Two words: GAME CHANGER. That’s what I use to describe HBO’s Game of Thrones. By bringing big budget Hollywood-style production onto the small screen, this show has broken the mold of cult-like followings typically behind most fantasy stories and introduced the series to a mass audience. Most importantly, the content of Game of Thrones is like no other. It’s not common for a fantasy series, or any show for that matter, to be filled with intense drama, bloody violence, and elaborate sex scenes in every episode. But Game of Thrones doesn’t shy away from that at all. The series captures your imagination from the very first minute, almost to the point where it becomes impossible to turn it off until the series finale. It goes without saying there is something extremely special here. The writing, acting, directing, and production are well above the quality of anything else that’s currently on TV. Backed by a story that keeps drawing you in until you’re completely hooked, this show is nothing short of epic.
For those of you who are new to the series, it’s not simply about sex and violence as I mentioned earlier. It’s a story of love, family, honor, duty, loyalty, pride, self-determination, and so much more. There is truly something for everyone here. Based on George R.R. Martin’s medieval fantasy series, “A Song of Ice and Fire”, executive producers/showrunners Dan Benioff and D.B. Weiss have created an almost perfect adaption of Martin’s work in Game of Thrones, mostly due to the terrific performances of the Emmy-award winning cast and crew. All of these factors combine to draw you deep inside the world of Westeros to the point where you feel as though you are part of the story itself.
Now onto the good stuff…
Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season will be officially released on Feb. 19th; however, HBO was kind enough to send us a copy a few weeks early so that we can share what you can expect from this year’s release. So, everyone say “Thank you, HBO”. Ok, everyone now… “THANK YOU, HBO!”
Now, with the formalities out of the way. Here is what’s included in the Season Two Blu-ray set:
The box-set comes in a sturdy cardboard shell, including a nicely designed embossed slipcover with the image of King Robert Baratheon’s crown and the Game of Thrones logo in beautiful gold print. The cardboard shell itself isn’t as lavish as the slipcover, so you might want to keep it for displaying purposes. Inside the shell, you will find two different CD books. One is the Blu-ray disc (the good stuff!), the other consists of two double-sided discs. This is your DVD copy.
HBO started doing something new with their Blu-ray releases this year. Instead of merely receiving a single way of viewing the show, you can now choose 3 different ways of watching it. The first, obviously, is the actual Blu-ray disc; the second is your DVD copy; and the third is your “Digital Copy”. Basically, you can either watch the show on Blu-ray, DVD, or digitally using HBOSelect. If you’re new to HBOSelect, well it’s quite simple. There’s an insert included in the set with a website address and a redeem code. All you have to do is go to the website, enter the code, and “Select” which provider you want to use (my choices were iTunes, Vudu, and Flixster). The only drawback is that you have an expiration date on the redeem code. Good news is that it expires in 2 years, so I don’t think it’ll be much of an issue for most people. I chose iTunes and tried to redeem it, but apparently you can’t do it until the official release date. That was a real bummer, but we’ll update this article as soon as we can access it.
The Complete Season Two Blu-ray set contains 5 discs (not including the 2 DVD discs) featuring all 10 episodes, as well as exclusive special features that can only be found in this collection. The discs themselves are kept in a clean-looking digipak featuring images of six main characters on the back, which isn’t much different from what we saw in Season One’s release. Inside the digipak is a pocket that includes the episode guide, which is pretty cool. Start to unfold it and you can see all the claimants to the Iron Throne, a complete list of episodes, and another list with all of the exclusive special features. On the back is a full map of Westeros and the Eastern continent of Essos. I’ve complained a lot on other reviews of not having a proper map to look at. Well, here is a nice one! Not as detailed as I would’ve liked, but it shows all the major locations which is all you can really ask for.
