'Spartacus' finale shockers: Showrunner Steven S. DeKnight on why [spoilers] died
Spartacus second season finale “Wrath of the Gods” sent several popular characters to the afterlife in grand style, plus set the stage for Spartacus facing a Roman legend in season three. Below, writer-producer Steven S. DeKnight answers your burning questions: Who’s really dead, why they died and what to expect next season (time jump!).
EW: What were your goals with this finale?
DeKnight: I’m a strong believer in putting a punctuation mark on the end of a season. You get the sense there’s something more coming, but it’s also a complete experience; it’s not a big cliffhanger. I wanted to wrap up some story threads, especially looking toward the next season when we bring in Marcus Crassus and Julius Caesar going after Spartacus. There needed to be some housekeeping to make room for the next round of storytelling. More than anything, I want to go for an emotional tale that hopefully will have people leaping out of their seats and yelling at their television. I expect to get a few angry messages.
One of my favorites, Ashur, I figured he was doomed, but at least he went out in style. Since he wasn’t based on a specific person from history, can you talk about that decision?
I made that decision before season 1 was done shooting. I bumped into [Ashur actor] Nick Tarabay at the grocery store and I was like, ‘Oh I got a great ending for your character.’ There’s a lot of speculation on the Internet about who is going to kill Ashur. It came down to who is the most grievously injured by Ashur and that’s Naevia.
You got to have your cake and eat it too since Lucretia had a hand in that as well.
Yeah, considering how Ashur had turned the tables on her and was abusing her. We have a reputation of killing anybody at any time, but 99 percent of the time you get a great send off.
And Oenomaus, historically he died fairly early on during the revolt. Was there any thought about keeping him around?
He was historically the first to fall. Deciding whether to kill a character is not 100 percent based on their character, but their relationship with other characters. Like Naevia with Ashur. For Oenomaus, it needed to be a Gannicus moment. Ever since the prequel aired, they’re so tied to each other. It will help cement Gannicus staying with the rebels.
And then there’s the other thing we’ve all been waiting for: Lucretia getting revenge on Ilithyia. Was that exact ending always the one you had in mind?
Yes, that’s the outcome that brought Lucretia back at the end of season one. When I was first asked if she could come back I was like, ‘She has to die with Batiatus.’ Then the next day in the shower I had an idea, which was basically Lucretia as Mad Ophelia. And her wanting the baby and playing it out all season where you think she’s going to take the baby and raise it herself, then you realize she was insane. Her plan was always to take that baby to the afterlife and deliver it to her husband. I half expected Starz to say, “What do you mean you’re going to take a newborn baby over the cliff?!” But no they’re like, “Oh, great!”
What about Ilithyia? As we know, getting stabled in the belly while you’re pregnant in this show doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dead…
I’m here to tell you she’s dead. She gave up the ghost when her baby went over the cliff. I kinda half kicked myself about not going back into the episode and CGI’ing some blood trickle out of her mouth. But I can confirm she’s dead. We talked about it in the 11th hour, about her or Lucretia surviving, but I felt strongly that there was no story for either one of them with Crassus going after Spartacus in season 3. And those characters are so tied together, and it felt like one of their ends should precipitate the others’ end.
And Spartacus, we hit another major chapter in his actual story, the battle at Mt. Vesuvius. Not to be an uber-nerd, but I didn’t understand why the vines on Mt. Vesuvius would only take four people.
Historically all the rebels went down that way. It’s a stealth operation. It’s more about not being discovered. Originally in the script there’s a scene where the rebels on the top pulled the vines back up.
Now that Spartacus has had his vengeance, what will drive him in season 3?
That’s a very good question and one that’s asked of him in season three: What drives him now? it’s something we touch upon when we start the next season. Once you have vengeance its a hollow victory and it’s never enough … If you read the history, they went all of the map marauding, pillaging, raping. For storytelling purposes we touch on some of that, though for a narrative you need a more linear projection for your hero. But that does come into play.
What else can you tell us about season 3?
It’s way too big. Every episode seems gigantic so we’re wrestling with the production issues of that. This season was moving Spartacus toward becoming a leader, next season — which doesn’t have a subtitle yet — is very much about Spartacus being a leader and leading this war. We’ll jump about six months ahead, where Spartacus and his band of rebels have become thousands and they’re causing Rome some real concern.
You’ve cast a young Julius Caesar (photo and story here). How will he differ from other portrayals we’ve seen?
He’s like Gannicus on the Roman side. He’s very brash, very confident, very roguish. It’s the period in history where the least amount is known about Caesar. We do know that he was a tribune. He may have been part of Crassus’ army. There’s nothing in history that says he went after Spartacus so we’re definitely extrapolating on that one. But we wanted that wild card element on the Roman side. Somebody who in the rebels point of view, he’s the villain, but he’s trying to stop this horrible plague on the republic. Another thing we touch on next season is the horrors of war. When Spartacus and his people attack, what happens when women and children are killed too. The human cost weighs heavy on Spartacus and they’re constantly trying to not become the thing they’re fighting against.
Anything other burning fan questions you’d like to address?
I’m sure I’ll get a lot of questions about why I killed Mira, especially in such an atypical Spartacus fashion. Spartacus keeps people at an emotional distance next season because he thinks anybody he gets close to will be horribly murdered. We did it early in the episode because we wanted to start with an emotional impact on Spartacus and also to have her death lead to the idea of going down the mountain on the vines, when he has to wrap her body up. We had a lot of debate about whether she gets to choke out her final words. I thought it would be more horrible if he got her up there and is trying to save her and she’s just dead. Obviously on this show I love strong women and they will continue to be part of the show. But on Spartacus, when your time’s up, your time’s up.