When you talk about the success of a TV show, a strong indicating factor is usually the number of seasons it aired for. Old heavyweights like Seinfeld and Friends ran for 9 and 10 ten seasons respectively. More recently we’ve had long runners in Lost (6) and Friday Night Lights (5), there’s even a fair amount of premium cable shows that have had substantial airtime; The Sopranos (6.5), Weeds (7), and Mad Men (4), to name just a few. Rarely do you get a show that carries the same prestige having only been around for 1 season!
This seems to be the case with HBO’s run away hit Game of Thrones, which was the most viewed show on Sky Atlantic last year. HBO even green lit the second season only hours after the first had premiered. Co-President Richard Plepler said, “We told George (R.R. Martin) we’d go as long as he kept writing.” The network expects to top $1 billion in international revenue and at $2.5 million an episode; it’s already double what they made on The Sopranos.
Before Season 2 premiers on April 1st, you can pick up the Blu-ray of Season 1 from March 5th (or March 6th in the US), which I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing for you. Like all things Game of Thrones, the viewing, and reviewing of this blu-ray turned out to be pretty epic! So bear with me as I take you through the complete Season 1 experience.
For anyone who’s still unsure, Game of Thrones is not Lord of the Rings made for TV. Obviously it would be unfair to compare them cinematically, but it would also be unfair to compare them dramatically simply because they share a genre. It would be like saying True Blood is the same as Twilight because they are both vampire fiction. Game of Thrones is character driven whereas Lord of the Rings is entirely plot driven. I’ve heard it compared to Shakespeare’s The Wars of the Roses and I think this is more apropos.
So what’s it all about?
Set in the fictional world of Westeros and Essos, the ruling houses of the Seven Kingdoms vie for control of the Iron Throne, the centre of power in the realm.
For three hundred years, the Targaryen family has ruled from King’s Landing after Aegon the Conqueror brought the Seven Kingdoms to their knees with the aid of his mighty dragons. But now the dragons are long gone and the Targaryen’s are notorious for their madness (most likely because they keep marrying their sisters!) Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) and Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), brothers in arms, lead a rebellion against the Mad King Aerys II and overthrew the Targaryen dynasty once and for all. Now, seventeen years later the series begins…
Robert, now King, rides North to Winterfell, the home of Eddard Stark (also called Ned) who is now Warden of the North. The reason for his visit? John Arryn, the Hand of the King (basically the King’s chief advisor) has suddenly and mysteriously died and Robert, surrounded by the devious Lannister family (the richest and most powerful in all Westeros) needs someone he can trust to fill the role.
Meanwhile across the Narrow Sea in Essos, Viserys (Harry Lloyd) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) Targaryen, the last surviving children of Mad Aerys have grown to maturity and plot to retake the Seven Kingdoms from the “Usurper and his dogs” with the aid of Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), mighty warlord of the nomadic Dothraki tribes.
As the series develops Ned must deal with the treacherous politics of the King’s Court, namely the murderous intentions of Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) who will stop at nothing to get her own way.
Season 1 is based on the book A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, which is the first book in his (currently) five part series A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s a monumental drama and the show has been highly praised for its faith to the original material. Don’t expect a lot of action, sex and blood in the first season, it has its fair share, but it’s really about the political intrigue of the characters, how some will do anything to attain power and some are just hanging on to survive.
I would recommend this series to just about anyone based on the story alone, but if your going to fork out a decent amount of cash for the blu-ray set you’ll probably want to know what else your paying for, and I’m pleased to say that you won’t be disappointed.
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 in English, DTS Digital Surround 5.1 in French and Castilian, DTS Digital Surround 2.0 in Spanish and Polish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Castilian, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Video: 1080p High Definition 16:9 (1.78)
I wasn’t going to write a section on quality because this isn’t a blu-ray conversion. It was made for 1080p and it looks fantastic. One thing however, and this may be a one-off fault with my set, is that at one point in Episodes 2 (Disc1), 3 and 4 (Disc 2), and 9 (Disc 4), the sound cuts out completely for about 1 second, as if something has been censored (only there was nothing to censor) Again this may be a fault on my discs but I felt it was worth mentioning. Otherwise, your quality experience should be pretty flawless.
I’m doing this off a Test Sample package so it means that I can’t really comment on the packaging of the retail product. I know as much about that as you do from the online pictures and from what I’ve seen, it looks pretty decent. Instead I will talk about the menu presentation; visually it’s ace. There’s a clip montage of all the characters throughout the season set to a marching score. (It’s the theme from when Royal convoy arrives at Winterfell if anyone cares.) The menu bar runs along the top and it’s really easy to navigate to what you want.
There is however a very strange feature that is a total hindrance. Literally everything is listed in the menus but obviously not all the content is on the first disc. So you load up Disc 1 and play the first couple of special features just fine, then you try to play the next one and it tells you to insert another disc. The same problem goes for the episodes. Having not had the benefit of browsing the back cover of the packaging, I had no way to know what content was on which disc without the annoying task of going through it all and making my own list.
Assuming you buy the proper retail box, and assuming it includes a list, you shouldn’t have this problem but it still begs the question; why list all the content on every disc in the first place? For you own ease of mind, check the bottom of the next section for a full list of what’s on each disc.
This baby has so many features it’s like the good old days of early DVD’s when the studios actually cared about delivering a complete product to their customers. Of course there are the standard featurettes, makings of and audio commentaries, but it’s the unexpected extras that really make it a comprehensive experience.
