“Spartacus: War of the Damned” Episode 9 Recap: Ye Olde Gladiator Magic

Picture it: Sicily (well, at least Italy,) 1922. BC. (Okay, actually it’s more like 68 BC, but you see where I am heading with this.) A small group of Roman soldiers huddle around a fire. Their leader grouses that they have only one rabbit to eat amongst them. Guess his portion didn’t include the foot because suddenly, out of the night, a flaming arrow pierces him through the gut. Hmm.

Perspective. It’s all about perspective. And, in many ways, this penultimate episode of Spartacus is about perspective as well. Beautifully, the episode takes a good long glance backward before the series hurtles inevitably toward its bittersweet conclusion. We spend time remembering old friends and go back to where this all started—back to the sands, back to fighting gladiator to gladiator, as if we never left them at all.

Attacking this small group of Roman soldiers is Spartacus and company. However, these Romans do not wear the crest of Crassus. Laeta confirms for Spartacus that these are Pompey’s men. Great. Now the rebels are caught between two armies, each vying to be the one that causes Spartacus to kick his final bucket, if you know what I mean. Could things get any worse? Suddenly, a lone rider approaches. The figure is dressed in the cloak of a Roman solider, but this is no Roman. It is a battered and defeated Naevia. And she brings with her the only spoil of war that remains. The head of the undefeated Gaul, Crixus himself.

Oh, well. At least his hair has never looked better all season.

Naevia is clearly in need of a weekend at the spa and a few sessions on Dr. Phil’s couch, because the girl is majorly bumming that she has been walking around with a handbag made out of her dead lover’s cranium (helpful note to my readers: if Naevia offers you mints from her purse, pass.) She tells Spartacus and everyone of the many victories the rebels had and how they stood before the very gates of Rome itself until Crassus caught up with them. She tends to linger on the “Crixus getting stabbed from behind by Tibby” part of the story, but, if I were her, I’d try to look on the bright side of things. Girl, you are still alive, and you finally stopped rocking those dreads. Honestly, honey, things could be worse.

Nasir asks Naevia of the fate of Agron, but her silence seems, despite what William Shakespeare once said, not to herald any news of joy. Naevia says that she was spared only “to taunt Spartacus with vision of his end,” though, frankly, I would not mind it one bit if Spartacus decided to taunt the audience with a few visions of his end, because it looks like one fine piece of man-end, if you know what I mean. Spartacus says that the rebels should not fret over Crassus; Pompey, who seems closer, is the more pressing threat.

Elsewhere, Crassus and Tibby express their frustration that despite all of their various methods of torture, none of the rebels will spill any vital intel on where Spartacus is, what he is doing, and what he wants for Saturnalia this year. You mean torture doesn’t work? From your lips to Dick Cheney’s ears, Crassus!

News comes from the follower’s camp: it appears that the “working woman” who knew about Tibby’s rape of Kore has mysteriously been ripped from stem to stern. Caesar wonders aloud what might have transpired, and while Tibby is eager to blame some guy named Jack, Caesar knows better.

Two soldiers from Pompey approach, carrying news of a possible parley. Crassus snorts that he will never deign to be seen going into Pompey’s camp, especially because he dresses like a toughie and lives on the wrong side of the tracks (how very S. E. Hinton of him.) The envoy says that Pompey is suggesting that the two men bring twenty soldiers and meet on neutral ground. Tibby thinks this is a bad idea—he rambles on about saving face and Daddy Crassus has money, blah blah—while Caesar demurs. He suggests sending Tibby instead, as Tibby is the word and will of Crassus. Crassus is not sure Tibby is seasoned enough to play diplomat with Pompey, but Caesar heartily says he is. Tibby is pleased at this turn of events, imagining that his “quality bonding time” with Caesar has really adjusted someone’s attitude. Tibby is sent on to meet Pompey.


In the rebel camp, Naevia speaks with Kore, and asks her, if she was the slave of Crassus and shared his bed, why did she not gut him like a fish one night while he slept? Kore points out that blood is super difficult to get out of 1000-count fiber Egyptian sheets, and while she grieves with Naevia over her loss, she points out that they cannot live in the past. Naevia mumbles a reply about kicking Roman arse, and I am starting to think our girl is really losing it.

Tibby shows up for his meeting with Pompey looking all spiffy and scowly, as his father taught, but—guess what—turns out the envoy did not come from Pompey at all, but from Spartacus. Whoops! No one saw that coming—except, apparently Caesar, who recognized the men as belonging to Spartacus but said nothing so he could maneuver Tibby to his doom. Caesar says as much to a “lady who charges by the hour” who is upset of the death of her friend. Caesar tells her that thoughts of sexy flesh will dry her tears. Wow, that Caesar, all work and no play (at least for the woman it’s work.)

