Like the captain of the Rocinante, I never skip my morning coffee and The Expanse title sequence is like a shot of espresso.
For anyone new to this drama, it might seem as though the protocol for dealing with the one minute interruption and unintelligible theme song is to hit Skip Intro…but it just seems that way (as POTUS in another well-known sci-fi drama might say).
This is a voyage through the title sequence of The Expanse, exploring the joy you will miss if you hit Skip Intro.
But first, a brief excursion into my own Expanse experience that almost saw me jump out the airlock, until I issued and responded to my own distress call — but you can always skip that bit.
When I first watched The Expanse, I did not get on board right away. The science bits sounded good, but like a Belter from Ceres trying to survive Earth’s gravity, understanding all the interactions in The Expanse was crushing me.
I needed to find my Rosetta Stone…and not just for the dialects. To kang showxa im wámotim mo lenta ke? Mi inya, tumang.
Dark and gritty with a sprinkling of Avasarala, packed with planets, politics, protomolecule, conspiracy and stealth, The Expanse even has a space detective and the obligatory ill-fated reporter on the trail. So why didn’t it grab me? What was I missing? Is there something I should know? Was someone playing a magic trick that fooled everyone but me?
It seems Miller was wrong. It’s not just doors and corners where they get you. I couldn’t keep up with the spaceships, who was on them, which nation controlled them, where they were heading, and what names the ships’ transponders had been reprogrammed to by the next time I watched.
On top of that — and the patois and a particularly perplexing plot — a protomolecule turned this TV show into a headache. I almost handed myself Miller’s hat.
And I groaned like an Eroserian infected with protomolecule each time I heard Err-rose…Air-ross…Err-ross…Air-rose…Euros. I now understand why 433 Eros became known as the murder capital of the asteroid belt. I’ve been in camp Ear-ross since the NEAR mission, with only Dr Iturbi and Sematimba for company, it seems.
There is so much detail in this saga. Except, of course, for what year in our future the story is supposed to be set when it begins, a detail that manages to avoid detection more surreptitiously than Martian stealth tech. The century given in the opening text is confusing…a few lost decades…or maybe I’ve overdone it on the Ganymede gin?
But the year is unimportant, it’s just in the future…but not so long into the future that we can’t try and imagine what everyday life might be like. We just need someone to invent the Epstein drive.
The Expanse is set some three hundred years in the future, although the show is rather vague on the subject — something that has been messing with fans’ heads since the show began in 2015. One and a half seasons into the show and we are hit with the realisation that it’s not the twenty third century that the text crawl ambiguously led us to believe at the start.
In Season 2 Episode 5, we see a label on a bottle of Ganymede gin that states “since 2307″, but I don’t recall a decade or more passing by since the pilot episode. So it’s set in the twenty fourth century, then? And if you watch the Ty & That Guy podcast Ep 015 on YouTube, which discusses Season 2 Episode 3, you hear Wes Chatham (who is that guy) say to one of the writers “…in 2339, or whatever year it is“. And (so the old story goes) The Expanse started life as a pitch for a video game, and then a role-play game, entitled “2350”. OK, so I think I’ve got it now.
At the end of Season 2, I went back to the start to watch it all over again. But that still wasn’t enough. Who was the good guy and who was the baddie? I soon realised there’s no point spending too much time trying to figure that bit out either, since anyone could have switched sides by the next episode.
And the rings…the structures…the builders…and the fiery unknown aggressors? I felt waves and waves of searing pain, like Spock trying to communicate with a lump of Horta rock. My brain was about to explode. Where’s Shed and his bag of tricks when you need him?
I realised that if I had any chance of engaging in the The Expanse saga, I needed some juice… and asteroids are my juice. If it hadn’t been for those I may well have followed Naomi out the airlock, if my arteries hadn’t already burst.
Five times watching 56 episodes all the way through and flip and burn to fill in some gaps and I had just about mastered the basics.
Unte kowlting gut, I thought. But it wasn’t over yet…
When I first arrived at Season 2, I felt that I’d seen the opening titles more than enough (only four times by then), so it was Skip Intro every episode, every season and every re-watch thereafter. It was only recently that I felt compelled to go back and compare and contrast all the Intros and only then did I realise what I had missed.
The Intro tell the events of The Expanse condensed, but not before portraying the impact we are having on our planet and some vision of our journey to colonise the Solar System and beyond. It’s a time-lapsed future history across three hundred years in one minute. The content updates every season, often episode by episode as the drama evolves, and some of the mods are very subtle indeed. Now I wouldn’t miss the Intro for the world.
This is my exploration of the The Expanse title sequence. It’s long and you will need to commit.
