SPOILER ALERT: Showrunner Steven S. DeKnight talks to GB about the season-ender’s casualties and plot twists on the Starz series.
It didn’t look good for the rebellion going in to Friday’s season finale of Starz’s Spartacus: Vengeance. Trapped on Vesuvius and surrounded by Roman soldiers, Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) would have to once again do something no one expected in order to get his band of rebel slaves off the mountain.
Surrounded by Glaber’s (Craig Parker) men waiting at the foot of the mountain with just the one path leading up and down, Spartacus found inspiration in his former lover Mira’s (Katrina Law) death and led the group down by vines. The surprise attack would give the rebels the advantage and ultimately Spartacus would get his revenge on the man who ordered his wife to her death. But, the win wouldn’t come without casualties for characters whom the show’s viewers have become very attached to.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with series creatorSteven S. DeKnight about the decisions he and his team made for the finale episode.
The Hollywood Reporter: There was a huge and bloody shift for Lucretia, but was it really a big change?
Steven S. DeKnight: Once you go back with Lucretia you’ll realize, ‘Oh, she was actually insane the whole time. She never really recovered.”
THR: Lucretia was marked for death once before. When did you decide this was how she’d ultimately go out?
DeKnight: I had originally planned that she was going to die with Batiatus at the end of Season 1. [Executive producer] Rob Tapertpassed along the message from Starz that they were very interested in bringing Lucy back. And I loved Lucy; I loved her performance. But I was adamant, “No, she has to die.” And then the next day I called up Rob and said, “I had a thought this morning in the shower of a cool thing to do with Lucy next season.” And it was all based on that she wanted the baby and how it would end. So before we started the season, that’s the reason I brought her back to end it just like that. Because I had this image in my head of revealing why she wanted the baby. Because I think a lot of people have obviously picked up on she’s very obsessed with Olivia’s baby. But most people think she’s going to take the baby and run away with it, which she kind of does. But in her mind, she’s fulfilling what she’s always wanted. And what her husband always wanted, which I found operatic and grand and twisted. And I’m still shocked that Starz actually let me do that.
THR: Why did you choose to kill off Mira the way you did and with so little fanfare?
DeKnight: It was the one death I think we probably talked about the most, because we went back and forth. I love the character. I love what Katrina did with the character. People always ask me, why do you kill people? And it’s mostly due to story and then the other part of it is looking forward to the next season and the dynamics and how everything fits together. With killing her off you know we wanted to make a statement at the beginning of the episode that all bets were off and anybody could get it. And sometimes that people die and you don’t get a magnificent final death scene with your last words. Sometimes, you just get it. And it’s violent and horrible. And I also really needed an emotional connection for Spartacus throughout this. An emotional loss that led him to the idea of how to get off the mountain. So, they’re out of firewood and the rock is too hard to bury the body and he has to wrap her in these vines. And that’s what leads him to the idea of creating these vine ropes to get off the mountain.
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THR: Mira gets killed on the finale and, for a lack of a better word, dumped by Spartacus on the last episode. Don’t you think fans will feel like she got a raw deal?
DeKnight: Yeah, she got a raw deal all around. I mean she fell for a man that will never be able to give his heart. On the plus side, she went from basically a third level sex slave into a very powerful woman. And I just hope people don’t get the wrong impression that, oh, I’m going to build up a powerful woman and then kill her — not at all my intention. It was purely a product of the story and where we’re headed with the story.
THR: Speaking of raw deals, Glaber pretty much sent Ashur (Nick E. Tarabay) to his sure death. Why would he go on such a suicide mission?
DeKnight: You know what I love about Ashur, and I try to do this with all the villains, but Ashur especially. Ashur thinks he’s the hero. He doesn’t think he’s a villain at all really. And I’ve had many conversations with Nick about this. And I think it’s one of the keys to the Ashur character. Is that he continually thinks he’s in the right no matter what he does. He honestly believes he’s in the right, which is why his ending kind of surprises him — that he got screwed this way. It’s funny because how Ashur dies I had planned towards the end of Season 1. I’d figured that out. And I remember I had bumped into Nick and Lesley-Ann Brandt, who at the time was playing Naevia. And I excitedly told them how Ashur was going to finally meet his demise. And, of course, Lesley-Ann Brandt thought it was a fantastic idea and Nick was like “What? What are you talking about?” And then of course Lesley-Ann Brandt wasn’t available due to scheduling problems. So we had to recast to Cynthia Addai-Robinson — who I think when you get to that final moment with her and Ashur will be the moment that the audience can really get behind Naevia and see her transformation from the broken shattered woman she was into something powerful and deadly.
THR: After all that Oenomaus (Peter Mensah) has survived, the Egyptian was finally the one to do him in. Can you talk about your thought process on Oenomaus’ death?
DeKnight: Historically, Oenomaus was the first one to fall out of Spartacus’ people by some accounts at the battle of Vesuvius. So, we do try to stay historically adjacent as I like to call it. We always knew that Oenomaus would die at Vesuvius. And I wanted that moment to have a little more emotional resonance. Because I wanted to build to Oenomaus finally forgiving Gannicus with his last dying words. And to get the sense of loss through Gannicus. Loss, but also having that burden lifted from his conscious that his brother forgave him for what he did.
And I’m sure I’ll also get many angry emails about killing Oenomaus. I’ve read a lot of comments recently after Episode 9 about people asking ‘This Egyptian character, how could he beat Oenomaus who’s supposed to be the greatest ever? And I have to keep reminding people that way back in Season 1 in Episode 5 he tells Crixus and Spartacus when they’re going to fight Theokoles that his day is past. He’s a great trainer and he is a great fighter, but he is at the end of that line. He’s not the great warrior he once was. He can still fight like hell. And that’s why we created this Egyptian character. We wanted an unstoppable character that never says anything that’s just a force of nature. My ultimate plan was that it would take Gannicus and Oenomaus both to stop this guy and one ends up sacrificing his life.
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THR: While there are a lot of loose ends tied up in this finale, there’s also a sense of impermanence about the victory. Is that how you set it up?
DeKnight: That’s another thing that I love about the show and something I’ve really tried to do since the beginning. When we get to the season ending I like an ending — not a cliffhanger — especially considering how long you have to wait before the next season. I don’t want to do a cliffhanger and have everybody wait nine months to see what happened. It kind of deflates it. So, I like to put an exclamation point on the endings, but still have that feel that more is coming, which we did at the end of season one. And, of course, at the end of this season.
THR: What’s the final moral message on the idea of vengeance after this season?
DeKnight: When I suggested the subtitle of Vengeance — and doing each season with a different subtitle has proven to be my best worst idea because I love the concept, but getting everybody to agree on the subtitle is just a monstrous task. And we went round and round about Vengeance. There was a faction among Starz — and the executive producers and I agree with them — that vengeance is not a heroic ideal. It’s a dark very treacherous path.
For me that is exactly what I wanted, practically everybody this season has an axe to grind with someone. And I also wanted that idea, that when you get to the end and you look back, that Spartacus really slowly moves away from the concept of vengeance and starts to put the group ahead of his own passions. Of his own thirst to kill Glaber, which you especially see in Episode 8 where he decides instead of killing Ilithyia or making an attempt on Glaber’s life instead he’s going to trade her for the weapons they need to continue their fight. So yeah, vengeance ultimately is very empty once you have it. And next season one of the things we’re going to be talking about is Spartacus has killed Glaber. He’s killed Batiatus. The two people really responsible for his wife’s death but it’s not enough. It’s never enough. Once you exact that vengeance it is a hollow feeling.