rogue Mars faction has taken over the Ring, though as Admiral Sauveterre finds out firsthand when his ship gets eaten(?) by another unknown alien force, there's a lot that humanity will have to contend with besides each other. 

All five seasons of The Expanse are now streaming on Amazon.