In an effort to fill the chasm in my heart left by the Game of Thrones off-season, I took a journey back in time to pay a visit to its spiritual predecessor–HBO’s Rome. Rome proved to HBO that a show with a large ensemble cast of relatively unknown European actors could be successful with an American audience if you threw in enough sex, violence and political backstabbing. Rome also shares a casting director (Nina Gold, aka the Best Casting Director Ever) with Game of Thrones, which is significant since Gold loves to hire actors from previous projects — watch both shows and you’re bound to see a few familiar faces.
Now, about Rome‘s pilot!
Rome chronicles the lives of the powerful politicians of Rome (primarily Julius Caesar, Pompey Magnus and the people surrounding them) and two semi-fictional soldiers that had been mentioned in Julius Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico and were fleshed out for the series. Rome‘s pilot, “The Stolen Eagle”, begins with the final battle of the Gallic War and establishes the rift in Caesar and Pompey’s relationship that will likely fuel the conflict in the first season.
“The Stolen Eagle” sets up a few different storylines to follow throughout (at least) the first season:
- Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) & Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson), an officer and soldier in the Roman military.
- The pilot begins with Lucius Vorenus, a Centurion of the 13th Legion, commanding his men in the final assault against the Gauls, who quickly fall to the superior tactics of the Romans. However, Titus Pullo breaks rank in the middle of the battle and starts killing Gallic men left and right by himself until Vorenus calls for him to return to his position in the phalanx, but Pullo isn’t having any of it. Blinded by his desire to fight and more than likely some alcohol, Pullo responds by punching Vorenus in the face. Oops. That move gets Pullo flogged before his fellow legionaries and sentenced to death — good job, Pullo.
- Later in the episode, after Caesar’s Eagle Standard is stolen, General Mark Antony (James Purefoy) commands Lucius Vorenus to retrieve it at any cost. Vorenus, thinking this is a fool’s errand, pulls Titus Pullo out of the stockades and commands him to assist in retrieving the Eagle.
- Julius Caesar (Ciarán Hinds), the King-beyond-the-Gaul — Roman General-extraordinaire and future Emperor of Rome (spoilers!).
- At the start of the pilot, Caesar has just won his illegal war against the Gauls (thanks to his 13th Legion) and accepts surrender from their “King”, Vercingetorix. Caesar is then delivered some terrible news: his daughter (and Pompey’s wife), Julia, has died. Caesar has little time to griever, however, as he must find a new wife for Pompey to ensure that their relationship stay stable. That’s where Atia of the Julii comes in.
- Atia of the Julii (Polly Walker), Caesar’s niece and mother of Octavian and Octavia.
- Atia is a politically-savvy woman who wants much for her children: all of Atia’s scenes in the first episode involve her trying to set her children up in positions of power. When Caesar requests that Atia find Pompey a new wife, Atia complies by telling her daughter Octavia to divorce her husband and offer herself to Pompey. She also instructs her son, Octavian, to bring a beautiful horse to Caesar to congratulate him on his victory over Gaul and, more importantly, to remind Caesar of how strongly they support him.
- Pompey Magnus (Kenneth Cranham),
- Pompey begins the series as Caesar’s friend and son-in-law, but, over the course of the pilot he changes his position quite a bit. After the death of his wife, Pompey listens to Cato the Younger call for Caesar to be brought back to Rome to be punished for his illegal conquest in Gaul, but immediately vetoes the motion due to his friendship with Caesar. Throughout the pilot he is approached by Roman traditionalists that plead with him to break ties with Caesar and stand against him, to which he eventually succumbs. Poor, foolish Pompey.
- Marcus Junius Brutus (Tobias Menzies), the son of Caesar’s lover, Servilia de Junii (Lindsay Duncan).
- Brutus has a small role in the pilot, but I chose to include his storyline due to later relevance. Brutus pays a visit to Caesar’s camp before heading to a party hosted by his mother, where he tells Pompey of the lack of morale in Caesar’s camp after the loss of the Eagle. Brutus plays up the toll the lost Eagle has taken on Caesar and his men (whether he actually believes it or if he has ulterior motives at this point is unknown) which causes Pompey to seriously consider making his move against Caesar.
Overall, the pilot for Rome was just the fix I needed. I have only seen a few episodes of Rome so far, but I am already sad that it was cancelled so early on. I have heard that the second season was somewhat rushed, but if it is even half as enjoyable at what I am experiencing in the first season, I won’t care much. If you enjoy shows with a lot of political intrigue, you’ve got Caesar’s rise to Emperor of Rome. If you enjoy shows with epic fight scenes, you’ve got Titus Pullo to bash some skulls. Rome has a little something for everyone, so why not give it a shot?
- Rating: “Just the fix I needed.”
- Comment: HBO has broadcast some of my favorite shows of all time (Flight of the Conchords, Game of Thrones, The Wire) and it looks like Rome will be added to that list very soon.
- You might like Rome if you like: heaps of political intrigue, sex and violence (basically Game of Thrones); period dramas; ensemble casts; Gladiator; I, Claudius; Roman history with some artistic license.