Video and audio for this release are superb. Each of the 10 episodes are presented in 1080p (1.78:1 aspect ratio) with English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. I watch Game of Thrones at home in HD from my cable provider, which is also presented in 1080p. However, watching the season again on Blu-ray is absolutely stunning. The images are crisp and clear while textures and detail remain wonderfully replicated. But what really takes my breath away are the colors. From the dark, winter tones of the Lands Beyond the Wall, to the vivid and colorful landscapes of King’s Landing and Qarth, Game of Thrones covers a wide range of spectrums. Needless to say, it would be easy to assume that these colors would waver a bit, but they don’t. Contrast is always spot-on, as well as flesh tones, which drastically enhances the imagery of each location. I’ve noticed on certain Blu-ray releases that you can get grainy compression noise during certain scenes, but from what I can tell, there isn’t any of that going on in this set. Overall, the picture quality represents the best of TV on Blu-Ray.
In my opinion, audio has improved considerably from the Season One Blu-ray. Last year’s release had wonderfully crisp dialogues, but some action scenes seemed too noisy which led to it becoming a bit drowned out at times. Fortunately, that problem has apparently been resolved. I tested the sound by re-watching the Battle of Blackwater scene on high volume, which yielded no distortion, crackles, or other audio interferences whatsoever. The surround sound has quite an aggressive nature – which I really like – that gives action scenes an incredibly exciting sound. Hearing arrows zip past your head and having the sounds of explosions all around you really packs the room with some mind-blowing sound and intense atmosphere. The pounding bass adds even more to the experience as the thunderous boom of wildfire exploding nearly knocks you off your seat. Next to the amazing picture quality, the audio truly stands on its own to deliver an amazing viewing experience.
Aside from the excellent content packed into each episode of Game of Thrones, the Blu-ray set also comes with an incredible collection of never-before-seen special features. Literally no stone goes unturned in this collection as just about everything a fan could ever want to know about this series is here. Everything from character profiles, production info, trivia, costume and set design, and, most importantly, the story are covered in hours of extra material. Let’s start with the In-Episode stuff:
The set gives us 12 excellent commentary tracks – which is 5 more than last year – with a who’s who of Game of Thrones stars, including George R.R. Martin himself. Considering the sheer number of tracks, I wasn’t able to listen to all of them, but there is some great material from what I did hear. It’s always interesting to hear stories from cast and crew about what was going on while filming certain scenes. Features like this really gives fans a sense of what goes into creating every single episode.
Here is the full list of commentary by episode:
“The North Remembers” – with executive producers/writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
“The Night Lands” – with actors Alfie Allen (Theon) and Gemma Whelan (Yara Greyjoy)
“What is Dead May Never Die”(2 tracks) – with writer Bryan Cogman and director Alik Sakharov; plus commentary by actors Sophie Turner (Sansa), Maisie Williams (Arya), and Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Bran)
“Garden of Bones” – with actors Carice Van Houten (Melisandre) and Liam Cunningham (Davos)
“The Old Gods and the New” – with actors Kit Harington (Jon Snow), Rose Leslie (Ygritte) , and writer Vanessa Taylor
“A Man Without Honor” – with executive producers/writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
“The Prince of Winterfell” – with actors Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime) and Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark)
“Blackwater” (2 tracks) – with author George R.R. Martin; plus actors Peter Dinklage (Tyrion), Lena Headey (Cersei), and director Neil Marshall
“Valar Morghulis”(2 tracks) – with Rainer Gombros and Steve Kullback of the VFX team; plus actress Emilia Clarke (Daenerys) and director Alan Taylor
Along with the audio commentaries, the other big in-episode feature is an interactive guide containing a sea of information and trivia on characters, locations, and histories for each scene of each episode. This feature plays much in the same way that the interactive features on HBOGo does. Basically, there is a pop-up menu on the right of the screen with each category listed. From there, you can read all about the particular scene that is playing. It’s perfect for fans who find themselves lost trying to keep track of the intricate plotlines from Game of Thrones. However, as far as information and trivia are concerned, nothing beats the War of the Five Kings feature on Disc Five.
This interactive guide completely blew me away and stands out as my favorite part of the Blu-ray set by far. The feature lays out a map of Westeros with a marker displaying the House sigil for each person fighting for control of the Iron Throne. Once again, a wealth of information on each character, their allies, and locations is presented, but with a unique twist. Included into nearly every character’s menu is a category called “Battle Plans”. This feature uses the map to create a fantastic animated timeline dating all the way back to Season One detailing each character’s battles, events, and movements across the country. At each point of the timeline, you see where each battle took place, who fought there, and what the result was. If you’re looking for the best feature that takes you deep into the different plots of the War of the Five Kings, this one is certainly it.
