"Spartacus: War of the Damned" might be the series' final season (watch the Comic-Con trailer below), but they're going out with a bang. Show creator Steven DeKnight joined stars Liam McIntyre (Spartacus) and Manu Bennett (Crixus) for their San Diego Comic-Con panel, and they had plenty of surprises.
DeKnight talked a lot about sticking the landing, and the pressure to get this final season (premieres January 2013 on Starz) right for the fans. "Let's make the biggest, most epic season ever and go out on a high," he said. DeKnight also told the Comic-Con audience they've condensed quite a bit of history to squeeze it all in, so it'll be action-packed, but not 100 percent factual, timeline-wise. "Don't write a high school paper based on the show," DeKnight joked.
According to star Liam McIntyre, that action includes a lot more deaths, something the show has become known for. McIntyre said they actually ran out of fake blood to use while filming "Spartacus: War of the Damned." Good news for fans of the bloodier parts of the show!
Talking about the emotion of the final season, after so many major deaths, DeKnight said that Spartacus "goes from sad Spartacus to emotionally unavailable" after the death of Mira. Bennett talked about the war dance they all do, called Haka, to send off castmembers whose characters have been killed. He showed the audience a bit of it, and then lifted his shirt, which got huge cheers from the crowd.
But the biggest cheers were for the panel's surprise guest: Lucy Lawless, who played Lucretia, popped by to join the guys, praising them for letting her play such a "criminally insane" character, and crediting the show for revitalizing her career. It wasn't long before the rest of the "Spartacus" gang popped on stage, getting the whole crowd cheering on their feet. Just don't think that means that any of them will be magically resurrected for this final season: "Yes, I'm actually dead," Viva Bianca confirmed about her character, Ilithyia.
We caught up with DeKnight, McIntyre, Bennett and Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Naevia) before their panel to get some scoop on "War of the Damned."
On learning that next season would be the last: "It’s sad because I just love this character so much. He’s so exciting to play and so different than anything I ever thought I’d actually get to do. It’ll be heartbreaking for all the actors because it’s been such an up and down show. I can only imagine what people like Manu are going through. He’s obviously had to move between two different Spartacuses. So, there’s so many sad trials and tribulations. The story, which is such a heartbreaking story, is mimicked in many ways by the show itself. But for me, I mean I’m so lucky to even have this job. It’s a dream come true. I’m lucky to be doing any seasons."
On where Spartacus is emotionally when we next see him: "He’s in a pretty different place. Last season was the journey to becoming a leader -- it was a difficult change of state from the journey he was on with his personal agony through to 'I have a whole bunch of people that need me to live in some way.' Now he’s that guy. He’s very much the commander of this group. He doesn’t doubt himself like he used to. He’s absolutely certain that the only way is complete focus towards victory. That’s tough to play because if you just be that guy, that’s quite boring. Acting’s about relationships. What I’ve found is really interesting; this season there’s a guy who in a very manly, masculine kind of way has had so much pain and hurt that he’s almost trying to shut his emotions off and he’s trying to shut himself down from them but he can’t. That in itself is really fun to play because every death -- and there’s thousands of them -- is his fault in some way. He is the leader of this thing and it’s his job to keep all these people safe, even though he knows he can’t and against almost impossible odds. So, he’s fighting a very emotional battle every day to try and keep these people alive."
On how the show will end (kind of):"It ends with every piece of epic that you expect from the show. Every episode I’ve read feels like the ending episode of any other season. So, with the first episode we got I went, 'that would end any other show ever. If that’s where you’re starting, God knows where you’ll end.' It will do every character that you love justice. I’m very proud of that."
On the emotional weight of next season: "There’s a lot more to gain and there’s a lot more to lose. This season deals with that in gravity. Each season has been like that blender that you have at home that you turn up [even higher each time]. Liam and I were just discussing on the set, as we walked off of the last scene before going to the airport to come here, we’d just done a scene where the energy that we both had and the emotions that we had to expose in one scene were just so much higher than any other scene we’d done before. I was surprised actually. You know, I realized that after the scene like, 'Wow, we haven’t been to that level before.'"
On Crixus' story this season: "The beginning of the season is really six months past Season 2. Basically, the rebellion has grown into thousands. We’ve already been in battles against the Romans at this point and we’ve been victorious. Crixus and Naevia are kind of in their zenith. I met this slave girl, she met this heartless thug, and then the two of us found something and released something in each other to the point that now we’re both warriors, proud of ourselves, proud that we have our freedom, that we have our togetherness. That’s where this season starts off. Then suddenly it just starts cascading."
On who will survive this season: "You’ll be surprised who dies and who survives. There’s no certainties on that yet but there’s rumors going on about who will make it and who won’t get crucified, how people will die. We get the scripts one by one. We just picked up a script recently and somebody got killed and we were like, 'what?!' And that person wasn’t aware of when they were going. This is how it happens in our show. We really aren’t given the information until the last minute. But as far as the finale for Crixus, per se, I mean history sort of speaks of how it happens. So anybody who does read up on the history of Spartacus will know that unfortunately there’s no happy ending."
