I’m a massive fan of Game of Thrones. I came into the series as a fan of the books, and the show far exceeded my expectations. It’s simply one of the most satisfying things I’ve experience on TV for years, and if the season two promos are any indication that’s not going to change anytime soon. I didn’t expect my feelings to change upon revisiting the series (and they didn’t), but I was worried that the DVD set wouldn’t live up to the show itself.
My worry stemmed largely from the fact that this release comes courtesy of HBO, a network that produces absolutely dynamite television and then releases it in a series of underwhelming (and often shockingly expensive) box sets. I own two complete HBO series on DVD, and I’ve watched five more from start to finish the same way. If I’ve learned anything from watching seven HBO shows in their entirety on home video, it’s to never expect much in the way of special features. You’ll get some good commentary, maybe some interviews and a couple of sterile featurettes, but that’s it. If you buy these things, you’re buying them for the episodes.
That’s not the case here.
When my copy of Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season arrived a couple of weeks ago (courtesy of the fine folks at HBO Home Entertainment), I was thrilled by two things immediately: the gorgeous box design and the long, long (LONG) list of features, several of which were exclusive to the Blu-Ray I was holding (yes, it’s an opportunity to get you to spend more money on a Blu-Ray, but it’s also a chance to show off what the technology can do). And since we already know I love the series, the review has to be all about those fun extra bits. So here we go:
The Usual: Along with the super cool stuff (which I’ll get to in a minute), many of the special features are what you’d expect from nearly any big home entertainment release these days. There are featurettes, including a 30-minute Making Game of Thrones documentary, and commentaries featuring executive producers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, author George R. R. Martin and cast members including Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Mark Addy and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
The featurettes are about what you’d expect from any featurette collection. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they don’t stand out, particularly when you stack them up against the other stuff on the discs. If you want a highlight, though, check out the “Creating the Show Open” featurette for an inside look at the coolest opening credits sequence on television.
The commentaries are worth talking about, if only because all commentaries are not created equal. Some commentaries are insightless, self-congratulatory gab-fests in which the cast and crew get together and talk about what a great show they made. Others, the good ones, are all about how they made it. Game of Thrones is one of the good ones. Start with the first episode and let Weiss and Benioff take you through the story of how hard and long they worked on this pilot, what they did to make Westeros come to life, and how it all tied together in the end.
Anatomy of an Episode: Game of Thrones is a massive, massive production. To highlight this, the Blu-Ray (not the DVD, sadly) features “Anatomy of an Episode,” a full 60-minute experience detailing all the creative efforts that went into making just one hour of the series, Episode 6.1: “A Golden Crown.”
In-Episode Guide: All that production is thanks in no small part to the massive scale of the world the series takes place in. Fans of the show understand it (most of the time), but newbies – particularly newbies with no experience reading the novels – might have trouble keeping pace. To combat this, the Blu-Ray includes the “In-Episode Guide,” an optional sidebar that allows you to read information on characters, locations and history as you’re watching. Not sure who a character is in the scene? Look him up. Not sure where exactly you are? Look it up. For fans who already know all that, it’s a bit annoying and worth keeping turned off, but for anyone looking for a little help or just a quick refresher, it’s definitely nifty.
Complete Guide to Westeros: This was far and away my favorite thing about this box set. It’s kept me busy for hours already and I’m not even close to finished flipping through it. It contains the basic profiles of characters that a great many shows with large casts get upon home video release, but the Blu-Ray version packs so much more. The Blu-Ray version includes a 24-part history of Westeros as narrated by Game of Thrones character. All of it’s set to remarkably cool yet streamlined animations. This basically takes all the backstory alluded to over four books in the series and condenses it down into a handy bedtime story format. So if you want a clearer picture of who the Andals are, or the First Men, or what exactly Valyria was, or how Robert Baratheon came to be king in the first place, this is where you go. It’s handy, it’s stylish and it’s just plain cool.
Dragon Eggs: As if that weren’t enough, you’ve got hidden content somewhere on these discs too. I haven’t uncovered any of it yet (I was too busy playing with the Westeros guide), but I’m sure they’re worth looking for.
At the end of playing around with this box set over the past two weeks I came to find that HBO has broken the tired old mold of their home entertainment releases and produced something wonderful here. Game of Thrones is an epic series that deserves an epic home release, and this set is every bit of that and more. If you were on the fence about buying it, let me assure that if you love the show, it’s worth every penny.