The strange saga of Spartacus â both the epic battles portrayed onscreen and the upheaval and tragedies off it â comes to a close with a third and final season beginning Friday on Starz. Spartacus: War of the Damned (which several cast members say is a wholly appropriate title) follows the former gladiator as he leads a growing slave rebellion against the Roman Empire. As history points out, the Romans resorted to sending out famed General Crassus to once and for all quash the revolt, making it Spartacus’ last stand.
âSpartacus is pretty much in commander mode,â McIntyre says. âHe doesnât take @#$% from anybody. Heâs all business now. âŠ Thatâs the job he has, but thatâs difficult in itself, trying to be the guy that doesnât feel is tough because by nature heâs a good human being, and thatâs why heâs on this journey at all. Thatâs one of the things Iâve loved playing with, is how a man tries to shut himself down and finds that he canât.â
McIntyre took over the lead role after the tragic death of original star Andy Whitfield following Season 1. He’s more comfortable on set now, saying, “I know what to expect, and what the situation is.”
Throughout all the show’s trials and tribulations â Whitfield’s illness, an unexpected but well-received prequel (Gods of the Arena), the deaths of several characters, along with various casting changes â Manu Bennett is the last original cast member. How appropriate given that his character, Â Crixus, once prided himself on being the last gladiator standing. In Season 3, Crixus returns alongside his beloved Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) now a fierce warrior in her own right. In addition to fighting hordes of Romans, Crixus also must deal with the conflicts that come with being Spartacus’ not-always-willing second-in-command.
“Weâve become a much larger army now,” Bennett says. “Thereâs just a lot of decision-making that goes on in this season thatâs about what is the cause? What have we done this for? Thereâs a time where Spartacus begins to show his mercy to the enemy, and the reason why he shows his mercy to the enemy is because he believes fundamentally that everybody has the right for freedom and equality. At that point, when youâre in the middle of a war, not every general is going to agree with that strategy. We bring a city to the ground, but now weâll feed them and take care of them and impart our rations? Crassus is coming, but weâll treat them well. Itâs like, âCome on, Spartacus! Are we at war, or is this some other thing that youâre doing now? Is this some disciple movement youâre creating?â”
Despite the huge jump in scope â several large-scale battle scenes populate the first four episodes made available for preview â writer/producer Steven S. DeKnight says War of the Damnedmade for the show’s least tumultuous season, production-wise. For the viewers, however, it’s going to be tough sledding emotionally.
“It’s a brutal, brutal season,” DeKnight says, unable to hide his devilish grin.Â “One of the things we really wanted to explore is that gray area of morality. What are the Romans willing to do to bring Spartacus down? On the other side of it, what are the rebels willing to do? The rebels within their camp do horrible things. Historically, they basically raped and pillaged their way through the republic. It was not a pretty sight. No one was safe, and we definitely touch on that. Thatâs the great thing about Starz, they let us show the dark side of the heroes. They do some pretty @#$%ed-up things this season.”
For McIntyre, whom I spoke to while the show was still in production, it hadn’t quite sunk in yet that his time as Spartacus was coming to an end.
âI dread the day that I realize, âYou know what, weâve only get x amount of time left,ââ he says, âbecause even though itâs there youâre so busy you really havenât had time to think about it yet. Iâve done plays for three weeks and been heartbroken for months about them. I donât know how Iâll deal with it when itâs the thing that made my entire career and gave me so much.â
Â Photo:Â Â© 2012 Starz Entertainment, LLC. Credit: Matt Klitscher