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‘Spartacus’ begins final season on Starz

Creator Steven S. DeKnight arrives premiere Starz’s “Spartacus: War Of The Damned” last month Los Angeles. The series is its

Creator Steven S. DeKnight arrives at the premiere of Starz’s “Spartacus: War Of The Damned” last month in Los Angeles. The series is in its final season. | GETTY IMAGES

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The legend of Spartacus, the warrior-slave who led a bloody but doomed rebellion against the Roman Republic, took root in history more than 2,000 years ago. Starz ends its contribution to the legacy this season with the final episodes of its original series about a gladiator who became a formidable rebel leader.

Initially, creator Steven DeKnight hoped the series would run five to seven seasons. He now says ending with Season 3, “War of the Damned” (8 p.m. Fridays), is the best outcome. He’s also grateful the show didn’t end with the death of Andy Whitfield, the Australian actor who starred in 2010’s Season 1, “Blood and Sand,” before leaving the series with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“Ending it is bittersweet,” says DeKnight, “but I’m happy that we continued because we had the chance to tell the whole story. And it was very important to Andy that the story should be told. He really loved the show and wanted it to go on.”

When Whitfield was diagnosed, Season 2 was postponed and production shifted to a prequel, “Gods of the Arena,” to give Whitfield time to recover. Liam McIntyre was ultimately chosen to assume the role in “Vengeance,” Season 2, which aired last year; Whitfield died in 2011.

DeKnight says wrapping up will keep the show from becoming repetitive or veering too far from the facts. “In ‘War of the Damned” we probably stray about as far from history as we have in past seasons,” DeKnight says. “Most of it is based on things that actually happened, but to get it all to work in a dramatic way through 10 episodes, we had to shuffle a lot of events.”

Season 3 picks up months after “Vengeance” (which averaged about 1.5 million viewers for premiere episodes) ends; Spartacus’ army numbers tens of thousands, and continues to beat the Romans on every bloody battlefield. Rome is determined to break the rebellion.

Despite the spectacular battle scenes, the major story throughout “Spartacus” has centered on the evolution of its hero, says McIntyre. In “Blood and Sand,” “Andy was the reluctant slave trying to lash out against the horrible things done to him,” he says. “‘Vengeance’ was about him finding his new place in the world, the responsibility given to him.”

Now, McIntyre says. “He’s absolutely the commander-in-chief of this ragtag band of thousands, this army that’s trying to do the impossible and take over and destroy the undefeatable armies of Rome.”

To rout Spartacus, Roman general Marcus Crassus will join forces with the man whose name is synonymous with ancient Rome: Julius Caesar.

DeKnight asked the show’s historical consultants how much of a break with history it would be to weave Caesar into the plot. “I was shocked when they said not at all,” DeKnight says. “Caesar is the most written-about Roman, but this is one tiny sliver of history where not a lot is known about what he’s doing. Lots of historians think he more than likely had some part in the war against Spartacus.”

Chosen to play the 20-something Caesar is Australian actor Todd Lasance, who says he enjoyed bringing the young emperor-to-be to life. “That’s the exciting part,” Lasance says. “There are not going to be any comparisons, and I get to delve into a Caesar who hasn’t been explored before on screen. It’s a chance to set a new benchmark, I would hope.”

Although Starz won’t comment on any sort of spinoff, the story of Caesar is a series Lasance would consider, and one DeKnight and McIntyre would love to watch. “I know there’s the rumor, and I don’t know anything officially, but I hope that happens,” says McIntyre. “Todd’s got this sort of Brad Pitt thing about him, and I’d watch any show with him in it.”

Gannett News Service

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