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'Spartacus': the top 15 essential episodes

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This show is basically one long epic movie with every scene being important. That in itself makes a list like this hard to do. In fact, Blood and Sand could have all its episodes on here. Events from that timeline are still being felt through this season. But when we want to get people just as much into this show as we are, these are the top 15 we would make them watch. You know why? Because it works.

Granted, not everyone likes the show and that's okay. People have different tastes. Yes, it has naked people and cursing. But it also has some of the best unknown actors at the moment and a quality of writing that just isn't seen on mainstream television anymore. We will miss that more than anything, even Dustin Clare's abs and Daniel Feuerriegel's dimples. So in preparation for tonight's series finale for one of the most underrated and high octane shows ever, we've created a list of the 15 most important episodes that has led up to the slaughter-fest that makes up 'War of the Damned'.

Gratitude to Caity Phillips and Kelly Dalrymple for helping us mold this from a mess to a semi-structured article. You're the best guys:)

15. Vengeance: The Greater Good
15. Vengeance: The Greater Good tvequals.com

15. Vengeance: The Greater Good

The third episode of Vengeance is important for three reasons: 1) it introduces us to the new Naevia, played by Cynthai Addai-Robinson; 2) it shows the determination of Nasir to do the right thing despite Agron's command that he keep his mouth shut, and 3) it brings everything one giant leap forward in terms of plot development. Crixus, Spartacus, and a few other gladiators take to the mines when it revealed that Naevia is alive. This splits the group because Agron lied and said she was dead, hoping they would move out of Capua. In doing so, Crixus gets capture along with Rhaskos and another by Ashur to be taken to Glaber, who now lives in the Batiatus villa. That place is like a black hole. This is also the episode where Oenomaus learns what his wife, Melitta, was doing the night she was killed. 

14. Vengeance: Balance
14. Vengeance: Balance heydontjudgeme.com

14. Vengeance: Balance

Several important things happen here. The first is that Gannicus gives up his freedom by capturing Ilithyia so that she die in compensation for Sura. In doing so, brands himself a traitor, but he underestimates the history between the pair. Second is that Spartacus finds out that the baby Ilithyia is carrying is his. He acts stunned but deep down he knows he's a stud so he believes her, which is good because it's the truth. Mira doesn't think so and tries to kill her, effectively ending her relationship with Spartacus. Third, is that Glaber and his men face off against Spartacus, Gannicus, Crixus and Agron in an alleyway. Spartacus escapes and sets Ilithyia free, telling her that he was more important to Glaber than she was. Seppia also learns that Seppius, her brother, didn't die because of Spartacus (dude gets blamed for everything) but at the hands of Glaber.  

13. Blood and Sand: Sacramentum Gladiatorum
13. Blood and Sand: Sacramentum Gladiatorum fanpop.com

13. Blood and Sand: Sacramentum Gladiatorum

This episode introduces us to several key elements: the ludus, the code of the brotherhood of gladiators, and the relationships whose seeds are planted at the house of Batiatus. We properly meet Batiatus and his wife, Lucretia; their Doctore who trains the gladiators, Oenomaus;  Crixus, who is the current champion of Capua; and Varro, a free man who is there to settle debts. We also see Spartacus take the oath and get branded not only in skin but in name.  

12. Blood and Sand: Great and Unfortunate Things
12. Blood and Sand: Great and Unfortunate Things filmreviewonline.com

12. Blood and Sand: Great and Unfortunate Things

This episode is one of the weaker ones of the first season but it still contains important information. Spartacus reflects on time spent with his wife before embracing his gladiator lifestyle; Doctore probes into Barca's disappearance and gets conflicting information, leading him to question the honor of his dominus. We meet Aurelia, Varro's wife, and his son. Pietros kills himself due to the abuse he suffered since Barca left and Spartacus gets punished for killing his abuser. Spartacus and Varro's friendship also gets deeper as they lean on each other for support. 

Though not as intense of most of the show's episodes, things really start to pick up in subtle ways in this episode. Lines begin to blur for a lot of the characters, especially Oenomaus. It also foreshadowed Spartacus' fate when Sura declares the gods showed her to his bed and what kind of a man he could be. It was at this point every female viewer (and maybe some male) wanted to know which gods she prayed to and asked if could they be led to Andy Whitfield's bed as well. 

11. Vengeance: Fugitivus
11. Vengeance: Fugitivus wsj.com

11. Vengeance: Fugitivus

'Fugitivus' is an extremely important episode in the franchise because it brings everyone back together through very different ways while having to cope with the events from 'Blood and Sand'. Both the rebels and the Romans have to deal with the consequences of what took place in 'Kill Them All'. We see Ilithyia is pregnant (and rather gaunt since the last time we saw her) but Glaber commands her back to the Batiatus villa anyway while they hunt for Spartacus. It is there they reunite with Ashur and Lucretia - two survivors of the massacre. While in the marketplace to show off, Glaber is attacked by Spartacus and his men, who rescue a badly beaten Aurelia. Crixus and Lucretia lock eyes and so does Glaber and Spartacus. The rebels haven't left Capua due to Naevia's whereabouts still being unknown and Crixus refuses to leave without her. 

