The Expanse kicked off its sixth and final season last week on Amazon Prime, and if you’re like us, you’re a bit concerned for the crew of the Rocinante. Stuck fighting a seemingly hopeless war, and having endured a lot to get to this point, they’re all feeling the strain. But as always on The Expanse, there is reason to hope that good will prevail—especially with resilient heroes like Captain James Holden (Steven Strait) and Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) leading the charge.
At a recent Expanse press day, io9 spoke over video chat with Strait and Tipper about their weary characters, how they’ve evolved over six seasons, and what they think will be the lasting takeaway from the final season of the The Expanse.
Cheryl Eddy, io9: How would you describe the state of mind that Naomi and Holden are in when we catch up with them in season six?
Dominique Tipper: I think Naomi has severe PTSD. She is reeling from what she went through in season five, her role in Alex’s death, Cyn’s death, the fallout of what happened with her son—and then they’re in the middle of a war. Everybody on the crew is exhausted, and we’re flying around the solar system killing Belters, which is also tearing Naomi apart. I just think there’s this deep state of physical and emotional exhaustion. Also I think she’s very uncomfortable and kind of enraged with Amos bringing Clarissa onto the ship—but also she’s someone that I think Naomi’s playing target practice at, and she receives a lot of the brunt of her frustration about everything.
Steven Strait: At the beginning of the season, Holden is frayed—I think that’s the best word for it. You know, we’re over half a year into this slog of a war. Nothing has seemed to happen, there just hasn’t been any discernible movement for all of the pain that these people have gone through. And it’s really weighing on the family of the Rocinante in a very deep way. For Holden, he’s desperately trying to hold his family together on the ship. He has the weight of making some kind of progress with the war that just seems endless and out of reach. And also, having the protomolecule ever-present in the back of his mind, knowing exactly just how awful the prospect of that being unleashed is.
He’s just under tremendous strain. And I wanted to show that, not only just internalizing the the constant doubt of “Am I enough for this moment? Am I the leader I need to be for this moment? Am I going to break in this moment?” but also physically. I lost quite a bit of weight before the season started; I wanted him to look gaunt and like he hadn’t slept and he hadn’t been eating. He’s holding it together, but not well. All of them in their own way have just kind of come to the end of their rope.
io9: And yet amid all of this chaos, somehow the bond between Naomi and Holden still feels very strong. What do you think it is about their relationship that makes that possible?
Tipper: I think any relationship that lasts requires a choice, a choosing of that person day in, day out, regardless of how difficult it is, regardless of where you differ, and finding a common ground. I think there’s a deep maturity to their relationship at this point. And also I think with what Naomi went through in season five, it reconfirmed that if she wants to be with anyone or anywhere, it’s with Holden. So, I think we find them at this point: They’re so happy to be together, even under these really awful circumstances and in the middle of a war. They are each other’s dinghy boat, and they hold each other up. He’s really learned, especially, how to deal with her in the best way, and her him I think, and they’re leaning on each other through this whole thing. I think it’s a really beautiful version of them. They’re pretty solid throughout this season, which is cool.
Strait: I agree. I think this year really just shows how much they rely on each other to get through these things. And I think for Holden, the responsibility to her and to the family and to the overall macro environment becomes very, very important in the decisions that he makes through the season. There’s just a level of respect and love that allows them to pull through all of this. I’ve always seen them as two people just clutching each other in the middle of a storm. They’ve found a way to keep each other on the ground with all of this chaos going on.
io9: Looking back back to the first season and up until now, how do you think Naomi and Holden have evolved as characters?
Tipper: I really think season five was quite an ending in a way that Naomi needed to explore. I think a lot of what she was running away from in season one and how we come to find her on the Canterbury and what she’s been through gets kind of mined out in season five. She’s evolved so much, and she has a lot of closure actually by season six, in terms of the relationship with her motherhood and her relationship with her son, and also her baby daddy. She’s come a long way on many different levels, and season five was very important exploring what that was in her past, and how it’s affected her for the four seasons before that. It’s been quite a harsh and brutal evolution, but an important one. And I think we find her in quite a good place of understanding who she is and where she’s come from and what she’s done.
Strait: I think for Holden—just as an actor, I know how exceedingly rare it is to be able to play such a vast arc over so many years, with the kind of writing that we’ve had. He starts in a very different place than where he ends, and the whole way through he’s always had his ethical and moral core. He acts from instinct from that, for better or for worse. And I think there’s been a really lovely exploration of finding his strength through his humility, by growing through his mistakes and stumbles and failures over the years.
It’s been a real pleasure to explore a different kind of heroism than is often seen in these kinds of stories—one that’s more based on empathy and on care for the people around him [rather] then victory, even if that’s the ultimate aim of things ... I’m really proud of him at the end of the series for the kind of decisions [he makes] and the man that he becomes. It was a messy way to get there. Holden has messed up plenty over the years, but to be able to play the realistic evolution of a man and the leader within those circumstances, who wasn’t just born with the ability to do it, was incredible as an actor ... it’s been a fun, complicated thing to play.
io9: Without getting into spoilers, of course, what would you say is the overarching theme of season six?
Tipper: I think it’s the parts completing the whole, and that everybody contributing even in the smallest way gives the result the desired result. We see this kind of mass contribution in small parts all across the journey of the series that culminates in this result that kind of works out for a lot of different people. It’s definitely a meditation on small contributions and how they pay off at the end. I don’t what the right title for that theme would be, but I think it’s like a soup, a good soup, a vegetable soup of small, good deeds. [Laughs]
Strait: If one theme stands out to me, it’s the exploration of family and what that means and how it affects these characters personally and how it likewise affects the overall picture. In many ways, he events that transpire big and small in this season are family problems. I think it’s a really interesting exploration of that and a really nuanced way of looking at those complications with sensitivity and care—which, you know, again, just speaks to the level of our writing that we’ve always just been so privileged to have.
The Expanse streams Fridays on Amazon Prime. We’ll have a lot more Expanse coming up on io9, so stay tuned!
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