BEWARE: Major spoilers
The epic Spartacus finale brought the expected bloodshed, but also tears.
“Everybody was a big puddle,” Spartacus creator Steven DeKnight tells TVGuide.com. “I still can’t watch the finale without tearing up. … But yeah, it’s very emotional, not only because of the story, but also the whole experience.”
That experience involved two actors playing the titular hero. Original star Andy Whitfield bowed out after the first season to treat his non-Hodgkin lymphoma. And although he made an uncredited voice appearance during the six-part prequel series Gods of the Arena, newcomer Liam McIntyre stepped in to portray the Thracian gladiator-turned-freedom fighter for the final two seasons. Whitfield died in 2011.
“Andy Whitfield was just a revelation that came out of nowhere,” DeKnight recalls. “We auditioned him over and over again. Nobody was a 100 percent sure about Andy and the role. I remember the first day of shooting when he showed up with his wig and his armor and we started shooting, it was like, ‘We definitely made the right choice. He’s amazing.’ It was a tragedy that really just shades everything we’ve done since when he got sick and unfortunately passed away. I’m so happy that he was given the chance to show the world what he could do.
“And then Liam had the thankless job of stepping into some very big sandals,” DeKnight continues. “From the start, I told Liam, ‘Look, I’m not writing the character any differently … but you’ll bring your own thing. You don’t have to try to be like Andy. That’s a losing proposition. You’ve got to be your own guy. You’ve got to bring your own thing to it.’ Obviously nobody wanted to see that role recast. We wish it all could have gone differently, but Liam did a fantastic job probably under the most extreme circumstances that an actor can ever be in. I think his work in the finale is the best work he’s done. He kept building and building. And there were moments in the finale that I felt like it was so much on that same Andy Whitfield level of performance that I thought it was a great tribute.”
Check out what else DeKnight had to say about the epic and heartbreaking finale. [Warning: Spoilers!]
What did you intend for that fictional meeting between Crassus (Simon Merrells) and Spartacus before the battle happened?
Steven DeKnight: This meeting with Crassus is actually the first scene I ever wrote for the series as an audition piece for Spartacus. We all liked the scene so much that we said, “Well, we’ve got to put that scene in the finale.” But by the time we had gotten to the finale, a lot of the details had changed. Originally this scene was really centered on Crassus having gained such a great respect for Spartacus, he gives Spartacus the option of slipping away with 30 of his men, but everyone else will die. Spartacus says, “No.” That was the original intent of the scene. It really felt to me that you couldn’t do an entire season of these two armies without the two generals meeting. There was something about Crassus wanting to talk to the man that he had chased for so long and that had caused him a grievous wound in his mind. I think it would have been disappointing to not see these two have words.
That also set up their head-to-head battle later. Was it deliberate that you made them both dimachaeri — fighters who hold two blades/swords?
DeKnight: Yes, I love things that come full circle and reference back to something else. The moment you see Crassus training, he’s training in the style that Spartacus became famous for [on the show], specifically to fight Spartacus, to prepare himself if that ever happened.
During the battle, we saw the Romans use the testudo formation. How much Ancient Roman warfare was used or limited by time, budget or logistics?
DeKnight: We wanted to use as much as possible, and of course there is always large dramatic license taken. For instance, they didn’t have catapults back then. They had ballistae, but they didn’t have catapults, but visually we needed some catapults. This is something that we did back last season where Glaber (Craig Parker) shows up with a catapult, although historically it came a bit later. But with the testudo, we wanted to put in as many things as we could that gave it that real authentic flavor.
Another distinction I noticed is that Spartacus’ side had far more ingenuity and tricks going on in their warfare, whereas the Romans were far more straightforward. Why?
DeKnight: Yes, when it comes down to actually facing the Roman legions, they were notorious, much like the British — line up and overwhelm you with numbers. And Spartacus having fought with the Romans as welll as against them, knew a lot of the strategies and could use them to his advantage. The only way they had any kind of chance was to be sneakier.
I know that historically, no one found Spartacus’ body. What led you to the decision to not have him die in battle but in the mountains?
DeKnight: It was purely for dramatic purposes. There was a lot of discussion with some having a strong feeling that he should die on the battlefield and die as a warrior and not limp away. And I said, “Yeah, I totally get that, but you have to have those dramatic, final words with Spartacus, and you can’t have that on the battlefield.” You need something. You need a ray of hope at the end that you won’t get on the battlefield. The compromise is that yes, he should not leave the battlefield willingly, he should be dragged off because he’s dying and he can’t fight because he asks for his sword in his final moments. But really I wanted to pay homage to history, that his body was never found, but definitely needed that final dramatic scene with his last words.
