It will be the beginning of the end for “Spartacus” on Friday, Jan. 25 when “War of the Damned” premieres the first episode of the final season of the gladiator series in which the rebels engage in bloody skirmish after skirmish as they prepare for a full-out war with Rome.
According to star Liam McIntyre, Spartacus is a lot more no nonsense this year as a man with a mission. He now has the chance to start a new life, even as he mourns the one that he lost when he was taken a slave. In addition, he strongly feels that his fight is not just about personal vengeance any longer, but that he can make a difference in the lives of others as well — if he can win his battle against Rome.
“It’s about a year later, almost in the midst of this war, this full scale rebellion that was made so famous,” McIntyre says. “He’s not the questioning guy that he has been in the past about what he should be doing and how he should do it. He’s a kick-ass, take-names kind of guy now. And he’s been a lot of fun to play.”
But the interesting thing about this final season is that it is not a clear case of the rebels are the good guys and that Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance) and Marcus Crassus (Simon Merrells), are the bad guys. As McIntyre points out, “They just happen to be fighting the hero, so you’ve got to put them in that pile.”
For everything else you need to know about “Spartacus: War of the Damned?” XfinityTV.com got the inside scoop on a conference call with Executive Producer Steven S. DeKnight.
No. 1: Epic battles: There are several epic battles in this final season with spectacular scope. In fact, “War of the Damned” begins at the tail end of a battle, which has a great reveal of Spartacus coming up over a hill, charging on a horse. Then, there is a running battle mid-season, which builds to the conclusion, featuring the biggest battle yet for the “Spartacus” series. “The battles are fantastic,” DeKnight tells XfinityTV.com. “But more importantly, just like the early days of this show with the gladiator fights, the important thing for us was, ‘What’s the emotion behind the battle? Who wants what? Who needs what? What are the stakes for the characters?’ Not just big fights. That was a tricky part this season because the battles are so gigantic, but I think we managed to nail that one.”
No. 2: What is Caesar’s role?: In addition to Crassus, the producers wanted to add another element to the story and hatched the idea of fictionalizing a story about a young Julius Caesar before he came to power. It was historically known that Caesar was fighting in foreign wars around that time and that he had no money, so those elements matched well with Crassus. Plus, it was a story about Caesar not much told. “So then we brought in our [experts] and said, ‘How much would we destroy history by having Caesar as part of this war against Spartacus?,’” DeKnight recalls. “We were all very surprised when they told us that we wouldn’t be destroying history at all. In fact, this was the one small part of history that very little was known about Caesar… And there are many historians that thought it was probable that Caesar was part of this campaign against Spartacus and more than likely served under Crassus. So that gave us just enough to hang our hat on.”
No. 3: Other new characters — Kore and Tiberius: Kore (Jenna Lind) is Crassus’ trusted and beloved house slave and plays a very large role in explaining who Crassus is. “I really wanted to find a way to humanize Crassus. He’s not a monster; he is not a two dimensional villain. He has feelings, and desires, and he has a heart,” DeKnight says. Then he adds, “He is not a guy that feels like all slaves should be ground under the heel. He, in this time period I believe, was the largest slave owner in Rome. And he didn’t just own slaves that did manual labor. He owned slaves that were scholars and architects. It was like a labor force. He made money off this because he would rent out his experts to other Romans to do work for them.”
Tiberius (Christian Antidormi) is Crassus’ eldest son. He’s going to war for the first time with his father. He wants nothing more than to prove himself, but Tiberius is living in the shadow of Julius Caesar.
“That’s the other dynamic I thought was really important for Crassus,” DeKnight says. “Is to show this father-son relationship and that balance between needing to guide your son in the right path, in the Roman way. But also this struggle … you want to be tough but you want to also show love. That constant struggle for Crassus is something that plays out through the entire season.”
No. 4: The gay element to the show — Agron and Nasir: There have been gay characters on “Spartacus” previously, but “War of the Damned” is the first time audiences will watch a relationship develop from the very beginning and see the two fall in love. Of course, their relationship doesn’t go smoothly. There are a couple of curve balls thrown at them. But theirs is one of the relationships that DeKnight sees as a cornerstone of this season. “The reaction overall to our same sex relationships, it’s been both positive and negative,” DeKnight says. “Just like any cross section of society, there’s a lot of people who do not have a problem with it — that think the characters are wonderful and the storyline is beautiful. And there are segments out there that just freak out whenever you even mention such a thing… with some people, we haven’t reached that point yet where everything is acceptable.”
No. 5: The end of the show: The decision to end the show was a mutual one between STARZ and the producers, according to DeKnight. A lot of factors went into it, but a big part of the decision was that DeKnight didn’t see a way to keep the story going without completely jettisoning history, which he didn’t want to do. So the decision was made to end on a high note. That said, the Kirk Douglas movie version of “Spartacus” shows him being crucified, but, according to DeKnight, the truth is that Spartacus’ body was never found, giving this version some leeway in telling the story, so expect some surprises at the end. “I have a long history of ripping hearts out,” DeKnight says. “So, yeah, it’s a gut-wrenching finale. But I’m so proud of the series finale. It’s so hard to end a series, but I think everyone did such a fantastic job on this. The trick was, how do you end it? … We wanted to [keep] as close to history as possible. So the challenge was, how do we have that ending but still make it a victory? The last episode is called ‘Victory’ and it’s a bit of an ironic title, because it really explores how the rebels gained victory in defeat… No one comes out of this clean at the end. In true ‘Spartacus’ fashion, it’s all very grey at the end. But there is a powerful, I think, uplifting message at the end.”
“Spartacus: War of the Damned” premieres Friday, January 25 at 9/8c on STARZ.