Liam McIntyre & Steven DeKnight on Spartacus: War Of The Damned

The creator and star of Starz' Spartacus, which returns in the US tonight, spill the beans on the new season...

Contains potential spoilers for Spartacus: War of the Damned.

Tonight sees the premiere of Spartacus‘ final season, War of the Damned, and to mark the occasion, creator Steven DeKnight and lead Liam McIntryre gave a round table interview about what to expect from the new series.

We’ve selected a few choice morsels from the lengthy chat below:

When was the decision to end the show made in terms of work on this upcoming season? Had production begun?

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Steven S. DeKnight: No, thankfully we knew at the end of Spartacus: Vengeance when we were still writing the show. We were writing the last couple of episodes. And we knew there was a 99% chance that the next season would be our last season. So it gave us plenty of lead time to plan the end of Vengeance. So we could springboard into War of the Damned.

So thankfully we had, you know, it’s a very rare thing in television – we had plenty of time to figure out where we were going to go. The only question was how many episodes we were going to do. And we went through a lot of different variations. I mean everything from let’s do eight episodes so we can spend more money on each episode, to how about sixteen episodes and we’ll air it in two parts. But ultimately we thought that ten episodes would give you the most bang for your buck.

And I personally like The Princess Bride, let’s cut out all the boring parts and just give ten fantastic episodes. And hopefully we have. 

Was the decision to end the show yours or the network’s? 

SD: It was a combination. It really was. There were a lot of factors going into it. My original plan was five to seven seasons. Then we got to the war years, and the more and more I researched, the more and more all of the things that happened in the war were incredibly interesting. Also incredibly expensive and somewhat repetitive. 

Spartacus and his band of rebels didn’t exactly have a dramatic three act structure to what they were doing. They were all over the place. They fought among themselves, they split apart, they came back together, they split apart, they went North, they went South, they went East, they went West, they went back North, they went back South. It was really a – when you read it, you really get the sense that there was no plan. It was just, you know, they were out and about. 

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And then it was one wave after another of Romans going after them and Romans getting defeated. So I really struggled with how to lay this out in an entertaining fashion for two or three more seasons without completely jettisoning history. And I didn’t want to completely turn my back on history and just make it fictional. 

So it was a group decision, and a bold one I think for Starz. Everything they’ve done with this show has been a bold choice. But to end – and I kept saying, you know, look we would rather end this show on a high note at its most popular than drag it out for a couple more seasons. And have the audience start to fall away and people starting to get bored. And I totally agreed with that. I thought it was a great opportunity to end it and really end it strong. 

Given the real history of Spartacus, should viewers prepare themselves for a downer ending? 

SD: Well, you know, I have a long history of ripping hearts out. So, yeah, it’s a gut wrenching finale. It’s so hard to end a series, but I think everyone did such a fantastic job on this. It is a beautiful, powerful, emotional ending. And the trick was, how do you end it – and this was something we talked about before we shot the first episode of the series, was what are we going to do at the end? 

I mean, everybody knows how it ends. It would be like doing a movie about the Titanic and the Titanic doesn’t sink. 

What can you tell us about Caesar’s entry into this show? How big of a threat is he going to be for our “heroes”? 

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SD: Oh he’s a huge threat. Early on we had a discussion in the writers’ room, you know, looking at the villain side. We had Crassus which is fantastic. But we felt like we needed another element to bring into it and we hatched this idea, “Well what about Caesar? What about a young Caesar?” You know, really before he came to power. 

We knew historically that Caesar of this time period was very much the order and he was a fighter. He was fighting in foreign wars, and he had this fantastic Julian name, but he was also broke. And those elements really matched well with Crassus. And we were also very interested in seeing the early days of Crassus and Caesar, before they joined together with Pompey and overthrew the Republic. We thought that would be a really great story to tell. And you usually don’t see that side of the story in movies and television shows about Caesar. It’s usually after they’ve overthrown the Republic, or right around the time they overthrow the Republic.

From the moment you first see him on screen, it is a different interpretation of Caesar that I think the audience has ever seen. And I think very right for this time period. 

How has Spartacus changed going into War of ohe Damned

Liam McIntyre: He’s a reluctant slave who has the mission to regain his life, essentially. That’s clearly defined in the second season that he’s lost his old life and he’s got the start of this new one as they take on this unique new responsibility that is given to him. Which is, you have the real opportunity to make a difference to so many lives, is that the person you are? And he sort of works that out. 

But now it’s about a year later almost in the midst of this war, this full scale rebellion that was made so famous. 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 no nonsense, kick-ass, take names kind of guy now. And he’s been a lot of fun to play. 

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It’s a great season for Spartacus this year because he gets to look at the rebels in a different way. Up until now he’s just been trying to get his own personal vengeance and trying to free these people that look to him for leadership. But now he’s seeing that freedom, there’s a different shape to the beast of his rebellion. Are they as good as he wants them to be? Are they doing what he thinks is right? Are they doing the right thing, you know? There are a lot of questions raised about who the good guy is in this series. 

Is there a point where Spartacus is going to say, “This is too far? These people are innocent, we need to stop.” 

LM: All I can say is that the thing I like about Spartacus is he isn’t necessarily a cut and dried hero character. He’s aware of the world around him and the fact that it’s not a pretty Disneyworld. It’s not something with a Spielberg ending. And he has to take stock of what does he want, what’s it for, and what is he prepared to sacrifice to get it? 

And, yeah, there will be many times that the Romans and his own rebels make him look at what he’s created and question whether or not it’s okay what he is doing and the people around him are doing. Both sides. To tell you exactly how he decides that would be ruining the story, but it is part of what makes this character so fascinating. 

He’s not always the good guy. And some of the things that make him the hero I like to think he is, are those difficult decisions that aren’t always good guy decisions. And so when he does fight, and fight the good fight, it’s more important. So he will be tested more than he ever has been on what is he doing, and why is he doing it. 

Can we expect more epic battles in War of the Damned

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SD: Sure, there are many epic battles. We start off at the tail end of one that we see in the trailer, a great reveal of Spartacus coming up over a hill charging on a horse. And we really wanted to use that image, you know, this season is different. The scope is just spectacular. 

There’s a running battle that happens mid-season that I think is pretty damn cool. And, of course, we build to an epic conclusion. I think the biggest battle that we’ve ever attempted, which is truly spectacular and I’m still scratching my head how we actually pulled that one off. 

But yeah, the battles are fantastic. 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, you know, big fights. And that was a tricky part this season because the battles are so gigantic, but I think we managed to nail that one. 

The full interview is available to read at Cinema Blend.

Spartacus: War of the Damned starts tonight in the US on Starz.

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