(All images are credited to Alcon Entertainment/Amazon Studios.)
Intro start time code:
Ep 1 – 0:00:00
Ep 2 – 0:04:46
Ep 3 – 0:06:24
Ep 4 – 0:04:24
Ep 5 – 0:04:34
Ep 6 – 0:05:16
Ep 7 – 0:11:22
Ep 8 – 0:04:56
Ep 9 – 0:09:30
Ep 10 – 0:04:07
First Released: December 2015
Episodes 1, 9 and 10 have the full one minute title sequence composed of 18 or so clips. Episodes 2 to 8 have only a short teaser that runs for 10 seconds showing the Solar System as a protoplanetary disk of gas and dust around our young star and mapping out the orbits of what will, in the future, become the planets.
As for the long version…
Firstly, keep a powerful magnifying loupe to hand or buy a 50 ft QNED TV so you can read the tiny text that appears from time to time. The names of the planetary bodies, ship transponders and drive signatures are easy to read — but those little blocks of text in the corners of the screen and the numbers in some of the labels may have you embark on a Miller-type quest in less time than it takes to say Julie Mao. We can hazard a guess at what some of the numbers are from the fuzzy outline of the units, but what’s in the tiny blocks of text is where the mystery lies. Whatever it is, it’s…something.
Episode 1 opens with a global view of Earth and Luna in the not-too-distant future. It’s a night view from space showing the spread of human activity across the Earth. Every inch of landmass in this first clip is filled with artificial light. This suggests it will not be long before humanity is forced to expand off the planet. Our moon, the Moon, is now called Luna to avoid confusion with all the other moons in the Solar System, many of which are destined for colonisation in The Expanse. Text labels for Earth and Luna show their respective orbital period and orbital velocity.
Fast forward to Earth at night from ISS Flyover No. 57. When Europe rolls into view, we can see the sprawling city lights of Rome and the Bay of Naples. We also see the green northern lights of the aurora borealis. Green aurorae result from collisions of solar wind particles with oxygen in the lower atmosphere — keep this in mind when you watch the Mars title sequence from Season 2 onwards.
The aurora borealis we see in the clip seems to be occurring at lower latitude on Earth than is usual, as far as south as the southern borders of Austria and Switzerland (45°N), when usually confined to latitudes above 70°(N or S). Increased solar activity and stronger geomagnetic storms hitting Earth could expand aurorae to lower latitudes, and abnormal flow in the molten part of the core could temporarily shift the poles and lead to low latitude aurorae. Whatever it is, the poles and aurorae are just caught up in the Churn, is all — as Amos might say.
The next clip shows a massive island of ice calving off the Petermann Glacier in Greenland as observed in 2010, now time-lapsed into the future. The satellite framing camera outlines and follows the chunk of ice, which is one tenth of the glacier’s entire volume (four times the land area of Manhattan) as it floats into the Nares Strait…just as the title card text shows us the name of another Strait — a perfect placement to lighten the mood. To the right of the massive ice block is a tiny text block that may well tell us something interesting.
Although some scientists have disputed that melting of the Petermann Glacier is due to global warming, the overall message about climate change and global warming is clear. And perfectly presented in this title sequence as the clip of the ice flowing through the straits of Greenland cuts to a visually similar clip of traffic flowing through the streets of Manhattan. The satellite’s framing camera outlines the location of Liberty Island.
The sequence cuts to Liberty Island submerged under rising sea levels and we watch it being rebuilt as an island spaceport. Sea level has reached the base on which the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal is built, covering the eleven-point star of Fort Wood and part of the rectangular base upon it, about 18 metres in total (6 metres of island above sea level + 8 metres Fort walls + 4 metres of rectangular base).
Next is a view of Manhattan from Liberty Island with one large spaceship traversing the sky as Luna beckons from above. We can see the raised bulkheads around the base of the Statue of Liberty and along the city’s waterfront to protect from the effects of rising sea levels.
Something to note here is that from the perspective shown, looking up at the Statue of Liberty (from the ferry route according to the fuzzy coordinates), the skyscrapers appear to be built on The Battery — and 300 years from now that may well be the case — but we know from later title sequences that this skyline includes the UN Building, which is seven kilometres away up in Midtown (this anomaly persists until Season 4).
How much of Liberty Island might be submerged by 2350?
Sea level rise due to global warming accounts for only part of the flood risk to Liberty Island and the surrounding area. There is also the risk of flooding from storm surge, which is compounded by low elevation and ongoing post-glacial subsidence, since the region is still in the process of re-adjusting downwards after the last ice age — and will continue to do so for thousands of years while sea-levels continue to rise.
