Any idea that Spartacus: War of the Damned might be the same old Spartacus (not that that would be a bad thing) was erased in the opening scene as a sprawling battlefield unfolded before our eyes. Gone are the confines are of the gladiator ludus in Capua and even the more wide open vistas of Spartacus: Vengeance. This is a new Spartacus that is being played out on a far grander scale.
The Spartacus led army of slaves overruns the Roman legions, sending their commanders fleeing the defeat with tails between their legs. For the first time we are treated to the grandeur of Rome as the senate now realizes that the Spartacus has moved beyond mere annoyance to full blown threat to the empire. Rome turns to the only member of the senate wealthy enough to raise a legion of ten thousand soldiers to crush Spartacus…Marcus Crassus.
While offered a position of leadership, Crassus is slighted by the senate’s refusal to give him full command, despite his funding the effort. It’s immediately evident that Crassus is not Batiatus and not Gaius Claudius Glaber. In Crassus, Spartacus has a true rival who is as clever and determined as he is. We are shown the level of Crassus’s resolve as he trains in combat with a former Roman gladiatorial champion, whom he orders to try and kill him, knowing he can never truly master combat if his opponent is holding back. It was a powerful scene and one which immediately said, “This guy is not just another happy and fat Roman.”
You could not help but admire the character and applaud actor Simon Merrells for his incredible performance. While he is not overly imposing from a physical standpoint, mentally he is Spartacus’s equal in every way. And speaking of Spartacus, he is finding out how hard it is to manage a full army rather than just a few hundred runaway slaves. He has to worry about feeding and clothing such a large force, especially with winter approaching. He’s also encountering the difficulties with command and delegating responsibilities to his generals, particularly Gannicus who is still far more interested in women and wine than the cause.
I was not blown away initially by Liam McIntyre’s performance as Spartacus and he had a difficult road to travel in replacing the late Andy Whitfield. However, towards the end of last season, and with this season’s premiere, McIntyre has truly grown into the role. Even old foe Crixus no longer questions him and he cuts a commanding figure.
“Enemies of Rome” featured all the blood and gore we’ve come to expect from Spartacus and even more. Geysers of blood spurt in slow motion glory from shoulders which once held a head and ratchets it up a notch with a horse that his cut into pieces of scrap and given to the slaves. They even fish the discarded pieces out of the mud. Oh yes! Spartacus is back for its final season and if the debut episode is any indication, we are in for one hell of a ride!