Literally every character can be interpreted as the "good" or "bad" guy at some point. What's interesting is that three of the main characters in Vengeance—Spartacus, Crixus, and Agron—all have different opinions on almost everything that happens, despite being on the same side, which makes for very different interpretations of their characters. Is Spartacus a brave and compassionate man, or a single-minded idealist? Is Crixus's devotion to Naevia admirable or selfish? Is Agron a pragmatic leader or a selfish brat?
Come War of the Damned, Crassus is open to considerable interpretation. Is he a loyal servant of Rome who fights out of a sense of patriotism, or a power-hungry politician who fights for greed and personal advancement? Is he a a Benevolent Boss who genuinely cares about his slaves, or a Control Freak who desires to own people as property, even though he could afford to free them and then employ them if he chose to? Are the disciplinary actions he inflicts on his troops barbaric and overly harsh, or a necessity given their repeated failures against Spartacus? Was his crucifixion of Kore really necessary? Even if he couldn't spare her life, surely he could have given her a more merciful end?
In Gods of the Arena: Was Lucretia intending to kill Titus before the murder of Gaia, or was she just trying to make him ill enough to force him to seek healthier climes?
In War of the Damned, a lot of people blame Naevia for goading Crixus into wanting to kill all the Romans and destroy Rome, but is it entirely her fault? Crixus himself is known to be short-tempered and vengeful with an 'attack first, ask questions later' attitude long before Naevia became a Blood Knight. He is the one who starts teaching her to fight in the first place and he praises her for being a strong warrior, either overlooking or outright encouraging her violent behaviour. Therefore, are they just goading each other in regards to their Revenge Before Reason attitude?
Cossutius, from the Vengeance episodes "Empty Hands" and "Libertus", and the prequel season Gods of the Arena, is the worst example of unchecked Roman excess. A Smug Snakearistocrat, he extorts a favor from the House of Batiatus by requesting a “show” from a virgin slave girl. He selects the girl Diona as he knows he can hurt her more and forces her to lose her virginity to a brutish, dirty, filthy gladiator, mocking Diona all the while as an “example“ of how ugliness and beauty co-exist before anally raping her during her ordeal. Cossutius later shows sheer glee at Diona's execution, and at a Roman party is the first to gleefully torture a bound Gladiator for nothing more than entertainment. Furthermore, Cossutius is a serial rapist. He makes it explicitly clear he chooses Diona due to her being a virgin, and makes it quite clear virgins don't exist in his household for that reason. In sexual sadism, Cossutius is well above his fellow Romans.
A small group of fans ship Gannicus (or, far more rarely, Spartacus) with Daenerys Targaryen. It kind of makes sense…Given Dany’s track record, we know she has a thing for long-haired, hard-drinking bad boys, her propriety and aloofness is a nice contrast to Gannicus’s more laid-back manner, and they both hate slavery with a passion and campaign to end it.
There’s even a small fanbase that ships Gannicus and Xena. Which is freaking hilarious when you remember that Lucy Lawless plays Lucretia on this series.
Evil Is Cool: Batiatus, Lucretia, Glaber, Illithiya, Ashur, Theokoles, Caburus and Caesar breathes this trope.
Evil is Sexy: Where do we start? For the girls, there's Ilithyia, Lucretia and Seppia.
Evil Versus Evil: Aside from the Roman elite constantly screwing each other over, the rebels eventually fall into this as well. Crixus, heavily goaded by Naevia, develops such an unrelenting hatred of Romans that he wants them all dead. Not just the wealthy slaveowners, but even the common people. When he finally breaks with Spartacus in War of the Damned, it is because he will accept nothing less than total slaughter and the destruction of Rome itself. Not that this would end slavery as an institution, as other nations also practiced it. Plus the rebels already had more than a little bit of a Might Makes Right social hierarchy forming amongst themselves. So the final battle between Crixus and his forces against Crassus and his legions takes on this tone.