According to a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in August 2021, global sea level rise of 2 metres by 2100 and 5 metres by 2150 cannot be ruled out and the rise will continue for centuries and remain elevated for thousands of years. The IPCC report also states that extreme 1-in-100 year sea level events are projected to become annual events by the beginning of 2100.
A present day indication of New York City’s vulnerability was witnessed in 2016 during Hurricane Sandy. A storm surge tide of nearly 3.4 metres hit New York in what is now considered to be a 1-in-260 year storm tide event, according to a research article in the Journal of Geophysical Research in 2016.
By 2300, the sea level in the New York City area is projected to rise by around 13 metres, but the area might see storm surge tides in excess of 15 metres in a 1-in-500-year tropical cyclone event according to a research article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2017.
By 2350, or thereabouts, whenever The Expanse is supposed to be set, an 18-metre sea level rise to the base of the Statue of Liberty does not, therefore, seem entirely implausible or overly dramatic.
In 2021, we have been witnessing what seems like an increase in freak weather events across the globe, including flooding due to increased rainfall. On 31 August, 2021, shortly after I started writing some of this essay, New York City was issued with its first ever flash flood warning when Hurricane Ida dumped a record 8 cm of rain in one hour onto Central Park, beating (by 30 cm) a record set two weeks earlier by Tropical Storm Henri. The Mayor of New York City said in a press conference on 2 September, 2021, “We are in a whole new world now.…this is a reality we have to face.” But all I could hear was Naomi Negata: “This is our fight now…”.
Next we see a global image of Luna at night. As it rotates, the illuminated network of cities sprawled across its surface comes into view. The text label gives Luna’s orbital period and orbital velocity.
Fast forward and Luna morphs into a global image of Mars. It shows long exposure traffic routes to and from a greyed-out Mars, labelled Mars Traffic No. 22. Space travel to and from Mars has become as mundane as driving into and out of Manhattan today. The main traffic hub into the Martian surface appears to be in Meridiani Planum, possibly close to where the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity landed back in 2004. We can see drive signatures flashing in and out, a feature in almost all clips from here onwards. A tiny block of text appears at the bottom of the globe (and what it says I’d like to probe).
Next we see a global image of Mars orbited by Phobos and Deimos, showing the scattered auroral canopies that flicker across the surface of the planet at all latitudes. The Martian aurorae evolve over time in the title sequences in Season 2, gradually appearing at the poles as terraforming activities progress. The text label gives the orbital period and orbital velocity for Mars, but the moons are not labelled (not this season anyway). Once we see Meridiani Planum and the eastern end of Valles Marineris rotate into view, the sequence switches to an aerial view of Mars, almost certainly in Meridani Planum but not necessarily within Valles Marineris.
In the aerial view of the Martian surface we see a time-lapse of new habitation domes being constructed at a site named Habitat No. 314. If I interpret it correctly, this clip portrays our explorations over four different periods of time diagonally across the screen, moving from the south west to north east corners. Moving diagonally up there is the dusty, faded southwest corner probably representing our first explorations from orbit. Then there is the crater that represents the 21st century and the rovers we have sent to explore such places as Endurance, Endeavour, Gale and Jezero. Next there are the habitats established during the 22nd century. And finally, the five spaceships that represent Mars established as an independent military power by the 23rd century. But note that the Martian fleet is ‘going south’…a hint of things to come. Three blocks of tiny illegible text appear under the largest of the dome hubs.
Another tiny detail is the lander descending into the crater in Habitat 314 — look closely for the three bright dots: the two dots moving in sync near the centre probably represent the lander and its parachute gliding down to the surface, which means the third dot veering off to the left would be the discarded heatshield.
Which crater at Habitat 314?
We know that Mariner Valley (Valles Marineris) was one of the first locations to be colonised by humans early on in The Expanse. The idea here is that we would “go where we know” and Meridiani Planum (close to the eastern outlet of Valles Marineris) is already known today as being an accessible and safe location for landing, with potential water resources in hydrated minerals and those enigmatic recurring slope lineae.
The activities shown in the clip may (or may not) be taking place near the region traversed by the Opportunity rover in the 21st century. It is closer to Valles Marineris than any of the other missions undertaken by us since then.
Which crater is shown has proved tricky to pin down, but size-wise, if the smaller of the domes under construction measures 15 metres in diameter, the crater is about 135 metres in diameter. That’s about the size of Endurance crater, one of the first locations to be visited by Opportunity after it landed in 2004. Although the crater in the clip doesn’t look exactly the same as Endurance, it’s similar. Or, of course, it’s just a digital composite.
