HBO’s Rome ran for only 22 episodes. Divided over two seasons, the show premiered in 2005 and concluded in 2007. Yet despite its brevity, the original HBO epic left an indelible legacy—and some unfinished business.
Reports of a possible Rome movie continuing the narrative of the series sprung up shortly after its finale aired in March 2007. By itself that episode seemed to offer plenty of finality, with the character of Octavian (Simon Woods) assuming the title of “First Citizen of Rome” (emperor), and Atia (Polly Walker) taking pride in her son’s triumph, even as she quietly mourned the death of Marc Antony (James Purefoy). Even Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) got some kind of peace when he lied to the newly crowned emperor, his former friend, about Cleopatra’s son Caesarion. Pullo claimed the boy was dead, yet Pullo was raising the lad as his own. It thus also left open-ended whether viewers should believe Pullo’s similar claim that Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) likewise has died.
In 2008 Stevenson teased a Rome movie was in development, and that same year Bruno Heller, the co-creator and showrunner of Rome, confirmed he was working on a script. And it’s a script that many involved are still clearly interested in.
“I do know that Bruno has written a movie script,” McKidd tells us in 2020. “It’s sat on a shelf for a long, long time and it’s all about what happens after season 2. Fifteen years have gone by, and Vorenus didn’t die. Vorenus is alive and well but has been in hiding for many years, protecting the young boy [Caesarion], who is now a man. I still feel like we should revisit that.”
It would seem to be fortuitous since when we sat down with both McKidd and Heller, it was to mark the series’ 15th anniversary. And while the show did reach a natural ending point with Octavian becoming Augustus—a narrative exclamation point that Heller says he prefers to co-creator John Milius’ idea of taking the series into ancient Palestine and the birth of Christ—it never made good on what was originally intended to be both the show’s ending and beginning. The first scene as scripted in the pilot was originally to be about an Old Man Pullo arriving at the grave of Lucius Vorenus and inexplicably using Vorenus’ sword to take his own life.
In a previous 2017 interview, Stevenson told Den of Geek that the originally planned series finale would have then revealed Pullo killed himself because “[he] was the only person on the planet who knows the Emperor Augustus to be human… Pullo’s the only one who has that memory of him or that life. And basically [Augustus] asks him to.”
When we speak to Heller in 2020 about why we never saw that beginning (or ending) to Rome, the creator reveals that it would have amounted to a “reverse of the poison pill” for the premium cable network.
“It would have committed HBO to telling the story until Pullo got to that point. Like why is he going out there to do that? That’s why HBO cleverly said, ‘Yeah, that’s a great scene but don’t do that because.’”
Still, in the age of television revivals could there be room to explore that scene and final ending for Pullo and Vorenus in greater detail? McKidd is game, saying, “If Bruno did [the movie], I would be there, I would put everything on hold to do it. I’m very confident people like Ray would too.”
However, when we note in an email to Heller that Rome’s HBO contemporary Deadwood also just got a TV movie, he is less helpful.
“Deadwood came back more as a tribute to the brilliance of its creator rather than any commercial demand for it,” Heller says. “I’d love to do it though.”
Whether the movie happens or not, Rome’s legacy is in place. Both as the trailblazer for modern spectacle television and a series that appears only more apt in the early 21st century with its focus on a republic on the brink, and a world at war.
“I do think of that time, it was still [during] the War on Terror, and everybody was terrified,” McKidd reflects about the time Rome originally aired. “I know that I’ve had a lot of vets who have reached out over the years and said, ‘My time when I was serving, it was made so much easier by being able to watch your show.’ Because of that bond, that kind of brotherly bond between Vorenus and Pullo, that they would do anything for each other. That very much reflects service men and women, that culture.”
Not a bad legacy to carry forward, whether Pullo ever gets outside of Vorenus’ tomb or not.