Dustin Clare

Spartacus: Blood and Sand will return.

"We are officially going ahead with the long-planned, but unfortunately delayed second season of Spartacus," Starz President Chris Albrecht announced at Friday's Television Critics Association's winter preview sessions.

Spartacus star Andy Whitfield leaves show after cancer recurrence

Production on the series was halted in March after series star Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. After his cancer resurfaced, Whitfield was forced to drop out to resume aggressive treatment.

Albrecht says the network is "very confident" that its near the end of its search for someone to fill his role as Spartacus, the legendary gladiator who leads a revolt against Rome. "We will never be able to truly replace Andy Whitfield... He is very supportive of the efforts to recast this role."

Despite the initial uncertainty over whether Whitfield would return or not, series producers say the Season 2 storyline they had planned will not change.

"Nothing good came from losing Andy," executive producer Rob Tapert says. "If there's any upside to Andy's illness it's that we're better prepared to support the new Spartacus when he comes into the role in what will be a very epic Season 2. [It's] a story that takes place no longer in the ludus, and is really the story that you normally associate with Spartacus. It's a different world and a different set of shoes to fill."

Before the series returns, Starz will premiere the prequel, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, which takes place five years prior to the events in the original series. "It's a rare pleasure that never happens, when you get to go back and fill in the blanks and actually find out more about your own character," Lucy Lawless says.

Lawless, who plays Lucretia, wife to Batiatus (John Hannah), says we'll actually see her character as a devoted wife. "You get to see our characters when they're in the honeymoon phase of their lives," she says of the couple, whose fates were left uncertain at the end of Season 1. Producers did note that despite a dagger in the belly, Lawless' character will be back in Season 2, but don't expect the same for Hannah unless Batiatus has a twin.

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena will premiere Friday, Jan. 21 on Starz.