The following article contains spoilers from the season premiere of Spartacus: War of the Damned. Read no further if you haven't seen the episode yet!
Spartacus may have finally met his proper match, as evidenced by Marcus Crassus' well-played hand, not to mention a fairly fantastic display of fighting as he squared off against a former gladiator and won. But before all of that, let's check in with the remaining leads.
It's months from when Vengeance left off and Spartacus' army has grown to thousands. It's to the point where he's known as "the man on the hill" to some of the people among their ranks. Better known to some by name and reputation than by face, Spartacus' highest priority has been on besting Romans and continuing to benefit from how frequently they seem to underestimate him.
Crixus and Agron are serving as Spartacus' leaders. Gannicus could be among that group, and in a way, he kind of is. He was at Spartacus' side through every fight tonight. But when Spartacus approached him to ask him outright if he'd accept a role of leadership, Gannicus - who had just come off of a steamy, wine-soaked sex romp with Saxa and a bunch of other women - turned it down, at first making light of the idea but then admitting that the only reason he's really in this war is to honor Oenomaus' name. He even went so far as to confess the brief relationship he had with Oenomaus' wife Melitta before she died.
As honorable as it is for Gannicus to be a part of the war out of respect for Oenomaus, I think some part of him really is into this fight and wants to continue to do his part. But I also think he's shying away from leadership because the idea of having other people's lives in his hands is too much responsibility for him. He strikes me as the kind of guy who prefers to only have to look out for himself. Even his situation with Saxa seems kind of loose, as evidenced by the gaggle of females that joined them when they went at it post-battle. Being in charge means being responsible for what happens to other people and I think maybe he's a little afraid of having to live with whatever consequences there might be if and when things don't go well. Continuing to serve as a fighter means the only life he's responsible for is his own. I think he'd make a good leader, but only if and when he's ready to accept the weight of the role. If he can't do that, it might be best he sticks to fighting.
Nasir and Agron appear to be as happy as they ever were. The same applies to Crixus and Naevia. Last season, their relationship was on shaky ground after the horrendous abuse Naevia suffered, which left her timid and anxious. But maybe the time that's past - not to mention killing Ashur last season - has given her some strength back (and then some) because she was pretty fierce tonight, joining the fight and playing the role of bait to a bunch of Romans and then attacking them. And things with her and Crixus seem to be in a good place, which is also a good thing. They deserve that.
On the Roman side of things, the season begins with Cossinius and Furius attempting to take Spartacus down and failing at every turn. Thinking of him as a common slave seems to be their undoing. Crassus is not so narrow-minded, which is probably why he survived the episode and Cossinius and Furius didn't.
Realizing they need help and money, Cossinius and Furius enlist the help of Marcus Crassus. Crassus seems agreeable to this and sends a message back to them that he's in. That message is intercepted by Spartacus' men and after some conversation about how to deal with the two merging armies, Spartacus and his men attack Cossinius and Furius and eventually kill them in a brutal scene that left them without their heads.
You'd think that would throw a wrench in Crassus' plans, but the end of the episode reveals that he intended for his message to be intercepted. Cutting out the middle-men, Crassus is promoted to Imperator and sole commander of the fight against Spartacus. And that's how it's done, Tiberius. As Crassus' eldest son, Tiberius is determined to prove himself to his father, but as Crassus mentioned to his wife, his son needs to learn a thing or two about strategy. Tonight's episode ended up looking like one big demonstration of that for the leader-in-training, who not only came to understand his father's plot once it had all played out, but witnessed his dad take down an enslaved gladiator who was coming at him full-force.
Crassus' one-on-one fight with HIlarus played out while Spartacus' fight with Cossinius and Furius' men was happening. There's an interesting parallel there. While Cossinius and Furius fell to their gladiator, Crassus took his down, and moments later he was made Imperator. Has Spartacus finally met his match? Well, not face-to-face, but in the figurative sense, Crassus does appear to have what it takes to handle someone as strategically gifted as Spartacus. Crassus is clearly not too proud to underestimate his opponent. Though I do wonder if he'd offer Spartacus a monument as he did Hilarus as he died. On that subject, I liked that he ensured Hilarus he wouldn't be killed if he beat him in their fight, and offered him his freedom if he won. Those terms ensured that Hilarus would genuinely fight him, and in the end, Crassus' win was the real deal. If there's a guy mentally and physically capable and willing to go up against Spartacus, I'm thinking it's Crassus.
What's ahead? Well, killing Romans isn't the only thing on Spartacus' mind. An encounter with a slave earlier in the episode revealed that food and shelter are running low for the growing numbers, and to put it in Game of Thrones terms, winter is coming. The mentioned slave didn't realize he was talking to Spartacus when he complained about how "man upon the hill" hadn't noticed that people in his group were hungry and cold. Of course, he was pretty embarrassed (and maybe a little bit scared) when he realized who he was talking to. Spartacus' response to the man's complaints: "You may not always have full belly or warm cloak, but while I draw breath you'll have freedom to speak your heart. Even against the great man upon the hill."
A decent way to tell the guy that he won't have his tongue cut out for complaining. Not only was the scene a good demonstration of Spartacus' leadership, but it brought to light the need for a place to crash as winter approaches. And that's where the episode leaves off, with Spartacus talking about tearing a city from the flesh of Rome.