Spartacus creator Steven DeKnight

Spartacus creator Steven DeKnight

Creating a satisfying season of television is hard enough under the best of circumstances. But for Steven DeKnight, creator of the Starz hit Spartacus, it was even more difficult than normal. DeKnight originally forged the prequel Gods Of The Arena while star Andy Whitfield’s battled non-Hodkin’s lymphoma, but when it became clear that Whitfield would no longer be able to return to the show, DeKnight set about recasting the lead role with Whitfield’s blessing. The addition of newcomer Liam McIntyre was only one of many new challenges the show had to face heading into the second season. DeKnight sat down with The A.V. Club on the eve of the season finale of Spartacus: Vengeance to discuss the recasting, the scope of this year’s story, and how already-announced casting for next year might indicate the length of this show’s total run.

The A.V. Club: When you first assembled the writers to hash out this season, were there any specific marching orders that you gave them in order to frame the episodes you were going to write?

Steven DeKnight: The overarching marching order was really about taking the character of Spartacus from a character of a singular purpose, a man of few words, a man really of no friends… I mean, you look back at season one, and he only had one friend: Varro. And that didn’t end so well. So, this whole season is really designed to take Spartacus from a man who is really intent more on his own desires—be they to find his wife and return her to his arms, get revenge against Batiatus, get revenge against Glaber—to move him past that to the point where he becomes a leader of men.

And that’s one of the things I read on comments all the time. They are like, “Well, why is Spartacus’ character different this year?” Well, that’s why he’s different this year. We had to move him to be a general and not a man who is really looking inward. He starts to look more outward. And that’s why he makes considerably more speeches than he did in season one. You see that in the end of the first season in his big speech after he kills Batiatus, where he has to address the group and put the group ahead of himself.

That’s a struggle for him. It takes him the whole season. You see him in episode one [“Fugitivis”], where he turns his back on the group and goes after Glaber himself. And you get to the point in episode eight of the season [“Balance”] where he decides not to kill Ilithyia and instead trade her for weapons that the group desperately needs. So he puts that ahead of what he would really like to do. So that was the overall marching order: To take Spartacus from this solitary man to a man of the people.

AVC: At the outset of the season, he’s a man with an idea but few concrete plans. How difficult was it to structure a season around a hero with little sense of what he has to achieve?

SD: I read a lot of comments of people saying, “Well, Spartacus really isn’t the leader. He’s weak.” Well, this is Spartacus becoming the leader. So, through a lot of it, you see a man who is trying desperately to make peace with everybody. There’s a lot of keeping the group together. This changes dramatically in episode seven [“Sacramentum”] when he cuts Sedullus’ face off. And what I’d like to pursue in the future is a very short speech, a short, direct speech about “my way or the highway.” He’s no longer the man asking if everybody can get together. He’s saying, “You will do what I fucking say, or this is what will happen to you from now on.” So I think that was very important in his development.

AVC: At what point during the writing process did you assign Vengeance as a subtitle for the show? When did that lock in and feel appropriate?

SD: I think the graphic-novel approach to having a subtitle to each season is the best/worst idea I’ve ever had in my life. I love the concept. The problem? I didn’t think this through when I thought of it, and it’s that I have to get, like, a dozen people to sign off on it. It’s very hard to get everyone to agree. Blood And Sand, which I think is the oddest of the titles, was the simplest. Everyone said, “Okay, call it that.” It was early on in the process, it was before the show became successful. Gods Of The Arena was a tortuous process that went round and round before circling back to it, which I think was one of the original pitches. Vengeance was my temporary subtitle, always. And then the more and more we talked about the season, we realized it was all about vengeance. Practically everyone has some sort of vengeance they are trying to extract from someone else. That became another main theme of the season.