The next clip we see shows terraforming activities inside a crater at another site labelled as Habitat No. 315. Astronauts study soil and rocks on the rim and lamp posts enable them to see through the dusty haze. Phobos and Deimos can be seen in the sky. The text labels show which moon is which — but without a visual mod like Kenzo’s it is difficult to know for sure what the other data in the label is — it’s not always orbital period and orbital velocity that these labels show.
Next we move into the asteroid belt and see a depiction of the largest asteroid Ceres nearby a swathe of smaller asteroids. Classified as a dwarf planet, Ceres is not gravitationally dominant enough to have cleared its neighbourhood of nearby objects — the gap between Ceres and the small, irregularly-shaped asteroids gets that point across. The text label gives the orbital period and orbital velocity for Ceres. As for the three blocks of text in the top left of the screen, well, I really wouldn’t put it past these Expanse producer people if wasn’t just a quote from The Simpsons! The discarded haulage cannister seen floating through the belt towards the screen is a nice detail. Ceres doesn’t appear in the title sequence after Season 1, when the main action moves to Eros.
There’s no white spot on Ceres — and that’s a facula
Season 1 of The Expanse aired on SYFY in December 2015 with the season finale airing at the beginning of February 2016. NASA’s Dawn mission had arrived at Ceres at the beginning of 2015, sending back clear images of the surface by the spring of 2015. The world became gripped by the images that revealed bright white spots in or around some of the craters, in particular within Occator crater just above the dwarf planet’s equator. These spots (faculae) are now known to be made of sodium and ammonium salts.
It was, therefore, surprising that the digital rendition of Ceres used in the Season 1 title sequence of The Expanse did not depict the now instantly recognisable Occator crater with its iconic bright spots — or any bright patches at all, even though bright patches had been inferred from telescopic images long before Dawn arrived at Ceres. The clip wasn’t even updated with bright spots when the full title sequence was reinstated for Episodes 9 and 10 at the beginning of 2016.
The bright material on Ceres is thought to be the result of briny water beneath the surface erupting and evaporating, leaving the salt deposits behind. Since, in 2350…or 2339…or whatever year it is in The Expanse, water ice on Ceres is all but exhausted and ice haulers are having to ship it in from Saturn, the eruptions would have long ceased and salty deposits would decline. Is that why they chose not to put white spots on Ceres, I wondered? Maybe, but…
Although the existing deposits on the surface would gradually be obscured by ejecta from impacts…it would take hundreds of millions of years to cover them, according recent research. Since The Expanse is known for its detail, the omission of white spots is a curious thing.
Still, even without the spots, the rendition of Ceres used in the clip is about as convincing as a portrait of Anne of Cleves by Holbein the Younger (except he made her look better).
Moving on we reach Jupiter and two of the four large Galilean moons, Ganymede and Io. The text label for Jupiter shows the orbital period and orbital velocity. Both moons have name labels, but from the fuzzy outlines of the units in the label, the other data may be in degrees and km, which suggests it shows orbital inclination and semi-major axis.
The next clip shows traffic routes to and from Saturn labelled Saturn Traffic No. 28, with two tiny blocks of text in the top right corner. The greyed out silhouette and neon-coloured lanes fast-forward into a clip of Saturn and its two innermost moons Mimas and Enceladus (labelled as per the Jupiter clip). A fourth label briefly pops up to the right of Mimas, again too small to read.
In the foreground of Saturn is a free-floating astronaut. This is James Holden, soon to become captain of the Rocinante for the next few seasons of The Expanse. But at the start of Season 1, he is second officer and acting XO on the ice hauler Canterbury, shipping ice from Saturn’s rings back to Ceres.
The free-floating astronaut appears in every opening title sequence, although where in the Solar System he is seen changes over the seasons, following Holden’s journey in the show.
The next clip is a close-up of Holden’s visor and a reflection of what he sees. In Season 1, we see a single bright spot and faint lines running vertically down the visor. The reflection is always the star system in the final clip of the sequence, which changes as the seasons progress. In Season 1, the final clip is a view towards the inner Solar System viewed from Saturn with a curtain of star trails as the backdrop. At the point the Sun and planets disappear behind the limb of Saturn, the X in the show’s title emerges and its two halves expand out until the title sequence fades out. Fantastic.
Intro time code:
Ep 1 – 0:02:40
Ep 2 – 0:02:15
Ep 3 – 0:03:03
Ep 4 – 0:05:52
Ep 5 – 0:03:13
Ep 6 to Ep 13 – 0:00:00
First Released: February 2017
There are subtle updates and new bits…anubits…throughout the Season 2 title sequence. The first thing to note is that the credits are larger — but not the labels or text blocks, many of which remain a mystery, so we need more clues in this case.
