FINALLY. All of you non HBO subscribers out there who are sick of hearing about how awesome Game of Thrones is without the ability to watch it, it is the dawn of a new era! An era where Game of Thrones Season One is out on DVD and all is right with the world. If you haven't seen the show yet, you may want to hold your horses now, as spoilers in this review are fairly inevitable, but heed these very important words: go buy or rent this blu-ray immediately and watch every episode. Don't walk, run. Don't drive, speed. Don't glide, fly. Don't take a mule, take a horse. I don't even KNOW WHAT I'm SAYING, just go WATCH IT.
For those of you who watched season one and are on the fence about picking up this Blu-Ray set? Well you can keep on reading and then decide for yourself.
While not something like a mini Castle Black or King's Landing, (that usually gets saved for the complete box set), the packaging for season one isn't half bad. An emblazoned slip cover brings a regal sense to this five disc set. Open it up and remove it from a more solid, protective piece of packaging and main characters grace the inside covers. Each disc contains episodes and bonus features, and a booklet with house/family trees plus a map of Westeros is included to keep things straight for you first timers. Or second timers. Or any timers. Things can get confusing. It's nothing too grand, but still nicer than your standard Blu-Ray packaging.
Each episode has 5 options - play, play with in-episode guide, play with commentary, recap of previous episodes, and preview of current episode, if you can't stay awake for that next episode cause it's 4am, but you need a little morsel of what's to come.
Few, if any television programs, have ever been made on this kind of scale, at this intense level of consistent quality. Granted we've only had ten episodes so far, but with full support from author George R.R. Martin and a creative team as talented as it gets, there is little doubt in my mind that when all is said and done, Game of Thrones will be widely regarded as one of the best television shows of all time. It is perhaps the only television adaptation to ever be this faithful to the source material. Ot is practically word for word, and staying true to this material is weaved into the very fabric of the series' existence. It would not exist were it not 100% faithful. It would make no sense. For a lot of shows based on books, it's the premise and characters that matter, with borrowed plot lines here and there, cases in point: Gossip Girl, True Blood or The Vampire Diaries. But Game of Thrones takes more of a filmic approach to adaptation. You wouldn't put Lord of the Rings on the big screen and change what happens to the characters. That would be sacrilege. Same with Game of Thrones. So far the only changes from the book have been whatever would facilitate it's journey into a new medium, but that's pretty much it. It's truly something wonderful to be behold, for fans of the book and non fans alike, who can still feel its authenticity. Rewatching the show is just as riveting as the first time around, as there was endless foreshadowing of certain events that went right over my head the first time around. It's very difficult to watch the commentary for the final five episodes and resist wanting to hear every bit of dialogue all over again, without any other tracks playing. The show is just too good.
With a show like this, commentary is a must. There is just SO much to learn, about the sets, locations, the costumes, the actors, the weapons, storyboarding, similarities and differences to the book, the process, continuity errors, fixing those errors, addressing specific complaints, and so on. There are mild spoilers for the books, but just little things like, mentioning that a character is still around in book five or hinting that certain relationships will become important. The commentary is not only filled with information about the technical aspects of the show, but hooks you back in emotionally by mentioning when a scene is the last time two characters might see each other, or the only time three characters ever have a scene together. Though I was very disappointed to find no commentary for episode nine, probably the biggest negative in the entire box set. Unless it's one of those damn hidden Dragon Eggs I can't seem to find...
There are seven commentaries in total,
*Winter is Coming. Executive producers/writers David Benioff & D.B. Weiss - informative, production wise, especially about the differences between the original and reshot pilot.
*The Kingsroad. Lena Headey (Cersei), Mark Addy (Robert) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime) - Hilarious. Be sure to count how many times Lena Heady calls various characters "shits", especially Joffrey.
*Lord Snow. Sophie Turner (Sansa), Maisie Williams (Arya) and Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran) - Adorable. They sing along to the opening theme, and keep talking about how nice everyone is. I mean, amazing.
*Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things. Writer Bryan Cogman and Kit Harington (Jon Snow) - Where to get the writer's perspective on adapting specific scenes, introductions and relationships.
*A Golden Crown. Director Daniel Minahan, Peter Dinklage (Tyrion), Emilia Clarke (Daenerys) and Harry Lloyd (Viserys) - This is where to go for a lot of clever laughs and intelligent commentary and discussion, has a nice flow to it. Worth it just to hear them praising Maisie Williams.
*The Pointy End. Co-executive producer/author George R.R. Martin. Fantastic. This is where to go to hear most about the parallels to the books, and what didn't make the final cut deliberately, and what Martin wishes was still there.
*Fire and Blood. Benioff, Weiss and director Alan Taylor. A very comprehensive commentary track that goes into more technical aspects as well as discussing elements of the story and providing behind the scenes anecdotes. Also, keep your eyes peeled for George W. Bush's head on a pike.
Now, This is a given, but you know, worth saying. DO NOT watch the commentary if you haven't seen the show yet. If you haven't seen the show, you can feel free to use the In Episode Guide feature if you find yourself very confused.
In Episode Guide
Aside from audio commentary, the Blu-Ray offers an In-Episode Guide, which follows the action and provides you with helpful hints regarding characters, lands and histories, letting you know who is in every scene and where they are, plus gives you the option of hearing up to 24 legends and histories of Westeros told by the characters themselves, which are also watchable in the Complete Guide (see below) to help fill in some of the gaps. Even for someone who has seen all of season one and read the book, being able to get real time details on where you are and who you are watching at any given time was very cool. Whenever you really need more background information, you can exit into the Complete Guide and get even more in depth. If you are wondering, yes you can have the guide on while you listen to commentary, you just have to turn it on after the episode is already playing.
You have the option of watching the "previously on Game of Thrones" recaps, which if you aren't watching every one in a row, is pretty helpful, as it reminds you of the specifics you need to know going into each episode, though I know some people consider this a spoiler.
Complete Guide to Westeros (Disc 1, over an hour)
FAVORITE ALERT: As I touched on earlier, at any time during the In Episode Guide, you can exit into the Complete Guide, which features all of the information on characters and maps that shows up in episode, but with a bit more detail, especially when it comes to the extensive maps that lay out and explain the land, plus thorough and engaging accounts of the houses and histories. The characters themselves are the ones recounting these stories with fantastic voiceovers set to beautiful lightly animated sketches or art resembling a story book or stained glass. So, pretty much the greatest thing ever. Helps you to understand any reference that has come up or will come up. Here, we also get different perspectives on things like the Night's Watch, when the Targaryens overtook Westeros, and the Mad King Aeyrs. Seeing the history of just how Robert took the throne and getting a real sense of the scene for how Ned's father and brother were killed by the Mad King and witnessed by Jamie Lannister and the whole court, made my heart break thinking of Ned's own fate that would come years later, after surviving through Aerys demanding his head. FUCKING JOFFREY. The first person accounts, from Mark Addy and Harry Lloyd in particular, do a stellar job with their memories of the rebellion. Plus, with the sketches, we get an idea of what some characters looked like when they were younger, which is kind of fun. You really get a sense of why each character feels the way they do about everyone else. This guide is so brilliantly stuffed with information, it'll make you feel like an expert by the time you are finished and have you completely prepped for the second season.
Character Profiles (Disc 1, 30:42)
Profiles on 15 characters that feature footage and interviews with each actor talking about their characters and the others closest to them. The profiles play in alphabetical order: Arya, Bran, Catelyn, Cersei, Daenerys, Jamie, Jon Snow, Khal Drogo (the most amusing one since his normal accent is so pedestrian), Ned, Littlefinger, Robb, Robert Baratheon, Sansa, Tyrion, Viserys. Definitely worth watching all the way through.