But then we got into a very interesting discussion, which was: Is vengeance something we want to associate with our hero? It’s not exactly the moral high ground to go after vengeance. It’s that thing of, “Why wasn’t it called Revenge Of The Jedi?” Well, Jedis don’t go after revenge. It was the same thing here. But the more and more we talked about it, I really pushed for it. In Spartacus, we live in such a gray area of morality where good people do bad things, and bad people do good things, that I really wanted to push that. And I felt that Vengeance really encapsulated 99 percent of what people wanted this season.

AVC: You draw a strong correlation this season between events in this life and those after death. Did that come across in your research of this historical period, or was it a byproduct of the moral universe you wanted to impart upon the show?

SD: It’s really a byproduct of the moral universe I wanted to impart upon the show. It is an incredibly violent show. We don’t shy away from the violence. We often go full on. But I did want there to be some kind of response, some kind of consequence, to the major violent acts. Like, when Sedellus gets his face cut off. It’s not just, “Ewww, Sedellus got his face cut off!” It needed to be, in that moment, a graphic, shocking statement that Spartacus was making. It couldn’t be slitting his throat or decapitating him. Partly because we’ve already seen it, but also because it needed to be a moment where the audience goes, “Oh!” because we needed the characters to do the same thing.

That’s usually how I come at it. Yes, it’s extremely violent, but for those specific moments—not every moment, but the important moments—it should have a resonance. It should affect the story.

AVC: And that definitely feeds into Spartacus’ decision not to kill Ilithyia, the sense that such an action would adversely affect his relationship with wife Sura in the afterlife. There are moral ripples that extend into death.

SD: I often talk about greeting people on the shores of the afterlife, which is a concept for the people of this time period which is important. In talking of terms of why Spartacus releases Ilithyia, he doesn’t want to become Glaber. But even more importantly, if he did this thing, and lost part of his soul, it wouldn’t mean anything. Glaber doesn’t love her the way he loves Sura. There’s no way Spartacus would have risked Sura’s life in that exchange the way Glaber did.

AVC: With Mira, you’ve had this unexpected arc as she’s risen in prominence by Spartacus’ side. She had the unenviable task of seeking his affections while staying outside the shadows of Sura. Did you envision this arc upon introducing the character in Blood And Sand, or did Katrina Law’s performance help shape that path?

SD: When we first introduced the Mira character in the infamous episode “Whore,” we knew we wanted to introduce a love interest for Spartacus. But we didn’t want it to be, “Oh, Spartacus falls in love with somebody.” Because that would invalidate everything we were doing with his wife. But we knew going into the next season that we wanted him to have some sort of relationship with a woman. And it was in that scene in the season one finale where Mira tells him that her price for helping him was to feel even a shadow of the love he felt for his wife, even for one moment, something that she had been denied all her life. And that really felt like where we were going with that.

We had a lot of debate when I wrote that scene, and felt like, “She’s blackmailing him, and he shouldn’t be giving into this.” But again, it goes to that morally gray thing. She’s doing the wrong thing for the right reason, and he sees that she’s never been loved. So he feels compassion—not love, but compassion—and that really carries through to this season. She does love him, and he cares about her deeply. But it’s not the type of love that she needs.

AVC: How do you feel their relationship affects Spartacus’ growth from slave to a leader of men?

SD: She served a really great role: that person who can talk to him on an emotional level throughout the season. And she’s also one of the few people who can say, “Hey, you’re being a jackass. What are you doing?” But then you throw in the love aspect, and it becomes much more complicated, culminating in that moment where she tries to kill Ilithyia for him. And that’s the inciting incident that drives them apart. He has that incredibly harsh line where he says, “You do not know my heart.” Which I thought Katrina played beautifully with her reaction to that, because she knows that was more than just trying to kill Ilithyia. Basically, he’s saying, “I will never love you.”

AVC: While Spartacus and his group are moving throughout the countryside, you’ve got Glaber and Ilithyia settling into life in Capua. Did you have to consciously make sure that you weren’t simply writing that pair as Batiatus and Lucretia Version 2.0?

