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Ashley Warren

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Ashley has a Masters degree in English Literature, and is currently attempting to master her very own quarter-life crisis. She has an honorary doctorate in watching TV, eating food, and being awesome ... more

Kill Them All: A Spartacus Primer

I’ve heard in many places around these here internets that shows like Spartacus and The Borgias are “history porn.” I can’t speak for The Borgias, not having seen it, but I think calling Spartacus porn is a disservice. Certainly it feels a little bit like watching pornography, especially the first time you see it, but there’s a depth to Spartacus that you only get if you can look past all the sex and violence.

Spartacus is a show that is interested in telling stories about three dimensional characters living in a corrupt world. It explores ideas of power and freedom and economics, all through wonderful and affecting performances by actors like the late Andy Whitfield, Lucy Lawless, and The Mummy‘s John Hannah. It just so happens that this smart, highly entertaining show is on Starz, a network that places just as much importance on having as much sex and violence in each episode as there is plot. Starz is like the thirteen year old kid in the corner who is constantly jumping up and down screaming “MORE BOOBIEZ!!” It’s important to note that while the sex and violence is explicit, it is never gratuitous. It always, always has a point. If you like smart writing, good acting, and great fight scenes, and you don’t have a weak stomach, you should be watching Spartacus. Here’s what you need to know before season two premieres in January:

(And just so you’re all aware of the purpose of a primer: SPOILERS AHOY!)

What You Need to Know About Spartacus, In Ten Minutes or Less

This is Spartacus (Andy Whitfield*, pictured above). He is a Thracian warrior. He was betrayed by a Roman Legatus (see below) and captured for treason. His wife, Sura (Erin Cummings), was forcibly taken as well and sold into slavery. This causes him much angst. He is sentenced to die in the arena of Capua, pitted against four gladiators, but instead he survives and is purchased by a lanista, to be trained as a gladiator himself. At first, he refuses to accept his new position in life, but after the death of his wife, he embraces the destiny of a gladiator, earning fame and glory as the Champion of Capua. He makes friends, and even more enemies. But when he learns that the death of his wife was no accident (again, see below), Spartacus turns on his masters and ignites a revolt. The first season ends with the entire ludus rising up, and every slave in the place freed.

*Spartacus was played by Whitfield in season one, but the role was recast in 2010 with his blessing when he became unable to continue for health reasons. The role of Spartacus in season two — subtitled “Vengeance” — will be played by Liam McIntyre. Andy Whitfield died on September 11, 2011 from non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

This is Glaber — Legatus Gaius Claudius Glaber (Craig Parker, whom you might recognize from Lord of the Rings). He convinced a bunch of Thracians from Spartacus’s village to help him fight the Getae, allies of Rome’s enemy, Mithridates VI of Pontus. It was pretty easy for him to do this. The Getae frequently raided Thracian lands. However, the Thracians are treated horribly by the Romans, thrust first into battle and barely provided with provisions and shelter from the cold. The real punch in the nuts for Spartacus comes, though, when Glaber decides to turn the whole army around to take on Mithridates himself, ordering the Thracians to help him, instead of pursuing the Getae, who are quickly making their way to Thracian villages. Spartacus loses his calm, smacks some people around, and deserts the army to go home and save his wife from the menacing Getae (convincing a significant portion of the Thracians to desert along with him). So while Spartacus saves his wife from certain death, Glaber tracks him down and captures him, furious that Spartacus has humiliated him. He is also angry when Spartacus survives execution, and takes every opportunity to taunt Spartacus about his new position as a slave. Glaber is mostly absent from the last part of season one, but I have a feeling his character is about to become very important in the upcoming slave revolt of season two.

This is Quintus Lentulus Batiatus (John Hannah) and his wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless). Batiatus is a lanista, a trainer of gladiators. The ludus has been in his family for generations, and he takes great pride in boasting about the quality of his gladiators to anyone who will listen. Batiatus and Lucretia are extremely ambitious. They are determined to raise their social status high enough to eventually stand alongside the great, powerful, and rich of Rome, and they will do almost anything to accomplish that goal. Batiatus gains Spartacus’s trust and guides him to glory as a gladiator, but he does so by promising to Spartacus’s face that he will reunite him with his enslaved wife, but behind his back arranging to have Sura killed to ensure Spartacus’s loyalty to the ludus and to the house of Batiatus. For a while it works, but when Spartacus learns of Batiatus’s true actions, he turns on his master, killing him and bringing his house to ruin.

Lucretia navigates the perilous realm of the Roman woman, schmoozing and flattering her way to the top. She is also having an affair with a gladiator (see below), and trying in vain to have a child. She finally becomes pregnant, but loses the baby in the uprising when she is stabbed through the stomach by the very same gladiator who probably impregnated her. The great thing about Batiatus and Lucretia is that despite all their bad behavior — the murder, the lies, the infidelity — these two people really love one another, and you can bet that’s going to be a huge factor when we see the ruined Lucretia again in season two.

