Liam McIntyre as Spartacus in a promo photo for "Spartacus: War of… (Starz )
The upcoming third season of Starz’ “Spartacus,” now titled “Spartacus: War of the Damned,” will be its last, the network announced Monday.
The decision is surprising given how important the “Spartacus” franchise has been for Starz. It’s easily the network’s biggest success story, putting Starz on the map as a destination for original cable series. “War of the Damned,” currently in production in New Zealand, will debut in January 2013.
The show’s creator and executive producer, Steven S. DeKnight, said the decision was not reached lightly. “It was an extremely difficult and emotional decision for my partners and I,” he said in a press release. “Yet, in the end, the story was best served by rolling all of the remaining action and drama of Spartacus’ journey into one stunningly epic season that will be extremely satisfying for everyone who’s been along for the ride."
That definitely sounds like DeKnight, who over the past four years often has talked about serving the story in the best way possible—even if it means killing off popular characters. So for fans who are crying “off with Starz’ heads!” understand that this isn’t a cancellation, but a decision to end on a high note. "Spartacus" will no doubt end in a blaze of gory.
DeKnight told Mo Ryan at Huffington Post that when they looked at Spartacus’ history, once the rebellion began it sort of became a repetitive cycle of Spartacus wins battle, Romans win battle over and over, only with a new Roman senator waging the war each time.
“So we thought, why not condense the best elements of the story, condense some characters, condense events and just give 10 of the best rip-roaring episodes we could to bring the tale of ‘Spartacus’ to a conclusion,” he said.
“Spartacus: War of the Damned” will open a few months after the defeat of Roman commander Gaius Claudius Glaber. Spartacus and his rebels have scored victories against the Romans and increased their ranks to more than 30,000 former slaves.
The series, which will end after three full seasons and a six-episode prequel arc, has faced its share of challenges.
The “Spartacus” franchise began in January 2010 with “Blood and Sand,” breaking new ground for series TV with its stunning graphic-novel visual and storytelling style. Andy Whitfield’s soulful portrayal of Spartacus grounded the spectacular tone of the show and contributed mightily to its success. But shortly after the season ended, Whitfield was diagnosed with cancer and Starz made the decision to delay the second season.
Instead, DeKnight and his production partners Rob Tapert, Josh Donen and Sam Raimi, along with Starz, decided to produce the six-episode prequel “Gods of the Arena,” which debuted in January 2011.
Whitfield seemed to be OK after treatment, and even attended San Diego Comic Con to promote the prequel even though he wasn’t in it. But he fell ill again and decided to leave the franchise, giving his blessing for the production to recast the lead role before he passed away. Liam McIntyre stepped into the role, and “Vengeance” debuted in January 2012, becoming the best and most successful season of the franchise.
DeKnight has promised “War of the Damned” will be a “badass final season.”
“We certainly could have continued for a few more seasons and stretched it out, but we really wanted to end high and not feel like we were treading water,” he told Eric Goldman at IGN, talked about the challenges the show has faced. “The whole show was a huge risk from the start for Starz, and it was another huge risk when I decided to try to keep the show going after Andy’s passing. Any normal studio would have just cancelled the show at that point and not risk the financial downside of it not working. But Starz, thankfully, really stuck by the show, and they really wanted it to be told all the way to the end. They didn’t want to cheat the viewers and just suddenly pull the plug. So they gave us this opportunity to wrap up the story, and we’re certainly taking that opportunity and running with it. This is by far the biggest season we’ve ever attempted.”
Below is a teaser clip for “War of the Damned” and the full press release from Starz.