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Featured TV on DVD Review: Game of Thrones: Season One

March 5th, 2012

Game of Thrones: Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Game of Thrones is a fantasy series based on the A Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R. R. Martin. It features an amazing ensemble cast, all of whom die within 30 seconds of the opening credits. I'm joking, of course, but I'm not too far off. For those who don't know, George R. R. Martin has a reputation for killing off characters in his novels, and Game of Thrones is no different and it offers plenty of blood. But does it also offer a compelling story?

The Show

The show is set in the land of Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, which at the beginning of the series is led by Robert Baratheon, and his family. His wife, Cersei is of the Lannister House, the richest and most powerful, and her brother, Jamie, is an important member of the military. (He's also something else that's too large a spoiler to even hint at.) Her other brother is Tyrion, who is also known as The Imp, because of his stature. He's not exactly his father's favorite son. The Kingdoms are under threat, both foreign and domestic. To the north, past the Wall, there are the Wildlings and the White Walkers and the coming winter. Across the Narrow Sea are the exiled son, Viserys, and daughter, Daenerys, of the old king, King Targaryen, who are planning on reclaiming their father's throne, if they can raise an army from the Dothraki (a nomadic tribe). There are still some in Westeros who are loyal to the old king, and would rise up for him, should the Targaryens return. At the beginning of the series, Eddard Stark and his family are thrust into this political intrigue.

Eddard Stark, a.k.a., Ned, is the head of the House of Stark and lord over Winterfall. He and his wife, Catelyn Tully, have five children. Robb Stark is the oldest, at least the oldest legitimate son, who stays in Winterfell while most of the rest of the family travel to the capital. Sansa Stark, his eldest daughter, is to marry Prince Joffrey, Robert Baratheon's eldest son. Arya Stark is the younger of the two daughters, who's interests are more swordplay than needlepoint. Bran Stark is Eddard's second youngest child; however, any talk about him takes us into spoiler territory. Then there's Rickon Stark, the youngest and best known as, 'Sir doesn't appear in this series.' (He's only in a few episodes and barely at that.) Finally, there's Jon Snow, Eddard's illegitimate son, who travels north to The Wall to be part of the Night’s Watch.

I'm just barely scratching the surface, but unfortunately, anything beyond the barest examination takes us well past spoiler territory.

The complexity of the TV series is a pretty big barrier to get into the show, which is probably the biggest complaint I have about the show. On the other hand, it's really the only complaint I have. Also, owning the first series on Blu-ray is so much better, as you can watch all ten episodes in one marathon session so you can keep track of the many, many, many plot threads. (The special features also help in this regard.) The show's writing is amazing and is arguably the best Sword & Sorcerer show ever made. In fact, it compares favorably to movies in the same genre. This is Lord of the Rings level quality episode over episode. Of course, it's not Lord of the Rings subject matter and would earn an R-rating if it were a movie.

The plot involves an incredible amount of courtyard intrigue and political machination, which Eddard Stark is trying to uncover. Some of which we know about before he does, but a lot of the mysteries are also not explained to the viewers till the characters themselves see them. Watching these stories unfold will draw in viewers, even those who are not big fans of the genre. Additionally, the acting is top notch from top to bottom. Peter Dinklage won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe, while the cast earned a SAG nomination. I'm a little surprised the show didn't earn more awards, as it was, in my mind, the best new TV show of 2011.

The Extras

The extras are extensive, to say the least. They start with audio commentary tracks on seven of the ten episodes featuring a wide variety of participants. Character Profiles has short profiles on the main characters. They are short individually, but add up to just over 30 minutes in total. Making Game of Thrones is a 30-minute making of featurette. From the Book to the Screen is a 5-minute featurette on the adapting the novels for a TV series. Creating the Show Open is a 5-minute featurette on the making of the Emmy winning opening title sequence. Creating the Dothraki Language is a 5-minute featurette on the Dothraki Language. The Night’s Watch is an 8-minute featurette on the important Black Brotherhood.

The Blu-ray also has In-Episode Guide, a massive interactive extra that runs during the entire season. Throughout the episodes, short featurettes are available on the people, the places, and the history of the world of Game of Thrones. You can also watch these many, many short featurettes separately. If you are lost on what is happening, these will guide you. Episode six has Anatomy of an Episode, which is a Picture-in-Picture track going over the making of this important series.

Moving onto the technical presentation, this is quite possibly the best looking and sounding TV show I've seen on Blu-ray. The colors are amazing, as is the level of detail. Blacks are deep, contrast is strong. If there's a single flaw or compression issue, I didn't see it. The audio track is has very clear dialogue, amazing immersion, strong directional effects, etc. There's absolutely no complaints from me.

Finally, we get to the price. The Blu-ray cost just $5 or 17% more than the DVD, which is an absolutely excellent price for this type of release.

The Verdict

Game of Thrones is arguably the best new TV show from 2011 and Season One is a must have for fans of Sword & Sorcerer and even if you are not a fan, it might convert you. The DVD is loaded with extras, while the Blu-ray has plenty of additional extras and costs just $5 more. It is Pick of the Week material.

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