Jonathan Frakes was lured back to “Star Trek: Picard” by the third season’s showrunner, Terry Matalas, who promised the actor a version of Riker that had lived a life. Frakes, it seems, had no interest in playing the same kind of jovial cowboy he had been in the past, preferring to play a slightly more stern, wounded, aged version of the character. It was important to Matalas to make sure that Frakes liked his role, as the “Picard” story required his extensive presence. As an actor, Frakes appreciated the variety of emotions he was given to play. Frakes recalled:
“[Matalas] said, ‘I want to make sure that you’re all-in because Riker is going to be a big part of this. They’re going to be a big part of this. They’re breaking in the writers’ room right now.’ He wrote the best s*** Riker ever had to do! Riker is in conflict with Picard, Riker takes the piss out of Worf. Riker and Troi have a very emotional reunion. Our marriage was having problems.”
It’s even brought up in dialogue that Riker is less willing to take a massive risk in a dangerous starship battle because he lost a child to disease and had other family members to lose. There was more at stake for Riker. Picard had only just discovered he had an adult son, and was finally willing to be cavalier rather than his old, judicious self. Riker was now the more prudent one. The swap in the characters’ dynamic was delicious and expertly written. It also gave Riker a chance to yell at Picard and tell him that he was out of line. That moment likely gave many Trekkies an intense pang. Riker had never spoken to Picard that way before!