Like the captain of the Rocinante, I never skip my morning coffee and The Expanse title sequence and opening credits are like a shot of espresso.
For anyone just discovering 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 changing title sequence of The Expanse, exploring what you will miss if you hit Skip Intro. It’s long and you will need to commit.
The title sequence tells the events of The Expanse condensed, but not before portraying the impact we are having on our planet and providing some vision of our journey to colonise the Solar System and beyond.
The Intro is, in fact, a time-lapsed future history across three hundred years in a minute. The content updates every season, often episode by episode as the drama evolves, and some of the mods are very subtle indeed. The one minute sequence is as mesmerising as I remember the Cant to have been during the ill-fated flip and burn that kicked off this adventure.
There is a prologue to this post, 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 beacon. You can read that in The Expanse: A personal distress call. Or you can just skip that bit.
This article originally published in March 2021 was last updated in January 2022 to cover Season 6. All images are credited to Amazon Studios/Alcon Entertainment.
Opening credits 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. This clip has become iconic for The Expanse, surviving as it does for the entire six season run uncut.
It’s a night view from space showing the spread of human activity across the Earth. Every inch of landmass is filled with artificial light. This suggests it will not be long before humanity is forced to expand off the planet.
In The Expanse, our moon, the Moon, is always referred to by its alternative designation Luna, which helps to avoid confusion with other moons in the Solar System, many of which are colonised in The Expanse. Text labels for Earth and Luna show their respective orbital period (in days) and orbital velocity (in km/s).
We see a dense cloud of satellites in orbit about both bodies. And there are scattered circles across the globe — but what these are remains unclear…maybe some of the future impacts we see in later seasons (because the locations aren’t quite right for past ones whose tell-tale signs have survived on Earth).
Fast forward to Earth at night from ISS Flyover No. 57.
When Europe rolls into view in this clip, 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 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 a 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 of the opening credits 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, who knows?
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). I love this clip.
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 3 cm) a record set just under 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 Nagata: “This is our fight now…”.
Next we see a global image of Luna at night. As it rotates, the illuminated network of lunar cities sprawled across its surface comes into view. The text label gives the moon’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. It hints that 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 the 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 craters. 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. My guess is it’s a mix of CGI and NASA imagery.
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 asteroid Ceres nearby a swathe of smaller asteroids and note the discarded haulage cannister seen floating through the belt towards the screen. Ceres is not gravitationally dominant enough to have cleared its neighbourhood of nearby asteroids and the small, irregularly-shaped rocks get that point across. But remember, Ceres in The Expanse is much, much smaller (a quarter of the diameter, it seems) than the Ceres we know today.
The text label may or may not give the orbital period and orbital velocity for Ceres, but if it does, you will have to get your Casio out and work out for yourself what those figures are in 2350 or whatever year it is. But remember: Ceres in The Expanse is 98% smaller by volume than it is today and presumably denser since all the ice has long been mined away (although having said that, there’s a lot of internal void space now). A bit of orbital mechanics calculations never hurt anyone.…err, can someone find Dr Mindy?
As for the three blocks of text in the top left of the screen, well, maybe that explains the history of what happened to Ceres (although I really wouldn’t put it past these Expanse producer people if it wasn’t just a quote from The Simpsons).
Ceres doesn’t appear again in the title sequence after Season 1, when the main action moves to Eros. Until Season 6, that is.
There’s no white spot on Ceres now — 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 on Ceres, in particular within Occator crater just above the dwarf planet’s equator. These spots (faculae) are known to be made of sodium and ammonium salts and are the result of briny water beneath the surface erupting, then evaporating and leaving the salt deposits behind.
Although the existing deposits on the surface would gradually be obscured by ejecta from impacts…it would take hundreds of millions of years for them to be covered up by dust, according recent research. It was, therefore, surprising that the digital rendition of Ceres in Season 1 of The Expanse did not depict any bright patches at all, since it is set only 300 or so years from now.
