Starz' epic "Spartacus" franchise goes into battle for its final season when "War of the Damned" begins Friday, an experience that has been bittersweet for series creator Steven S. DeKnight.
"I'm sad to see it end," he told me recently. "On the other hand, I think it's such a good ending that if it's got to be sent off into the night, this was definitely the way to do it. I think we end on a high note."
"War of the Damned," which premieres at 8 p.m. CT Jan. 25, is the third proper season of the franchise that also included a prequel called "Gods of the Arena." You can learn more about the franchise's history in the retrospective video above. DeKnight politely declined to rank the seasons.
"I can't rate my children!" he said, laughing. "I love all my children."
DeKnight certainly demonstrated that love during our phone conversation as he has other times we've chatted since the series began. The guy obviously loves his job, and loves that viewers enjoy the show.
In the interview excerpts below, DeKnight talks about "War of the Damned" and its new Roman characters, Crassus and Caesar, how Spartacus is handling being the leader of an army, and what special challenges were involved in writing the final season and the finale.
With this being the final season, how did you approach it once you started writing? Did you know that when you started writing?
Yes. We were 99 percent sure at the end of last season that this would be the final season. And we knew this would be the final season before we started working on it, which is great because we had an opportunity to really map it out. So basically our plan was to, historically, take everything that happens and condense it and press it, move a few events around to make it a bit more linear and follow that path.
There were several waves of increasingly powerful Romans that went after Spartacus. We wanted to take, basically, the juiciest bits of their stories and give them to Crassus. So we had one clear antagonist through the season. So a student of history will see very, very many bits and pieces of this Spartacus War sprinkled throughout the season in a bit of a different configuration. Not everybody will die when historically they say they die and battles and locations have been moved around for dramatic purposes.
I'd like to say we're historically adjacent this season.
Was Crassus in history the one who...
Yes, Crassus was the last one sent after Spartacus. Historically, there's no mention that Caesar was a part of the war. And this is an interesting bit in the show. We account for the idea of having Caesar work with Crassus, since Crassus and Caesar are very closely aligned along with Pompey later in history when they overthrow the Republic, and they have a history together. We wanted to bring in Caesar because we felt like it would be historically interesting and would add a great flavor to the show. And we asked our historian, Thomas, if we would be breaking history. He said actually not that much because this is the one time period where the least amount is known about Caesar. And many historians speculate that he was probably apart of this campaign against Spartacus. Everything we put in is purely fictional.
But again that goes to our [being] historically adjacent because he could have been a part of it. And also just having him interact with Crassus, knowing where they go later was just dramatic gold.
So you're historically adjacent, like your Caesar is blond?
[Laughs.] Yes, yes. You know, you play the hand you're dealt with, so Caesar is blond.
Which, you know, no problem with that; that's fun.
Caesar survives historically. Crassus survives historically, but ...
Historically, yeah. I mean, and honestly, ... there's a good chance Crassus will survive. But you never know. You never know.
I talked to Liam (McIntyre) yesterday and he said that he thought he knew the history and how this is going to end and everything. And then he was surprised by your ending.
Yeah, yeah. That's the big trick with something like this. It's like doing a story about the Titanic. Everybody knows the ship sinks at the end, but it's how you get there that really, really makes it special. Ending a series is always difficult. And I'm extremely proud of our series finale. It was difficult; it's probably the biggest episode we've ever done. But it really, really is just emotionally so powerful, which to me was the most important thing, that it had an emotional impact at the very end.