Spartacus returns free but he is on the run...
A wronged warrior bent on revenge. A ruthless Roman commander on his trail. A crazed widow on the loose. And blood. Lots of blood.
Yes, Spartacus is back for a third season, and this time there's more gore and intrigue than ever.
The lascivious retelling of the epic gladiatorial legend may have grabbed headlines for its sensationalism, with characters facing life-and-death situations at almost every turn, but few connected with the show could have foreseen there would be such tragic echoes of that scenario off-screen too.
No sooner had the debut series, Spartacus: Blood And Sand, been pronounced a hit than its leading man, Welsh-born Andy Whitfield, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
A prequel was commissioned entitled Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena, to give Whitfield time to recover for the next series. But last September came the news the father-of-two had died at just 39.
There was a period of 'quite a bit of soul-searching' admits Steven S. DeKnight, the show's creator, as to whether it should carry on, but it was Whitfield himself who insisted Spartacus go on without him.
'The deciding factor for me was when Andy sent us a message that he very much wanted the show to continue without him,' says DeKnight.
Universally praised for his portrayal of the Thracian slave who fights for freedom from his Roman masters, the talented Whitfield certainly left big sandals to fill. But just as the show's creators originally took a gamble on the then-unknown Whitfield, they've plumped again for a little-known actor to replace him.
Aussie Liam McIntyre, who turns 30 next week, only had a handful of minor roles to his name, including parts in Neighbours and Tom Hanks’ World War II series Pacific, when he got the role.
‘When they asked me to read for it I was about 3st lighter than I usually am, preparing for another role, so I remember thinking it was nice to be asked,’ says McIntyre. ‘I wasn’t the right build for it at the time, but they kept putting me through training, which wasn’t much fun! The opportunity I’ve been given is unlike anything I could have dreamed of. And Andy told me, “Well done. Good luck!” What a big guy. It speaks volumes about him.’ The new series, Spartacus: Vengeance,
picks up where Blood And Sand left off. After killing their master Batiatus (played in season
one by Four Weddings And A Funeral star John Hannah), Spartacus and his fellow slaves, including arch rival Crixus (Manu Bennett), escape their gladiator school and are joined by their trainer Oenomaus (Peter Mensah). The Roman commander who initially condemned Spartacus and his wife to slavery,Gaius Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker), is dispatched to hunt down his former prisoner. Though it’s sad to watch the show knowing Andy Whitfield is no longer with us, the cast, and Liam McIntyre in particular, are determined to keep the Spartacus chariot rolling.
‘As a fan of the show I remember Andy saying the words, “I am Spartacus!”,’ says McIntyre. ‘How you say those words is nerve-racking, so it was a strange moment for me. All you can hope is you’ve given the role the respect it deserves.’
Spartacus: Vengeance starts on Sky1, Monday at 10pm.