Other "nations" (more like tribal societies) may have practised slavery (and the occasional religious human sacrifice when times got really tough), but Roman society was unique in the area/era for the sheer scale of its slave economy and the cruelty in their treatment of the slaves. No other close-by society committed constant mass human sacrifices for public entertainment, not even the other urban civilizations to the south and east. And remember that Rome was eventually toppled by a bunch of "barbarian" Germanic tribes - who immediately closed down the gladiatorial arenas in any Roman town they took over. We don't know if it was because of well-justified disgust with the practise of forcing people to murder each other or having prisoners torn apart by wild animals for the amusement of supposedly "normal" human beings, or if it was that they well remembered that it had often been their ancestors who'd been kidnapped and forced into the meat-grinder, due to being naturally tall and buff.
Fans Prefer the New Her: Acknowledged in-universe. Lucretia looks quite good when she goes back to wearing her red wigs in Vengeance. Unfortunately she's wearing them at Ashur's orders - after he's been raping her. Notably there's one scene where Illythia complements Lucretia on how good the red hair looks, only for the latter to shudder.
"Funny Aneurysm" Moment: The Season 1 DVD special features showed Andy Whitfield, exhausted after a workout, saying he hopes he's still around when the series ends. He stepped out due to cancer and died in 2011.
Genius Bonus: The very first episode has a subtle quote of Chief Joseph's famous line, "I will fight no more forever." Spartacus's wife asks him a hypothetical, "You will fight no more?" His response begins, "Forever."
Growing the Beard: The first couple episodes of Blood and Sand are generally agreed to be not very good. The show starts hitting its stride around episodes three and four, for various reasons; the actors are obviously getting used to the sentence structure of their lines, the show isn't trying so hard to be 300 (the influence is still obviously there, it just isn't as blatant), Hannah started really hamming it up as Batiatus, and characters in general became more fleshed out.
Episode 6 ("Delicate Things") is the definitive turning point. Batiatus shows his true colors as a Manipulative BastardBad Boss, Spartacus is shattered by Sura's death (which Batiatus arranged, unbeknownst to Spartacus,) and pretty much every character's main motivation for the first half of the season has been shattered and must be rebuilt. If you weren't hooked before, you will be at this point.
Guilty Pleasure: The show is very violent and sexual, but it is also very enjoyable, so many watch it with a little bit of guilt.
Harsher in Hindsight: Episode 11 of Blood and Sand involves Spartacus being bedridden due to a severe infection, and the medicus doing everything he can to save him. There's even a scene in that episode where Spartacus sees his dead body on a morgue. Andy Whitfield, the actor who played Spartacus, had to leave the role due to cancer. Tragically, he lost the battle a year later.
In-universe examples include Gannicus's comments in Vengeance about how Spartacus is going to lead the Rebels to their deaths. Whilst it isn't really Spartacus's intention and he actually goes down trying to lead the Rebels to freedom, almost everyone who follows him does end up dying. Also, Gannicus's comment about not being a "martyr upon a cross", which doubles as Foreshadowing.
When you consider the great length at which Lucretia extols her hatred of Thracians and then you remember Xena was Thracian, it is hard not to chuckle.
Before Agron was revealed to be gay (though it was hinted at as soon as he joined the cast), the show caught a lot of flack for apparently playing up the Bury Your Gays trope. Agron and Nasir are the only two of the main protagonists to survive the war.
After this show wrapped, large chunks of the cast moved en masse to Arrow, two of which are Manu Bennett (Crixus) and Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Naevia.) Considering they play Deathstroke and Amanda Waller on that show, going back and watching them as a couple on this show looks like a match made in hell.
After this show wrapped, two alumnae will went on to play DC Comics villain Captain Boomerang in two different adaptations; Nick E. Tarbay (Ashur) in Arrow and Jai Courtney (Varro) in Suicide Squad (2016).