SD: They are so different from Batiatus and Lucretia, especially Ilithyia, who had a completely realized character before this season. So I had no fear about her being Lucretia. With Glaber, there was always the temptation to start writing him more boisterous, like Batiatus. Everyone, including me, misses his profanity and the way he carried himself. Even when he was doing the most horrible things, he was a very funny character.

So Glaber was less realized going into this season. But we knew we wanted to take Glaber—a man who is a bit of cipher in season one, since we only see him a few times—and really flesh out a character who, like Batiatus, was feeling the pressures of society, and feeling the need to strike out, but not make him Batiatus. And of course, with him, his defining moment is when everything is crumbling around him and he gets the opportunity to kill Albinius [in “Libertus”]. That really sets into motion Glaber turning to the dark side and really becoming unhinged. And I thought Craig [Parker] did a fantastic job with that.

AVC: In some ways, Vengeance feels like two five-episode seasons that just happened to run back-to-back. The burning of the arena in “Libertus” felt like something most shows would hold off until the finale, both in terms of scope and the way it changed so many characters. Why put that at the halfway mark instead?

SD: We knew we wanted to reintroduce Gannicus mid-season. So we had a lot of discussions. We had many different versions. And the one we kept coming back to do was, “Well, the best way is that he steps back onto the sands of the arena with rose petals falling at his feet… and even better, he’s there to kill his old friends!” Which we just loved. So we knew we wanted to do that midseason. That quickly hatched the idea, knowing that this would be the last time we were in the arena. I really wanted to put an exclamation point on it, so I said, “Well, let’s destroy it.”

It’s a big statement Spartacus is making. It’s a huge “fuck you” to Rome. So that’s really where it came from. And there were many discussions with my fantastic producing partner Rob Tapert—I write it in L.A., and he has to figure out how to produce it in New Zealand—about, “How the hell do we do this?” It is like a season finale that we’re doing in the middle. But we all agreed that it was the right thing to do in destroying the arena, since we were never going back to it. So we felt like, as you were saying, it was such a turning point for everyone in the show, and really propelled the second half.

AVC: You mentioned before the season started that 10 episodes was the perfect length for you to tell the story of Vengeance. What made 10 the magic number?

SD: What I love about 10 episodes is that once you’re in it, you’re always like, “Oh, we have so much to do, and there’s so little space.” But what that does is, you resist the urge to write episodes that are just filler, just treading water. You have to do that so often on 22 episodes. And even on 13, you sometimes have to save money for other episodes. With 10—I’m a big fan of the number five, and multiples of five just feel natural. There’s something about hitting a midpoint, and having another five episodes to really bring it home. It feels right to me.

AVC: Without the sadly necessary prequel Gods Of The Arena, due to Andy Whitfield’s illness, could “Libertus” have worked as well?

SD: Oh no. We probably would have done something completely different.

AVC: Would Gannicus even have appeared in this season had the prequel not existed?

SD: He would have appeared in either this season or the next. I’m not sure which. But yeah, so many storylines would be completely different. We wouldn’t have the very important Gannicus/Oenomaus storyline, which makes him joining the group so much more charged and interesting. What I love about the Gannicus character is that everyone else is there fighting for freedom and fighting for an ideal, and he doesn’t give a shit. He just plain doesn’t give a shit. At the end of the day, he is there because he feels like he owes a debt to Oenomaus. He’s there for him, and just for him. And that’s something that will carry over into the next season.

[pagebreak]

AVC: As a showrunner, how do you balance planning out a well-constructed, well-developed narrative while incorporating surprising elements you couldn’t have possibly predicted?

SD: Being a showrunner, you have grand, intricate plans… and you’re flying by the seat of your pants. Constantly. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. Obviously, the unfortunate tragedy of Andy Whitfield’s passing is the mother of all curveballs. It’s something no one expects, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. But you just have to sometimes, you know, wing it, and come up with stuff on the fly. That entire prequel was done in very little time, and it wasn’t planned. Sometimes, you just have to pull a rabbit out of your hat.

