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The Expanse season 5 release date, cast, and plot - What we know so far

A long time ago in our own, relatively close galaxy, The Expanse was a show about a detective hired to search for a missing woman (if you're a fan of Altered Carbon, it's the epic series you need to check out). Yes, the missing girl's parents live on the Moon ("Luna," in series parlance), and the detective is hired on the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt, but still, simple beginnings as these things go.

Things escalated quickly. In the four seasons aired thus far, viewers have seen plots that might destroy humanity uncovered, the discovery of the destructive and mysterious alien protomolecule, the opening of a network of "ring gate" portals to habitable worlds scattered throughout the galaxy, and the rumblings of a terrorist movement on an inter-planetary scale. By the end of season 4, tensions between the factions that reside on Earth, Mars, and the Belt have risen to an all-time boiling point. While season 4 kept us mostly contained on the alien planet Ilus, season 5 appears poised to expand the story's scope once again as the terrorist Free Navy brings the war home to the Sol System using a stolen Martian military fleet. 

Now fans of the show finally know when they'll get to see the next steps in these conflicts play out. A release date, along with a lengthy trailer previewing season 5, was revealed during the show's panel at New York Comic-Con on October 8, and it looks to be an epic return to from for a series enjoying its fancy new Amazon budget. Here's everything we know so far.

When is the release date for The Expanse season 5?

The Expanse's fifth season will debut on Amazon Prime on Wednesday, December 16. While the fourth season was released in one bingeable, ten-episode block in December of 2019, the fifth season will be doled out on a weekly basis. Amazon has seen success with this strategy with their anti-superhero epic The Boys, so the company is likely hoping the weekly schedule will bring similarly sustained attention to the historically underwatched Expanse. New episodes will land every Wednesday morning until the season finale on February 3.

Waiting a week between new episodes should be no problem for fans of the show. They've had lots of practice waiting, since the show spent its first three seasons as one of the biggest weekly series on Syfy. It was cancelled there in 2018, then rescued by Amazon Studios with the help of a fan petition, a crowdfunding campaign, and the support of the wealthiest man on Earth, Jeff Bezos, who is apparently a big fan. It's good to have friends in high places. On Bezos' orders, seasons 4 and 5 were shot consecutively, and both finished filming before the pandemic caused an industry-wide shutdown, so Amazon's had this one in the can for a good long while.

Who is in the cast for The Expanse season 5?

Spoilers for season 4 of The Expanse appear below

The Expanse has never backed away from churning through characters as the needs of the story dictate, but based on the end of season 4 and the trailer for season 5 we have a good idea of who we can expect to see in season 5. Steven Strait is back as Rocinante captain James Holden. Dominique Tipper and Wes Chatham return as some of his most prominent crew, though their adventures will take them far from the ship this time around. Chad L. Coleman returns as OPA boss Fred Johnson, dispensing advice to a worried-looking Holden in the trailer. Cas Anvar's Alex Kamal is conspicuously absent from the promotional materials after a sexual misconduct scandal that remains hanging over the actor, though we can expect to see the Martian pilot return in some capacity since the season was shot before the scandal dropped, and he's an overwhelmingly important character in the narrative.

Lily Gao will likely step into an even bigger role as Nancy Gao, the newly elected Secretary General of the United Nations, while Shohreh Aghdashloo remains with the show playing vanquished candidate Chrisjen Avasarala.

Not returning, barring a flashback sequence, will be David Strathairn's reformed pirate Klaes Ashford. He was last seen being dropped out of an airlock by Keon Alexander's Marco Inaros, who appears poised to take on an expanded role as season 5's principal antagonist after a brief stint as a menacing tertiary. 

This season appears to be adapted from books five and six in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey, entitled Nemesis Games and Babylon's Ashes respectively, as well as the short story entitled "The Churn," which explores the backstory of a key member of Holden's crew. If the show stays close to the source material, then we should see the return of Nadine Nicole Heimann as the disgraced socialite-turned-bio-augmented-assassin-turned-underground-inmate Clarissa Mao.

What is the plot of The Expanse season 5?

As Johnson lays it out for him in the trailer, Holden has a lot going for him: his own ship, his own crew, his own love interest, and a penchant for worrying about the end of the world.

Inaros gives him good reason to worry. At the end of season 4, he launched cloaked asteroids to intercept Earth's orbit. The trailer plays it coy on whether or not the attack is successful, but fans of the books know it doesn't look good. The trailer does offer a few hints about the planet's fate: There are references to Inaros' willingness to attack civilian targets; maps showing damage, or projections of damage, on what seems to be Earth; and shots of an asteroid burning up in some planet's atmosphere. But the surest hint that he's going to succeed in doing some real damage comes in the trailer's opening sequence. We see a video of Inaros seated in front of the OPA symbol, calling himself the commander of the Free Navy. A chyron streams across the bottom of the screen: "Marcos Inaros Claims Responsibility."

But Earth, or parts of it, will survive for at least part of the season, considering Chatham's Amos Burton visits Baltimore on what he calls "personal business." He's not the only one with personal business, as Tipper's Naomi Nagata learns that her son Filip (Jasai Chase Owens) has joined the other side in the war, working with his father, Inaros.

There are references in the trailer to new government conspiracies, hand-to-hand combat, and doubts on both sides about whether the coming war is the right course of action. Who knows if that question will receive an answer by the end of season 5, but one thing can be certain: The Expanse won't end up in the same place where it started.