The epic HBO series Game of Thrones comes to Blu-ray in a complete first season collection that’s loaded with enough special features to make you forget that “Winter is Coming.”
The series is one of the best HBO has ever brought to the screen, and the Blu-ray release matches its greatness with features that capture the massive scope of the series’ world and huge cast of characters. Simply put, this is a set to own and is well worth the price.
Based on George R.R. Martin's best-selling series A Song of Ice and Fire (which I will admit I started reading but didn’t finish), Game of Thrones is pure ambition on the part of HBO and that ambition pays off in spades.
The series features a huge cast of characters (which is also a bit of its downfall as it is somewhat hard to keep up with who is who); an incredible fantasy setting that is full of dread, mystery and wonder; and enough political intrigue and drama to make the audience be completely addicted from the ending of the very first episode (which literally left my jaw hanging open in disbelief).
Along with solid work from the entire cast, the series features incredible performances from Emmy-winner Peter Dinklage as the moral lacking Tyrion Lannister; a grizzled Sean Bean as Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark; Mark Addy as the fun loving but quick tempered King Robert Baratheon; Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as the vain and somewhat evil Ser Jaime Lannister; Lena Headey as the manipulative Queen Cersei Lannister; the beautiful Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen; and a breakout performance from Jason Momoa as the brooding and deadly Khal Drogo.
I will try and keep the review as spoiler free as possible because the first season has some incredible twist (some of which the audience doesn’t see coming) which make some of the slower parts worth watching.
The first season introduces the audience to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and mostly focuses its story on three families and the struggle for the right to sit on the Iron Throne:
The Stark family of the North consists of Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark, his wife, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), children Robb (Richard Madden), Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya (Maisie Williams), Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Rickon (Art Parkinson) and Ned's illegitimate son Jon Snow (Kit Harington). It is Lord Stark’s duty to keep watch over The Wall – which separates the kingdom from outside dangers and is guarded by the Night’s Watch – which Jon Snow joins.
The kingdom is ruled by Mark Addy’s King Robert Baratheon – who was a powerful warrior that took the throne, but has since grown fat and spends his days drunk or hunting. He is married to Queen Cersei Lannister and (due to the vast wealth of her family) allied to her two brothers Ser Jaime Lannister, her twin, and the "Imp" Tyrion.
Cersei is also having an affair with Ser Jaime - which is revealed in an extremely shocking way in the first episode. Her oldest child is Prince Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), who is guarded by Sandor "The Hound" Clegane (Rory McCann), and eventually becomes engaged to one of Stark's daughters.
The third family is Viserys (Harry Lloyd) and Daenerys Targaryen – the exiled children of the former king who now live across the narrow sea. Although Daenerys can barely remember her former life as a princess, Viserys is obsessed with reclaiming what he believes is his throne. He is so driven to take back his throne that he arranges (basically sells) the marriage of his sister to Momoa’s Khal Drogo – who is the leader of the deadly Dothraki.
Drogo’s payment for his bride is promise to take his Dothraki (the most deadly warriors in the seven kingdom) across the narrow sea and take back the throne for Viserys. Problems occur when Drogo doesn't find his wife quite as ready for the Dothraki lifestyle and Viserys grows impatient with Drogo's delays.
The first season excellently divides up its storylines between the three families so that the audience never grows tired of one plot and every episode feels rich and epic.
Daenerys forms a bond with Drogo (surpassing her brother’s control) and finds her place at the head of his tribe. Given the culture she is married into, her journey in the first season has to be the hardest of all the characters, and her storyline quickly becomes one of the most anticipated parts of season two.
Part of the enjoyment of this storyline is from the intense performance of Momoa as Drogo. The actor says very little (and what he does say is subtitled due to it being in Dothraki), but he manages to steal every scene. His character is larger than life, deadly, and clearly a savage. He also has a sense of nobility and honor that the well-educated characters from across the sea could learn from.
The Stark family sees Ned and his daughters leave the North to travel back to King Robert’s home so that Ned can take his place as the new Hand of the King. It is a political title Ned does not want, but he is unable to refuse his old friend and king. The journey comes on the heels of tragic events which have a greater impact on the Stark family and help set up what I would expect to be most of the conflict of season two.
In a series filled with strong performances from its male cast, the Stark storyline features an incredible performance from Michelle Fairley – who demonstrates that the women of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros can be just as deadly and determined as the men. Her interactions with Dinklage’s Tyrion are some of the season’s finest performances and the actress always has a degree of nobility to her – regardless of the circumstances.
Every great fantasy epic has to have a villain you just despise and Game of Thrones has that in the Lannisters. This is a family without redemption (although Tyrion is does provide the series with amusement and is easy to be charmed by), filled with people who naturally think they are better than everyone else.
From the second they appear on screen, you hate them. Once the series fully introduces the characters, you hate them even more. As the storylines get going and the season one plot gets underway, you just want to see Ned or Drogo drive a sword through one of them – including that no good prince.
This feeling is accomplished through the tremendous talent of the actors who are playing the Lannisters. They excel at creating these characters without a shred of likeability, but also are so vile you can’t help but be spellbound when they are on screen. As the season gets going, I enjoyed watching the Lannisters get theirs, and found myself getting angry at the television when they would weasel out of the situation.
Game of Thrones was a nearly perfect first season for me, and my only complaint was that it had to stop. To me, it seems like the season ends just as it is really picking up speed – which made some of the tension that had been building be a bit of a letdown. I was growing tired of hearing “Winter is Coming” and wanted it to get here already.
Watching the season for a second time on Blu-ray, the slow build didn’t bother me as much and has left me anxiously waiting for season two and where this show goes next.
For some viewers (especially those that might not be familiar with the books), the end of the first season might feel a bit lacking. The sudden deaths of major characters (which I felt gave the series a sense of realism) could also prove a bit hard to swallow given how much time of the first season is built introducing them and developing them into important parts of the series.
Another problem I had with the series was just how big it was and how many characters it required the audience to get to know and keep up with. Thankfully, this is a problem that has been solved thanks to the Blu-ray’s wealth of special features.
In addition to standard making of features and a 60-minute look at the anatomy of an episode, the special features include a Complete Guide to Westeros and an In-Episodes guide. The In-Episode guide gives the viewer background information about on-screen characters, locations, and relevant histories while each episode plays. The Complete Guide to Westeros is an interactive compendium of the noble houses and lands (which is incredibly helpful if you really want to get to know the characters of the series) and also includes exclusive histories of the Seven Kingdoms as told by the characters themselves. The features also include 15 major characters profiles described by the actors portraying them.
If that isn’t enough, the bonus material features seven audio commentaries with cast and crew including David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, George R.R. Martin, Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Mark Addy, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Bryan Cogman, Harry Lloyd, Daniel Minahan and Alan Taylor. There is also a “From the Book to the Screen” feature where executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss with author George R.R. Martin talk bringing the story to the screen and what some of the challenges were to make it happen.
Fans can also enjoy a look at the series’ Night's Watch and how the creators came up with the Dothraki Language. In other words, you are getting a lot of bonus material for that retail price.
Thanks to incredible performances, an epic story and a wealth of bonus material, Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season is easily one of the best Blu-ray releases so far this year.
The first season of the series has some problems, but it is well worth the time to watch. The talent on screen and behind the camera has created a series that will hook you after only a few episodes and leave you counting the days until season two begins and hopefully winter finally comes.
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