AVC: A good example of that is Lucretia’s survival at the end of Blood And Sand, something you’ve mentioned wasn’t originally intended. How did you decide upon Ashur as her savior, and how did that decision feed into the way he acts toward her as the season progressed?

SD: You know, I’m glad that Starz and Rob really came back to me and pushed to bring her back. I always tell the story about how I was adamant that she had to die, and the entire story was building to this. But the next morning I had a thought: “You know what? There are some interesting things we can do, and bring it to a conclusion that ties her to Ilithyia that I really like.” So, once I came to that notion, there was only one person who could have helped her. He was the only person left alive, and that was Ashur.

Plus, Ashur is just a character that we delight in writing, and we love Nick Tarabay in the role. So it was putting these two characters together, and twisting that relationship that we start to see at the end of season one: that Ashur wants to be Batiatus. The moment that really seals it for me is when he gives her that red wig, and in that moment where we’re on Nick, there’s an excitement and an expectation on his face and even a hope that she likes it. It’s incredibly twisted, and this whole notion that this will become The House Of Ashur. We often joke that we should do a parallel-world spin-off called The House Of Ashur, and I’d watch the hell out of that show.

AVC: It would be like the House Of M miniseries.

SD: Exactly! In fact, I would love to do a “What If?,” Uatu The Watcher-inspired world in which this came to pass. That would make a hell of a six-episode run.

AVC: On one level, what Ashur does to her is reprehensible. On the other hand, many note that it reflects the Lucretia/Crixus dynamic from Blood And Sand. Were there internal struggles in the writers’ room about where to draw the line?

SD: No, never a problem on our side. One of the things I love about working with Starz is them being fearless about exploring these things. It was a phenomenon I saw in season one, where people were upset when something bad happened to Batiatus. They were like, “No, you can’t have that happen to him! You can’t kill him!” And I said, “He is a reprehensible human being. He has murdered small children. Innocent women. Fucked over everybody. And you’re rooting for him.”

This also delights me, because it means we’re doing our job. One of the things I wanted to do on this show is have you hate the villains but all of a sudden understand them. We call it the “David E. Kelley,” because he’s the master at this. In his shows, when someone stands up to deliver their closing argument, you’re like, “Yeah, I totally agree with him!” And then the other person does it, and you think, “Oh, I see her point too!” So we love to do that. And we love for people to feel and understand and sympathize with our villains. On the flip side, we like to do things to our heroes to make them hurt, angry, and upset, because we want all of them to be human and fallible and live in this very gray area.

AVC: Glaber’s actions in “Libertus” only make sense after five episodes of emasculation.

SD: Yeah, exactly! Ilithyia has that great line, and I’m paraphrasing it, but she says, “I can’t believe I ever thought him weak. Now, I look into his eyes and tremble at what I see there.”

AVC: And in response to that, she turns to Lucretia for support. It seems every single time they interact, the power dynamic has somehow shifted. How difficult is it to add new shading to their scenes at this point?

SD: We love that from season one, in terms of the constantly shifting power dynamics. Who is in control? Who is actually telling the truth? And we always talk about how these are two women that desperately, desperately down in their hearts wanted to be friends. But they just couldn’t. It didn’t work out that way.

It’s funny, Lucy Lawless and I, at the end of the year while recording our commentary for the finale, we discovered that we had two completely different views of their relationship. It’s always been my thought in this season that Lucretia does sincerely love Ilithyia. It’s a crazy kind of love. Lucy doesn’t think that at all. But it just goes to show you how you can imprint different things on it by watching it.

But we never found it difficult to switch the dynamics around constantly. They are two such fantastic actresses to write for—Lucy Lawless and Viva Bianca—that it’s just gold. As a showrunner, it’s something you always hope for but never really expect to happen.

AVC: Did you find in season one you were writing more of those scenes after seeing the dailies come back? Or was that shifting dynamic always part of your conception of the show?