This episode also marks Liam McIntyre's first appearance as Spartacus and Aurelia's final one (we think. We haven't seen the finale yet).

10. Blood and Sand: Revelations
10. Blood and Sand: Revelations fanpop.com

10. Blood and Sand: Revelations

'Revelations' is one of those episodes where your head explodes at the sheer talent that went into the writing. At its core, it shows the domino effect of what happens when seemingly separate actions collide together. Brilliantly maneuvered setups and character development help shape the atmosphere of this episode. One thing in particular it showcases is how much Spartacus had changed over the course of the season and how little Crixus had. It's also when Spartacus begins to formulate his revenge against the house of Batiatus.

9. Vengeance: Sacramentum
9. Vengeance: Sacramentum fanpop.com

9. Vengeance: Sacramentum

This episode has the honor having the most badass kill. It also brings us the Germans: Saxa, Lugo, and Nemetes - all major players from this point on. The Germans were POW's and freed by Spartacus and Agron. The group doubled the rebel's forces but split it due to ethnic differences. 'Sacramentum' is a memorable episode because it's also the one where the cow poo hit the fan. Gannicus had turned from the rebels but now Glaber was after him. When he turned the praetor down, Glaber used the crucifixion of his wife's favorite slave as a two-for-one warning: Ilithyia not cross him again and Gannicus to work for him. We're sure Glaber also had had enough of being a failure in everything he did, which made his extreme method much more sensible (at least in his mind). Ilithyia also resorted to extreme measures to leave Capua and almost succeeded had Lucretia not intervened with her own agenda. Gannicus' lady friend (though she was in only two episodes, she became a fan favorite) was crucified as yet another warning to him so when the opportunity came to try and end the conflict between the rebels and the Romans, he struck. Spartacus in the meantime was tired of all the feuding in his group and got everyone's attention by slicing Sedullus' face off. He declared that if they were going to stay, it was his way or the highway. So everyone stayed. Also, this episode is famous for the ridiculous poor man's kung fu fight between Mira and Saxa.

8. Blood and Sand: Delicate Things
8. Blood and Sand: Delicate Things tumblr.com

8. Blood and Sand: Delicate Things

Next to the pilot, 'Delicate Things' is the weakest episode of the first season but it still has some important things happen (maybe since it came after such an incredible episode, it feels less significant?). The events of this episode take place literally only a few hours after Spartacus' victory against Theokales. Several pieces come together in a matter of minutes: Sura was found and is on her way to the ludus, Crixus survived his almost fatal encounter with Theokales, and Ashur overhears Barca telling Pietros that Ovidious' son is still alive and he is going to purchase their freedom. By the end of the episode, Sura and Spartacus are briefly reunited before she dies, Barca is dead but it comes out not a minute afterward that he was telling the truth when he told Batiatus he killed the boy, and it is implied that Batiatus had Sura killed to keep Spartacus under his employment, which surprised absolutely no one. 

7. Blood and Sand: Mark of the Brotherhood
7. Blood and Sand: Mark of the Brotherhood tvgcdn.net

7. Blood and Sand: Mark of the Brotherhood

So many things happened in 'Mark of the Brotherhood' yet it is one of the most underrated episodes of the series. The most important thing is that we get a new batch of gladiator recruits, one of whom is Agron. Ilithyia and her elite friends visit the villa and demand Spartacus be brought up. Licinia is smitten at the physique and face carved-by-gods that belong to him and orders blood (a popular theory is that she's secretly a vampire) and embarrasses Ilithyia at the same time. Spartacus is attacked in the bathing room by Segavax but Crixus comes to the rescue. Segavax was purchased by Ilithyia so anyone with a brain can connect the dots. Also, Crixus gets the crap beat out of him in front of everyone by Spartacus - a somewhat different outcome than their last encounter. We may have slightly giggled in that scene.

6. Vengeance: Wrath of the Gods
6. Vengeance: Wrath of the Gods starz.com

6. Vengeance: Wrath of the Gods

SO. MUCH. DEATH. The tension between Glaber and Spartacus reached its peak in the second season finale as the two men battled it out for a final time. Also, Ilithyia went into labor but got a seriously messed up c-section courtesy of a bat-poo crazy Lucretia. Oenomaus and Gannicus finally reached a good place in their relationship just in time for Oen's death. Mira's demise was shocking - not that happened, but how early it came. Ilithyia watched her baby go over a cliff in the arms of Lucretia and died because of it; at the same time her husband was getting a sword plunged down his throat. Sweet romance. It cleared the way for the new villains in 'War of the Damned' and Sparty's new lady toy as well as settling an old score.

