Let’s take a moment to consider how far Spartacus has come. The first episodes are justly maligned, more a cut-rate rip-off of 300 than the complex, thoughtful yet deliciously trashy melodrama we’ve since enjoyed. But even as the first season hit its stride, it remained a small-scale show, filled with scrappy battles and petty political machinations.
Now, in an episode that could have easily been a season finale (if this weren’t, sadly, the final season), we have its main players waging a full-scale war against one another, both Spartacus and Crassus moving their pieces strategically. Here’s an hour where characters I treated with skepticism scant episodes ago realise truly powerful arcs, whether it’s Tiberius giving into dark and terrible impulses with his rape of Kore; or Caesar, whose masculine posturing seemed over-the-top only three episodes ago, becoming a character that could anchor his own spinoff.
For the first time since season one, Spartacus finds himself in a battle that he doesn’t seem predestined to win, thanks to the sudden but inevitable betrayal of Heracleo and his Cilacian pirates. The stakes are high here, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that many of the main players will not live out the series.