The Expanse Showrunner Talks First Two Episodes, Including The Azure Dragon And A Certain Sex Scene

The first two episodes of "The Expanse" are now available on Prime Video (check out our spoiler reviews here and here), and season 6 is shaping up to be full of major action and major developments for the characters.

/Film had the chance to interview showrunner Naren Shankar about what went down in the season's first two episodes, "Strange Dogs," and "The Azure Dragon." Read on for that discussion, and warning! Major spoilers for the first two episodes of season 6 of "The Expanse" lie ahead.

This conversation has also been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

"Action reveals character and character drives action."

One scene that really sticks out from the second episode is the sequence where the Azure Dragon and the Rocinante, are fighting. One thing I think is so great about it besides it being a very suspenseful sequence, is that also weaves in a lot of character development, which I don't think you see a lot in action scenes. When you were approaching episode 2 and you knew that you were having this big moment between the Azure Dragon and the Rocinante, how did you approach getting the action right, but then also making sure that the character piece was part of it as well?

I would say that I try to do every action sequence that way. I mean, the great masters of that — James Cameron, I think is probably the top —have this beautiful feedback loop in a great action scene, in which action reveals character and character drives action. If you can continually do that, you just have an incredibly satisfying thing. It's not about fast cuts and awesome special effects — all of that stuff is in it but if you lose the sense that they're human beings, then you're just watching a bunch of pixels fly around the screen and you don't care.

I think in television — although in this show, we've certainly killed people off many times — but generally, it often isn't about are they going to survive, but how are they going to survive, so you play into suspense elements as well. There are legitimate possibilities for anybody to die at any moment in any of these scenes but you've got to not forget about that human element in an action scene or else it's just boring. And I think over and over again, over the years, we've tried to avoid that sort of thing. A gun fight for just the sake of a gun fight is just not interesting to me.

And did you always have in mind to have those cutbacks to Avasarala on the Zenobia to get that aspect of it as well?

It was actually put together a little differently in the script, and when we got into the edit, it changed a bit. The original portion had longer scenes on the Zenobia, and talking about exactly what was about to happen. And when we got to the edit, it was just slowing everything down. And there was something really pretty about having our people on the Roci with just a tiny bit of the conversation on the Zenobia, where we're setting it up that it's dangerous, Avasarala's nervous, and nobody knows what's going on. Getting into the actual action of the ships seemed like a more elegant cut.

"We didn't want to feel like the events of last season had just gone away."

As you mentioned, your premise going into any action scene is to make sure you care about the characters as humans, but was there anything specific you wanted to show with the characters, such as Naomi struggling, for example, from what happened in season 5 or Clarissa taking her own initiative?

It was really more of a general guiding principle for the whole season that we didn't want to feel like the events of last season had just gone away. You could describe Naomi as post-traumatic and not really dealing with it because they've been in the pressure of this ongoing war of attrition in a lot of ways. And now there's moments in there when she's putting on the Martian armor, she's looking at herself in a battle suit. It's an episode after, where she talks about, how they'r running around killing the people that are her people, that she would've supported a little while ago.

She feels terrible about it. And it's all wound up in what she was put through in the last season. I can't remember if we actually put this moment with Naomi up on the board, early on, but we definitely found it when we started talking about the episode in real detail. It was a great opportunity to both show Naomi's state of mind, but also play Clarissa as having something to prove, so Clarissa does something impulsive, and foolish, and outside the chain of command. When you find a moment like that, you really dig into it and you have a lot of fun with it because it just ripples through the rest of the episode.

I also love the dynamic between Bobbie and Holden as well, where Bobbie's finally in her element again.

That opening scene when Bobbie is giving the briefing, there's a lot of currents and cross currents and attitude. And it's really a fun scene, even though there's a lot of information in it. There's also a lot of personality in it, and those are often tricky to write, but they're fun when they work. It's just a good dynamic because everybody's on a slightly different page.

"It just becomes about winning the battle, and it's not really what the show's about."

