Spartacus: War of the Damned – “Victory” Review
Spartacus’ journey comes to an end in this emotional, mesmerizing finale.
Note: Full spoilers for the episode to follow.
Very few shows have consistently entertained and engaged me like Spartacus has. The series has consistently, over three seasons and a prequel series, defied expectations and delivered one of the most action-packed, well-acted historical dramas ever to grace the small screen. It’s even survived the unfortunate passing of the original lead actor, the late Andy Whitfield. With many great shows having been canceled before their time, I’m glad to see that Spartacus was able to end on its own terms. The entire series has been building towards this episode, and thankfully, it does not disappoint.
It was cool to see them throw in the “I am Spartacus!” line from the 1960 movie. It showed the unity of the rebels; even Gannicus, who never felt so much that he was fighting for a cause rather than his friend. The tactic also worked to confuse the Romans and disguise Spartacus’ true identity as they prepared for the final battle.
Agron has survived a hell of a lot, and it seemed like he was a goner more than a few times throughout Spartacus: War of the Damned. But the man proves to be even harder to kill than the Undefeated Gaul, and his spirit even stronger. Despite being crucified just last episode, and still suffering grave injuries from the battle that took Crixus’ life, Agron refuses to sit on the sidelines. Nasir thoughtfully fashions a shield/ sword combo for him to use in the final battle, as he cannot grasp a sword. I liked the nod to the very first episode – Agron’s shield featured a red serpent, just like Spartacus’ wife warned him of. Nasir pledges to fight by Agron’s side no matter what, and I was happy to see both of them make it through to the final credits.
Crassus’ one-on-one meeting with Spartacus before the final conflict was interesting. Crassus is a man who is every bit Spartacus’ equal, just raised on the opposite side of the tracks. Crassus’ respect for the man is more than obvious, and he even shakes his hand. I was half-expecting him to try and take him out with a hidden blade or something, but Crassus is more honorable than that. He wants to kill Spartacus on the field of battle, where everyone can see him seize the glory of victory. Both men think that what they’re fighting for is just, which makes for the best of cinematic confrontations. During this bit of face time, Crassus finally learns the truth about what happened to Tiberius, and quickly thereafter, what he did to Kore to force her actions.
I was almost expecting Crassus not to believe Kore and kill her anyway. But with both Caesar and Kore shouting the truth at him, he had no choice but to listen to reason. Crassus loved Tiberius, but it’s obvious he pushed him much too hard trying to harden him into a man. After the events of “Decimation”, Tiberius had a one track mind wanting nothing but vengeance on his father. When Crassus finally learns the truth, he crushes the mold of Tiberius’ face in shame, hinting that there’s a good reason that Tiberius isn’t in the history books. It was shocking when Crassus had Kore crucified for her actions, considering what she had been put through at the hands of his son.
The final battle more than lived up to my expectations. Spartacus is known for its fantastic choreography, and the final conflict was one of, if not the finest display of swordsmanship and strategy seen in the series. The display of flaming projectiles, flying spears and limb separations was one I definitely will not soon forget. It also looked amazing, with fantastic camera work and editing that managed to keep the action intelligible. There was definitely some heavy CGI work employed here, but it was on par with film and everything looked quite realistic. It’s a mesmerizing, emotional sequence, as we watch some of our favorite characters, and countless nameless others fall in the name of freedom. And Gannicus finally took up his true calling as a leader, commanding a small force into the battlefield alongside Saxa when things looked bleakest for the rebels. Crassus was even willing to take down his own soldiers in his destructive wake all in the name of ending the rebellion.
I want to take a moment here to give Liam McIntyre major props for his portrayal of Spartacus. Obviously the way he acquired the role was unfortunate, and many fans thought he could never live up to Andy Whitfield’s incredible run. While he was a bit green in Vengeance, he’s really come into his own now, and especially in this final episode- he totally owns the role. Liam manages to capture a wide range of emotions here believably, and I can’t wait to see what he does in the future.
It was tough watching Saxa and Naevia die in close proximity to one another. Both were true warriors of the battlefield though, and died honorable deaths. The same can’t really be said for Gannicus. After all the build-up to his confrontation with Caesar, I was expecting one hell of a showdown. But it seemed like they hardly got started before the Roman army closed in on Gannicus, taking him down as a group. It was an unfitting end for a god of the arena, and really the only letdown of the entire epic battle. I suppose Caesar, deep down, knew that he could not best Gannicus in a fair fight. He died in much the same way as Crixus, utterly overtaken by the might of the Roman army, and not given a true warrior’s death. He was crucified and left as an example, but I did love the view from his eyes, as he dreamed of better days in the arena, with the crowd roaring and chanting his name as Oenameus glanced back at him.
The final fight between Crassus and Spartacus was epic. After running maniacally up the hillside by himself and dispatching all of Crassus’ nearby guards, the two engaged in a one-on-one swordfight for the ages. We’ve seen Crassus training since the first episode of War of the Damned, and here he matches Spartacus blow for blow in this emotional battle. There was an awesome moment where Spartacus just lost it, swinging wildly at Crassus as visions of his wife Sura, Mira and his friend Varro all flashed before his eyes. The emotion of this fight was palpable, and it seemed like either side could actually win. I was quite surprised when Crassus caught Spartacus’ blade with his hands, gripping it and forcing it towards him for what I thought would be the final blow. When Spartacus gains the upper hand and raises his sword for the kill, a hail of spears from approaching Romans take him down. It was hard to watch, and I loved McIntyre and Merrells’ final dialogue.
“Would that you’d been born a Roman, and had stood beside me.”
“I bless the fates that it was not so.”
It was awesome to see Agron ride up and knock Crassus down, preventing him from delivering the final blow. They carried Spartacus away, and he lived out his final moments in peace, surrounded by those he fought so hard for. He spoke of yearning to see his wife again, and Agron told him that Rome will one day crumble and fall, but the name Spartacus will long be remembered. He was buried with Agron’s shield above him.
The final credits showcased all of the great characters that Spartacus has bestowed upon us, and rightfully ended with Andy Whitfield yelling “I am Spartacus!” It was a fitting, emotional ending, and I will absolutely miss this show. It couldn’t have gone out on a better note.