For Spartacus: Vengeance, the second season of the popular STARZ show, the stakes are high. The show is under a tremendous amount of scrutiny as fans warily anticipate Liam McIntyre taking up the titular role after the passing of original Spartacus Andy Whitfield. As Vengeance begins there’s a clear sense that McIntyre is being introduced as Spartacus in such a way that is almost like a series reboot.

Because of how incredible this show is in its storytelling I’ve decided that there will be absolutely no spoilers in the review below. Not only that, but there will be no discussion of specific plot points. Read on with no fear.

Series creator Steven S. DeKnight and his team deftly handle the transition to a new actor by ensuring that the story that ended with “Kill Them All” 2 years ago is moving forward. Yes, we have a new lead actor. And of course there’s an adjustment to seeing McIntyre as Spartacus. A number of times when McIntyre was being shown I thought he was one of the random gladiators until someone addressed him. By the end of episode 4 that problem is gone completely. I didn’t realize how much McIntyre would have to prove to me that he’s worthy of the role, but I’m happy with what he’s doing with the character.

We pick up with Spartacus and his band of freed slaves a few weeks after the escape from the Ludus, and the group has terrorized the populace of Capua. Rome sends Glaber to bring Spartacus to justice, as the people are afraid of what the alliance of slaves and gladiators might do next. With him comes his wife Illythia, who is just as wonderfully snake-like and seethingly vicious as ever. Glaber’s decision to set up camp in a familiar location should make fans happy that an iconic location will not be abandoned quite yet.

There’s no telling how far the story will go in just one season, especially knowing that this war lasts for years. The first four episodes are focused on establishing Spartacus as a leader of this band of would-be soldiers, and that allows the audience to also come to accept McIntyre in the role. Personal goals cause friction in the ranks as each man has a score to settle. So far this second season is feeling like a study in the formation of a revolutionary army.

But what has always set Spartacus apart is how wonderful the characters are. Illythia and Lucretia’s continued battle was sorely missed during the prequel season, and the two are immediately back into full on conniving mode the moment they’re together again. Oenomaus is a lost man as he’s betrayed the House of Batiatus, and without his loyalty the man has nothing. Crixus is focused only on finding Naevia. And it’s watching all of these people circle each other and relate that makes each episode so special. Spartacus wastes no time in throwing out character defining moments, and in one case at the end of the first episode a redefining moment. I ended my viewing of the first four episodes with my fists raised in the air and yelling. Not many shows can get that kind of visceral reaction.

Spartacus: Vengeance is in every way the next season of the show, and anyone who thought the series wouldn’t survive with a major casting change can rest assured that McIntyre takes a bit to settle into the role but he does finally demand the respect he deserves. It will be interesting to see how fans react as the episodes progress. As much as Spartacus appears to be about inane violence and debauchery, the truth is that it’s about the men and women living a life of meaning. Vengeance is the story of them finding that meaning and beginning the next steps in an epic journey that will shake the very foundation of Rome.

Spartacus: Vengeance premieres Friday January 27 at 10:00 pm ET on STARZ.

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