'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' promises more gladiator 'intrigue and action'

Can spartaus-batiatus-play.jpg Starz series "Spartacus" succeed without... well, Spartacus? Executive producer Steven DeKnight is willing to give it a shot. When lead actor Andy Whitfield stepped down from the role after a cancer diagnosis (and subsequent relapse), the "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" production team had to go to Plan B.

Their prequel series, "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena," which takes place before Spartacus arrived at the House of Batiatus, begins January 21 on Starz at 10 p.m. EST.

"You're going to love the next installment," DeKnight promises. "It's a six-episode prequel centering on the House of Batiatus and the intrigue and action that took place before the arrival of Spartacus."

Though Spartacus himself will be largely absent from the prequel, it gives viewers the opportunity to spend more time with John Hannah's Batiatus, a favorite character.

"The idea for the prequel basically came from a conversation I had with Hannah," says DeKnight. "He was telling me how much he enjoyed being on the show, how much he loved it, and that if we ever wanted him to come back to just ask him. He'd love to do it again. And I thought, you know what? There are some things I would like to fill in."

The prequel focuses on a time when the gladiator arena was more ruthless than what "Bood & Sand" fans are used to. Honor wasn't as valued then, and every man was out for himself, trying to get ahead.

Starz released the following description of the six-episode miniseries: "As the prequel begins, Quintus Batiatus is the acting Lanista while his father is on an extended visit to Sicilia. But Batiatus isn't satisfied with just the thought of taking over the Ludus one day; he aspires to political power and prestige in Capua, and perhaps beyond. In the class-conscious world of ancient Rome, the House of Batiatus must first earn the respect of politicians as well as socialites before being granted the right for its gladiators to fight in the much-revered championship bouts called the Primus. Batiatus must not only survive the harsh politics of Capua, but also compel his hedonistic fighter, Gannicus, to embrace being a champion gladiator who will bring esteem and respect to the House of Batiatus."

In addition to John Hannah, Lucy Lawless, Peter Mensah, and Manu Bennett will return. They're joined by new cast members Jaime Murray and Marisa Ramirez.

Murray plays Gaia, a social climber in Capua whose quest for social hierarchy may coincide with Batiatus' desire for political power. Ramirez is Melitta, Lucretia's body slave -- and yes, that's as sexy as it sounds.

Jeffrey Thomas plays Batiatus' father, Titus, the extremely conservative head of Ludus.

Don't miss the brand new trailer below to sneak a peek at the new series, which embraces the cinematic standards set by "Blood & Sand." While we'll certainly miss Whitfield in the role of Spartacus and hope for his speedy recovery, we're thrilled that Starz has given DeKnight the freedom to explore a different time in the arena.

Photo/Video credit: Starz
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