Anatomy of an Episode: A Golden Crown (Disc 3, about 61)
One of the best features of the entire Blu-Ray and one I hope is added for every episode for season two. This reminded me a lot of Maximum Movie Mode, an extra I loved on the Harry Potter Blu-Rays. It's essentially commentary with visual aids, picture in picture style, and getting to see every person talking allows a host of folks to speak about what's on screen, because it's not up to us to try and discern their voices from one another. This allows us to find out about specific fights, sets, special effects, and more, from almost every member of the production staff. My favorite bit of information was learning how four departments came together to make the golden crown sequence work.
Making Game of Thrones (Disc 5, 30:02)
A behind the scenes featurette with footage allegedly unavailable anywhere else - on set interviews with cast, crew, and Martin himself, plus tons of behind the scenes footage. We learn how the creators got involved (their love of the source material is so so evident), and about casting, locations (they scouted 14 countries!), score, production design, set decoration, art direction, construction managing, why the different kingdoms look the way they do and how they look the way they do, special effects, costumes, animal wrangling, fight direction, stunt coordination, prop managing, and more, talking to every member of the crew involved in any of that. Here we also learn that the composer is pretty hot. Plus, PUPPIES!
From the Book to the Screen (Disc 5, 5:14)
Interviews with Martin, Benioff and Weiss on adapting the books. Mostly an overlap with the longer Making Of featurette, but definitely goes into a tiny bit more depth on this specific subject for the last two minutes. I love how included Martin was in this entire process.
Creating The Show Open (Disc 5, 5:07)
Reasons behind the Emmy winning opening credit design with concept art and details on creation and development. Interviews with Benioff and Weiss, plus Hameed Shaukat, the producer of the credits, Rob Feng, the art director, Chris Sanchez, the lead designer, and Angus Wall, the creative director who conceived of the whole idea.
Creating the Dothraki Language (Disc 5, 5:27)
Some of this reuses footage from the featurette, but not as much as the Book to Screen bit. This section goes way more into the specifics of how the language was created. The man who came up with it was David J. Peterson from the Language Creation Society, based on the information about the Dothraki in the books. Fascinating what was taken into consideration while developing this language. Every translation had the spelling, plus the phonetic pronunciation and an mp3 of Peterson speaking it. Also a look at how speaking the language worked for the actors and were aided by the on set dialogue coach. This section rules.
The Night's Watch (Disc 5, 8:07)
More on the Night's Watch, the wall, the Wildlings, the Whitewalkers, and what lies north of the wall, from Martin, Weiss, Benioff, and the actors playing the men who have taken the black. Any extra featuring Martin talking about his creation is awesome in my book, and this definitely qualifies. Emphasizes one of the coolest things about the Night's Watch that I didn't realize - it's really the only place in Westeros where hard work can get you to rise in the ranks - doesn't matter where you came from, only what you do once you're there.
Hidden Dragon Eggs (Disc ??, ?:??)
So there are hidden dragon eggs spread across the 5 discs that offer more exclusive content, but I couldn't find any :(. Apparently they require "skill" to find. If you readers happen to find any, be sure to let us know!
This is one of those rare occasions where I would recommend making a buy right now, no matter what. If you've seen the show and read the book, getting to hear the commentaries (especially George R.R. Martin's) and a look into the filmic aspects of the experience and how they adapted the books will be a dream. If you haven't read the books, it's worth it not only for that, but for the complete histories, that will help provide background and context. If you haven't watched the show, stop reading this immediately, go buy it, and watch the whole series in one day, and then enjoy all of the extras. I wouldn't even wait for the box set of the complete series as people often do, because the extras are too good and informative to ignore before season two begins. This is a fantastic box set, clearly everyone involved with Game of Thrones cares about it to their very cores, and it shows. Oh season two, I know you're starting April 1st, but that just really isn't soon enough.