The Expanse season 4 makes a few changes to its printed counterpart, but the best of these is Avasarala’s increased role. Generally speaking, The Expanse has faithfully followed the original book series written by James S.A. Corey, with each season roughly adapting one book. The first to premiere on Amazon Prime Video, The Expanse‘s fourth season is mostly based on Cibola Burn and sees the Rocinante crew trek beyond the newly-formed ring gate to an unknown world being rapidly populated by Belters. Even here, the tensions between Inners and the OPA threaten to boil over, and once again, Holden’s group are caught directly in the middle of the fray. As ever, there’s also the looming threat of the Protomolecule, the ancient civilization that created it, and the mysterious force that wiped them out to contend with.

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Season 4 of The Expanse does, however, make several notable deviations from its source material. Rather than being entirely absent as she is in Cibola Burn, Bobbie Draper appears in a storyline that threatens to expose yet another Martian conspiracy, thus giving the fan-favorite something to do while the Rocinante is elsewhere. Furthermore, the Ashford character is massively evolved compared to the original. Rather than an outright villain, The Expanse season 4 takes Ashford on an expansive redemption arc, which manages to simultaneously make him a more sympathetic character and set up a major future villain in Marco Inaros. As a side-story to the Ilus material, The Expanse‘s fourth season also works in elements from the Gods of Risk novella, and all of these changes have been largely hailed by fans as improvements.

However, perhaps the most important and compelling change The Expanse makes to the books in season 4 comes with Shohreh Aghdashloo’s Chrisjen Avasarala, as the UN’s Secretary-General only has a minimal role in Cibola Burn. The TV adaptation of The Expanse already performed a masterstroke by introducing Avasarala far earlier than the books, and to maintain the character’s momentum, she’s provided a far meatier role in season 4 thanks to an intriguing election campaign storyline. Avasarala is forced to contend with declining popularity ratings, a strained marriage and an up-and-coming political rival, all while trying to maintain peace in a solar system that has just been exposed to the dual threats of exodus and alien invasion.

This addition to The Expanse season 4 works well for a number of reasons. Firstly, Avasarala’s election story helps showcase a different side to the character than viewers have seen previously. In past seasons, Avasarala has been a quiet, scheming political puppet-master for the good guys. Plotting, manipulating and always several steps ahead of her opponents; even when cornered by Jules-Pierre Mao in season 3, Avasarala exudes an aura of confidence and control. Since no crisis seems to ruffle Avasarala’s feathers, taking her story to a more personal level works well. Avasarala feels more out of her comfort zone than ever before as she enters a glorified popularity contest, and the sudden need for good PR puts the once unflappable character firmly in uncharted territory. Adding to this smaller-scale story, Avasarala’s relationship with her husband is given closer attention, helping to round Chrisjen’s character out beyond just being a galactic chess master.

This smaller-scale, personal story doesn’t just add new shades to Avasarala, but perfectly balances out The Expanse season 4’s primary storyline on Ilus. Where Holden’s adventures deal with big philosophical issues, uncharted areas of space and an alien bomb that could wipe out an entire planet, Avasarala’s arc offers interpersonal drama, espionage and conspiracy, and the need to grow as a person. Both sides of The Expanse season 4 compliment each other.

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Another major benefit to Avasarala’s inclusion in The Expanse season 4 relates to the show’s new home on Amazon Prime. While Aghdashloo’s performance has always been a standout one, her character has been somewhat restrained compared to the book original, purely because of network TV restrictions. Relocated to a streaming platform, The Expanse season 4 is allowed to cut loose, and Avasarala takes advantage of this, making full use of her colorful language and withering put-downs, and coming far closer to the authentic version of Avasarala seen in the book series.

The Expanse season 5 is currently without a release date. More news as it arrives.

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