TV on Disc: ‘Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season’
The power games heat up in the second round of ‘Thrones’
The first season of HBO’s sprawling, muscular adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy epic was arguably the pay cabler’s biggest success since "The Sopranos." I’m not measuring strictly in terms of viewership, mind you, but in buzz and awards and passionate fans, the kind of factors that drive people to subscribe.
While I won’t try to argue that "Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season" (HBO) improves upon the debut, it certainly uses the foundation of that season to build an increasingly complex narrative with characters that become more interesting with every challenge. And the biggest challenge: a free-for-all civil war after the sniveling little prince Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) is elevated to the throne by his cold-blooded mother (Lena Headey) and the scheming Lannister family, and their struggle to keep him in power as the boy turns every tantrum into a brutal display of his rule and multiple claimants to the throne make their play for the crown as the balance of power shifts with every alliance and betrayal.
Without Ned Stark (executed in the first season) as the moral center of an amoral universe, this season’s conflicts are painted in shades of gray. Not everyone is corrupt, mind you, but everyone has their reasons, and they aren’t about altruistic leadership. Once again, the most interesting player in this game is the Lannister black sheep brother Tyrion (Emmy winner Peter Dinklage), no longer the family jester this season but the king’s advisor and strategist, who proves his himself on both counts and receives the reward that talent and competence usually gets from those grasping for power.
Meanwhile, outside of the bloody struggle in the gloomy kingdom, there is the barbarian queen Daenarys (Emilia Clarke) building her army (and raising her dragons) in the sun-baked desert across the water, and in the icy north there is something rumbling on the other side of The Wall, yet another threat to a power structure that seems determined to devour itself alive.
The fantasy elements are still merely grace notes in a fictional historical epic that otherwise plays like a fanciful take on Europe of the Dark Ages, and the scale of the production – in particular battle of King’s Landing, which takes up the entire penultimate episode of the season – suggests feature film values. The series is shot in Ireland, Morocco, Malta, Croatia, and Iceland, with striking, dynamic landscapes defining each fictional land represented in the show. But it wouldn’t mean much without the strong writing, vivid characters, and superb cast. Show creators/producers David Benioff and D.B Weiss know how to keep the show focused on story and character. Storytelling matters, and this is a fiercely-told story.
10 episodes on five discs on DVD and Blu-ray editions, with 12 commentary tracks featuring the creators, cast, and crew, the 30-minute production featurette "Creating the Battle of Blackwater Bay," the interview featurettes "Game of Thrones: Inner Circle" (with actors Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Michelle Fairley and Liam Cunningham in roundtable discussion moderated by executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) and "The Religions of Westeros" (with author George R.R. Martin and series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss), and profiles of seven characters who rise to prominence this season.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray edition is "War of the Five Kings," an interactive guide that follows the movements of various armies through the episodes; the "In-Episode Guides," a viewing mode with pop-up factoids and guides running through the episodes; 19 animated pieces that explore the "Histories and Lore" of the show’s mythology, and hidden "dragon eggs," this set’s answer to Easter Eggs. The Blu-ray also features bonus DVD and digital copies of each episode. Both come in fold-out digipak cases.