In Episodes 1, 2 and 3, the first change is to the Manhattan skyline. The wall of soaring tower blocks is growing ever taller and wider and a prominent blue logo now shines out from the UN HQ. The building looks much like it does today…where it sits on the waterfront seven clicks away in Midtown East.
Moving on, this is the season when we are first introduced to the Martian Congressional Republic Navy (MCRN) — and to Gunnery Sergeant Bobbie Draper whose two main goals are to serve Mars and to see the planet terraformed within her lifetime. The latter is developed in this new title sequence…
In the global image of Mars, as well as the scattered auroral canopies across the planet, we now see green aurorae at the Martian poles. This suggests that oxygen generated by terraforming efforts has reached the lower atmosphere and that the planet now has a magnetosphere. The green aurorae intensify as the seasons of the show progress. Phobos and Deimos now have name labels — but only so we can easily recognise which is which, since one of them is soon to be blown to pieces.
Moving on we see Habitat No. 314 from Season 1 with six new hubs and towers (presumably vent towers) being built. The beady-eyed will note that we are two spacecraft down on Season 1 and those that remain are now flying in from the southwest. Following on from the story contained in last season’s version of this clip, it tells us that almost half the Martian Navy has been deployed off the planet — to prepare for war. The ships that remain are now flying over old Mars, a way of saying that the terraforming efforts are about to take a major step backwards.
The clip of Habitat No. 315 from Season 1 has been replaced by Habitat No. 322 in the Mariner Valley (Valles Marineris, if you prefer). Draper and her three team members are standing on the rim of the scarp looking down onto the terraforming efforts below. You can see vent towers pumping out the greenhouse gases being generated from crushing and heating the Martian rock and soil (it’s a shame we can’t just ship them all of our own carbon dioxide). Deimos is just visible in the sky above…but note the bright object heading towards it at high speed.
At the asteroid belt, the clip of Ceres from Season 1 is gone, replaced by Fred Johnson’s Tycho Station docked with the Nauvoo, the massive generation ship commissioned by the Mormons. Three blocks of tiny text type out in the top left of the screen.
At Jupiter, we can see that although the Sun is off the screen to the ‘right’ somewhere (since it is shining on the far side of Ganymede with respect to Jupiter), the near side of Ganymede has a fuzzy glow. This is because the mirrors in orbit around Ganymede that catch any part of the Sun’s rays are reflecting the sunlight back onto the surface, in this case the near side.
By Episode 4, Deimos has been blown up by Earth as retaliation for the Martians blowing up Phoebe. We now see Phobos and the remnants of Deimos orbiting Mars. The hundreds of small pieces of Deimos have been named and labelled (for example O.198 Deimos, O.542 Deimos, O.666 Deimos…where the ‘O’ presumably stands for ‘Object’). Unfortunately, the missile heading for Deimos in the sky above Habitat No. 322 in the earlier clip stays in for the rest of the season.
In Episodes 5 to 13, we can see that the Nauvoo has left Tycho station, deployed to deflect asteroid 433 Eros away from Earth. When it misses its target, the Nauvoo keeps on going and won’t be retrieved until Season 3. You can just see the pale yellow dot of its drive plume heading out of the bottom right corner of the screen.
The traffic routes around Saturn are unchanged from Season 1. When we see the free-floating astronaut at Saturn, notice that Enceladus and Mimas have increased in size.
In the final clip we are, as always, seeing what Holden sees from his vantage point. It’s the same view of the inner Solar System from Season 1, except that Saturn now has a blue filamentous haze — when Phoebe was blown up, the remnants of Protomolecule fell into Saturn.
Intro time code (all 13 episodes): 0:00:00
First Released: April 2018
In Episodes 1 to 4, the two changes to the title sequence are in the asteroid belt and at Jupiter:
In the asteroid belt, we see Tycho Station in a different orientation. Immediately this clip cuts in the words flash up “RIP JOSEPHUS MILLER“, framed at the tip of Tycho Station — but you need to pause immediately the clip changes to see it. And there are three tiny text blocks in the bottom left corner of this clip.
When we get to Jupiter we see three Galilean moons (all labelled): Ganymede and Io, which have moved along their respective orbits, and Callisto, which is where UNN and MCRN warships are soon to engage in battle. There is no longer any sunlight reflected onto the surface of Ganymede from its orbiting mirrors (I wasn’t aware that all of the mirrors had been destroyed though).
In Episodes 5 to 13, the only change to the title sequence is in the asteroid belt where Drummer’s fleet of Belter ships rescue the Nauvoo and the Nauvoo changes its name to the Behemoth. Three tiny blocks of text appear in the bottom left corner. In the top right corner are the words “The Gates“. Is that to hell or the rings, I wondered? But then I realised that at this stage in the story, they sort of mean the same thing. And no doubt it’s also a hark back to something somewhere in an episode of The Simpsons.
