Spartacus: War of the Damned

[NB: General spoilers in the following review...]

Let us break words.

Spartacus: War of the Damned is the fourth series of the stunning Starz TV series, epic in scope, drama and execution. Since its debut in 2010 this show has grown in every way imaginable. The opening episode was a struggle but one that suggested there was more to come. A choice well made to continue forwards and watch more for the first season was immensely satisfying thanks to its mix of historical drama, brutality and sex. Take the latter two away and you were left with an intelligent, fantastically realised world filled with larger than life characters based on those written in the annals of history and those which stemmed from the pen of Steven S. DeKnight and his creative team. The Bringer of Rain himself could not have envisioned anything more glorious. Spartacus from first to last has proven itself one of the finest shows around. This final series, the forebodingly titled War of the Damned does not disappoint and to see the end of Spartacus’ story soothes heart.

Spartacus’ journey from free Thracian, to slave, to gladiator and ultimately to the leader of the slaves has been fantastically told over three main seasons with some fun background based in the glorious arena whilst the original Spartacus Andy Whitfield was fighting his personal battle, one he was unable to win to the sadness of all. The challenge of the show and one which was always there was met head-on and executed with brilliance. History set the boundaries and the constraints which could not be broken. Within that a tale involving real-life figures from Caesar to Gannicus, Crixus to Spartacus himself has been woven at times intricately like a spider’s web only to be blown open in the end by the sheer intensity of explosion this show is capable of. From Lucretia to Gannicus; Spartacus to Caesar the individual arcs have been superbly realised. Nothing else on television demonstrates such a range of outputs: blood, gore, ultra-violence, sex, mystery, history, speed of thought, military strategy, love and more. With Spartacus: War of the Damned and the series before it, what is possible with a TV series - and what's acceptable - has been blown wide open.

In this final series, War of the Damned, we saw the final push of the rebel’s army. Spartacus and company had defeated Glaber and put to an end all links to the house of Batiatus aside from those contained within the core group at the end of Vengeance. Here we bared witness to Marcus Crassus’ crusade for Rome against Spartacus’ legions and in so doing the fate of the mighty warrior himself. In truth very little happened in these ten episodes, being as they were just a mechanism by which to get to the end point. We saw Crassus’ prepare and move against Spartacus ready for final battle; Spartacus ready for final battle and at the same time defend those unable to fight as best he could. Within that framework was where the glory lay though. Seeing Spartacus, Crixus, Gannicus and Agron in frequent conference was mesmerising. These Gods of the Arena, the wonderful - unbeatable - warriors they were and their own strategy or lack thereof being created in order to stand up to the sheer force of the richest man in Rome, alongside his son and Julius Caesar.

The early entrance of Caesar and his part to play in the events leading to the conclusion and the formation of the Triumvirate were very entertaining. Instead of the usual faceless legionary, or the head of any given army Caesar was presented as close to a savage as he could be whilst still remaining resolutely Roman. To that end he wasn’t just a clever and strong soldier but also entertaining as hell. Here we had Gannicus in Roman form; a man interested in the glory of winning, wine and women. A Roman to appreciate rather than to hate, and not just for the clever plots but also because of his general attitude in this great time of war.

This final series had a simple part to play in the narrative within which the Bringer of Rain, his Generals and his flock play their parts. From the very start there was a focus towards a distant point at which the war would have been played out, a resolution had been reached and the finality of death had been realised. It was forever such. In that regard there was a history to act within and certain boundaries which could not be crossed no matter how much the audience would have roared had Gannicus defeated Caesar, or Spartacus Crassus. There was always a hope that the key players would be rewarded with a glorious last scene. With Crixus he got what he wanted to some extent but it felt somewhat wrong. Most likely because what happened had to happen despite it being so very much the antithesis of what folk will have desired. For Gannicus and Spartacus the end went further than that. They could never be beaten. We’ve learnt that over four series. That they had to be was the crime. The drama built and characters realised by Steven S. DeKnight has been too much, such that a destruction of what needs to happen would have been accepted in totality if it had meant the greatest warriors won. That they couldn’t meant their last battles were a letdown in the instant but on reflection a necessity. At least they didn’t lose, really. Not by fair or even means, at least. Gannicus was once more the adored god of his arena and for that we must all be grateful.

In the end all the characters we have known over the thirty-nine hours of this show were able to finish their arc one way or another. The final moment, the strongest ending, was reserved for Spartacus himself. Prepare to let a tear drop at Spartacus’ end, and perhaps another during the end credits where we see flashing in front of us all the major speaking characters from start to finish. ending with the original Spartacus, the late Andy Whitfield. I am Spartacus he roared. The greatest victory is to die a free man.

Gratitude to all. See them to wine.

If you want to watch it all again (something we at The Digital Fix are about to do because frankly, why wouldn’t you?), or now realise you really do need to watch it for the first time (We envy you), Anchor Bay are releasing the complete collection on DVD and Blu-Ray for £69.99 and £84.99 RRP respectively. If you only need War of the Damned to complete your burgeoning collection then you’ll be set back £39.99 and £49.99 respectively. All releases are out on April 29th 2013 from your favourite stockists.

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