When I first discovered Spartacus: Blood and Sand four years ago, I wasn’t sure I would like it. The Starz series was marketed as a graphic and stylized telling of the world’s most famous gladiator when he was first taken into slavery and trained to kill and maim for sport. But I was intrigued by the setting, a ludus (gladiator school) in the city of Capua that provided the backdrop for the adventures and romances of the slaves and gladiators down below and the Roman nobles upstairs. Soap opera storylines with tons of violence, blood, sex, and gore. Think Downton Abbey meets 300.
After only one episode, I was captivated by this show for one reason… Andy Whitfield. I knew I was witnessing one of those rare moments when an actor so completely inhabits a character and plays him with such perfection that you feel blessed just to be watching.
Tragically, in 2010 Andy was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and was forced to abandon the role of Spartacus. He lost his battle in September 2011. The world lost an incredibly talented actor and the Spartacus series lost its heart and its anchor.
Starz was faced with the difficult decision of what to do next. Many fans believed that they should have simply cancelled the show and not even attempted a recast. I think maybe I agree. The show limped along for two more seasons—Liam McIntyre doing his best to fill the late Andy Whitfield’s shoes—before concluding in April 2013. I watched until the end, but it almost felt like I was watching a different show. For me, season one—Blood and Sand—was like a moment frozen in time. Perfect casting meets perfect storytelling. I know I’ll never forget it, and I will likely re-watch that season many times over.
If you don’t mind wading through tons of violence, blood, sex, and gore to witness a truly compelling performance by a gifted actor, I recommend giving this a watch.