To understand why, you have to pick up the books. In the first book, Leviathan Wakes, we hear that Ceres has a diameter of 250km — that’s a quarter of the size of Ceres today — and more like the size of what we know of asteroid Juno today. The reader is left to infer that the majority of Ceres (98% of its volume, in fact) has been stripped away in just under a couple of hundred years of mining activities. What do I know, but I don’t know how that. But this is the reason why, in 2350…or 2339…or whatever year it is, haulers are having to ship massive blocks of ice in from Saturn.
This does, however, lead on to a curiosity as to why there are ancient craters depicted on the surface, if this asteroid has been stripped and diminished in diameter by three quarters (which itself seems like a stretch of the imagination anyway). Don’t get me wrong, I love The Expanse, I’m just curious is all.
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 the fuzzy outlines of the units looks like degrees and km, so the data is probably 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 (with data labels as per the Galilean moons). A fourth label briefly pops up to the right of Mimas (just above the author’s credit) but blink and you’ll miss it — although it’s too small to read anyway. Perhaps it has something to do with the restricted research facility on Phoebe?
A thought: Maybe The Expanse podcast would consider doing an episode that runs through what all the small text blocks say? I’m going to send off a communication. I won’t expect an instantaneous response.
Anyway, back to Saturn. In the foreground of Saturn is a free-floating astronaut. This is James Holden, soon to become reluctant 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.
Opening credits start 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 klicks away in Midtown East (gripe).
This is the season when we are first introduced to the Martian Marine Corps (MMC) — 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. The moons Phobos and Deimos now have name labels — but only so we can easily distinguish which blob is which, since one of them is soon to be blown to smithereens.
Moving on we see Habitat No. 314 from Season 1 with six new hubs and towers being built, presumably vent towers. The beady-eyed will note that we are two spacecraft down on Season 1 and the three that remain are now flying in from the southwest. Following on from the story inferred in last season’s version of this clip, it tells us that almost half the Martian Navy has been deployed off the planet, presumably 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 — that’s because when Phoebe was blown up, the remnants of Protomolecule fell into Saturn.
Opening credits start time code for 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 if you blink you’ll miss it so hit 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 (which is curious because I wasn’t aware that all of the mirrors were destroyed).
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 written vertically 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 as for Season 2, but the blue haze surrounding Saturn changes with each episode. During Episodes 1 to 4, the blue haze is at its most intense since many of the hybrids from Io that had been launched into space towards Mars have been intercepted. Once blown up, the remnants are dispersed into space.
Opening credits start 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 set of 18 clips remains largely unchanged throughout the season, just minor changes to the ships in the vicinity of Saturn and the Sol Ring. Just a reminder that this is now the Amazonian period of The Expanse and you may notice some changes to the image quality of the title sequence.
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 now 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), as well as 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. It’s a bit 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 that was 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 (gripe removed). 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 tiny blocks of text appear near the green valley floor (too small to decipher) 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 are shutting down in the mass exodus of Martians through the Sol Ring to Laconia and other planetary systems. One location in Habitat No. 367 is labelled “322MPJ”, presumably pinpointing part of Habitat No. 322 from the opening titles in Season 2 and 3.
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. And the third moon? 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 Marco Inaros in Episode 1 this season) — 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 “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 a flotilla of ships 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 ? (it’s 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).
Opening credits start 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. Funding must have been good. And what starts with the standard 18 clips increases to 19 by Episode 5. Some of the changes this season are very subtle indeed.
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. Although these animals (anneemalls, 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 shown is 10 km (cross-checked elsewhere), this potato sponge is 15 km in diameter. We get the point — sea levels are higher, currents and storm waves are stronger, and even the biggest and toughest sea creatures are being washed away.
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 mini-moons and its 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 out in the habitats along the canyon walls and a large fleet of ships in the sky — this is 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 who is 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 battleships 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 Marco’s 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.
