As far as penultimate episodes go, one can hardly blame Spartacus: War of The Damned for wanting to provide a little fan service in the brief resurrection of Spartacus and Gannicus' gladiator side, as they choose to honor the "Undefeated Gaul" in what is (likely) the twilight of their time on Earth.
While some may have preferred the final two installments of Spartacus to focus on the climactic battle between the rebels and the massive army of Marcus Crassus (and, now, the arrival of Pompey), there is considerable emotional impact in Spartacus' bloody and brutal decision to take Roman captives and set them against his warriors in a reversal of the violent games that began this ferocious conflict.
On the surface, the impromptu staging of these matches allows the series to honor Crixus' (and Manu Bennett's) exit from the series, and on that level it worked quite well. But 'The Dead and the Dying' also has the unenviable task of setting up the climax to an entire series. In that regard, the episode does manage to provide some interesting scenes wherein characters like Spartacus and Gannicus are afforded the opportunity to lay out what initially reads like simple exposition, but turns out to be some of the series' major themes boiled down into two conversations.
Gannicus' interplay with Sibyl and, later, Spartacus' discussion with Laeta over the visceral and emotional weight of these "games" provide a sort of comprehensive insight into the series as a whole that actually plays quite well against the sadistic nature of what the rebels are putting the Romans through.
But it's also fan service, as 'The Dead and Dying' offers Spartacus and his rebels one last chance to balance some of the scales, even though it means giving Crassus the reason to bear down upon them with the full weight of his army. In that sense, of course, the fate of Tiberius is of utmost concern, considering the number of characters who could rightly lay claim to first crack at shuffling the simpering Master of the Cheap Shot into the afterlife. War of the Damned has given the title of ickiest villain over to Tiberius and in what would prove to be his final appearance in the series, Christian Antidormi doesn't hold back in his attempt to make Crassus' son a satisfying punching bag.
After Spartacus ever-so-delicately plucks him from the back of his fleeing horse, the question of who will do Tiberius in floats around for the majority of the episode – long enough that Crassus learns of Spartacus' duplicity and sends Caesar out to recover his boy in exchange for 500 rebel soldiers, including Agron.
At this point, 'The Dead and Dying' offers Naevia a chance at revenge and redemption, as she is handed the opportunity to do battle with Tiberius – but just as she's seconds away from taking his life, Spartacus interrupts and informs her of Crassus' proposition. The fact that Spartacus offers Naevia the final word in the matter speaks volumes about his ability as a leader, while also providing a continuation to the solid scene between the two, as they mourned the loss of Crixus and Naevia expressed regret over the manner in which she conducted herself at Sinuessa. As such, Naevia puts the lives of 500 rebels over her own (admittedly) insatiable bloodlust and foregoes the chance to terminate the man who literally stabbed Crixus in the back and robbed the Gaul of a glorious death.
So, in that sense, it's fitting that before Tiberius is actually struck down, his last moments are filled with terror over what Caesar plans to do with him on the ride back to Crassus' camp. But there is still one within the rebels' numbers who would have claim to taking Tiberius' life. At this point, the push to kill the young man is practically a massive conspiracy that bridges both sides of the conflict, but it is Kore who manages to deliver the fatal blow, while still presenting the rebels the chance to recover their captured comrades. If this were the last time we see Kore, the unnerving scene in which Crassus tells her she will refer to him as "Dominus" informs all we'd really need to know about what lies ahead for the character.
As the final episode approaches, it's clear the daunting task DeKnight had in telling this leg of the conflict over a mere 10 episodes. And so we are left to anticipate the kind of send off the characters and this series will get in next week's finale.
Spartacus: War of the Damned concludes next week with 'Victory' @9pm on Starz. Check out a preview below:
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