Liam McIntyre will appear in The Flash (2014) as the (second) Weather Wizard, which is kinda appropriate for an actor who played a character whose Red Baron is "The Bringer of Rain". Additionally, Liam's character will be replacing said character's brother after he died, much like how Liam himself becomes the new Spartacus after Andy Whitfield's death.
If you're aware of the New Zealand sitcom Diplomatic Immunity, both Craig Parker (Glaber) and Lesley Ann Brandt (the first Naevia) starred together in that as love interests. Hilariously in that case it was Brandt's character who outranked Parker's (she was the king's niece).
Craig Parker (Glaber) previously portrayed the heroic elf, Haldir, in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, whilst Manu Bennett (Crixus) portrayed Azog, one of the main villains of The Hobbit trilogy.
"Holy Shit!" Quotient: Very high, as the episodes are specifically written to contain their emotional impact into specific key scenes.
Vengeance Episode 7 had a fight between Spartacus and 7-foot tall guy Sedullus. Spartacus sliced his face off with one strike and HIS BRAIN FELL OUT!!
Ho Yay: Almost pointless on a show where Hide Your Gays is a strongly averted trope. But it still happens.
Hints of this between Glaber and Marcus in Vengeance. Especially given Marcus' obvious devotion and Glaber's tendency to heed his advice over anybody else. It is notable that Marcus is the only fatality that Glaber shows actual sorrow over (or even more than casual interest in). Word of God is that it was intended to be this, but the confirmations wound up being cut before production.
War of the Damned introduces Tiberius and Sabinus, who may be more than best friends. Although Christian Antidormi has said they were not a couple, he and Aaron Jakubenko really missed their marks in their performances if that was meant to be the case. note What Antidormi said is that their relationship was supposed to appear ambiguous in early scenes, but it resolved itself as just friendship as the arc went on. Also, the fact that Tiberius seeks revenge for Sabinus' death by raping his father's lover adds the subtext that taking his father's lover was somehow recompense for the loss of his own. He also demonstrates when he rapes Caesar that he is not averse to sexual contact with men.
Genius Bonus: You can square the Word of Saint Paul and the onscreen behaviour of the characters perfectly well if you know that male Roman citizens weren't allowed to have sexual relations with each other (fucking one's slaves or freedmen prostitutes was fine, though). So the two boys probably were attracted to each other and maybe a little bit in love, but didn't go through with it because they knew that doing so would cost at least one of them their civil rights. (A male citizen who voluntarily bottomed or provided oral sex got saddled with the legal status of "infamy", just like a prostitute, actor or freed gladiator; meaning he couldn't be elected to public officenote Which was an absolute must in the careers of men from their social class., he could be subjected to corporeal punishment under the law note which citizens normally weren't, except for the rare death penalty, and he lost the right not to be raped by anyone who wanted to.note Raping a citizen - female or male - held the death penalty under Roman law. Not because of consent issues, but because of the sacred inviolability of the private civil body. But everyone else - slaves, freedpeople, foreigners, and former citizens who acquired "infamy" through their life choices - was considered "publicly available".
It was around even as early as Blood and Sand, especially between Spartacus and Varro.
Spartacus: [After a sparring match] Your head is mine. Now, how shall I mount it? [Big goofy grins from both of them]
Lampshaded in the commentary for that very episode, by Andy Whitfield himself.
Informed Wrongness: A big fuss is made in War of the Damned of Agron being a Crazy Jealous Guy over Castus and Nasir. However, this wasn't a case of Agron getting irrationally jealous of any man who spoke to "his boy." Castus was openly attracted to Nasir, and Nasir admitted (in an angry outburst when he thought Agron was dead) that he had some level of attraction towards Castus as well. Agron may have been an insensitive ass about his jealousy because, well, he's Agron, but it's certainly not unreasonable to be unhappy that your partner is spending increasing amounts of time with someone who is blatantly interested in them.