The end clip in all of the episodes in the Season 3 sequence is the same as for Season 2, but the blue haze surrounding Saturn intensifies during Episodes 1 to 4, since hybrids from Io have been launched into space and are dispersed throughout the Solar System, either complete or as remnants after being blown up by missiles. The blue haze over Saturn fades somewhat in Episodes 5 to 13. But the protomolecule is out there now. It’s the last time we see this view of the Solar System in the title sequence.
Intro time code:
Ep 1 – 0:01:35
Ep 2 to Ep 10 – 0:00:00
First released: December 2019
Season 4 sees an overhaul of The Expanse title sequence and the same sequence of 18 clips remains largely unchanged throughout the season, with just minor changes to the spaceships seen in the vicinity of Saturn and the Sol Ring. Just a reminder that this is now the Amazonian period of The Expanse: you may also notice some detrimental changes to the image quality and colour grading.
As always, the Intro starts with a global image of Earth and Luna at night. This fast-forwards to the ISS flyover view of Earth from orbit in which we can see a bright incoming object and blue drive plume of a departing spacecraft.
The bright incoming object is the missile that struck South America (an event that took place in Episode 3 of the show last season).
The departing spacecraft is the Rocinante, the crew of which has been living on Earth (or in orbit above it) since the end of last season and are now heading off to the Ilus System to evacuate Ganymedean settlers from Ilus IV (aka New Terra) and/or destroy any protomolecule that may be present on the planet.
Since this article is about the details, note that the clip label still shows the image from orbit as ISS Flyover 57…like groundhog day. But the flyover that spots the Rocinante leaving Earth would be a different flyover, so should really have a different number.
Next, we see another ice island carving off the Petermann Glacier. And in the show this point is reinforced in Episode 5 where we see how sea level rise has flooded the region around Copenhagen-Tarnby (where the televised UN leadership debate is taking place). In the title sequence, we can see vegetation regrowing on land long ago exposed by ice that melted away in previous Intros.
Next, we see a satellite view of South America and the ballistic missile strike in Amazonia that killed two million people. It was launched last season from a Martian stealth missile platform moments before a UN rail gun could destroy it.
Gone is the clip showing Manhattan’s glowing traffic routes. The clip of Liberty Island is followed by a different view of Manhattan in which sky traffic has increased dramatically. And the UN Building is no longer being shown as visible from the Statue of Liberty. That Luna looms so large in the sky in this clip is not meant to imply that it is any closer to Earth in distance (after all, we know it’s slowly retreating). Rather it signifies how accessible Luna now is. And note where in the sky the spaceships are flying: they are level and above Luna, compared to what we saw in previous seasons, where a sole spaceship was seen flying below. This symbolises how humanity has now spread far past our moon.
The clips showing global images of Luna and Mars remain in the sequence but a subtle change to Mars shows its eastern hemisphere swathed in lights.
From here onwards, all clips in the title sequence are new:
First we see a view of a Mariner Valley settlement from the rim of the canyon showing the lights of habitats built along the canyon walls. Two small blocks of text appear near the green valley floor and the satellite framing camera picks out the location of the next clip, Habitat No. 367. In Episodes 2 to 5, the terraforming towers in Habitat 367 are illuminated; in Episodes 6 to 10, the lights go out as the terraforming towers shut down in a mass exodus to the rings.
Moving on from Mars, we see a new view of Saturn across its rings showing three moons in orbit. None of the moons are labelled — but maybe the enigmatic block of tiny text on the left of the screen just above the rings can shed some light on this? They are probably Titan and Iapetus since these two moons are mentioned in the dialogue during Season 4. The other? Hyperion, maybe, since it comes up in conversation at the end of Season 3 mixed up with a level of the same name on Ceres (it’s complicated, you’ll need to watch).
The number of spaceships seen in the Saturn clip changes throughout the season. In Episodes 3 and 4, we see a ship heading inwards with the false transponder name Sinon (really the Sojourner that was hijacked by Inaros in Episode 1) — this is the ship supposedly en route from Triton to Luna that changes direction and takes down the UN’s Sentinel-19 asteroid spotter space platform (recall the Archangel being rushed out of the televised debate in Copenhagen).
Since Season 4 is all about the ring gates, the rest of the title sequence is now focused there:
In Episode 1 we see spaceships lining up to cross the Sol Ring, including the Sojourner (a UN colony ship) and the Edward Israel (the colony ship of the Royal Charter Energy Corporation) both bound for Ilus. In Episodes 2 to 5, the clip shows an unidentified ship heading for the Ring with its transponder labelled as ? (the OPA ship that hijacks the Sojourner). In Episodes 6 to 10, the unidentified ship is gone. A steady stream of spaceships is now heading towards the Ring.
