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All good things must come to an end, and great TV shows are no different. “Spartacus” started with a bang and ends with an explosion! I have been a fan since Season 1 and have followed the series without missing a step. I was saddened when it was announced the series would end with its third true season, and on top of that the season would be shorter than previous ones. The third season, aptly titled “War of the Damned” was a hell of a ride, even with only ten episodes. If you haven’t kept up with the show, a lot has changed between the first and third season, and not just the main star. Character interactions are deeper, the threat is greater, and the setting is bigger.
It has been a year since the defeat of Gaius Claudius Glaber and the rebels, lead by Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) and his generals Crixus (Manu Bennett), Gannicus (Dustin Clare) and Agron (Dan Feuerriegel), have had much success against the Roman Legions. Rome’s underestimation of the rebels’ abilities have cost them dearly. Ambitious Roman citizen Marcus Crassus (Simon Merrells) has put his own coin up to purchase soldiers to lead into battle at behest of the Roman Senate. He himself is a brilliant tactician and refuses to make the same mistakes his predecessors have made. Aiding him in this is a young but seasoned (and also ambitious) soilder named Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance), who is enlisted for a clandestine mission at the start of the season.
All of this is just the set up for a crazy brutal and emotional season. I look at the two antagonists as reverse images of the two of the main protagonists, Spartacus (Crassus) and Gannicus (Caesar). They really do exude all of what we love about the heroes, but in a darker, imperialistic manner, and it works so well. Supporting characters come to the forefront in the form of Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), Crixus’ love interest that has her own personal demons to deal with, and Nasir (Pana Hema Taylor), Agron’s love interest and conscience. Even with the war looming over the show, it has the time to build characters, and develop new relationships, and change old ones. There were some jarring characters changes, to be sure, and that make me second guess things, but they all came about organically and the fact that they upset me so much was a testament to the writing. It wasn’t that they were out of character, you can easily see how things could sway a person in that direction, and it’s the fact that you like them and don’t WANT to see them go down that path that is upsetting.
This show has always been about action, drama, and sex, and there are still plenty of all three here. The sex isn’t toned down so much as it’s more out of place in most instances; that being said, we still get our fair share of skin. The action has been a constant throughout the series, with even the most introspective episodes having just enough to get you through, and it hasn’t stopped with “War of the Damned.” On the contrary, since this is full on war, we get some rather large battles throughout. If you took the final battle from season two and multiplied it by like 10, that’s what you get for the final battle here. They stretched their budget as far as it would go and it was glorious. However, for those that are not history buffs, this story does not end happily. That is all I will say.
There wasn’t one episode I disliked, and as the show aired I was counting down til the last episode. Much like the first season, the last three episodes “Separate Paths,” “The Dead and the Dying,” and “Victory” should be watched all at once, if just to soften the blow. “Separate Paths”, especially, I remember watching and feeling so mad, and then next week the episode made that hurt seem slightly less as we got a cathartic release. Also, watch the credits of the final episode to say farewell to EVERY major character throughout the show’s 3 and a half seasons, including the late Andy Whitfield getting a fitting tribute at the very end. It actually brought everything full circle and made the ending more bearable.
There is a wealth of special features, mostly behind the scenes featurettes about the training, the costuming and so on. They are all really good, and make you appreciate how much work really went into the show. I’m still a little bummed they didn’t take the opportunity to extend the final season to 16 episodes instead of shortening it, but it is a very good ending to an amazing show. This series and “Game of Thrones” has seriously upped the bar for fantasy and historical epics on TV. If you were a fan of “Spartacus” and were saddened by its ending, definitely pick up the final season, you won’t regret it. This is a show that can be watched and re-watched, and never gets old.