For a small moment you feel bad for Glaber once he is made aware of the conspiracy to not only have his marriage dissolved but his child aborted by his wife, father-in-law, and rival.
Likewise, Ilithyia. Despite being a royal cunt, it's hard to not feel sorry for her after Glaber fucks her life up. It's mainly due to Viva Bianca's acting though.
In addition, while Ilithyia truly was a horrible person with little-to-no-regard for the wellbeing of others, she most definitely did not deserve to have Lucretia perform a C-Section on her and kill herself and Ilithyia's unborn baby while she watched during her final moments
Lucretia. Oh, Lucretia. It's easy to forget how she sent Naevia to a fate worse than death after everything that's happened to her since then.
Tiberius. As incredibly vicious as he is, it is very clear that his father's often cruel attempts to harden him are what turns him evil. In particular being forced to kill his Heterosexual Life-Partner (or possible lover) in the decimation it is easy to see why he went sailing right across the Moral Event Horizon.
Les Yay: Between Ilithyia and Lucretia, with some Foe Yay thrown in as well.
Saxa has bisexual tendencies and seems to pursue an offscreen relationship with one of the rebel slaves named Belesa, as they have at least three intimate moments together in War of the Damned.
Also Between Naevia and Diona in Gods of the Arena; They're close friends, who've both stayed virgins (not so easy in the House of Batiatus) especially since they're seen early on thinking dirty about the gladiators. After Diona is raped by a Roman, Naevia worries to Diona that they aren't as close as they used to be. And in episode 5 as Naevia helps Diona escape, they share a kiss on the lips goodbye, and a promise to see each other again one day.
Crixus takes this all the way to the point of Wangst over Naevia. Unlike Spartacus, who mostly mourns privately and generally only mentions his late wife to people he is close to, Crixus indulges in dramatic public displays of woe.
Gannicus feels deep guilt over Melitta, and his betrayal of Oenomaus, as well as various other things. He usually covers by drinking.
Method Acting: Cynthia Addai-Robinson was crying for real during Crixus' death scene, using the death of her own father who had recently passed away from cancer at the time. Manu Bennett, who didn't know how to play the scene beforehand, said once she told him what she would be doing, he realized he didn't have to do anything but react to her. The look of support Crixus gives Naevia is from Manu to Cynthia.
Misaimed Fandom: Unintentionally Sympathetic he may be, Ashur's retribution methods against his tormentors are still not morally acceptable. He also hurts or screws over a few innocent people who never did anything to him personally along the way.
Tullius (from Gods of the Arena) at first is just as vile as the other Roman nobles. He crosses this with the murder of Gaia who was somewhat likable. Even worse, he did it just to show that he could do it and get away with it. He now is a complete psychopath with no redeeming qualities.
And this leads to Titus's Moral Event Horizon when he blames Lucretia and the victim for the aforesaid murder and forces her and Quintus to cover it up.
Ilithyia crosses it when she manipulates Numerius into forcing Spartacus to kill Varro. She'd done some bad things before that, but even killing Licinia in a blind rage doesn't quite compare to forcing Spartacus to kill his best friend because she just hates him that much. Making it even worse, she accomplishes this by having sex with a thirteen year old boy. Granted, he was considered a man in Roman society, but he's still looked upon as a boy by most of the cast. And Illithyia is still married.
If he hadn't crossed it already, Glaber definitely crosses it when he crucifies an innocent slave, just to show his power over Ilithyia.
Naevia, of all people, showed signs of crossing this since War Of the Damned started. She crosses it fully in Decimation when she batters Gannicus with a giant rock after he tried to get Crixus to snap out of his madness. Then she gleefully participates in the slaughter of every Roman citizen within the city.
Batiatus having Sura killed on the way to the ludus so she can die in Spartacus' arms.
Ashur manipulating Dagan into being sodomized by a Roman elite in Gods of the Arena could be considered this for him.
