To start with, yes I’m fully aware that Gods of the Arena is the prequel that came after Blood and Sand, but for the purpose of these reviews I’m beginning with Gods of the Arena and moving onwards. Tomorrow’s QDR will be Blood and Sand, and Friday’s will be Vengeance. Saturday will start individual episode reviews for the third and final season: War of the Damned. I will say though that if you have never seen an episode of Spartacus, it would be best to start with Blood and Sand unless you want the ending of that season spoiled.
Gods of the Arena tells three primary stories: 1.) How Quintus Batiatus took over his father’s ludus, 2.) How Crixis came to be a slave of Batiatus’ and how his relationship with Batiatus’ wife Lucretia began, and 3.) It introduces us to the champion gladiator Gannicus, who won his freedom and becomes a key part of the second season.
For those not familiar, while it carries the name “Spartacus” in its title, Spartacus himself is not in the prequel as this is before his arrival in Capua. And this is not considered a season of Spartacus, because it is a six-episode mini-series. The good thing about it is they packed a ton of awesomeness into these six-episodes.
Spartacus, while it obviously takes a lot of liberties with history, is accurate in its portrayal of Roman society back then. There’s a ton of slaves; the fighting kind in the gladiators, the servants, and the sexual slaves. At times, the series does go a little overboard with the excessive nudity and sex scenes to the point where it sometimes feels like a skinemax flick with much better acting. So between the sex and decapitated heads, this isn’t a show that the whole family can enjoy (well I suppose some could, most of us would probably be uncomfortable).
What really makes Gods of the Arena so special is that there’s so much John Hannah in it. John’s portrayal of Quintus Batiatus was the best thing about Blood and Sand, and in a lot of ways Gods of the Arena is all about Batiatus and his taking over of his father’s ludus. What’s interesting about Gods of the Arena is that we see that Batiatus and Solonius were actually good friends and that Batiatus’ conniving ways helped shape the Solonius we saw in Blood and Sand.
Gods of the Arena is packed with tons of great action sequences, and a rather brutal murder scene. Dustin Claire did such a wonderful job as Gannicus in this mini-series prequel that the character actually became my favorite character on the show (even more so than Batiatus, who was a guy who was funny and that you love to hate). Without seeing the Gannicus in these six episodes, his return to Capua in Vengeance (season two) wouldn’t have been nearly as impactful.
With season three (War of the Damned) set to premiere this Friday night on Starz, now is as good of a time as any to go back and rewatch (or watch for the first time) all the Spartacus episodes to date. The Blu-ray set itself actually has a lot of good bonus features, extended episodes, and of course gorgeous picture quality (and I admit to having a crush on Lucy Lawless when I was a kid back in her Xena days, and she looks even better in this series and in HD). This is a must have collection as far as I’m concerned.