5. Blood and Sand: Shadow Games
5. Blood and Sand: Shadow Games dvdizzy.com

5. Blood and Sand: Shadow Games

This is one of the most important episodes for the simple fact that this is where Spartacus' legend begins. He and Crixus are chosen to face off against an albino direwolf named Theokales. No one thinks they can survive except Varro (what are bro-mates for?) and Barca, who is less confident in Spartacus than Crixus. But it's the former that gets the glory. Fans love to debate this particular episode because had it not been for Crixus blinding Theokales, Spartacus probably would have lost; at the same time, Crixus was one strike away from being dead when Spartacus distracted the giant. So basically, they saved each other's lives. 

But more than the battle occurs in this episode. Naevia finally succumbs to her feelings for Crixus and they cement their relationship after he turns down Lucretia's advances. Lucretia wants a baby so bad that she let Ilithyia pay for a priestess to bless her stomach but lets out her secret that she has a regular lover - Crixus. Ilithyia doesn't know the name but she is extremely intrigued. One could argue that she began to suspect from that moment it was Crixus who was the mystery man. It's also shown that Oenomaus had once faced off against Theokales and was the only man to ever survive so he holds a personal stake in the battle. He trains the pair day and night but finds they are too different. Spartacus tries to find common ground but Crixus refuses. There is also a drought, which parallels the villa's money woes and its owners desires, which were never watered when Crixus was champion. 

'Shadow Games' is a big turning point for the characters and as the ending has rain finally coming down, it signals a change in the air for everyone and everything. The only reason why it's not number one is because other events would have come into play regardless if Spartacus had been made champion. 

4. Blood and Sand: Party Favors
4. Blood and Sand: Party Favors idsnews.com

4. Blood and Sand: Party Favors

Which brings us to 'Party Favors' aka the saddest episode ever written. This is  the episode where we see Ilithyia transform into the most hated villain of the series. Lucretia and Batiatus hold a party for Numerius, who is still obsessed with Spartacus, at their villa. A contest for entertainment purposes only is arranged between Crixus and the new champion, Spartacus. But Ilithyia sees an opening to hurt Spartacus and embarrass the crap out of the hosts at the same time and acts on it. Mira also acts on her own opportunity to get in the gladiator's sights but is dismissed. When it comes time for the showdown, Numerius decides the change Crixus to Varro. The two men fight - not seriously as it is for show only - and Varro is bested. Numerius shocks the crowd by demanding Varro die. Batiatus is torn between angering his Bringer of Money and his own desires. Naturally, the latter wins and he orders Spartacus to kill Varro. Sparty refuses and nearly fights the guards, but Varro saves him the agony of doing the deed by forcing the sword into his body. It's a heart-wrenching scene as the only thing he asks is that his family be provided for. Spartacus tries to hang on to the final moments with his best, and only, friend before putting him out of his pain. The crowd cheers and Spartacus is taken back to his room where he lets out his anger. 

The lack of humanity tips Spartacus over the edge and Varro's death is the catalyst for the rebellion. Varro was rarely mentioned in the second season but he is still remembered by Spartacus, who holds his memory next to Sura's. Had Varro not died, there is little doubt that Spartacus probably would have delayed his revenge until Varro left the ludus.

3. Blood and Sand: Kill Them All
3. Blood and Sand: Kill Them All nocookie.net

3. Blood and Sand: Kill Them All

The constant underlying theme in the first season were the very last words Sura said to her husband: kill them all. Viewers knew the ending would be intense. What we didn't know was that it was going to be epic. Everything in the Spartacus world had led up to this episode so there was a lot was riding on getting everything just right. And the writers delivered. Spartacus and Crixus finally see eye to eye and the shield tapping moment still gives us goosebumps. 

But let's see what plans were in store for the characters before the slaughter: Oenomaus was to be given his freedom and promoted to dominus, Batiatus was going to be a politician and Lucretia was pregnant. But that all shot to hell when Mira opened the gate and Spartacus lept on that balcony. Doctore joined when he learned of how Lucretia poisoned Crixus but we knew his loyalty had wavered ever since Barca's disappearance. This was just the final nail. We watched as Spartacus slashed his way through the house until he came face to face with Batiatus. Crixus stabbed Lucretia in the womb, ending her pregnancy but not killing her. The gladiators all standing around in a circle like bloody lions - not British word bloody, actual bloody - and watching as Spartacus taunted Batiatus with words he had once said when Sparty first came to the ludus. The season had come full circle. Spartacus' speech at the end is heartfelt and raw with every kind of emotion a person can have. 