SD: I had always planned on it, that kind of dance between the frenemies. But seeing what they did made me more comfortable, knowing anything I wrote they could handle. One of the things that I love on this show is the complex relationship that even the women have. I like strong women in my shows. I’m sure Joss [Whedon] with Buffy had something to do with that. But even Lucretia and Ilithyia have no rights under Roman law at the time. I wanted to give them a power of their own. Most of the time it’s a behind-the-scenes, sneaky power. But I wanted them to be shrewd and ruthless, but also vulnerable. And they did such a great job.

AVC: “Chosen Path” in particular feels like an exploration of women trying to find their place in a male-dominated world. How do you balance the intersection of gender and power as we know it today versus the historical realities of that time?

SD: There’s a bit of a balance. We decided early on that we had to remove ourselves from the modern-day audience, and what they expect, and stay true to the time period. That being said, we take liberties within the time period for certain issues. For instance, when Lucretia is left alone to run the house and Solonius comes to help? Our historians say the woman would never be allowed to stay without a male relative present. There would have to be somebody there. And women were not allowed to walk around town. They needed a male escort. So it’s those sorts of things we had to kind of drop.

But yeah, it’s tricky. But those types of challenges just make the show more interesting and exciting, especially with Lucretia and Ilithyia. They are under such constraints of what they can do, I think that it really helps builds situations and choices of how they get around those constraints and skirt the power of men.

AVC: We haven’t really talked much about the titular character, played this season by Liam McIntyre. Not that he was underwhelming before, but “Balance” felt like his breakthrough performance, in terms of his connection to the character and that character’s arc in general. When did you feel he truly made an impact in the role this season?

SD: For me, it was the end of the first episode, when Aurelia dies. I saw his death scene with her, and I thought, “Oh, thank God. I’ve got somebody who can play this stuff.” We knew it would be very difficult, no matter who we brought in, to take up the mantle of Spartacus. And I think it’s important for fans to realize we were looking for someone to take up the mantle of Spartacus, not to replace Andy. It’s a really important distinction there. It would be difficult for fans, no matter whom we got, to get behind a new actor.

It was rough going in those first few episodes. And I still remember to this day reading a lot of comments saying, “I don’t like the new character of Spartacus. They are writing his character differently.” To which my response is: If Andy had survived and come back, the character of Spartacus would have been written exactly the same. He would have been doing the exact same things and gone on exactly the same journey. We made a conscious decision early on not to write Spartacus a different way because it was a different actor. We were going to write him in exactly the same way we always had.

AVC: But he was still a different character in a different place.

SD: Exactly, we wrote Spartacus as we would have always written Spartacus, taking him from B to C in the development of his character. He would have been making the exact same speeches, and having the exact same conversations with people. Liam does a great job.

I was always shocked when we cast Liam, reading comments saying, “Oh, they cast somebody who looks a lot like Andy.” I don’t think they look anything alike. They couldn’t be further from the same person. Which was another thing when we were casting: We weren’t looking for an Andy lookalike. We didn’t care if he was 6-foot-5, if he was 5-foot-8, if he was blonde-haired, blue-eyed, if he had dark hair… None of that mattered to us. We just wanted somebody that could convey the deep pain that he carried in his heart, and the deep compassion he had for other people. And we think Liam did a fine, fine job.

AVC: There have been several instances this season where Liam or Cynthia Addai-Robinson, now playing Naevia, were inserted into flashbacks to scenes before they were cast. Was there internal debate about these moments potentially ruining the suspension of disbelief?

SD: Of course! That’s a classic case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” We struggled a lot on the showing of Naevia, and Crixus remembering her, and showing the audience the new actress. Either way we went, we were screwed. If we got to the mines, and it was an actress we never saw, and Crixus says, “Oh, Naevia, I finally found you!” people would say, “Who the fuck is that?” And if we showed her in the flashback, we kind of tip our hand and say, “Oh, that’s the new Naevia, she’s alive and he’s going to find her.” It was a no-win situation.