Tiberius raping Kore, who had always behaved more warmly towards him than even his own mother, as a way of getting revenge on his father for Sabinus' death in the decimation.
Narm: For viewers in the Australia/New Zealand region, the barely-disguised Kiwi accents can be this.
Narm Charm: The reason many viewers who don't think it's awesome watch the show anyway.
Seriously, look at John Hannah's face during the credits for Season 1.
In Vengeance Glaber has a party, during which the upper class of Capua and Rome take one of the captured Gauls and proceed to string him up and take turns cutting bits of flesh off of him...always careful to do so in such a way that he won't bleed out or die.
Replacement Scrappy: Cynthia Addai Robinson replacing Lesley Ann Brandt as Naevia. Unfortunately for her, the cast change also coincided with a massive personality change for Naevia. The character had gone through a Trauma Conga Line and at first was a Damsel Scrappy but then became a Blood Knight. General consensus seems to be that Lesley Ann Brandt would have been able to make Naevia seem sympathetic despite this - but that the change in actress made it seem like it was a completely new character.
Spartacus charging Crassus and his Mooks all by himself.
The shield graveyard.
Take That, Scrappy!: A minor example, but in War of the Damned, after finding out that Naevia wrongfully killed his friend Attius for helping prisoners to escape, a furious Gannicus finally confronts her over her actions and calls her a "mad bitch", mirroring what many viewers were thinking at this point.
They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: Diona in Gods of the Arena is mainly a side character who gets minimal screen time. She's killed off in the finale to wrap things up, when she could have played a bigger part in Vengeance especially as a character besides Crixus who has a connection to Naevia.
Ashur is a complete dick and his actions are utterly despicable, but still, it's easier to understand where he was coming from, especially by audiences who were/are victims of bullying.
Oenomaus: [You] bear the mark of treachery!
Ashur: Treachery? When did you stand forth for Ashur?! When did any of you greet me short of mockery and scorn?! You... fucking cunts!
Caesar near the end of the series becomes this. Whilst he's an arrogant Jerkass, with a few Kick the Dog moments, he's a lot nicer than some of the other Romans and has some moments that make him quite likeable, such as becoming genuinely upset when he sees what the rebels did to Roman woman in Sinuessa and by Tiberius's murder of the prostitute, protesting the harsh treatment of Laeta and going out of his way to help Kore, who is a slave. He's really only brutal towards the rebels, which is somewhat understandable, given he is on the opposite side of the conflict, and none of his actions really warrant being brutally raped and humiliated by Tiberius, especially as he had been rightly calling him out on his appalling behaviour).
Barca during his death. The show establishes him as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold in his last episode, and while his death wasn't treated with And There Was Much Rejoicing, the general attitude towards his demise was "he had it coming", especially since his habit of bullying Rookie gladiators borders on extreme Kick the Dog, with the mastermind behind his Frame-Up being his constant victim for a number of years dating back to the latter's rookie years.
Really, the saddest part of his death is the effect on poor Pietros, who certainly does not deserve any of the horrible things that happen to him in the aftermath of Barca's death.
Naevia is viewed as being so, especially in War of the Damned, which greatly contributes to her Scrappy status. Many viewers don't believe her Freudian Excuse of being raped, abused and enslaved in the mines in any way justifies or excuses her violent behaviour and callous dismissal of the Roman civilians, especially seeing as several other characters are shown or implied to have suffered similarly horrible things but don't taken them out on innocents. Her attitude runs counter to Spartacus's view that the rebels shouldn't stoop to the Romans's level and even starts to smack of Tautological Templar, especially when she kills Attius on little more than an assumption he freed their prisoners - upon finding out he was innocent, she tries to downplay her actions as him merely 'just' a Roman, apparently ignoring that he willingly helped the rebels infiltrate Sinuessa and that she's known at least a few Romans who were pretty decent people (Varro, Aurelia, Lucius Caelius etc.).
