Major spoilers if you haven't seen tonight's series finale of Spartacus: War of the Damned.
What defines victory? According to Spartacus, who has had plenty of experience with victory and also time to unlock the true meaning of the word, life defines victory. The lives of the rebels are what matter most. Freedom is what matters. In that sense, Spartacus came out of this series victorious. He died free, which is probably the most we could have ever realistically hoped for for the character. Because let's face it, not only was he historically supposed to die, but in Spartacus, everyone dies sooner or later. Could anyone have imagined a version of this series that ended with Spartacus walking away to live happily ever after? No, he had to die. And so did just about everyone else. Agron and Nasir were spared, along with Laeta and Sibyl, and the lady with her symbolic baby. They live on to define Spartacus' "Victory." And they live on to tell his story.
We expected a giant battle, and by the gods, we got one. The episode didn't waste a whole lot of time with set-up, though there were a couple of things set in motion from the start. The episode began with a nod to Kubrick's film and the classic line, "I am Spartacus!" spoken by Spartacus' men, and the man himself, whose real name we'll never know.
Spartacus and Crassus had a little chat on the night before the battle. During the conversation, Spartacus happened to mention that a woman was responsible for Tiberius' death, which contradicted Kore and Caesar's story about some nameless male slave being the one to kill his son. The confrontation that resulted from that little nugget of information led to Kore confessing to Crassus that she killed Tiberius, after which Caesar backed her up and told Crassus that Tiberius raped Kore and did some other horrible things. Crassus seemed far too forgiving, and it was almost obvious that this business would be tended to later. So I wasn't especially surprised that he saw Kore dead (or on her way there) by the end of the episode, though crucifixion seemed like a harsh punishment. Ok, she killed his son, but he had it coming.
If we want to get deep with this situation with Kore and Crassus, we could suggest that her death was more than just Crassus punishing a disloyal slave. Maybe he killed her because he knew he'd never be able to look at her without thinking about what a failure his son turned out to be (and have to accept at least some of the blame for it). With Kore gone, maybe he'll be able to look at the bust of Tiberius and pretend he wasn't a rapist.
Other pre-battle set-up had Spartacus sitting down with Gannicus and talking about his wife, Sura and the love he felt for her. Spartacus has always been good with words. We saw that later in the episode when he spoke to the rebels who were marching on toward freedom, and again when he motivated the troops just before the battle. As good as he is with rallying and battle cries, he's just as good one-on-one, because he knows how to observe and connect with people. That skill proved useful tonight in getting Gannicus on board to lead. Gannicus told Spartacus he'd gladly give his life to save the lives of others. He was looking at Sibyl when he said it, and I'm thinking the leader caught that and realized Gannicus was a changed man. Love has changed him and maybe that change is enough that he might be willing to finally lead.
With Agron unable to wield a sword, Gannicus and Naevia are really the only two people remaining in Spartacus' inner circle who could take on the responsibility. Naevia is certainly a capable warrior, but Gannicus has been prime for a leadership role for a while. So it was he who led some of the army around to attack Crassus' army from the back and snatch up their spear-shooter things (I'm sure those giant crossbow weapons have a more formal name, but that's what I'm calling them). Before his departure, Gannicus and Sibyl were together one last time, and he informed her that she was mistaken to believe he was sent by the gods to save her. It was she who saved him.
With the non-fighting rebels sent north to the mountains, the rest prepared for battle.
Better to fall by the sword than by the master's lash.
Highlights from the battle included the amazingly terrible spike-filled trench used to slaughter the Romans on the front line as they marched forward. And then came the ramps, which were perched atop the shields of some of the Romans on the other side of the trench, who were obviously too trained to hold formation that they didn't consider just tipping the ramps over and letting the rebels fall into the spike trench. The rebels had archers. The Romans fired back with catapulted fireballs. And then things got really messy.
Here's how everyone died:
Lugo - Got hit with flames when one of the fire balls flew past. But he didn't let that stop him from throwing around his giant hammer and fighting until he was too melted and stabbed to keep going. His last words: "Fuck your Mothers" (in German). RIP Lugo. You and your giant hammer were awesome.
Castus - Got slashed in the chest. He was fortunately near the man he loved when it happened. Nasir was at his side as Castus died. But his final words were not to Nasir, but to Agron, saying "Would that I have been you, but for a day." RIP Castus. You were a sweet guy, and a positive representation of pirates but Nasir/Agron forever!
Saxa - Got stabbed to death, and Gannicus was there to hold her one last time as she died. Her final words were, "I again find myself in your arms." (in German). Gannicus let out a roar the second she was gone. RIP Saxa. You were beautiful and scary-awesome.
