'Spartacus: War Of The Damned': Your Guide To The Final Gladiator Go-Round

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Here's how "Spartacus: War of the Damned" (premieres Friday, January 25 at 9 p.m. EST on Starz), the final season of the gladiator drama, begins: They all have tea at the home of the Dowager Countess, where they discuss the weather at length. Soon, Crixus becomes incensed at the fact that there aren't enough cucumber sandwiches.

Ha! Of course I'm kidding. The new season starts off in true "Spartacus" fashion, and I'm sure fans know exactly what I mean by that.

I won't give away what goes down in the first installment of the final season, but I will say that things do get very dark this year. Spartacus has amassed an army of 30,000 followers, but that's a lot of mouths to feed, and not everyone in his band of fierce brothers (and sisters) agrees on what the rebellious slaves should do to survive. And even bigger questions come in to play: Are all slave owners inherently evil, and do they all deserve to die? What does a life of carnage do to those who lead it? Those are the kinds of knotty issues that are explored in the early episodes of "War of the Damned."

The best news about "War of the Damned" is that Simon Merrells is wonderfully magnetic as Marcus Crassus, and Todd Lasance is very credible as a young, hungry Julius Caesar (more on them below).

By the way, if you're a big fan of the show, be aware that we're going to unleash a ton of great "Spartacus" content over the course of the final season. Every Friday night, after the West Coast airing of the show, come to HuffPost TV for exclusive video recaps of each episode from members of the show's cast. After this Friday's premiere of "War Of The Damned," for example, we'll have Liam McIntyre talking about the "Enemies of Rome," the season premiere.

Within the next week or two, we'll post interviews with creator Steven DeKnight and several cast members, and at the end of this post, there's a podcast with a long, non-spoilery discussion of the new season. You can also catch an exclusive first look at Manu Bennett in "Arrow" here.

We also thought you might want a guide to the new characters you'll see on "Spartacus: War Of The Damned," so here you go:

  • Marcus Crassus (Simon Merrells): Crassus is one of the richest men in Rome, which means that the city's powerful aristocrats have to deal with him, but they regard him as a money-grubbing upstart. Crassus can usually think several moves ahead of everyone else, which makes him a formidable foe -- but he is fair-minded and surprisingly loyal to those he deems worthy.

  • Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance): This isn't the Julius Caesar from your high school Latin textbook: This is a young, poor, noble but unknown version of the man who came to rule the Roman empire. Caesar arrives on screen in a ferocious manner and he doesn't really let up. Between Caesar and Crassus, Spartacus and his army should be a little worried.
  • Tiberius Crassus (Christian Antidormi): Crassus' son has been raised in the lap of luxury and has the bratty attitude to prove it, but he's still desperate to prove himself to his father. Let's just say that proving yourself to a formidable man like Crassus is no easy task.
  • Laeta (Anna Hutchison): The Roman noblewoman comes into Spartacus' orbit early on in the season and proves to be resourceful, strong-willed and smart.
  • Kore (Jenna Lind): One of Crassus' slaves, who's very close to the powerful man. Given that Crassus sets out to end a slave rebellion, life gets quite complicated for her.
  • Sibyl (Gwendoline Taylor): A young, naive slave, who owes her life to one of Spartacus' chief warriors (his name rhymes with Mannicus).
  • Nasir (Pana Hema-Taylor) and Agron (Dan Feuerriegel): They're not new characters, but I thought fans would be pleased to know that Nasir and Agron's relationship gets a decent amount of screen time this year. I was happy to see that.
  • Saxa (Ellen Hollman): We met the fierce Saxa last season, and the good news is, we haven't seen the last of her. This mad German lady is still as crazy and as ready for a fight as ever.
  • Also still around: The steadfast Crixus (Manu Bennett), the hard-drinking Gannicus (Dustin Clare) and the increasingly merciless Naevia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson). Let the betting begin on who will still be around when the season ends.

    Except Caesar. According to my high school Latin textbook, he lives.

    The podcast below is also available here and on iTunes.

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