Speaking of famous last words, I have to ask about Lugo’s (Barry Duffield) last words: “F— your mothers!” while being burned to a crisp and fighting the whole time…
DeKnight: [Laughs] Lugo went out with flair. It’s interesting — in the earlier drafts of the script, there’s a whole middle section that we ended up cutting out where Spartacus lures in part of Crassus’ legion to what they think is Spartacus’ camp, and it’s empty but drenched in oil. Spartacus sets the whole place on fire and destroys a large chunk of Crassus’ army. Unfortunately, it added to 15 minutes to the runtime, was too expensive and ultimately not really necessary. But in that middle section, Lugo gets set on fire and dies the exact same way. The only thing that really survived from that section is setting Lugo on fire and dying that way.
In contrast, Saxa’s (Ellen Hollman) last words were somewhat tender, but in German, so once again, Gannicus (Dustin Clare) can’t understand her.
DeKnight: Yes, that’s the irony. It was a bit of a nod to my Joss Whedon days. There was a fantastic Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, “Fool for Love,” if you’re familiar with that. Spike builds a slayer and she’s Chinese and she says something about, “Tell my mother.” And he says, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” But the sentiment — what I really wanted to go for there was definitely the sentiment that despite Saxa being cavalier about their relationship and them separating, there is a deeper love that she has for Gannicus. And he does have real feelings for her. I think we see in that final moment. He may not understand her exact words, but I think he gets the point.
Sadly, Naevia’s (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) death, with the sword plunged downward through her spine is rough, without any loving words. Was this deliberately violent since she no longer has Crixus to say farewell to?
DeKnight: Yes, very much. And again, that sword comes into play. Naevia gets the sword back from Tiberius (Christian Antidormi) that killed Crixus (Manu Bennett), and that’s the same sword that she dies by. It’s cursed! Because of the story line, there was no fading off into the sunset for Naevia. She was so damaged and brutalized that she was going to basically conquer Rome or die trying. There was not middle ground. She goes out like a gladiator, which is a little nod that we wanted to do — on her knees with a sword coming down into them. It was a nod to her becoming a real warrior.
Poor Gannicus. Earlier in the episode, he says, “I’m no martyr on cross,” which of course is a cruel foreshadowing because he is literally crucified at the end. Fans are going to be angry about this one. Why did you decide to make him a martyr who had to suffer this kind of death?
DeKnight: I think it’s the perfect for him because here’s the guy who said, “I’m not part of this cause” for so long. And then he does commit to it and he is one of the people who gets nailed to the cross. I think it’s very symbolic. That and the final scene with Spartacus are the final two powerhouses of the episode. It’s pretty dramatic
As Gannicus was dying, he also had the visions of Oenomaus (Peter Mensah) and being in the arena again. What was that all about?
DeKnight: Gannicus has said on numerous occasions about greeting Oenomaus and his wife in the afterlife. And it felt right for him to see Oenomaus right before he actually dies. And then he’s always missed the arena. You see that in Episode 9 when he talks about the fighting and how much he enjoys being in the arena. It was a brilliant suggestion by Rick Jacobson, the director, to transition to the final moment of believing that he is in the arena before he dies.
Before getting to Kore’s (Jenna Lind) death — what was her thinking when she returned to Crassus? Did she think she’d be risking her life?
DeKnight: She definitely imagined that she’d be risking her life, but she does something that is really selfless. She gives herself up for the 500 rebels. And I think deep in her heart, she wants nothing more than to be forgiven by Crassus. She truly does love him, and he truly does love her.
I think having Kore crucified also is a surprising move on Crassus’ part. Even while dying and in excruciating pain, does she agree with his decision to punish her in this way?
DeKnight: Yes, and Crassus recalls a line that she says to him earlier in the season, “You’re a good man who does what he must.” And he basically says the same thing, that he does what he must here. It’s a no-win situation for Crassus. She was a known collaborator with the rebels. He had to make an example out of her, even though it breaks his heart. There was no good ending there.
It was a relief though that one couple stayed together and lived — “Nagron.” How was it decided that Nasir (Pana Hema-Taylor) and Agron (Dan Feuerriegel) would get the happy ending?
DeKnight: Nagron lives! There was a lot of debate about who should live at the end. Some people thought it should be Naevia because she was one of the characters who started at the very beginning. My feeling though was that Naevia without Crixus doesn’t feel right. She should go. And it goes to that thing I wanted to do with that ray of hope — even in defeat, there’s some sense of victory. I thought it was important to have a loving couple make it out of this. Besides Crixus and Naevia, the Agron-Nasir romance was the longest-running in the series. It just felt right to have those two make it out… after some close calls.
Switching gears, there are a few more burning questions from the rest of the season/series. Are these people impervious to the cold? I thought it was just that the rebels were poor, but the rich Romans barely wore anything out in the snow either.
DeKnight: With the snowy pass [this season], some rebels are more covered than others. And I’ve read a lot of things saying, “Why aren’t the Romans wearing more clothing?” Basically, our historical consultants told us, “Look, they had these cloaks, and that was it.” That was your cover. They had these cloaks and that was your all-weather protection: That was your tent, that was your sleeping bag. That was it. I guess they were just a tougher breed.
Also, did they heal easier back then?
