Spartacus: War Of The Damned Season Premiere Review – The Rebels Are Back With A Vengeance!
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Season 3, Episode 1, titled “Enemies of Rome”. Watch online the free complete episode of Spartacus: War Of The Damned Season Premiere at Starz.com
The end begins. There’s a finality that looms over War Of The Damned, the last chapter in Starz’s Spartacus series, which intensifies the gravity of each scene and turn of events.
By the time the end credits rolled in Enemies of Rome, we observed a blood soaked battlefield strewn with death and dismemberment, famished children scurrying over discarded horse entrails and a double decapitation.
Blood is spewed out of slashed throats and severed necks like a geyser of red paint. The highly stylized graphic violence in Spartacus is an awe-inducing spectacle. It’s cathartic and impactful because we are emotionally invested in the story and characters whom are always fighting for something.
What was once a personal vendetta to avenge his deceased wife, Spartacus now sets his sights on over-throwing the tyrannical Roman empire. Slaying Glaber, the Roman who sold Spartacus’ wife into slavery, in last season’s finale did not satiate his desire for vengeance nor does it rectify the empire’s disregard for human life.
There’s a dark intensity which emanates from Spartacus (Liam McIntryre). Absent intimacy and a true love to confide in, Spartacus seeks solace in his conviction to right the wrongs of the world. “A thousand lives would not equal Sura’s”, rather it’s his willful determination to deliver liberty and equality for all under the rule of Rome which may bring peace to Spartacus.
Enemies of Rome presents the transition from last season’s quest for personal vengeance to much grander stakes in War of the Damned. These days, Spartacus’ responsibilities extend beyond the welfare of fellow gladiators from the House of Batiatus but to thousands of emancipated slaves in the wake of the rebellion he championed.
The rebels’ numbers have grown to the point where despite Spartacus’ god-like reputation he is mistaken as a common soldier by one of his weary followers. In this scene, which displays the natural charisma of Liam McIntryre, Spartacus does not reprimand an embittered former slave for freely speaking out against how “the great man atop the hill” has lost sight of the people under his care. Instead, this insight influences Spartacus to prioritze the growing need to feed and shelter his army of slaves in the war he is raging.
As much as the premiere establishes the stakes for the season, many scenes served to refresh viewers on primary characters and their relationships. Naevia is not the feeble, helpless handmaiden we saw enslaved in the mines in last season’s The Greater Good. With the support of her lover Crixus (Manu Bennett), she’s become a fierce soldier, capable of holding her own in battles. Actress Cynthia Addai-Robinson brings a physicality to her role which may not have been as believable in the smaller, more delicate Lesley-Ann Brandt.
Since the events of Wrath of the Gods, we discover fan favorite Gannicus (Dustin Clare) has been in a passionate affair with the German beauty Saxa (Ellen Hollman). Saxa, who has picked up a few words in the common tongue, is a fiery, skilled warrior which makes an ideal match for the hedonistic gladiator. On the other hand, Gannicus represents a counterpoint to the ideological Spartacus. From Gannicus’ perspective, he considers Spartacus’ vengeance to be fulfilled in Glaber’s death and barely believes in the rebellion’s cause. Released from the guilt of betraying his best friend Oenomaus, Gannicus’ motivation lies in the glory of battle, wine and women.
Rather than hastily introducing all of the new characters to be featured in War of the Damned, writer Steven S. DeKnight wisely focused on the Crassus family, Spartacus’ primary adversary this season. One of the most engaging aspects to Starz’s Spartacus series is the political maneuvering and machinations of the villains and in this regard, this episode did not disappoint.
The introduction of Marcus Crassus (Simon Merrells) is in marked contrast with the previous villains. Quintus Batiatus (John Hannah), began as an affable owner of a humble ludus but quickly became abhorrent in his pursuit for societal position and wealth. Whereas Gaius Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker) was a lowly regarded and somewhat incompetent Praetor until his wife cast him aside for the more promising Varinius, turning him into an unrelenting monster determined to capture Spartacus.
The cunning use of Cossinius and Furius as mere sacrificial pawns in his expedient political ascension exemplifies why Marcus Crassus is the most dangerous of Spartacus’ adversaries. Unlike typical Romans, Crassus does not underestimate Spartacus as a common slave. The rebel leader’s accomplishments speaks for itself which is a value that Crassus holds to esteem: one must earn his standing in the world.
Belief in his superior intellect and calculated patience moves Crassus to risk his own life in the battle to the death with the more skillful former gladiator Hilarus. Interestingly, Crassus fights using dual swords which is generally the technique of the most skilled gladiators such as Spartacus. Further, the dynamic between Crassus and his impetuous son Tiberius (Christian Antidormi), who wants to prove his worth to his father, will be intriguing to watch unfold and might very well end up being the Achilles heel of the richest man in Rome.
It is was exhilarating to watch champion gladiators Spartacus, Crixus and Gannicus unleashed upon the hideout of Cossinius and Furius like spawns from Hades in one of episode’s final scenes. The brutal executions, careful plotting and attention to character development succeed in making Enemies of Rome a triumphant opening salvo; setting the stage for what should be an epic conclusion.
The show is in the capable hands of creator and executive producer Steven S. DeKnight who crafted the jaw-dropping finales Kill Them All and Wrath of the Gods. It is only with knowledge of Spartacus’ ultimate fate, which is more of a myth than historical fact, that some fans are apprehensively deliberating if the show can stick it’s landing for the final time.