In the show (at the end of Episode 3), we see a man fishing for Atlantic mackerel with his Fishfinder-5000 app-connected goggles when the asteroid hits Dakar thousands of kilometres away to the north. We hear a faint boom and watch as the fish react to the infrasound they sense, ahead of anything the fisherman notices. The sign on the beach is written in a language which implies he is in the southern hemisphere on the east coast of South Africa, which puts him 6,500 km away from ground zero. And we know the tsunami travels across the Atlantic and hits the coast of America some 6,000 km to the east. The consistency of detail in this show is stunning — and unlike the Earth in the relentless asteroid attacks in the episodes that follow, this show will be missed when it all wraps up at the end of Season 6.
But back to the opening credits of Season 5…
In Episode 4, the next clip shows the Razorback is taking off from Mariner Valley.
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 below the sky now 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 on Earth can be seen on the east coast of America.
When we reach Mars, we see just one ship flying over Mariner Valley as the Martian defection to Laconia gathers momentum. We also notice that the Razorback has gone because Alex and Bobbie are now heading out to the asteroid belt in pursuit of the Barkeith. Of course, we know that the Razorback is now called the Screaming Firehawk; having tried four seasons ago (S1, Ep. 5) to name get this name for a spaceship, Alex finally got his way.
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), past Saturn (Ep. 8), past Uranus (Ep. 9), towards the Ring (Ep. 10).
At the Sol Ring, UNN and MCRN battleships still guard the gate but the number of ships traversing the Ring is declining. In Episode 7, one MCRN battleship leaves its guard 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 showing Baltimore flooded and in ruins in the aftermath of the impact. A few clips on and we see that the Free Navy has now reached Saturn.
In Episode 9, the Free Navy is at Uranus. Only one ship is seen 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 no traffic outside the Ring and inside the last of the ships are crossing the rings 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.
But it could always be worse.
OK, it is worse: those tiny text blocks.
Opening credits start time code:
Ep 1 – 0:04:40
Ep 2 – 0:09:08
Ep 3 – 0:10:17
Ep 4 – 0:06:40
Ep 5 – 0:05:06
Ep 6 – 0:07:24
First released: December 2021
There are only six episodes in this, the final, season of The Expanse, which means there are two good reasons for this review of the opening title sequence to be tinged with much sadness.
Is this really to be the last ever adaption of these books? Judging by all the talk of ‘grieving’ and ‘processing’ by the cast during the Ty and That Guy after show series of Season 6 podcasts (11 December 2021 to 14 January 2022), it doesn’t sound as though the show will channel-hop. It’s simply been spaced. The only one who was nonchalant about the whole affair was the writer who took part in the podcasts.
Anyway, on with the task at hand. As well as new clips since Season 5, most of the changes as Season 6 evolves are confined to inside the Sol Ring, depicting the development of the rail gun structures around the Ring Station, but there are a few other changes to other clips (mainly at the Sol Ring, at Ilus, and at Ceres).
The title sequence for Season 6 starts, as always, with the now iconic Expanse image of Earth and Luna from space.
Moving down into Earth’s orbit (still ISS flyover 57) we see a fleet of UNN asteroid spotters on watch for Marco’s incoming rocks and we also see a large meteor ahead of one of the large impacts from last season. The number of ships in the orbiting fleet increases as the Season 6 story develops and by Episode 3 a not insignificant number are leaving orbit, heading out to join the humanitarian aid missions to Ceres.
The next four clips are a reminder of the first batch of asteroid impacts unleashed on Earth last season: Dakar, Bay of Bengal, US eastern seaboard, and Baltimore.
But six months or more of The Expanse time has passed since the impacts started and Earth has now been hit dozens of times, all over the planet, on every continent, with millions of casualties. Although Earth has managed to intercept a couple of hundred incoming rocks since the impacts began, secondary impacts from fragments of asteroids destroyed by UN rail gun platforms still bombard the Earth.
The effect on Earth’s climate from the atmospheric dust and induced impact winter has devastated terrestrial agriculture. This is represented by the seventh clip in the title sequence in which we see an Earther fall to the ground amidst swathes of cornfields perishing from lack of sunlight as meteors rain down overhead. Earth is literally being brought to its knees.