Pretty much the same when flashing back to the scene between Ilithyia and Spartacus. It really called for it, but it was again a no-win situation. I read comments saying, “How disrespectful to Andy!” Well, of course it wasn’t. That was never the intent. But you’ve got to put that aside and look at the story and ask, “Do we need this here?” In that case, we did. Obviously we try to do it as little as possible, and we hardly did in 10 episodes. Moving ahead, going into next season, I doubt we’ll have any cause to do it at all.

AVC: It seems like you spend a lot of time on the Internet reading comments about your show. How much to try and engage online responses to the show?

SD: It was probably a month or two ago where I had an epiphany, my social-media epiphany. I would no longer engage any type of negative comment. I had had a few dust-ups with some knuckleheads out there. It’s always stunning to me that people will take the time to seek you out on Twitter or Facebook just to be an asshole. I don’t know how they get the time. I mean, I get four hours of sleep a night as it is. I don’t have time to look for a fight.

So I made the conscious choice that no matter how egregious the comments are now, I ignore them and I only respond to real questions about the show. And frankly, even half of those I have to ignore, because they are, “Will this happen in the show?” or, “Is that going to happen?” or, “Is this person going to die?” And I don’t tell anyone anything about that. So, yeah, it’s a beautiful tool, but it’s often misused by many, many people. Just like anything else. So I try to have more of a balance. I go through cycles of tweeting, usually paralleling where we are in the season. I’m tweeting much more now, gearing up to the final two episodes. And then, after the show, it’ll go quiet for a while.

AVC: Last week’s episode, “Monsters,” saw many characters settling debts in order to clear the deck for the final battle. As a showrunner, do you have specific signposts for what has to happen when within a season? How do you view the function of the penultimate episodes of Spartacus?

SD: It’s always a little seat-of-the-pants. We know generally what we want to do. But a good example is the end of season one. I had from the beginning of the season in my mind that Solonius that would die in episode 13, not episode 12. And we were breaking episode 12, and the writer who was doing it, Brent Fletcher, was lobbying hard to put that into his episode. And I was like, “Get your hands off my arena fight!” And I slowly started to see the way things were falling into place, and I realized, “Oh, yeah, it’s better in episode 12.” So that always kind of happens.

We’re kind of notorious now for killing off some important characters in the penultimate episode. This season, it turns out that we definitely needed to have enough elbow room to address everything that needed to be addressed in the episode. And we always knew—with Glaber and Ilithyia—that we wanted a relationship where we started out with two people who are on rocky ground, they completely come apart, we see they used to love each other, and slowly the tables are turned and then they are at a place of love. A dark, twisted place of love, but a place of love. So, I knew that in [“Monsters”], I needed to seal they were together. And what better way than through the murder of an innocent girl?

AVC: That was fairly extreme, even by Spartacus’ standards.

SD: Very operatic, that death scene! Yes. I guess to answer the question: Usually, in a penultimate episode of Spartacus, I like to really crank up the tension and set the stage for the big finale.

AVC: In building up to that battle, you’re also building up to a moment for which we have some fairly detailed historical records. Have you even been tempted to pull an Inglourious Basterds and rewrite the broader historical events, not just the individual character beats?

SD: You know, I know that Inglourious Basterds did that. I’m not quite sure it would work on this show. That’s not to say we won’t tweak who lives and who dies when. I always say: We’ll bend history, but we won’t break it. A good example is in “Monsters,” when Varinius gets murdered by a fireball. That’s not what really happened. Varinius was the next person to go after Spartacus. I think he actually lived through that confrontation. But we thought, “We could keep him alive, have him head back to Rome, try again… or we could kill him with a fireball.” Quite frankly, since he was a secondary character, we decided to break from history. We also decided to do that so the audience would know that we will not follow history exactly. So they won’t know exactly what’s going to happen. They’ll know generally where we’re going. But that will be even truer the more we go into the endgame of Spartacus’ story. Who breaks off from whom, who dies… we will alter, compress, move around for dramatic purposes.