All of the disc-specific extras are found on Discs One and Five. Disc One features a nice collection of profiles for 7 popular characters in the series (Jon Snow, Daenerys, Robb Stark, Joffrey, Renly, Stannis, and Theon). Each profile clocks in around 2 minutes apiece creating 15 minutes of solid content. In addition, the profiles feature interviews with the actors who play each character, as well as other members of the cast who play supporting roles in that character’s story. These are wonderful insights into the personalities of each character from those who know them best, the people who play them!
Rounding out the rest of Disc Five are four more featurettes which are also packed with exclusive content. Histories & Lore contains 19 brief, animated videos which tell the different histories and mythologies of Westeros and Essos. What makes this feature so cool is that the narrations are done by characters from the show and backed by illustrations from Game of Thrones storyboard artist Will Simpson. This guide is a great feature for any fan looking to brush up on their Westerosi history. Being a die-hard fan myself, there was some information in there that even I didn’t know about, which is really saying something.
Next, Creating the Battle of Blackwater Bay, is a 31 minute behind-the-scenes look at how the climactic battle from Season Two was filmed. Watching this feature was one of those “I knew, but I didn’t know” kind of moments. I knew that “Blackwater” was a Hollywood-style shoot, but I had no idea just how complex and detailed it actually was. Everything from building a full-size ship from scratch, to how they filmed chopping a man in half is told through dozens of interviews with the cast and crew members who made it all happen. Next to the War of the Five Kings feature, this is certainly my second favorite extra in the set. There is some incredible stuff here. Finally, the extras on Disc Five end with Game of Thrones Inner Circle, a 24 minute round-table discussion with actors Emilia Clark, Michelle Fairley, Kit Harington, Liam Cunningham, as well as showrunners Dan Benioff and D.B. Weiss; and The Religions of Westeros, which includes 7 minutes of commentary from George Martin, Benioff, and Weiss discussing the competing religions in the series and how they influence various characters. This video was released back in April, so it might be old news to some of you.
There are also hidden “Dragon Eggs” scattered throughout the series which uncover even more never-before-seen content. Last year there were five eggs total, so I’m expecting a similar number this year. For those who don’t wish to be spoiled, we’ll save those for another article. (Also, because I haven’t found them all yet.)
Wow. What else can I really say here? This is the best thing that has ever happened to TV on Blu-ray? Ok, that may be a little strong, but not entirely untrue. It’s definitely how watching TV on Blu-ray should be, and more importantly, it’s how watching Game of Thrones on Blu-ray should be. There are hours upon hours of exclusive content here that paints an extremely vivid picture of what this show is all about. Newbies and long-time fans can both relish in the astounding attention to detail that went in to this set. Certainly, it’s something that deserves some sort of commendation, and a gold star simply isn’t enough. This collection goes well beyond what was seen in Season One to bring the best possible content to the show’s loyal fan base. Considering the fact that you get three different ways to view the season, along with the content, this set has some real bang for the buck going on.
Unfortunately, despite the hours of fantastic content, there are a few things missing. As with last season, there aren’t any deleted scenes, which is disappointing. But I have a feeling we might get some in the hidden dragon eggs. Maybe even one with Loras and Margaery (wink, wink). Also, I would’ve liked to see a bit more “making-of” features. Blackwater is the only one we get, but it’s completely epic so I can’t complain too much. Lastly, where are the interviews with the Stark kids? Sure, they’re on the episode commentary, but no roundtable discussions or interviews. Can I get some Arya or Bran in my life? I guess not this year.
With the incredible attention to detail and near flawless content packed into this Blu-ray set, all I can really say is “Bring on Season Three”!
Copies of Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season officially go on sale February 19th. Howevever, you can pre-order a copy now on [amazon_link id=”B0060MYM7O” target=”_blank” ]Amazon.com[/amazon_link] ($49.99). If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.