As Avasarala says in the drama in Episode 1 when she visits the High Yield Grain Fields in the Mediterranean Agricultural Zone, “Every rock kills us a little more, even when they miss.”
Let me get my first (err…second) gripe over with now: the infuriatingly indecipherable tiny text that persists in the clips, including ten lines of it in the cornfield clip. It seems this content will remain obscured for eons longer than the Sun is blocked out by impact ejecta on Earth. Unless…
…unless The Expanse podcast does an episode that runs through what all the tiny text blocks say…
But firing up the thrusters and moving on, we see the familiar clip of Luna’s global city lights which leads us via neon traffic routes to the now familiar global view of Mars. Mars has not been spared from Marco’s stealth asteroids and we see a different view of the red planet (clip #11 in the sequence) showing a combined fleet of MCRN and UNN asteroid spotters in orbit around Mars.
This view shows the eastern hemisphere of Mars (identified by the 1,500 km diameter Isidis Basin) and we also get our first close-up of the scattered moonlets orbiting the planet, remnants of what was once Deimos. And note the subtle space platform on the LHS of the screen that flickers in and out looking like a pair of giant floodlights — it’s a Martian stealth missile platform of the type we were introduced to in Season 3, the one that nuked the Amazon.
Arriving at the inner asteroid belt we notice that these rocks have had a bit of a makeover, the pale and jagged likes of which have not been seen in any of the images returned of real asteroids visited by spacecraft. I can’t imagine these are supposed to be ice at that relatively small distance from the Sun. So…what, then? The Hungarias, perhaps (the bright and shiny ones so elegantly described by Draper last season, or E-types if you prefer).
Without dwelling on the composition, we see that one of the rocks (RHS bottom corner) hides the Free Navy’s Azure Dragon spotter ship that we find out has been controlling the launch of Marco’s asteroids. This is the target that we hear the Rocinante plans to destroy at the end of Episode 1 (and a mission that Bobbie Draper is sent by Avasarala to infiltrate — partly to stop her being so miserable as her UN aide on Earth, I suspect).
We also see other drive signatures fleetingly flickering in and out amongst the asteroids in that clip, presumably the relay ships that Naomi identified when she first triangulated the mysterious signals. And what is the unusual-looking object floating up in the top LHS corner of the screen? It may well be the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, or perhaps represent the asteroid that goes by that number designation.
Still in the asteroid belt we finally get to see Ceres again in the title sequence. Recall we last saw the drastically reduced-sized dwarf planet in the opening titles back in Season 1. And Ceres, too, looks to have had a sixty-second makeover this season. But ancient craters on the surface still? And a mountain that looks like Yamor Mons up near the north pole? This asteroid has had more body modifications than all the inmates in the history of The Pit combined so it should not really be looking anything like it does in real life today.
In Episodes 1–2 we see ships arriving at Ceres as Marc Inaros announces his intention to make Ceres the capital of the Belt. What he says and what he does, though, are two different things because by Episode 3 the ships are leaving after he abandons those plans…and Ceres. He never really intended to stay.
In the next clip, we see a handful of Free Navy gunships patrolling the entrance to the Sol Ring. The clip remains unchanged for Episodes 1–5 but by Episode 6 the ships are gone and all that’s left is what looks like debris leftover from the battles that ensue. On the far side (left) of the Ring we see the cannisters and tanks shed by the Pella which had been disguising itself as a freighter with an unusual drive signature to avoid detection. Nearby we see a cluster of pods that house the most kick-ass hero-filled assault team ever to have graced our screens. On the near side (right) we see the debris of part of the Martian fleet that were the first to feel the force when the Free Navy’s rail guns switched on for the first time inside the Ring Space in the drama of Episode 5.