Naevia - She was killed by Caesar, who stabbed her down the back of her neck with her own sword. Or technically, Tiberius' sword, I think. And he called her "slave" right before she died, which I hated. It's also a shame that she had to be taken down by the man who should have been defeated by Crixus. RIP Naevia. You died a warrior and were one of the most-changed-for-the-better characters of the series for the way you rose up from timid servant to fierce fighter.
Gannicus - Gannicus would probably still be fighting Romans if those people would only fight fair. After some fierce battle with Caesar, Gannicus found himself boxed in by Romans, who conveniently protected Caesar. We knew Caesar wasn't going to die, so Gannicus' fate seemed all but sealed the moment those Romans moved in on him. I thought Caesar would execute him there, but no, he saved Gannicus to be crucified alongside Kore and the other captured rebels.
It's a horrible way to die, but we were given some solace, first when Gannicus saw Oenomaus standing nearby, an indication that death was near. And maybe it was a little of Oenomaus' promise being fulfilled. He did tell Gannicus he would be there to greet him in the afterlife. And then Gannicus had his Titanic moment. The last we saw him, he was standing at the center of the arena, the crowd roaring his name, which was surely a heavenly sight and sound for this champion. RIP Gannicus. I wanted you to survive this, but you died a champion.
Lots of rebels - In addition to the men and women who died in battle, Pompey's men came upon half the group of rebels headed north to the mountains and killed many, if not all of them. Pompey, incidentally, would be the one to claim the credit for Spartacus' death. A maneuver Crassus used to gain favor with the man.
There is no justice. Not in this world.
Spartacus - Spartacus chased down Crassus, first knocking him off of his horse and then chasing him and his guard up a hill and away from the mayhem, where Crassus then hid behind his men, each of whom Spartacus killed until it was just the two of them. We know Crassus can fight. We've seen it before and we saw it tonight when he and Spartacus finally faced off, but he proved to be no match for Spartacus in the end.
Spartacus is charged by all of the loss he's experienced, and while Crassus has experienced loss too, Spartacus has had much longer to turn that anger into fuel, and that worked in his favor when squaring off against Crassus. During the fight, we saw him flash to Sura, and Varro, and Mira. These are people he loved, whose lives were taken by Romans. Even with the loss of his son, Crassus hasn't yet built up enough outrage to match what Spartacus had going on inside.
Man to man, Spartacus beat Crassus. He caught the man's sword by the blade just as he was about to be run through, flipped Crassus over and prepared to kill him. The moment was frozen and then unfrozen as Spartacus prepared to deliver the final blow, when he was halted by the spears coming through his back. A bunch of Romans showed up in the nick and took away his victory.
I get that they're supposed to protect the Imperator, but all of the back-stabbing among these people is ridiculous! On the bright side (kind of), Agron and Nasir showed up in time to save Spartacus from being executed by Crassus, which would've been a really crappy way for our hero to go out. I'll admit, I was holding my breath in that moment, wondering how I was going to be able to accept the ending of this show and find a positive way to look at it if Crassus was the one to take Spartacus down, in an unfair fight, no less. But fortunately, it didn't go down that way. Crassus got away and Spartacus was taken away with Nasir and Agron and reunited with the Laeta, Sibyl and symbolic mother and baby. But there's no coming back from spears through the chest. Not spears that big anyway.
Do not shed tear. There is no greater victory than to fall from this world a free man.
Spartacus died in the grass, speaking Sura's name in anticipation of finally meeting the only woman he's ever truly been in love with, in the afterlife. And he'll finally hear his name spoken again when he meets her there. The moment he died, it began to rain. A fitting way for the gods to pay tribute to the fall of Spartacus, Bringer of Rain.
Agron pointed out that Rome will one day crumble, but Spartacus would be remembered in the hearts of all who crave freedom. The series ended with the remaining rebels walking away, presumably north to the mountains.
Just a random theory to throw out there, but Sibyl was last seen holding her abdomen, which makes me wonder if it's meant to be implied that she's pregnant. She and Gannicus did share one last romantic night together before the battle. Maybe that's just my wishful thinking talking, but I like the idea there might be a little something of Gannicus left behind, beyond his legend.
But legend is enough. In fact, Agron's words about Spartacus' name being remembered proved to be true, and that's as much of a happy ending as we could have expected for this series. Spartacus has always been a series that's more about the journey than it was its destination. Like many great stories, its value was in evolving plot and the character development. In that respect, Spartacus proved to be one of the better and truly underrated dramas in recent years, and it will certainly be missed.
The series closed out with credits that showed the character stand-ups we usually see at the end of each episode, only this one included all of the characters from the series' run, and ended with original Spartacus Andy Whitfield's triumphant cry, "I am Spartacus!" Fitting tribute for actor, character and series.
To series creator Steven DeKnight, the other writers, the cast and the crew, sincerest gratitude for many entertaining episodes and a satisfying conclusion.
Read our list of 13 epic character deaths from Spartacus leading up to the finale here.