The final five clips appear to be the same in all ten episodes. We go inside the Ring’s slow zone and see a time-lapse of traffic routes around the Central Station. In the next clip, we see the Behemoth (previously the Nauvoo, soon to be renamed Medina Station) which will be the outpost inside the Ring. In the background are the 1,372 other ring gates. The framing camera highlights the Ilus Ring.
In the closing three clips, we see Holden free-floating at the entrance to the Ilus Ring. In the close-up, his visor now has a blue-green hue, the colour of the nebulous material that pervades the slow zone. Reflected in the visor are two bright objects, one yellow, one red, and a faint blue arc of the Ilus star system that we see in the final clip.
In the final clip, the star of the Ilus System is disappearing behind the southern limb of its planet Ilus IV, highlighting the planet’s blue atmosphere. The two bright objects we saw in Holden’s visor are the central yellow star (G-type, like our own) and, perhaps, the moon that was seen to be melting when the crew of the Rocinante were on the surface of the planet (unless, of course, the star in the Ilus system is a binary, in which case it might be a red dwarf — I’ll have to read the book).
Intro time code:
Ep 1 – 0:07:22
Ep 2 – 0:05:08
Ep 3 – 0:04:23
Ep 4 – 0:01:35
Ep 5 – 0:04:44
Ep 6 – 0:09:06
Ep 7 – 0:01:07
Ep 8 – 0:04:36
Ep 9 – 0:05:21
Ep 10 – 0:06:22
First released: December 2020
Season 5 sees another overhaul of The Expanse title sequence and there is a different sequence for almost every episode. What starts with 18 clips increases to 19 by Episode 5 and some of the changes this season are very subtle.
In Episode 1, the usual view of Earth and Luna fast-forwards to the ISS flyover in which a fleet of spaceships is departing Earth. This includes the shuttle that Amos, Erich and Peaches commandeered to get to Luna. The mass exodus is in part fuelled by the so-called “blood-soaked goldrush” to the ring gates (and to escape the devastation our planet will soon face).
Next, we see a time lapse of coastal flooding in the Chesapeake Bay North American Trade Zone. The sea level in this already low-lying region is rising at a faster rate than anywhere else along the North American Atlantic coast due to the combined effects of global warming, post-glacial subsidence, and numerous other factors.
The Sentinel satellite camera SEN-RG is tracking a UFO off the coast (that’s an unidentified floating object) which is probably a giant potato sponge that got dislodged from its coastal habitat by rising sea levels and storm waves. Although these animals (said in an Anderson Dawes accent) are usually the size of a football, this one is a monster: assuming the major interval on the scale bar is 10 km (cross-checked elsewhere), this potato sponge is 15 km in diameter. We get the point.
The next clip shows a view looking out over a city bay and the continuing mass exodus to Luna overhead. Where is this bay supposed to be? I watched the video of how Breeder Studio digitally constructed the land and buildings onto an empty sea horizon, but they didn’t say whether it’s Baltimore or New York or…?
This is followed by a new clip in the sequence: Lovell City, the main landing port on Luna, followed by the usual night view of Luna, traffic routes to and from Mars, and the global view of Mars with its myriad of moons and green glowing aurorae.
This cuts to a new view across the Mariner Valley settlement. As a solitary spaceship flies down the centre of the valley, we can see lights going off in the habitats along the canyon walls and a large fleet of ships in the sky — telling us that Martians are deserting the planet at the prospect of finding something better beyond the ring gates.
This is followed by a clip from the floor of the Mariner Valley where we can just make out the Razorback coming in to land (Alex is on board) and what may be Bobbie’s truck returning after her unsuccessful meeting to try and trap a Martian selling black market stealth tech to the Belters.
At the asteroid belt, we see Tycho Station and a number of ships passing through, including the Chetzamoka with Naomi on board on her way to Pallas, and also the Lazy Songbird. We can also see the dog-bone asteroid 216 Kleopatra in the top left corner of this clip — a subtle hint of what’s to come for Naomi when she throws herself out of the airlock to escape the pain, rejection and cruelty at the hands of Marco and Filip Inaros. Of course, unlike Cleopatra, in Naomi’s case it’s not suicide at all…it just seems that way.
We get a fleeting glimpse of the first of the Inaros asteroids as it heads past Tycho Station and escapes detection by SEN-356 and SEN-384, the Sentinel tracking cameras.
At the Sol Ring, two MCRN and two UNN patrol ships guard the entrance, one nation on each side, and a succession of ships are passing through the Ring. As before, this morphs into a clip of traffic routes in and out of the Ring. When it cuts to the slow zone, we see the newly named Medina Station amidst the backdrop of ring gates.