AVC: Glaber ends “Monsters” by repeating Spartacus’ famous words from season one, in which he declares the desire to “kill them all.” In terms of scope, have fans already seen how big things will get, or have they only gotten a taste of what’s to come in the finale?

SD: It’s building to a much bigger crescendo in the finale. Anyone who has read anything about Spartacus knows that we’re in the shadow of Vesuvius, and that we are at The Battle Of Vesuvius. And just the name—The Battle Of Vesuvius—sounds pretty goddamn big. So we really wanted to take that battle, take the elements that are in history, give them a good twist, really ground them in the characters and what everybody wants, and get those moments of revenge that everyone’s seeking. We mix all those up and produce the biggest episode we could possibly produce. As is usually on Spartacus, we come up with and write episodes that are designed to be barely producible, if at all. And somehow, they do it.

AVC: You mentioned the other day on Twitter that you view Spartacus as a tragedy. Does that mean the deaths avoided in this season’s penultimate episode will occur in the finale, “Wrath Of The Gods”?

SD: Absolutely. I was joking on Twitter the other day, only half-joking, that “Wrath Of The Gods” makes “Kill Them All” look like a tea party. No one is safe. And I fully expect that some fans will be upset, saying, “Oh no! You killed my favorite character! I’m never watching again!” or, “Why did that person have to get it that way?” But we’re looking not only at this episode, but all the episodes that have come before, and all the episodes that will come after it next season. So all of this stuff comes into play when we decide who lives and who dies. Some of the characters that die this year, we realize [their death] represents a risk. But ultimately we realized that for the story, this is the way it should go. And I will always stand by that.

AVC: In your mind, what makes a character’s death feel truly earned?

SD: Ultimately, it’s a product of the story, and where the characters still living need to go. Also, it’s about how those deaths emotionally affect the other characters. Mixed into that is the pure aggregate of the story that came before: Is that leading up to the final judgment for that character? All of that comes into play when we’re deciding who literally gets the axe.

AVC: Casting news has come out for both Julius Caesar and Marcus Crassus for season three. As the historical names get more and more familiar to lay audiences, how close are you to telling the full story of Spartacus on Starz?

SD: I think we’re nearing it, especially in terms of bringing in Crassus. Historically speaking, there are several more people that go after Spartacus, before Crassus, after Glaber. But looking at the history, it was, “Spartacus goes north! Spartacus goes south! Spartacus goes east! Then he goes back south!” It was a lot of chasing him about the same terrain, back and forth. And we decided that instead of trying to put new spins on four new villains, let’s put all of our eggs into the Crassus basket.

And then, in discussions with our historical consultants, they threw out that this was an era in which not a lot is known about what Caesar did. They knew he was a tribune, and it was possible that he served under Crassus. So we latched immediately onto that: “Young Julius Caesar!” You can’t go wrong there. So we added him in. But we really wanted to take the other characters and the other things that happened and roll them into the Crassus campaign, because it felt more like a complete and emotional story we could tell.

AVC: It seems like you and Starz have been on the same page in terms of the show thus far. But has there been any push/pull concerning the number of seasons Starz would like produced versus the number you feel is necessary to complete the story?

SD: There’s always that kind of horse-trading and figuring out. I think we’ve all settled on what that is now. I can’t reveal what that is, but I believe we have all settled on the same thing.

AVC: Looking back on the full season of Vengeance, what stands out the most in terms of what you accomplished?

SD: I think we accomplished the impossible. For starters, we kept the show going with the loss of our main actor and beloved brother, Andy Whitfield. I’d like to think that this season is a tribute to him and a testament to being able to move forward under the most extreme of circumstances, which in many ways is what the story of Spartacus is all about. I’d also like to think that we accomplished an emotional journey with good old-fashioned twists and turns and entertainment. At the end of the day, I always say that even though this is based on history, our main job is to entertain the audience. And I just hope people were entertained by what we had to offer this season.