This is Doctore, given name Oenomaus (Peter Mensah). He is the Doctore of the House of Batiatus, training the other gladiators to fight in the arena. Once a famous gladiator himself, Doctore is the only gladiator until Spartacus to have survived against the giant Theokoles. Doctore is fiercely loyal to Batiatus and accepting of his position in life. Despite being extremely smart, Doctore willingly blinds himself to the misdeeds of Batiatus. He does not know that it is due to the ambitious actions of Lucretia that his wife, Melitta (Marisa Ramirez), was poisoned. Oenomaus joins with Spartacus at the end of season one.

This is Crixus (Manu Bennett). Until Spartacus came along, Crixus was the Champion of Capua, the undefeated Gaul. He embraces the brotherhood and the glory of being a gladiator, and looks down on Spartacus for wishing for a life outside of slavery. He is favored by Lucretia, who frequently summons him to have sex with her, a duty he performs willingly. When Crixus is severely injured in the arena, Spartacus becomes the new Champion of Capua. While recovering from his injuries, Crixus starts a forbidden romance with Lucretia’s house slave, Naevia (see below). His trysts with Lucretia become nothing but a chore for him as he falls in love with Naevia. It is because of what happens to Naevia that Crixus finally agrees to join with Spartacus against the House of Batiatus, and the two finally unite as friends.

This is Naevia (Lesley-Ann Brandt**). She was born in the House of Batiatus and has served there as a slave for her entire life. She is Lucretia’s personal slave when Spartacus begins. Naevia is secretly in love with Crixus, and has been for years, but does nothing about it. When Lucretia learns of the affair between Naevia and Crixus, she flies into a jealous rage. She beats Naevia, chops off all her hair, and sells her into slavery. Crixus stabs Lucretia during the slave uprising for what she did to Naevia, killing their unborn child.

**The role of Naevia has been recast for season two. She will now be played by Cynthia Addai-Robinson.

This is Ashur (Nick Tarabay). Ashur used to be a gladiator, but due to a crippling leg wound, Batiatus found other uses for him. Ashur is Batiatus’s errand boy, his doer of dirty deeds. Batiatus uses him for his cunning, but Ashur longs for the life of a gladiator. He is scorned by the other men of the Brotherhood, who do not see him as one of them, even though he bears the mark of the gladiator. In turn, Ashur resents successful and popular gladiators like Spartacus, but he especially hates Crixus and Barca (Antonio Te Maioha), the latter of whom he tricks Batiatus into killing. Ashur does not join with Spartacus to overthrow Batiatus.

This is Illythia (Viva Bianca). She is Glaber’s wife, and the daughter of a Roman Senator. She uses her wealth and high social standing to get pretty much whatever she wants. She cultivates a “friendship” with Lucretia that mostly consists of her taking advantage of Lucretia in exchange for giving Lucretia tiny little boosts up the social ladder (something that both women know is going on under the surface, but never talk about). Illythia is spoiled rotten, and she hates Spartacus for the way that he humiliated her husband. She takes every opportunity she can to put Spartacus down like the dog she thinks he is. Spartacus considers her responsible for the death of his best friend, Varro (Jai Courtney), whom Spartacus was forced to kill for sport. Midway through season one, Illythia killed the wealthiest woman in Rome in a fit of embarrassed rage, and the only person alive who knows about it is Lucretia.

This is Mira (Katrina Law). Mira is a house slave who is sent by Lucretia to seduce Spartacus. After Spartacus refuses — insulted by the idea of sleeping with a woman who is being forced to do so — a series of incidents produces a strange friendship between the two. Mira comforts Spartacus upon the death of Varro, and later, she is instrumental in the slave uprising, stabbing a guard in the neck and opening the gates between the house and the ludus so the gladiators can enter the villa and kill all the Romans. She escapes with Oenomaus, Crixus and Spartacus.

This is Gannicus (Dustin Clare). Gannicus was introduced in Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, the prequel mini-series shot between seasons one and two in order to give Andy Whitfield time off to recover. Gannicus was the Champion of Capua before Crixus. He earns his freedom at the end of the mini-series through his prowess in the arena, but something tells me he’ll be back for season two, raising hell along with the rest of Batiatus’s old slaves. And you know what? I can’t wait. Hope you’ll all join me in watching.

– – –

Spartacus: Vengeance premieres January 27, 2012 on Starz.

Categories: TV

Tags: Andy whitfield, Craig parker, Dustin clare, John hannah, Liam mcintyre, Lucy lawless, Manu bennett, Nick tarabay, Peter mensah, Spartacus, Spartacus: blood and sand, Spartacus: vengeance, Starz, Viva bianca

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