Tibby is chained by the rebels, and Kore catches a glimpse of him. Spartacus announces they will have games to honor the fallen, saving Tibby and his men to sacrifice in the arena. He gives Naevia the sword Crixus had earlier taken from Tibby. If I were her, I’d have preferred a tennis bracelet or a new dishwasher, but that’s just me.

Agron yet lives! But not for long, if Caesar and Crassus have their way. “Crucify him!” Crassus orders, and if my throat wasn’t full of lumps I’d probably be making a Jesus Christ Superstar joke about now. They order him crucified, and Agron is nailed to a board and hung from a cross. The scene where Agron is nailed to the board… seriously, I’m too delicate for stuff like this.

An envoy from Pompey then arrives. Wait, didn’t I already type that sentence? Ahh, this turns out to be the real envoy, which leads Crassus to suspect that the first one was sent by Spartacus. Ooh, treachery. Well, as a very famous public service announcement commercial says, “He learned that by watching you!” Daddy Crassus. Crassus refuses to believe Tibby is dead and sends Caesar to find a way to bring him home. Do whatever you have to, Crassus implies, and Caesar knows that he is not coming back from his mission empty-handed, one way or the other, or he is not coming back at all.

In the rebel camp, Tibby grouses about Caesar betraying him. Sigh. Do you remember our sweet little twink in the opening episodes, desperate to prove himself to his domineering father and making ridiculously “big boy” proclamations to his hunky love muffin Sabinus? I still want to know exactly what was going on between those two (well, mostly I just want to see the pictures…) Sadly, that boy is long gone, and now Tibby has devolved from the guy with the seriously cute ass to just an ass.

Kore swings by to gloat, and Tibby tells her that Daddy Crassus still loves her, and that if she can find a way to free him, he will restore her to his father’s good graces. Kore seems genuinely moved to hear about Crassus’ feelings, and tells Tibby that she will return for him that evening—when they drag his sorry butt onto the sand and kick it from one end of the Empire to the other. Seriously, I love that all the women on Spartacus end up tough as nails. Apparently slave rebellion is good for one’s sense of agency (bad for one’s split ends, though, right Naevia?)

The rebels prepare a makeshift arena for their tribute games. I find myself reminiscing fondly about the very first episodes of the series. Spartacus stands forth, taking on the role that so many loud-voiced Romans played before him, and announces the games. Shades of Batiatus and the magistrates of old, only this time, as Spartacus points out, there is a change. Before, he and his brothers had been captured by Romans, enslaved, and forced to participate in the games for their amusement. Now, however, the Romans will entertain the slaves. Spartacus turns to his denizens: “Let me entertain you!” he shouts. Offstage, Laeta wheedles, “Sing out, Louise!” (“Louise” must be her pet name for him.)

The first Roman is brought out. Tibby has instructed his men not to fight back, not to offer entertainment to the masses, so the first Roman throws his sword to the sand. Spartacus swiftly turns him into a human Pez dispenser (though I’m pretty sure that’s not cherry-flavored candy coming out of his neck,) and despite his lack of fight the crowd seems highly entertained to watch him die. Spartacus has two Romans sent out next, and in a bout worthy of the WWE, he acrobatically kicks Romans tushy.

Watching the games for the first time, Sibyl (I almost forgot about her—almost, but not quite,) turns to Gannicus. When she asks about the games, he speaks wistfully about life on the sands. Clearly, he has missed this. He says to her, “To stand upon the sands again… to know clear purpose of who you are and what must be done. That is a thing most dear to all my kind.” (Okay, he may not have said “most dear,” but my dog took that particular moment to sneeze on my hand, so I confess to missing a couple of words there. If anyone can fill in the blank, much obliged. And yes, dog sneezes in theory are cute; dog sneezes on hand, in practice, not so much.)

Gannicus takes to the sands next, and to one-up Spartacus he takes on three Romans at once. I had a good friend who once took on three Romans at once, but as this is a PG website, I’ll refrain from sharing the details. While Gannicus fights, Spartacus snuzzles with Laeta, and while I am glad those two crazy kids are getting on so well, finding them all hugs and kisses is a little bit weird. Laeta shies away from the games, and Spartacus asks her if it is because it is one of her kind being killed. Laeta says that the Romans are not her kind anymore, and that she looks away because of the gore, but she totally revels in the bloodbath of it all on the inside. Clearly we have a case of Sinuessa Syndrome here, with Laeta playing the part of Patty Hearst.

