Like a gladiator fighting to the death, the series finale of "Spartacus: War of the Damned" will rip out your heart and stomp it into dust.
That should not be a spoiler to anyone who knows the history of the rebel leader's war against Rome, which is what made writing the finale, titled "Victory" and airing at 8 p.m. Friday on Starz, such a difficult task for series creator Steven S. DeKnight.
"Ending a series is always difficult. And I'm extremely proud of our series finale," DeKnight told me earlier this season. "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."
Emotional impact--and possibly the highest body count in a series known for piling dead bodies high. The battle scenes are incredible, even by the high standards the series already set in its previous two seasons and a prequel.
"My friends, the time of our parting is at hand," Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) says to his rebel army, including Gannicus (Dustin Clare), Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), Agron (Dan Feuerriegel), Saxa (Ellen Hollman), Nasir (Pana Hema Taylor). That sets the stage for their final battle against Marcus Crassus (Simon Merrells), Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance) and legions of Roman soldiers.
Spartacus and his warriors know they face certain death, and so do viewers.
"Or do they?" McIntyre teased before the season began, adding that he thought he knew how the finale would go down, too. "I'm happy to report that there's been a bit of creativity in the ending, so I remember reading it going, 'I'm pretty sure that's not the ending I was expecting,' which is always a nice feeling."
McIntyre said he will miss his co-stars and the experiences of filming the show, but took a bit of "Spartacus" memorabilia with him in the form of his swords and armor. (His fiance, Erin Hasan, got to keep the rebel costume she wore in the finale.)
"A lot of that stuff is heavy and made of untreated wood, so customs gets upset" when you try to ship the items, McIntyre said, joking, "So, you know, keep watching eBay."
Keepsakes aside, McIntyre said the series has been "awesomely life-changing" and character-building for him. The Aussie actor took over the role in the second season after Andy Whitfield was unable to continue due to illness.
"It's just been one amazing, tragic, glorious, difficult adventure," he said. "I think everyone on the show is devastated that it's finished, but quite excited about what's next for us. It's been a huge learning experience for everybody I feel, and changed the lives of so many people on the show. I think every actor is in a totally different place now because of this show."
Most importantly, he said, he believes the last two seasons and the finale pay tribute to Whitfield, who died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2011.
"It's going to be sort of that last standing legacy for Andy because he is fantastic--I watched the first season again and he's truly exceptional," McIntyre said. "I think [the finale] does it justice; not many shows get to go out in the way we go out and I'm pretty proud of that."
DeKnight, too, thinks they stuck the landing, as he put it. He said he thinks--rightly, I can guarantee--that fans will be moved by the finale, which shows gratitude to characters both past and present.
"I saw a rough cut of the finale and I cried my eyes out, and I wrote the damn thing! I knew what was coming!" he said at the time. "It is so powerful and I'm just so proud of everyone who worked on it."
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