Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Spartacus: Character Study: Ashur

I've been watching Spartacus on Netflix.

I consider it a guilty pleasure.

One of the things I thought interesting, was how the different relationships and the different characters play off of one another on numerous levels.

Let's look at one of the 'bad' guys, Ashur.

Ashur is an Assyrian brought in with another Assyrian, Dagan. Of the two, Dagan is the superior warrior, but Ashur has value in that Dagan doesn't speak the local tongue and Ashur does. This allows Ashur some measure of diplomacy between Dagan and others.

Initially Ashur seems eager to honestly be a part of the 'Brotherhood' where the Gladiators respect one another.

Problem is that he doesn't earn it the way the other gladiators earn theirs.

See Ashur and others follow their master, loyaly, and do things that Gladiators aren't normally a part of. Something evil and sly, assassination for their lord and master.

The reward? The brand of the gladiator and the scorn of those gladiators at the same time.

Ashur's use in translations continues to be useful but at the same time, because Dagan is the superior combatant, Ashur, who wasn't accepted in the first place, continues to fall further and further behind in estimation. This causes Ashur to make some decisions that don't please Dagan.

Things continue to go south when in a duel, Ashur 'cheats' and winds up blinding Dagan in one eye.

It goes further south when later, in a duel against another house's gladiators, Ashur suggests an alliance between himself and Crixus against the champion of their own house. Crixus responds by slashing Ashur's leg and pushing him into flames resulting in Ashur's status becoming even lower.

But somewhere during that low period, Ashur puts to use his wits and takes bets and controls money. He also spies for his lord while in the city and spreads disinformation and fakes alliances with those who seek to bring his house down.

At one point, his owner values him so much that he declares that Ashur is no mere gladiator but almost like one of his lord's hands.

Of course things come crumbling down with the whole Spartacus rebellion thing mind you...

But Ashur survives that as well! Using cunning, he escapes his fate by hiding among the dead and even helping another survive the fall of the house.

And in so doing, is rewarded with a new master who demands Ashur remove his old brand. Never mind that this requires cutting off a nice chunk of skin with that brand and takes forever to heal. It also requires Ashur to prove his point that one gladiator is worth three soldiers when he is forced to fight for his live against soldiers, but while winning, wisely holds back from killing those he fights.

His street connections enables him to gather a crew of unique mercenaries and to be a valuable asset but all is set to waste for poor Ashur when he is accused of a crime he didn't actually commit and he winds up proving his loyalty one last time taking a message to Spartacus where his overconfidence in battle leads to him being slain.

Interestingly enough, while the series Spartacus doesn't delve too deeply into racial relations, the fact that Ashur was Assyrian is enough to poison the thoughts of the slaves when they encounter another Assyrian later on. It's a subtle dig at how racism, either between Gaul and Thracian, or between Celt and Gault, is portrayed in the series.

In looking at his motivations overall, I would throw the following on him.

Petty Ambitions: While there are some in the Spartacus series that have grand overpowering ambitions, Ashur's are much simpler. An easy life, wine, food, women, and whatever else it takes to survive.

Respect: Perhaps even his number one ambition. Ashur seeks to be champion, even when he knows not capable of it. He seeks to return to the arena and win respect, even disappointed as his master tells him that he's far too valuable for such a position.

Vengeful: Much of what Ashur does that is vile, including his treatment of Naevia, is in part a result of the way others have treated him. Most think that because Ashur is the least physical among them in terms of fighting prowess alone, that he is not worthy of consideration only to learn later on that he is a master manipulator.

Loyal: While I list it last, it's important to note that Ashur had opportunity to escape his circumstances on more than one occasion and made the decision to stick with his master at the time, even thought in the end, this results in his death.

By making Ashur more than just a mustache twirling villain, the writers of Spartacus give us a character whose motivations may be easy to see, but there are motivations nonetheless.

Were there any characters that stood out for other views of Spartacus? Any villains where you were like, "Man, I can't wait to see this guy get his!" or surprised at how they went?