We’re just weeks away from the premiere of season 3 of HBO’s epic fantasy hit, Game of Thrones, and that means it’s time to relive season two with a gorgeous Blu-ray box set. Season one’s home entertainment release was a highlight of my year last year, but does season two live up to the same standard?
I was fan of George R. R. Martin’s bestselling fantasy novels long before they became a hit TV series. I say that not to bolster my nerd street cred (though, come on, I deserve it), but to illustrate how much I cared about the saga before it transferred to another medium. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how much HBO has embraced the depth and detail of the series, releasing merchandising materials that not only promote the show, but also help to immerse viewers (readers and non-readers alike) in the world of Westeros. I loved that about the season one Blu-ray set. The special features weren’t just geared toward making you buy the box set. They were there to help you get deeper into the world of these characters and this fight, and in that respect season two is no different.
Like season one, the season two BD set comes with an In-Episode Guide feature that allows you to access background information on the series’ story as you’re watching any given episode. Not sure where a particular plotline got started? Want to understand more about a certain location (for instance, the Iron Islands)? Need a refresher on a new or old character? The guide is there to help you. It’s something that would probably prove rather distracting for first-time viewers, but if you have the time and the discipline to keep pushing buttons all the way through the episode it’s an invaluable little resource.
Last season’s box set also came complete with a host of animated segments that laid out the history of Westeros and its people, so if you wanted to go deep into the background of this world and the families and allegiances that populate it, you could. Here that same feature is expanded and broadened to include a number of important season two points. The “Histories & Lore” section of the set provides background on the significance of season two newcomers the Greyjoy and Tyrell families, as well as more information on how the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros were united. Each segment features beautiful animation and is narrated by a Game of Thrones cast member (the segment on House Clegane, narrated by The Hound himself Rory McCann, is a particular standout), so you get the full experience even when you’re not watching an episode. The “Histories & Lore” section is also joined this year by an interactive “War of the Five Kings” feature that allows you to roam the map of Westeros and understand every faction vying for the Iron Throne. Whether you want to know in-depth strategic details of the Greyjoy’s plan or just how many men Stannis Baratheon has at his command, you’ll find it there (though it should be noted that, at times, this feature can move rather slowly).
For me, though, the true highlight of this set was the numerous chances you get to hear from the cast and crew directly. The 10 episodes of season two are given numerous commentaries featuring the likes of series creators and showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, cast members and more. The high point here, though, is “Blackwater,” the season’s penultimate episode, which features a commentary by Martin himself, and offers more insight than any special feature could ever hope to provide. Aside from the commentaries, there are also three featurettes that allow the cast and crew a chance to speak for themselves. One covers the filming of the Battle of Blackwater, another covers the religions of Westeros, but the true gem is “Inner Circle,” a round table discussion that includes the showrunners and castmembers Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark), Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) and Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth). It’s a fascinating discussion between a group of extremely gifted actors on what it’s like to work on the show, where their characters have been, and where they’re headed next.
If you’re a fan of the show already, this box set is an indispensable part of your collection. If you like the show and want a little more insight, this is definitely right up your alley. HBO has once again produced a gorgeous edition of a landmark series, and it’s well worth spending a bit of coin to add it to your collection.
(Special thanks to HBO Home Entertainment for the early review copy)