DeKnight: That’s always a sliding scale. That also bothers me sometimes. I try in the scripts to write in a recovery for a wound, like Laeta (Anna Hutchinson) doesn’t pop back up after she gets speared in the side. I remember in Season 1 when Crixus fought [the giant] Theokoles (Reuben de Jong), he was laid up for like half a season. And sometimes you just have to move things along.
You had Tiberius violate Caesar (Todd Lasance). That took some chutzpah! What was the decision to write that in, to have the legendary warrior leader of ancient Rome be raped?
DeKnight: At the beginning of the season, it was actually reversed. We had planned for Caesar to discover what Tiberius had done [raping Kore], and Caesar was going to have him raped in retaliation and to teach him a lesson about what it feels like to be violated and to put him in his place. As we got towards Episode 8 though, we realized that one of the problems with the Caesar character because he is such a historical character is that he really didn’t suffer any loss during this whole ordeal. He started out kind of on top and he ended up on top.
So we pulled something out of history. There are rumors that Caesar may have had a same-sex affair … to secure ships, that he got this alliance going with sexual favors. So that was half a jumping-off point. But the real jumping-off point was that we were reading about Roman history and our historical consultants saying that it was not uncommon for the conquering Romans to rape the men of the armies that they conquered. It’s a show of power. It’s not a sexual act. So the idea came up that, “What if Tiberius is the one that rapes Caesar?” That stirred the pot nicely because then you’ve got the whole revenge thing going and it’s incredibly unexpected. It’s very shocking.
“My C— Rages On” — It’s such an unexpected, bawdy and fun song. I know I look forward to hearing it every season. What has the reception to that been like?
DeKnight: [Laughs] My finest moment! I’ve had several rock bands and heavy metal bands sending me messages, saying, “We’re going to do a version of ‘My C— Rages On’!” I’m still waiting for someone to send me one. When we did it the first season because I wanted some sort of battle song kind of feel, and it kind of caught on. And then we made the conscious decision, “Well, we’re going to put it in every single season. We’re going to slip it in there somewhere.” It’s just something that caught on. It cracks me up every time I hear it.
Is there any news or movement on the possible Caesar spin-off?
DeKnight: I honestly couldn’t tell you. I’m not involved with the Caesar spin-off at the moment. I’m eyeball-deep with military and aliens at the moment.
Speaking of that, how far are you then on the sci-fi series you’re developing, Incursion? I know you’re waiting for the green light on it…
DeKnight: We are breaking Episode 7 out of eight. So we’ve been writing scripts and [doing] a massive amount of design work as you can imagine creating this world. So hopefully we can get the green light soon and be able to go into production.
Do you listen to anything or watch to get into that Spartacus mode of speech while writing?
DeKnight: Not really. I know a lot of writers tend to listen to music when they write. I’m easily distracted so I listen to nothing except the voices in my own head. But it was interesting, there were so many bits and pieces over the years of working on the show that I had jotted down that I knew I wanted in the finale that really informed what I was doing. Very early on, I knew that I wanted to end with Spartacus dying at the foot of the mountains right before what’s remaining of his people escape. That I’d known for several years. It was the beginning of War of the Damned that I jotted down on a little scrap piece of paper, “There is no greater victory than to fall from this world a free man.” So I knew that those would probably be Spartacus’ final words.
It’s almost like you had created this new way of speaking. We’ve heard and read people saying, “Gratitude!” instead of “Thank you.”
DeKnight: I could not be happier about that. But I’ve got to tell you when we first started working on the show, there was strong opposition to the way that people spoke. There was a lot of concern that nobody would understand what anybody was saying. I felt very strongly that it needed something to give it a sense of antiquity and uniqueness. I’ve always said, “It doesn’t matter if everybody understands every single thing that’s being said. As long as the emotions are clear, that’s fine.” So I’m very happy that Starz let me do that. That said, I will never do it again. I cannot tell you how difficult and what a pain in the ass it is. It’s not natural and it’s not natural for me. It makes writing these scripts 10 times harder. But I’m very glad I did it once. Don’t expect any kind of that thing in Incursion. I’m not going down that quasi-Shakespearean [path] at least not for a long time.
Is it surreal that this period in your life, Spartacus, is over?
DeKnight: It’s very bittersweet, definitely. This was my first chance at spearheading a show coming out of the Joss Whedon camp and working on a couple of other things throughout the years. I never expected the experience to be like this and I never expected this show to catch on. I’m extremely proud of what we did. I think we really pushed some limits in TV, and not just in sex and violence, but I think we pushed some limits technologically what could be done on a television show, on quick turnaround longform. And I think we helped to push same-sex relationships and give it a different spin, where in our world from the start, I always wanted race and sexual orientation not be an issue with anybody. It’s all based on who you are. None of that other stuff matters. Which was a great opportunity to do on a TV show. I hope to carry some of that forward with other work that I do.
Will you miss Spartacus? What did you think of the finale? What were your favorite moments?