The final three clips in the sequence depict the Laconia System, which remain unchanged for the whole season:
While Holden is free-floating at the entrance to the Laconia Ring, a rogue Martian ship is seen crossing through. The close-up of Holden’s visor shows a reflection of a yellow star and blue arc of the planet’s atmosphere. This cuts to the Laconia System as the star disappears behind the eastern limb of the planet. The blue drive plume of the defector Martian ship can be seen in orbit around the planet. For a moment there’s a fleeting glimpse of an indistinct structure labelled “?” —it’s the unfinished remnant of the Ring Builders’ work that we see in the sky in the finale of Season 5.
Episode 2 has largely the same title sequence as Episode 1, with some small — but very significant — changes. First, in the global image of Mars, the Inaros stealth asteroid is seen flying past above the trail of Deimos moonlets. The asteroid is briefly picked up by the Sentinel SEN-529 and SEN-544 tracking cameras — but if you blink you’ll miss it.
Episodes 2 and 3 update the whereabouts of three spaceships: Amos, Peaches and Erich’s private shuttle has departed Earth; on Mars the Razorback is docked in Mariner Valley; and the Chetzamoka is gone from the asteroid belt.
In Episode 3, two Sentinel cameras above Lovell City (top right of the screen) fail to lock onto the incoming stealth asteroid bound for Earth.
In Episode 4, we see the streak of a meteor from Earth’s orbit in the ISS flyover clip (still labelled No. 57) as the asteroid impacts Dakar on the coast of Senegal. In the title sequence it impacts at night since we see city lights along the coast but in the show the impact is in daylight off the coast. The tsunami travels across the Atlantic for a few thousand kilometres. In the show, we see a man fishing for Atlantic mackerel with his Fishfinder-5000 app goggles when the asteroid hits to the north. The sign on the beach is written in a language which implies he is in the southern hemisphere, 6,500 away on the east coast of South Africa — and we know the tsunami hits the coast of America some 6,000 km across the Atlantic to the east.
In Episode 4, the Razorback is taking off in the Mariner Valley clip.
In Episode 5, the clip of Chesapeake Bay is dropped to make room for two more asteroid strikes: the impact in the Bay of Bengal and the impact north of Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Also in Episode 5, we see the previously blue city bay now in ruins, with the sky an orange haze from dust and ejecta. The mass exodus of ships to Luna continues on above. This cuts to Luna with Earth looming in the sky above Lovell City — the impact flash can be seen on the east coast of America. When we get to Mars, the Razorback is gone from Mariner Valley, since Alex and Bobbie are now heading out to the asteroid belt in pursuit of the Barkeith. Only one ship is left flying over Mariner Valley as the Martian defection to Laconia gathers momentum.
In Episode 6, we see Tycho Station under attack and this cuts to the Free Navy fleet and flagship Pella heading out of the belt en route to the Sol Ring.
In Episodes 7, 8 and 9, all is quiet in the asteroid belt and we can just make out some mining activity on a few of the rocks. The main action is now in the outer Solar System and we follow the Free Navy on its journey past Jupiter (Ep. 7), Saturn (Ep. 8) and Uranus (Ep. 9) towards the Ring (Ep. 10).
At the Sol Ring, UNN and MCRN patrol ships still guard the gate but the number of ships traversing the Ring is declining. In Episode 7, one MCRN guard leaves its post to head inwards and intercept the Free Navy fleet which is advancing and currently at Jupiter.
In Episode 8, we see a new clip of Baltimore flooded and in ruins in the aftermath of the impact. The Free Navy has reached Saturn.
In Episode 9, the Free Navy is at Uranus. Only one ship is crossing the Sol Ring.
In Episode 10, all of the ships in the Free Navy fleet shut down their drives to decelerate as they approach the Ring. There is now no traffic outside the Sol Ring and inside the last of the ships are crossing into other systems.
The final three clips in Episodes 2 to 10 show the Laconia Ring and Laconia System, the same as in Episode 1.
That’s it to the end of Season 5.
Since I notice something new every time I watch, I can’t guarantee I caught everything. Still, it could always be worse.
OK, it is worse: those tiny text blocks.
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Fair Dealing and Fair Use. All images in this article from The Expanse title sequence and are credited to Alcon Entertainment and Amazon Studios (and apologies for any omission). The sequence was created by Breeder Studio. The images in this articles are being used solely to support the commentary. I believe this constitutes a fair dealing or fair use of any such copyrighted material, but suffice to say if any copyright holder should want the images removed, please make contact using the email address below and the images will be removed.