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Major spoilers if you haven't seen tonight's episode of Spartacus: War of the Damned ("Separate Paths").
Heartbreaking. Was the ending of "Separate Paths" especially surprising? No, not really. The installment being one of only three episodes left in the series and a bloody war growing ever bloodier, deaths were inevitable and it was only a matter of time before we lost someone major. But that didn't make tonight's final moments any less devastating. Given the events of the episode, I can't say I'll be disappointed to see Tiberius die bloody before all is said and done. Whether or not he meets his end in the final two episodes remains to be seen, but given his treatment of Caesar, the past assault on Kore and his most recent kill, I'd say he has an ugly death coming. I'd like to see Naevia to do the honors, if she manages to survive long enough for that to happen. Factoring in her own brutal history and Tiberius' misdeeds, Naevia seems like the prime candidate to exact justice on the man. But justice won't bring back Crixus or give him and Naevia the future they so very much deserved.
Let's wipe tears from eyes for a moment and go back to the beginning. The season has been setting us up for Spartacus and Crixus to part ways for a while now. Crixus has been chomping at the bit to kill Romans and Spartacus has taken a more tactical approach at maneuvering the army. Tonight's episode saw the birth of a child, which seemed to be a catalyst to some of what was to come. Given how much sex these people have, I'm honestly surprised there aren't more pregnant women wandering around. Were there contraceptives in those days? (Insert Trojan joke here.) The birth of the child seemed to prompt Spartacus to choose the "flight" approach to protecting the rebels. With plans to move the freed slaves up toward the Alps so that they can get on with being free, Crixus voiced his opinion on heading toward Rome and finishing what they started.
At this point, Spartacus wasn't going to force Crixus or anyone else to move on. As he put it, they've all fought for the chance to forge their own path. He's no longer going to stand in the way of Crixus' or anyone else's. So Crixus was free to move toward Rome and take whomever wanted to go with him. There was no animosity on either side, which opened up the departure to celebration and tearful goodbyes.
The group stormed a villa and set up a place to drink, sing that ridiculous "My Cock Rages On" drinking song, have sex - for one couple, in the very fountain where one recently slaughtered Roman was left to die - and enjoy a brief reprieve from the war. The scene was a stark contrast to the icy encampment last week. And that's when the goodbyes started to happen.
Agron and Nasir have been on the outs of late, but the two seemed to be coming back together in recent episodes. When Agron revealed that he was going to fight with Crixus, Nasir was on board to come along. But Agron insisted he go with Spartacus. While Agron is a warrior at heart, it was important to him that Nasir survive all of this. The two shared an emotional goodbye that felt like the real deal. And given the events that transpired later, it may very well have been.
Naevia and Crixus shared a moment earlier, talking about their own future. But it was clear from the conversation that this war comes first and that they stay together. When Crixus was called away, Naevia looked on at the newborn baby and it seemed like she knew she was never going to have that future. She and Crixus are fighting for the baby's future and the future of other slaves, not their own, unfortunately. It was that conversation that seemed to decide that they would move on with the war no matter what.
Speaking of the baby, the birth revealed to Spartacus that one of Crassus' slaves was in their midst. When Kore openly revealed to him that she left Crassus because his son was raping her, Spartacus took pity on her and put her in Laeta's care. Of course they're going to think she's another Crassus spy, but given what happened to his wife, it's not entirely surprising that Spartacus would show mercy on another abused woman. Or maybe he hopes she'll leak information to Crassus. There's always that possibility.
Spartacus allowed himself some down time tonight when he and Laeta put their differences aside and went at it as though it was only ever a matter of time. Maybe it was. Spartacus made sure she knew he could never love a Roman. She assured him she wasn't after his heart. And then they got to it.
Crixus and his army marched toward Rome and prepared to fight. Crixus rallied the troops and gave a speech, drawing inspiration from Oenomaus in his approach. That in itself should have been a sign that we were seeing the last of this great warrior.