On whether there will be any happy moments for Crixus: "It’s like it’s always been. There’s moments between all the blood and gore, between all the fighting and all the hardship, a stolen kiss. That’s all it’s ever been for Crixus and Naevia. The ability to get that one little window of opportunity to view freedom and connection and a relationship. That does find its moments, it does sneak into the storyline in the most inappropriate or appropriate moments. Steven’s done a wonderful job to bring out a heart in Crixus. But then Naevia went through the hardship that she went through in Season 2. She was found in the mines and she was a destroyed woman. Then she got her strength back by finding revenge on Ashur. During this season, you feel as though there’s going to be a catharsis ... but there isn’t. Things start to happen immediately in "War of the Damned" that propel everybody’s characters into probably their darkest fears. That applies for Naevia as well. Just when you think you’re safe, don’t go back into the water. But we get thrown back into the middle of the ocean with sharks. We get thrown in the middle of Rome with the Romans. We were annoying for a while. We were something that they wanted to squash, the small rebellion that was going on. All of a sudden, they’ve got to go and send for Crassus to come and stop us. I can say that Crixus has got his sword pointed toward Crassus."
On the relevance of 'Spartacus' today: "I think it’s still very relevant to what’s going on today. I think sometimes people are really shocked by the level of violence and some of the things they see. But if you turn on the news, unfortunately, there are parts of the world where that level of chaos exists. So, I think that’s definitely relevant to what’s going on today. But 'Spartacus' to me is just about fighting for a cause, fighting for something you believe in. I think audiences definitely connect to that sense of passion that you see. Obviously, in the first season it was with Andy Whitfield. I think the audience just really saw that in his eyes, saw the truth of that. There was the man and there was also the character. There was a really gray line between the two. Liam has just sort of seamlessly stepped in and brings that same sort of earnestness and truthfulness to that fight. It’s a great show. Obviously, it’s sort of spawned a lot of shows that can have that heightened sense of drama. I mean you have things like "Game of Thrones" on the air. It’s a different sort of story but obviously the audience wants big, big dramatic stuff on TV."
On Naevia's progression in "War of the Damned": "Naevia has definitely evolved and changed. Some of the demons she was battling in "Vengeance," they haven’t necessarily gone away. I mean, the stuff that she went through once she was rediscovered -- she essentially was left for dead. She went through things that probably would have killed a weaker individual. So, that’s how I always sort of look at it as, what is the difference between somebody who survives the odds and someone who doesn’t? Some people are just sort of made of that stronger stuff. So, I always think Naevia is just a survivor. She definitely is in the mix in terms of this new battle mode that all of the characters are in. We’re now in full scale war. It’s gone from skirmish to war. The scale of it is just enormous. It’s sort of like all hands on deck. Men, women, get your battle gear on and charge."
On how Naevia is different from other female characters on TV: "I am excited about the fact that there aren’t many characters like Naevia on television right now. It’s sort of shifted and evolved. It’s really exciting because I think before this job I don’t think anybody would have pegged me as a warrior. I do not give off that vibe in my daily life. It’s been a great challenge. It’s like things you dreamed of even as a kid, spinning around your living room like a superhero. There you are years later with a sword in hand. It’s something that I’m glad the audience is responding to. I think they’re going to like this new version of Naevia for "War of the Damned. "
On whether anyone will survive the new season: "There’ll be a few. I haven’t written the finale yet. It’s not looking good for a lot of people. Obviously, the war did not end well. One of the biggest challenges of the season is how do you tell the story and not end it like, 'well, everybody you cared about was murdered and they lost and that’s it.' I think in Kirk Douglas’ "Spartacus," he found a great way. Yes, they lost. He was crucified but his son was going to be free, which is just a brilliant way of ending a very downer of a story with a ray of hope. We’re obviously not going to copy that. But we do think we’ve come up with a way of showing a shining light of victory in the face of defeat. On the flipside with the Romans, I really wanted to explore a crushing defeat for the Romans even though they win. Both sides, much like the title indicates, both sides are damned by this war."
On why he chose to end the series here: "There are so many reasons for wrapping it up. The show has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. Once we got to the war years it’s incredibly difficult to produce and getting more and more expensive. That’s not the main reason. It’s just also, creatively, it started to feel right. Looking at the history, the history is fantastic and amazing. But to try to tell it in a linear fashion, there’s a lot of repeated beats that happen. They go north, they go south, they go east and they go back south, they go north, they break up, they come back together, they break up, they come back together. So, we thought why not take the best parts of this story and combine it into one kickass final season instead of starting to retread things we’ve already done?"
On whether we'll meet Julius Caesar this season: "Yes. [We will meet] Julius Caesar. You will not see Mark Antony. You will see Julius Caesar. I had the idea about what about Julius Caesar? Maybe we can bring in Julius Caesar. I asked our historians, 'what about hot, young Caesar? Can we bring in hot, young Caesar?' They said, 'Actually, yeah. He’s around 28 years old at this time period.' Nothing has been written more about anyone in that time period than Julius Caesar. But it just so happens this one little slice of time, not a lot is known about what he was doing. Most historians think he was in fact involved in the Spartacus war and probably fought under Crassus. Since anybody that knows anything about history knows that Crassus, Caesar and Pompey eventually overthrow the Republic, we really wanted to explore that early relationship with Crassus and Caesar and hint at what was going to come down the road with overthrowing the Republic. We found a fantastic actor to play Caesar (Todd Lasance)."
On the possibility of a Caesar spin-off: "You know, that is a beautiful word, that is music to my ears. Hot Caesar spinoff ... 'this week on hot Caesar. '
Check out our slideshow for more of our "must see" TV picks for San Diego Comic-Con 2012, and be sure to visit HuffPost TV over the next few days for our full coverage of the convention.
And watch the "Spartacus: War of the Damned" trailer here: