[Editor’s note: Major spoilers for “The Expanse” Season 2, Episode 5, “Home,” below.]
If you’ve never read the books written by James S.A. Corey upon which “The Expanse” is based, then Episode 5 of the second season more than likely came as a massive shock. As a show adapted from a popular book series with serious genre roots, “The Expanse” has elicited comparisons to “Game of Thrones” before. But the series reached Red Wedding-levels of surprise with “Home,” in which Miller (Thomas Jane) bonds with the protomolecule-infected Julie Mao (Florence Faivre) to prevent the Eros station from crashing into Earth.
It’s a surprisingly romantic sequence, dense with visual effects to capture the depths to which Julie has become bonded with the protomolecule. But the actual filming featured none of those trappings: Jane and Faivre were acting, according to executive producer Mark Fergus, in “a big empty room with just a chair. So they had nothing to distract them but each other.”
And while there was no kiss written in the book, or in the script, while shooting “that just sort of came into the scene spontaneously. It wasn’t a planned moment, it just came out of the connection that Julie and Miller were feeling, that paid off when she said ‘you belong with me.’ That was just one of those moments that evolved into more than it was written. It felt right, so we leaned it that way.”
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It’s a planet-saving sacrifice that brings Thomas Jane’s time on the show to an end, a bold move given that amongst an ensemble largely made up of talented newcomers, Jane was the best-known actor on “The Expanse.” Miller’s death was part of the plan for the series from the beginning, Fergus told IndieWire via phone. Though, they did postpone it longer than expected.
While many book-to-TV adaptations tend to be structured on a one-book-to-season basis, early on Fergus and co-executive producer Hawk Ostby decided to slow down the storytelling “and hold onto Miller as long as we could without screwing up the stories.” This meant overlapping the end of Book One in the series, “Leviathan Wakes,” with events and characters from the sequel “Caliban’s War,” so that the Eros Incident storyline could play out further into Season 2 than one might expect.
Everyone involved, including Jane, knew from day one that Miller would be eventually killed off. “Nobody ever said, ‘God, do you really have to?'” Fergus said. “Across the board, everyone knew that this is one of the pillars of the story. I don’t think anybody thought even for two seconds that we should mess with that or rewire it somehow to keep such a great actor in the mix.”
Though it was worth noting that one reason Miller’s ending might have had more of an impact is that at the end of Episode 4, “Godspeed,” Miller was miraculously spared from death at the last minute — perhaps leading even book readers to believe that his character might be safe after all.
“Because we literally changed the laws of physics so we didn’t have to kill him off [at the end of Episode 4], it put him in a safe space for the audience, and hopefully disarmed them for what was to come,” Fergus said, “It wasn’t planned, but did start to feel like it was.”
Fergus saw Miller’s death as a nice completion for his character’s arc, which they’d compared to classic redemption films like “The Verdict” in initial conversations with Jane. “Built into a character is the end of that character,” he added. “These stories are more powerful when there’s a really strong ending.”
With Miller gone, Fergus noted that other storylines — such as Martian Marine Bobbie Draper — will take center stage as the season progresses; matching with the rhythm of the books, which tend to introduce a new core character with each installment along with the pre-established regulars, such as James Holden (Steven Strait) and his crew. And things will move fast, “now that there are a few less plates spinning,” he said. “You’re not even going to have a moment to breathe, really.”
In the meantime, rest in peace, Miller. We’ll always remember your sacrifice — and your hats.
Revisit Julie Mao’s awakening in the clip below from “Home.”