They used great balls of fire as part of their attack against the army that stood in their way. An idea Crixus seemed to come up with watching a piece of burning coal roll past the fire after he and Naevia shared some alone time together. After assault by fire, they quickly took down the troops and began to celebrate the victory when Crassus and the rest of the army showed up like a swarm of red ants on a picnic. It was evident that they were outnumbered, but Crixus and his people didn't retreat. They continued to fight until they were completely boxed in.
We saw Tiberius take a swipe at Agron and it looked like he was down, but I'm not 100% sure he's dead. Recalling Heracleo's return after being seemingly dead earlier this season, I'm reserving full judgment on Agron's status until the next episode - which just so happens to be titled "The Dead and the Dying" - confirms it one way or the other. But given Agron's emotional farewell scene with Nasir, it's very possible that we've seen the last of the funny, kind and fierce warrior.
Agron's fall was swift and unceremonious by comparison to Crixus'. He and Caesar were fighting and just as Crixus was about to take the future leader of Rome down, Tiberius put a sword through his back. He dropped to his knees and Crassus moved in, announcing that they would use Crixus' death as a message. While Naevia watched on, Tiberius beheaded Crixus, and we saw the worst of it in the reflection of Naevia's eye. An emotional way to confirm his brutal death without forcing us to see the worst of it straight on.
I hate that Crixus is dead, but I get it. And it's at this point that I want to say just how awesome Manu Bennett has been playing the strong but emotional and passionate character. He's been one of the best things about this series from the beginning. In many ways, Crixus has helped shape who Spartacus is as this story's hero, from his days as a gladiator, when Crixus was his rival, and on to his life as a leader, when Crixus fought at his side but occasionally openly opposed him. We've seen Crixus' evolve as a character throughout the series, from his days of fighting in Gannicus' shadow in Gods of the Arena, through his time as Lucretia's man-on-the-side, his budding romance with Naevia and his life - and death - as a fierce warrior. His death mattered, as did the fact that he and Spartacus parted on good terms and acknowledged each other as brothers in this life.
Grief over Crixus should serve to fuel our anticipation of the last two episodes, as much as it will hopefully fuel the rebels to fight harder and destroy the Romans.
Speaking of Romans, up until the battle, much of what was going on in Crassus' side of the story had to do with Kore's departure. The leader was clearly upset over it, and is prone to fits of rage at the very mention of her absence. Senator Metellus learned that lesson the hard way. Crassus hasn't seemed to put two and two together when considering the tension between his son and Caesar. Tiberius and Caesar had it out tonight when Caesar called Tiberius out for raping Kore. What did Tiberius do in response?
He raped Caesar.
I guess that's like his thing now. Tiberius flexes his authority with sexual assault. A few weeks back I was talking about the tension involved in Caesar's scenes since we know it's unlikely he'll be killed off. The rape scene in tonight's episode seemed almost like a direct response to that. Even Caesar managed to point it out, yelling, "I am Julius Fucking Caesar!" when Tiberius had two guards holding him down. As if to say, "I know you don't die yet," Tiberius penetrated him in a different way in an awful and somehow shocking display of violence.
Of course, the moment was acknowledged later when a pouting Caesar was on foot rather than horseback when the Romans rolled in to attack Crixus' army. Crassus even noted it, but he seems absolutely none the wiser of the problems between his son and Caesar. Or if he does, he's refusing to acknowledge it.
Tonight's episode was brutal. And we're left to wonder what's to become of the rest of Crixus' army, including Naevia. And what's going on with Spartacus? Did he really leave or is this a part of some bigger plan? He has Gannicus with him, which may have been an effort on the writers' part to spare Gannicus from being part of the slaughter for now. Or else, he's with Spartacus because the leader has some other bigger plan in mind and he needs Gannicus to be a part of it. It's hard to say, but either way, I can't imagine the "message" the Romans plan to send Spartacus will go unanswered.
Tune in April 5 for the second to last episode of the series, "The Dead and the Dying." (Yes, you read that date right. No new episode of Spartacus next Friday night).