It's also the last episode Andy Whitfield would portray Spartacus.

Vengeance: Libertus
Vengeance: Libertus entertainmentfuse.com

Vengeance: Libertus

Vengeance promised to bring all the greats back together and it delivered in a big way. Gannicus returned in top form to the arena to execute Crixus, Oenomaus, and Rhaskos after they had been caught in the mines. The format resembled 'Kill Them All' in terms of pacing and piecing together the separate events that shaped the episode. It starts out with the arena, then turns to the Romans where we see Ilithyia telling Glaber she is divorcing him, and then to the rebels, who finally find shelter. Knowing his numbers have dwindled since the mines, Spartacus makes a desperate, certifiably insane plan to get Crixus back. He takes a handful of helpers - Mira, Donar, Agron and a few others - with him. He and Agron dress up as soldiers take their place under the stadium. It is there we finally get to see the two gods of the arena together for the first time. But Sparty isn't impressed that Gannicus has come back to kill his brothers. When the fighting in the arena starts, Oenomaus shows off his skills and we have to say that it was a shame he never really got show it off in any of the seasons he was in. What a wasted opportunity. But still! It brings everything to a fever pitch between Oen and Gannicus due to the revelation that Gannicus had slept with Melitta (albeit against his will). Crixus also shows he has nine lives and survives the arena battle but Rhaskos doesn't. Mira and Donar burn the arena, distracting everyone long enough so that Sparty and Agron take out the other guards and gladiators. The noble Romans are trapped and several of them are killed - Glaber barely surviving a spear being thrown at him from Sparty. Everyone escapes except for the one person who could free Ilithyia of her marriage: her father. Glaber killed him but blames Spartacus (did we not tell you he got blamed for everything?). So Ilithyia is stuck in a nightmare while Spartacus lives his dream to bring down the arena. It was fitting that Gannicus was there for its opening and battling it out in a ring of fire and then there for its end, again by fire. 

So 'Libertus' is regarded as the best episode of the second season not only for its action but for the huge plot development that followed. It brought all the boys together in one mind blowing episode. 

1. Blood and Sand: Whore
1. Blood and Sand: Whore starz.com

1. Blood and Sand: Whore

'Whore' is the most important episode of the series. Everything that happens - Mira and Spartacus teaming up, Glaber and Ilithyia being tied to the villa - is because Licinia and Ilithyia were horny. Earlier we mentioned that 'Shadow Games' isn't at the top because things would have happened even if Spartacus hadn't been crowned champion. And that's true. While it certainly didn't hinder Licinia's decision to get jiggy with Spartacus, she was so smitten that it wouldn't have mattered. Why? Because he's freaking hot that's why. Have you seen that guy? Man could burn eye sockets if you stared too long.  Ilithyia was just as entranced by Crixus, though her decision to lay with him might have been anchored in the theory that he was Lucretia's lover and  wanted to make her feel inferior or at the very least, make it known she was way below Ilithyia's status. Regardless of the reason, these two ladies chose their man toys for a night, but Lucretia is nervous that Spartacus won't do anything due to his stubbornness. Enter Mira. She is ordered to make sure Spartacus can hold his own in the sack. He's offended but really, maybe he should have practiced? It had been a long while since Sura and Ilithyia did wind up pregnant. 

But Spartacus has more on his mind. Varro is troubled because his wife and child are missing. So one night Mira comes to him again as ordered and Spartacus gives her a mission (which she fulfills in 'Party Favors'). She reports that Spartacus is ready for his assignment. He gets dressed in gold body paint and a mask. And that's it. He gets on with who he thinks is Licinia  but since she is wearing a mask, he can't tell. When Lucretia interrupts them, it's revealed that it's Ilithyia, not Licinia under the mask. He goes berserk and tries to strangle her, perhaps in a Thracian attempt at lovemaking. He's taken away but Ilithyia has to sit there and be humiliated by Licinia, who's laughing. Ilithyia loses her temper and soon what used to be Licinia's brains are all over the floor. 

If ever there was an "Oh s***" moment, it was this - not just for the audience, but for the characters as well. Lucretia's attempts at taming Ilithyia caused the death of a major noble Roman (cousin to Marcus Crassus. Sound familiar?), put the house at risk, and in a rippling effect caused Ilithyia to lash out of her tormentor's hands. Her fury settles on Varro, his family, Spartacus, the slaves, and eventually her husband. Had she not lost her temper (or Lucretia been so evil), Varro would have lived, Glaber wouldn't have given patronage thus tying he and Ilithyia to the house in Vengeance, and Ilithyia would have been in Rome to give birth to Sparty Jr. Instead we see her morph into a villain and wreak havoc for everyone.

The show has a "ripple effect" in all of its episodes, but it is 'Whore' that has the biggest game changer. 

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