SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA “The Bitter End” Episode 6 – Well, where do I bloody well start? First, props need to be given to someone who called something I thought impossible. Daemon’s TV reader/commenter Naazneen voiced her hope that Gannicus (the intensely athletic Dustin Clare) would survive the season; I said I doubted it, and instead hoped the Producers-That-Be would spare tragic Diona (a luminous-in-death Jessica Grace Smith) so we might see more of her in the 2012 (much too long a wait!) return of Spartacus to STARZ.

I sit here typing, still very pleasantly shocked. Instead it was Diona who met her end, tragically, though with that final nod, passing into the next life willingly. And it’s Gannicus who actually lives to fight another day. Hooo-boy.

The Spartacus: Gods of the Arena season-ender was just as good as I imagined it could be. Sure, we got our fill of gratuitous gratuity, with stomach wounds and severed heads and spraying blood in spades, and yes, every other panned shot of the coliseum crowd involved naked bouncing tets in some form or fashion. Of course; it’s entertainment for the plebes as well as the theatre sect. We are all entertained!

O’ glorious bloodbath! The ludus vs. ludus finale, set within a blazing ring of fire, was like a gore-drenched ballet out of one of Dante’s nightmares. Producer Steven DeKnight saved some of his gruesome best for last; I imagine he was cackling gleefully as he reviewed the jaw-from-skull severing spear thrust Gannicus drove home for that final messy money shot. Wait’ll they get a load a’ this. Cracking jawbone, shredded muscle, ripped flesh, flying teeth. Faaaaahking brutal.

Gannicus’ surprising survival sets up more than a few interesting scenarios when Spartacus: Blood & Sand (if that’s what it will indeed be called) returns in 2012. I will give a rundown on the up-to-date survivors and what I think that means for the next season. But first …

A salute to those we will not see next season:

First and foremost, farewell to you, Dominus Quintus Batiatus (John Hannah, making quite a name for himself with this, possibly his greatest performance). You were able to take that huge step backwards in time and make it believable, were able to show us the roots that made this character grow and flourish. Quintus was, in the end, as equally tragic as Melitta. Hannah was all spit and sputter at times, yes, but he drove with purpose! He will be missed.

Farewell, Tullius (Stephen Lovatt) you will not be missed. But look at it this way: you are now and forever a part of the very foundation of the fantastic arena you dreamed of. People will say you died like Jimmy Hoffa (allegedly buried in Giants Stadium), or in your very own House of Usher. Good riddance!

Goodbye, Dagan (Shane Rangi), but we can’t say we didn’t see this end coming. You were better than Ashur, yes … but he was smarter.

And finally, fare thee well, o’ House Batiatus ludus. The ludus has been our familiar backdrop for two seasons, and now (as we catch up to the end of Spartacus: Blood & Sand) it is fallen. It will be interesting to see how the Spartacus series progresses over unfamiliar territory, with no real place to call home. Where will the escapees go?

Let’s consider, shall we?

We now have the Holy Triumvirate of Badass Ex-Gladiators. Crixus (Manu Bennet), Spartacus (Liam McIntyre, forced to fill the giant sandals left by Andy Whitfield’s exit), and Gannicus each have plenty to swagger about—and I’m guessing there will be more than a little tension. Crixus can’t bear the thought of a rival, despite the aid he gave Spartacus at the end of season one, so you know there will be scuffles and stare-downs aplenty. The testosterone level with all three of these characters sharing the same screen will be high enough to put hair on a newborn baby’s chest.

Add to that the fact that Ashur (Nick E. Tarabay) is still slinking about. You know he’ll pop up somehow, and probably at the worst possible time for our renegade heroes. Also returning is Naevia, though a replacement for departing Lesley-Ann Brandt has not yet been named.

The most intriguing returnee is Doctore (or ex-Doctore now) Oenomaus (Peter Mensah), now along for the journey with these refugees. You can’t expect his head to be in the right place, either, since he basically just betrayed the house he swore his oath to. I think of all the characters, Oenomaus will have the sharpest regrets. I look forward to some real soul-searching and self-doubting scenes from him in 2012. He could come close to being completely driven off the edge.

And what might be the straw the breaks this noble camel’s back? I think it will be the knowledge that Melitta, the wife he viewed as near-saintly, engaged in a lustful tryst with Gannicus.

“But Axey,” you shout! “How will he ever find out? Who might reveal that carefully-kept secret?!”

Why, I’m glad you asked.

Lucretia, of course.

That’s right. I’m calling it. We’ve gotten no official word regarding whether or not Lucy Lawless will appear in the entire third season (even though I have heard we may at least see her in the first episode; don’t do any dances yet, that could simply be as a flashback) … but I saw that hand twitch. YOU saw that hand twitch. Lucretia’s not quite dead.

I think she lost the baby, yes. And she lost her home. And her husband.

But I think the ol’ girl’s still kickin’. And I think she will return, somehow empowered, perhaps through an odd alliance with Vettius (Gareth Williams) if he too returns.

I hope so, at any rate. But either way …

Damn, it’s been a good season. Best. Prequel. Ever. Thank you, STARZ, thank you, crazy-man DeKnight, and everyone else who made an already-respectable show great.

We salute you!

For those about to rock, follow me on Twitter! That’s @Axechucker, you plebes! Sparty party!