Another thing I noticed with the first two episodes is we see a lot of Avasarala and Monica together on the Zenobia. They have a really interesting dynamic, because they're obviously both very strong-willed and they butt heads. Can you talk a little bit about how, since they haven't interacted with each other previously, how you approached creating those scenes for them?

Monica, as a character, when she started in season 3, she was a puff piece journalist, doing a personality bit on Holden, and she evolved. And, as we got into season 6, we realized we didn't really have a good character to work with Avasarala because, as soon as Bobbie leaves that side of the story, who's there for her? The idea of talking about, I'll use the term loosely, but you know, propaganda in a war — the idea of that became a really interesting aspect of the battle because you have to talk about winning a political battle and an opinion battle when you're fighting a war as well.

The evolution of Monica from somebody who does offhand fun stuff, to somebody who becomes a serious investigative journalist, and then somebody who really is attached to larger issues, is in its own way a very interesting transition. She was helpful and important in season 5 where she takes on a higher level of responsibility, and has a higher profile where people trust her. She then suddenly became a natural character to put with Avasarala.

It talks about some really interesting things. That scene with Monica and Avasarala at the end of episode 2, where Avarsarala talks about making the other side feel bad about killing them — that argument works on any side, and it's a nice thing to talk about. And again, it's something that you don't often hear talked about, especially in science fiction, because you forget about this idea. It just becomes about winning the battle, and it's not really what the show's about.

"He's seeking out this kind of release, and it's not doing what he is hoping it would do."

We also spend time with Marco and Filip on the Pella and on Ceres. And Filip obviously is going through a lot in the first two episodes, understandably, given he helped kill billions of people with his father. And I think we also see a different side of Filip. The first time we see is one of the show's few sex scenes. What was the thought behind that scene?

It wasn't so much to open the season with a sex scene. And by the way, we haven't shied away from them. It just isn't what the story is often naturally about. There was a whole runner in season 1 with Havelock and a prostitute, and on Ceres. And we've seen Holden and Naomi intimate before. It's not that, but what it was, was about a kid trying desperately not to acknowledge his own feelings. He is really messed up. He's been messed up by his dad. He's been messed up by guilt even though he can't admit it, at least he hasn't admitted it in the beginning.

Naomi actually woke some empathy up in this child, that the father has been trying to crush. And so, he's in turmoil and this kind of acting out, of seeking temporary pleasure distraction, is his compensating mechanism. He's just trying to not focus on himself. And so, the interesting thing about the scene is he's taking no pleasure in it. He's messed up and angry, and it's not working. And that's the point of the scene. That and he's ignoring his responsibilities — he's seeking out this kind of release, and it's not doing what he is hoping it would do.

"Drummer over and over again has done her best to be Naomi's friend ... that felt unrequited."

I also want to touch quickly the X-Ray short of Drummer's and Naomi's. It made explicit what was implicit in previous scenes with them, that connection as more than just friends. Can you talk about the choice to have that be the focus of the short?

It's something we had talked about, and like you're saying, it had been clearly implied, and certainly the actors were playing it that way. And as we started talking about these X-Rays, there's an interesting thematic connection between all of them where we're tying it to this Belter philosophy of one ship. They're more like little one act character plays, is how I look at them, but this was a great opportunity to talk about the relationship between Naomi and Drummer. We started talking about what communication have they had since the end of season 5, because she did an incredibly brave thing to save Naomi and it cost her tremendously and then suddenly you're in a war and Drummer's an outlaw and it's like all you can do is send a message.

And so, where has that relationship gone? Because Drummer over and over again has done her best to be Naomi's friend and be in her corner and save her. And that felt unrequited, and so we started talking about it, and here was great opportunity to make this clear. It was also in the context of Drummer's family continuing to break up and trying to hold onto that. And so that was the Drummer Naomi side of it, and it was also interesting to go back and see Naomi's different hairstyles and how that had changed over the years.

New episodes of "The Expanse" premiere on Prime Video on Fridays.