Gannicus separates a Roman solider from his helmet holder, and, predating the NASCAR t-shirt cannon by a good 2000 years, launches the head into the crowd. Thank God at Mardi Gras they only throw beads. As the rebels go through the Romans one by one, Tibby looks as nervous as a hillbilly on his first trip to the dentist.

We see all the remaining gladiators—Lugo, Saxa—get their turn in the ring. Then Nasir gets a turn, while Naevia waits anxiously. She tells Spartacus that she used to loathe the games, but now they are all she longs for. In the “arena,” Nasir fights on, and Castus looks both mildly worried and incredibly turned on. Then again, when is that sexy pirate never turned on?

A solider comes for Gannicus and Spartacus. Turns out, they have company—the traitor Benedict Caesar. Gannicus is unsurprisingly not happy to see him, but Spartacus wants to hear him out. Caesar offers 500 of Spartacus’ men in exchange for the life of Tibby. Hmm. They better hurry up if they are going to do this. Tibby is being led out to fight Naevia and he looks as anxious as a first grader playing a bumblebee in the school play. Yup—there he goes. I think Tibby just filled his stinger with a healthy dose of “brown honey,” if you know what I mean.

Despite his fear, Tibby tries to show bravado, saying to Naevia, “I would have my sword returned to me, slave!” Way to throw shade, Tibby. In return, Naevia scornfully calls him a woman. Uhh, isn’t Naevia a woman? So did she just insult Tibby by calling him a Naevia? Circular logic notwithstanding, the two clash in battle. We’re all having flashbacks to Ashur and the end of the previous season, but Naevia proves more than a match for Tibby. She’s the gladia-tromatic—she slices, she dices, and soon she is ready to plop his head right off. But just as the death blow comes, Spartacus stays her hand. Kore and the entire crowd are clearly disappointed, but Spartacus tells them of Caesar’s deal and lets Naevia decide what to do. Again, I love the forward-thinkingness of Spartacus’ operation. Women can be gladiators, women make command decisions. They would even wear pants, if someone had invented them already.

Naevia decides the lives of her comrades are worth more than killing Tibby, though she wallops him on the nose and promises that his respite from death will be a short one. She is right, because as Spartacus brings Tibby forward to give to Caesar, Kore rushes up and stabs Tibby right in the kidneys (with, I believe, his father’s knife. Nice touch.) Tibby goes down and we finally learn that there will be no spin-off for him. Caesar and Spartacus are both not happy—now what will they do? Kore says that Crassus will still make the exchange, if they offer him something he would want as much as Tibby alive.

We next see Crassus, grief-stricken over Tibby’s body, while Caesar tells him that Spartacus went to make the deal but an old slave man rushed from the crowd to kill Tibby. Cough, cough, bullpoopy, cough, cough. Crassus wonders why Caesar went ahead and made the deal anyway, and he says he took advantage of an unforeseen opportunity, and presents Kore to Crassus. Will Crassus kill her? Will he kiss her? He decides on the latter, but when she melts and calls him “Marcus,” he coldly tells her, “You shall address me as dominus.” Well, except on Saturday nights, when she gets to call him Long Crassus Silver.

We watch as the wounded rebels are returned to Spartacus. There are many tearful reunions and—happily—included among them is Nasir and Agron. Oh, bless the gay gods for that one! Nasir tells his love, “The gods return you to my arms,” and Agron replies, “I was fool to ever leave them” Damn right you were! Now that you got that through your thick Germaniac skull, you and Nasir go run off and open a nice boutique somewhere on the Mediterranean. Go on, Scoot! Maybe Agron is still rough around the edges, but I could so see Nasir as a haberdasher any day.

In a final ceremony, the rebels pay homage to Crixus (well, to his head at least) and the other fallen. Spartacus gives a stirring speech, and the names of all the (prominent) dead are recalled: Sura, Mira, Barca, Oenomaus, and various other names I am too tired to look up the spelling for. Then Spartacus tells the rebels they must now prepare for the final stand against Rome. They will either triumph and live free, or perish and join their fallen comrades in the heavens. Either way, Spartacus figures they only have until next Friday at about 9:47 before most of them are strung up along the Appian Way like seriously demented Christmas lights.

Final thoughts: I found this whole episode perfect in tone, a glorious way to look back at the journey that has brought the rebels (and the viewers) here. Long lost comrades were remembered, a villain was dispatched, and, once more, we saw Spartacus, Gannicus, and the gladiators trod upon the sand. Next week the ending will likely not be so glorious, but, for one final time, we all got to fight along with Spartacus, the Maker of Rain, the victor on the sands, the hero of the arena. (And, if we buy the DVD set, we can do it again, and again, and again—oh, who am I kidding. If we buy the DVDs, we’re just going to fast forward to all the gay love-making parts.)