Naevia, if you can ignore her Scrappy status. In addition to being a slave all her life, everyone she cares about has a habit of dying. She helped her traumatised best friend escape to freedom...only to be forced to watch her die when she was caught. Her other best friend was accidentally poisoned and her friend Pietros killed himself after being repeatedly raped, believing his lover had abandoned him, when Naevia knew but was sworn to secrecy that he was actually murdered. She finds happiness with Crixus, only to be raped by Ashur, then beaten and humiliated by a jealous Lucretia and separated from her lover. Naevia then endures an absolutely horrific Trauma Conga Line, in which she sent from one dominius to another and repeatedly raped; on one occasion, a seemingly kindly dominus gave her food and comfort and let her finally feel safe...only to sadistically rape and torture her that same night whilst his family was sleeping. At the end of it, Naevia was then sold to the mines and forced to do hard labour. She is left severely traumatised, seeing herself as Defiled Forever and even feeling she would be better off dead. Though she gets over this somewhat, her trauma turns her into a Jerk AssBlood Knight who slips dangerously close to Ax-Crazy territory. She doesn't snap out of it until she is Forced to Watch as Crixus is killed in front of her, robbing her of the man she loves most and the happy future she dreamt of with him, before being sent back to the rest of the rebels with her lover's decapitated head. And then, she is killed in the same way as her friend Diona along with most of her remaining friends and allies, with her killer mockingly referring to her as a "slave" moments before he stabs her through the neck and leaves her to bleed out. Naevia may have been an absolute pain in the ass at times, especially in War of the Damned, but considering all that she's been through, it's hard not to pity her by the end.
Kore. She's a slave, but has a pretty cushy life in spite of it. She's loved by her master's son, whom she seems to love as well and is deeply in love with Crassus, who treats her with great respect, affords her many privileges and allows her to speak her mind with him and even call him by his first name, showing he views her as an equal. Then, Tiberius brutally rapes her, in revenge for his father forcing him to kill his friend and her whole life goes to shit. She's not only traumatised, but struggles to tell Crassus because she doesn't want to ruin his relationship with his son and because she's afraid of what Tiberius will do; he at one point threatens to rape her again and tell Crassus she tried to seduce him. When she finally works up the courage to tell Crassus, he reveals he intends to leave her in Sinuessa as an advisor to Tiberius, believing he is honoring her with such a respected position, and then tells her that nothing Tiberius could do would make him turn from him. Kore, taking this to mean that Crassus would do nothing and not exactly jumping for joy at the prospect of being stuck alone with her rapist, flees to join the rebels, even though she knows how much it will hurt Crassus. She doesn't have much fun with them either; upon learning she was once Crassus's slave, Spartacus accuses her of being a spy and interrogates her until he is satisfied she is not. She eventually kills Tiberius and then rejoins Crassus, eventually being forced to come clean about killing his son and her reasons for doing so, sobbing the whole time over her ordeal and breaking Crassus's heart. And then, in the end, Crassus has her crucified for her involvement with the rebels, despite having forgiven her reasons for doing so.
Aurelia, Varro's wife. Good grief. Her husband has to become a gladiator to pay of gambling debts that have left them broke, and she is raped and impregnated by a 'family friend' whom she had turned to for help. Her husband then blames her for the rape and rejects her. Her rapist then comes back for her, forcing her to castrate and/or kill him in self-defense and flee town. Just when she and Varro have been reconciled and things are looking up for them, he is killed by his best friend for the entertainment of a spoilt rich kid. With no way of supporting herself, Aurelia gets an abortion and sells herself into slavery to Batiatus. Then, just when she's set free and is off to rejoin her son, she is captured by the Romans, beaten half to death and nearly publically executed before being rescued...only to die a slow and agonising death from her injuries in the middle of a sewer, begging Spartacus to stay away from her son so that he will be spared his parents' fate.