The strange saga of Spartacus — both the epic battles portrayed onscreen and the upheaval and tragedies off it — 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.
Liam McIntyre returns as Spartacus, and says viewers will notice a distinct change in the character.
“Spartacus is pretty much in commander mode,” McIntyre says. “He doesn’t take @#$% from anybody. He’s all business now. … That’s the job he has, but that’s difficult in itself, trying to be the guy that doesn’t feel is tough because by nature he’s a good human being, and that’s why he’s on this journey at all. That’s one of the things I’ve loved playing with, is how a man tries to shut himself down and finds that he can’t.”
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 — Whitfield’s illness, an unexpected but well-received prequel (Gods of the Arena), the deaths of several characters, along with various casting changes — Manu Bennett is the last original cast member. How appropriate given that his character, 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.
“We’ve become a much larger army now,” Bennett says. “There’s just a lot of decision-making that goes on in this season that’s about what is the cause? What have we done this for? There’s 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 you’re 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 we’ll feed them and take care of them and impart our rations? Crassus is coming, but we’ll treat them well. It’s like, ‘Come on, Spartacus! Are we at war, or is this some other thing that you’re doing now? Is this some disciple movement you’re creating?’”
Despite the huge jump in scope — several large-scale battle scenes populate the first four episodes made available for preview — 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. ”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. That’s 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.
“I dread the day that I realize, ‘You know what, we’ve only get x amount of time left,’” he says, “because even though it’s there you’re so busy you really haven’t had time to think about it yet. I’ve done plays for three weeks and been heartbroken for months about them. I don’t know how I’ll deal with it when it’s the thing that made my entire career and gave me so much.”
Photo: © 2012 Starz Entertainment, LLC. Credit: Matt Klitscher