This clip cuts to a brief glimpse of traffic routes through the Ring, then we are inside the Ring Space. The Ring Station at the centre looks well and truly ready for its close-up. In this new evolving clip, we see massive structures which we find out are titanium bands circumventing the station. Tethered to the bands are six platforms that house the reactors and control rooms for six massive rail guns — four at the equator and one at each pole. These weapons are able to target and take out trespassing ships from pretty much whichever direction they approach the Ring Space from any of the 1,372 rings.
By Episode 5 in the title sequence, we see the six Laconian-built rail guns now installed on the platforms — and in the drama, the MCRN fleet are the first to feel the force of what they can do. What metal the rail guns are made of remains a mystery, except for being some kind of innovative metallurgy to come out of protomolecule research. And the green plasma at the apex of Medina Station?
By Episode 6 in the title sequence, we see the rail guns in action, since in the finale of the drama there is a combined UN-MCRN-Belter attack on the Free Navy at the Ring. (And let’s not overlook the ultimate sci-fi hero assault team deployed to the surface along with Amos and Draper to try and take control of the rail guns — a team which includes the likes of Ripley, Bowman and Quaid, and (this one is important, this means something) the semi-sunburned accidental space crusader himself Neary! A giant Easter Egg tribute to some of the best sci-fi that widened our eyes and expanded our imagination.)
In the Ring Space, we also see two of the 1,372 ring gates emitting radiation which falls onto the central station. Having read up on this, since it doesn’t crop up in the action in any episode, one of these gates may be the Tecoma Ring (the other…no idea…but 180 degrees on the other side of the central station). The star in the Tecoma system is a neutron star which has its magnetic and spin poles aligned perpendicular to the plane of its ring gate so that jets of high-energy radiation are directed out of the gate falling on the central station. Or is this not Tecoma’s neutron star but something else? Whatever it is, it’s…something. Probably something we should know.
The final three clips in the whole sequence depict the Laconia System, similar to what we saw in last season’s opening titles: James Holden free-floating at the entrance to the Laconia Ring. Only this time there’s some finer detail…
A mysterious orange aurora can be seen near the bottom of the Laconia Ring. Holden saw this in the com relay intel he received about the Free Navy’s assets inside the Sol Ring in the drama in Episode 1. And it looks suspiciously like what he and Elvi Okoye encountered on Ilus in Season 4, a manifestation of the Ring Entities, the Unknown Fiery Aggressors that wiped out the protomolecule Builders. Whatever this is, it’s something Holden thinks Marco Inaros should know.
And emerging through the ring from Laconia is an RSRG-6 (Ring Space Rail Gun #6) with a drive signature identified as “Unknown”. We first see it in the drama at the end of Episode 3 when Marco is informed of its arrival at Medina Station and we see schematics of it in the drama in Episode 4. It’s the last of the Laconian-built rail guns being delivered through the ring (actually the last of anything Marco is ever going to get from Laconia, he soon finds out).
In the penultimate clip, the close-up of Holden’s visor shows a reflection of the Laconia System, which cuts in the final clip to the principal Laconian planet. In orbit we see the Proteus space station shimmering with protomolecule, looking more complete since Cortázar arrived at the end of last season to finish building the Builders’ abandoned work. I say it looks complete, but seeing as we’ve never seen anything like it before, we can’t really know if it’s finished or not.
For the final ever title sequence clip in Episode 6, we see the Laconian planet coming alive with protomolecule. Cortázar’s coordination protocol has returned a coherent reply pattern from the space station and structures on the ground are glowing with the now familiar blue radiation.
This is the end.
The end of the Intros.
And their end can be the beginning if you embark on the five hundred-or-so-chapter journey through The Expanse books.
What about after the books? Collecting ceramic cats, perhaps. Or, as Naomi told Filip back in Season 5 (Ep. 7)…”Walking away is the only choice anyone ever has.“
All images are credited to Alcon Entertainment and/or Amazon Studios.
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Fair Dealing and Fair Use. All images in this article from The Expanse title sequence and opening credits are credited to Alcon Entertainment and Amazon Studios (apologies for any omission). The sequence was created by Breeder Studio. The images in this article 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 and the images will be removed.