In the biggest casting change since the two Darrens on , Australian actor Liam McIntyre (HBO’s ) has taken on the title role in the third season of the Starz original series, Spartacus following the passing of Andy Whitfield after an 18-month battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“It’s unique and amazingly challenging to have to follow such a wonderful legacy, but I was really lucky. All the cast and Starz were supportive in the sense that they wanted me to make it may own, the best I could,” McIntyre shared in a live chat with the press and fans. “I was a huge fan of the show, before this ever happened. So I don’t know if anything Andy did filtered through into my performance, I kind hope it did. I tried to work with what I loved about Andy’s performance which was his humanity, and that’s what separates this show from any other show.”
McIntyre’s Spartacus is a leaner one, but no less fit than Whitfield’s. In early episodes screened for critics it’s clear that the shift in theme from surviving the gladiatorial ring to fighting for freedom in the fields of Roman-era Italy is going to shine more light the dramatic end of the spectrum, a better fit for McIntyre who can sell both quiet moments and rousing speeches.
After a prequel season filmed in the hopes that Andy Whitfield would make a full recovery, the show, now titled Spartacus: Vengeance, picks up just a few weeks after the climatic events of the first season finale. Spartacus leads his small group of escaped gladiators and house slaves as they fend off bands of mercenaries sent after them while they struggle amongst each other to decide their next move.
Fans worried that the whole season off from primary storylines would leave some threads dangling permanently will not be disappointed. Save for Nick Tarabay’s crafty Ashur, who’s due to return in time, the season premiere touches on all of the returning character’s continuing arcs; some at a dizzying pace that rewards longtime fans but might frustrate newcomers. Especially laden with plot is Manu Bennett’s () Crixus who in a few short scenes has to remind viewers of his search for his lover, a slave girl sold off late in the first season, his tempestuous relationship with his former mistress Lucretia, his simmering rivalry with Spartacus and then find time start a new conflict between his gladiator allies and the former house slaves that he doesn’t count among his equals.
The setting has changed away from the focus of gladiatorial combat, though there is one such fight depicted in the premiere. There is also more of the style intra-personal drama within the “camps” of the Romans and the escaped slaves — in particular the worst kept secret of the new season, the return of Lucy Lawless as Lucretia.
When asked in the press event if she had any hesitation about returning to the role, Lawless replied, “Zero hesitation. Who wouldn’t want to work on such a brilliantly written show? No, it’s an honor to be a part of it. I relished it.”
Those worried that the new season will be all drama will have those fears quickly quashed. There is still plenty of the graphic violence and sexual content on which the show first made its name. The premiere opens with a melee of our foot-bound protagonists battling against mercenaries on horseback that clearly reminds viewers of the series’ fascination with the fast-slow-fast action style of movies such as , and a massacre at a brothel takes place only after the camera finishes registering a veritable catalog of fetishistic behavior.
“At the end of this season there will be a major historical event that Spartacus fans will recognize,” teased Spartacus: Vengeance head writer and executive producer Steven DeKnight, maintaining the idea that despite the patchy history of the real Spartacus, this dramatization of the events of his life retain their footing in fact. DeKnight also projected the series end someday but promised, “At no point will the screen just drop and say Spartacus went on to do ‘this.’ We will finish it, we are in the process of trying to figure that out right now.”