TV on Disc: 'Game of Thrones' – The first season gift set
The hit fantasy series is back in a new edition for the holiday season
HBO's epic fantasy set in a medieval world of warring kingdoms, cutthroat royal families, barbarians, dragons, and some undefined evil kept at bay (at least up until now) behind a massive wall taller than a skyscraper, is the pay cable network's most ambitious original series to date.
It has already concluded its second season on cable (due on disc in February 2013) with a third season to come in March, 2013, but it's an expensive production and bills need to be paid. Thus "Game Of Thrones: The Complete First Season Collector's Edition" (HBO), essentially a rerelease of the original Blu-ray edition with some bonus goodies.
Based on the ongoing fantasy series by George R. R. Martin and faithfully adapted for the small screen with big screen production values, the shows offers a vast canvas of characters, stories, and landscapes. Sean Bean is the ostensible hero of this first series as Eddard Stark, ruler of the northern kingdom and the Hand of the King (Mark Addy), a once fearsome warrior married to a ruthlessly ambitious queen (Lena Headey) who plots to put her clan on the throne and eliminate Stark.
But that's just the broadest strokes of a very complicated story with where family dynasties plot their way to power through marriages, war, and political gamesmanship, and an exiled princess (Emilia Clarke) unites the barbarian hordes of a land across the water to take back her family legacy. And it doesn't begin to trace the equally compelling story of Tyrion Lannister, the debauched "black sheep" of the ruling family played by Peter Dinklage (who won an Emmy for his performance). Like a medieval answer to "I, Claudius," he's a dwarf with a sharp mind and a fierce understanding of the ways of power that he hides under his court jester antics. It's a form of protection as well as escape; he's not perceived as a threat.
This could be a fanciful take on Europe of the Dark Ages but for the echoes of supernatural forces massing outside of the borders. The casting is superb, the production looks amazing, like a medieval epic shrouded in the shadow of a winter storm, and the writing is intelligent and always surprising. Like so many HBO shows, it takes its time unfolding its story and doesn't follow the expectations of TV storytelling (major characters are constantly sacrificed to the ruthlessness of the story), but it casts its spell from the opening scenes.
Features all ten episodes on five Blu-ray discs, with all the supplements of the earlier release plus a bonus DVD and digital copies of each episode. Both Blu-ray and DVD editions include commentary on seven episodes, the half-hour "Making Game of Thrones" (originally made for HBO to promote the show), featurettes on the creation of the superb, Emmy-winning title sequence, the Night's Watch (who guard the wall), and the creation of the Dothraki language, plus a short interview with executive producers/series developers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and author George R.R. Martin a collection of 15 character profiles with interviews and clips from the show.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray is the interactive "Complete Guide to Westeros" with background to the history and characters of the world plus 24 featurettes, which can be explored directly or accessed through the "In-Episode Guides" (a viewing mode with pop-up factoids and guides running through the episodes) and the "Anatomy of an Episode" look at "A Golden Crown," which expands the "In-Episode Guide" for the sixth episode into a fully integrated audio-video commentary track with video interviews, storyboards, and other picture-in-picture supplements.
What makes this a "Collector's Edition" is the handsome box, a bonus disc with the first episode of the second season, and a bonus tchotchke: a Dragon Egg paperweight and conversation piece. And the suggested retail price isn't much of a bump up from the basic Blu-ray edition. In other words, its a pretty good deal as gift sets go.