There’s an “In-Episode Guide” and an entire section on the series lore. The In-Episode Guide acts like an optional menu bar down the side of the screen while you watch the show. Without pausing, you can learn about the people in the scene you are watching and the location they are in. You can pause the episode and go to the comprehensive lore section (also accessible through the main menu), which gives you a series of entries on the history and lore of the world of the series. These are written by Bryan Cogman and narrated by series actors Mark Addy, Harry Lloyd, Charlie Dance, Michelle Fairley, Richard Madden, Isaac Hempstead-Wright (and others) and are played over black and white sketched animations so you don’t even have to read much!
It’s super helpful for viewers who haven’t read the books because you’ll learn much more about the world and the characters then you would by just watching the episodes.
Some of them must be unlocked by watching the episode with the In-Episode Guide turned on. As far as I could make out, the only ones that need to be unlocked are the animated guides to the history of the famous Houses. These are better quality animations with colour. The icon on the menu bar will flash as they become available and these cannot be accessed through the main lore section until they are unlocked. For some reason though, once I had unlocked one, I had unlocked them all, and could access them through the Complete Guide to Westeros off the main menu.
With regards to Easter Eggs (or Dragon Eggs as the case may be), there are apparently six hidden away somewhere and no, I do not know how to find them yet. I’ve heard they are audition tapes of various actors reciting lengthy dialogue from the books, and one that includes the fierce Jason Momoa doing the Hawaiian haka! Apparently if you follow HBO on Twitter or like them on Facebook they will release hints to finding them at some point in March.
Finally here is a full list of everything you can explore on each disc:
Episode 1: “Winter is Coming” with In-Episode Guide and Audio Commentary by Writers/Executive Producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Episode 2: “The Kingsroad” with In-Episode Guide and Audio Commentary by Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Mary Addy (King Robert Baratheon) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister)
Complete Guide to Westeros – (accessible from any disc) series of narrated animations about the history and lore of world of Westeros as well as maps and text info about the lands and regions and the powerful families that rule them (unlock-able through In-Episode Guide).
Character Profiles – short featurettes on the entire principal cast where you learn about the characters and meet the actors who play them. Helpful to new viewers who are still confused by who everybody is and how they fit in. Also good if you’ve read the books and are interested to see if the actors have the same impression of the characters as you do.
Episode 3: “Lord Snow” with In-Episode Guide and Audio Commentary by Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark), Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) and Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran Stark)
Episode 4: “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” with In-Episode Guide and Audio Commentary by Writer Bryan Cogman and Kit Harrington (Jon Snow)
Episode 5: “The Wolf and the Lion” with In-Episode Guide
Episode 6: “A Golden Crown” with In-Episode Guide and Audio Commentary by Director Daniel Minahan, Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) and Harry Lloyd (Viserys Targaryen)
Anatomy of an Episode – An in-depth dissection of Episode 6: “A Golden Crown” with input from all the people involved in bringing the episode to life.
Episode 7: “You Win or You Die” with In-Episode Guide
Episode 8: “The Pointy End” with In-Episode Guide and Audio Commentary by Co-Executive Producer and series author George R.R. Martin, who also penned the screenplay for this episode!
Episode 9: “Baelor” with In-Episode Guide
Episode 10: “Fire and Blood” with In-Episode Guide and Audio Commentary by Writers/Executive Producers David Benioff and D.B Weiss, and Director Alan Taylor
Making of Game of Thrones – a half hour feature on the making of the series with comprehensive input from the shows creators, producers, cast and crew. From Book to Screen – a short featurette with analysis from series author George R.R. Martin and show runners David Benioff and D.B Weiss about bringing the epic series from the page to the screen. Most of the interviews from this are also in the “Making of Game of Thrones.”
Creating the Show Open – A look at the monumental effort that went into creating the shows memorable and unique title sequence. They could’ve done a cheap, ordinary credit roll but then it wouldn’t be HBO…
Creating the Dothraki Language – An interesting featurette on how they invented the language of the horse lords. The books contain only a few words but for the show they’ve created an entire language with over 20,000 words and complete grammar structure. Just ask David J. Peterson from the Language Creation Society who came up with it all!
The Night’s Watch – a closer look at the order of the Night’s Watch; who they are and what they stand for. This feature is kind of pointless apart from the footage and interviews with actors because you get much better information by going to the Night’s Watch section in the Complete Guide to Westeros (search through ‘Histories and Lore/History of the Night’s Watch’. The first segment is also under ‘Houses/Night’s Watch’).
All that’s left to say is to try and convince anyone who will listen that this is one of the most immersive and impressive shows on television today. With an estimated budget of $60 million, HBO has spared no expense to bring Martin’s epic series to your living room. Were it not for the tiresome disc swapping and the few minor sound glitches, I would have given it the full five stars. For new fans and old fans alike, the Season 1 Blu-ray is the complete Game of Thrones experience.
For the best price in the UK, pre-order it from Sainsbury’s for £29.99.
Amazon.co.uk also does it for £32 or a £36.99 edition with an extra bonus “Creating the Visuals” disc, which I have not seen.
Release date in the UK will be the 5th of March.
For our US readers, the Amazon pre-order price is currently $44.99, whilst RRP is around $80! Check it out here, released 6th of March.