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Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season (2011)

HBO Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/6/2012

All Ratings out of


Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/1/2012

This isn't something which I often talk about, but there have been times in my life where I've dabbled in what we can call "geekdom". This has mostly involved horror movies, but there has been some involvement with science-fiction films, comic books, and video games. I've never considered myself a hardcore geek, but I can say that I've been borderline obsessed with some things in the past (Resident Evil, Venom, Escape from New York...). However, one area which I've never had an interest in is fantasy. I've often been surrounded by fantasy novels and role-playing games, and they've never piqued by curiosity. Dungeons & Dragons, sword and sorcery, ancient realms -- this simply doesn't appeal to me. (Save for The Beastmaster, and that's only because I'm a Don Coscarelli devotee.) So, I was incredibly hesitant going into Game of Thrones. Would it be some medieval non-sense which did nothing for me, or would it be another triumph from HBO?

Game of Thrones is set in medieval times (the era, not the restaurant), in a fictional land which sort of resembles England. Eddark Stark (Sean Bean) reigns over the northern part of this land, which is called Winterfell. Stark is a fair and just ruler, and he and his wife, Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), and their children lead a good life. North of Winterfell is "The Wall" a massive structure which separates Eddard's land from the wild and snowy territories. The Wall is patrolled by a group of specialized soldiers know as the Night's Watch. King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) rules the entire kingdom from his throne in King's Landing. When the Hand of the King (a royal right-hand man) dies, Robert summons Eddard to fill this post, and Eddard reluctantly agrees. Robert's wife Cersei (Lena Headey), is a member of the Lannister family, the richest and, therefore, most influential family in the land. She and her brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), dislike the Stark's and immediately begin to scheme against them. Her other brother, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), is a dwarf who is more interested in wine and women then politics. When Eddard arrives in King's Landing, he immediately finds himself involved in the political intrigue and complications which come with his new role. Surrounded by advisors and enemies, he constantly finds himself trying to get Robert to do the right thing. Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea, Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) and his sister, Daenarys (Emilia Clarke), both of whom were once part of the ruling family, are plotting to revolt against King Robert. Daenarys is to marry Drogo (Jason Momoa), the leader of a barbarian clan. Viserys hopes to use their army to take back King's Landing.

Going into Game of Thrones, I knew very little about it, save that it was based on a series of books by George R.R. Martin (whom I've heard of, but I don't think I've read anything by) and that it looked like sort of everybody's always dirty medieval stuff that I typically don't like. The show's (literally) cold-opening points toward the typical fantasy elements which I've seen in other things. And the characters and settings which followed didn't stray too far from what I had expected. We get knights, kings, barbarians, swordplay, etc. -- All of the things one would expect from something which walks the line between King Arthur and Conan. However, it doesn't take long for Game of Thrones to reveal what it really is -- a soap opera! The armor and horses quickly give way to back-stabbing, double-crosses, name-calling, and sexual intrigue. It's like a medieval version of Dynasty! The show isn't afraid to trot out a lot (and I mean a lot) of characters, each of which has their own agenda. While it's difficult at times to keep up with how the many characters are connected, the stories are undeniably engaging and the show isn't afraid to make its good guys good and its bad guys very bad. The constant scheming may sound like something which wouldn't gel with the setting, but the way in which the storylines seemingly mirror modern politics makes it all flow pretty smoothly.

So, based on that alone, Games of Thrones is worth recommending. However, the show truly grows on you based on how the story progresses, something which I assume that mirrors the source novel. In a nut-shell, everything in the show (except for the sheer number of players) seems pretty straight-forward when the series begins. But, as the season goes on, things get more and more intertwined and complicated. Alliances are formed and broken, double-crosses come out of nowhere, and no one can be trusted. This is a show which isn't afraid to kill off seemingly important characters, and the plot twists come along at very regular intervals. The other thing which makes Game of Thrones so strong is how the actual genre of the show shifts as the episodes progress. I don't want to give too much away here, but at the outset, the story appears to be taking place in a reality which is very similar to our own history. And this continues for most of the season. However, during the last few episodes, supernatural and fantastic elements begin to creep in, indicating that the show's second season will go to new heights.

Game of Thrones is very similar to HBO's other recent offering
Boardwalk Empire -- it's not a genre which I usually embrace, but it's addictive. The show isn't perfect, as it gets too bogged down in the politics at times and can feel redundant, but it's a rewarding watch. The characters are well-drawn, the show has a great look (and it can't be cheap!), and the story does just enough to keep you coming back. In the landscape of look-alike TV shows, Game of Thrones is a winner.

Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season really likes to reinforce the idea that there used to be a lot of brothels on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of HBO Home Video. The five-disc set contain all 10 episodes from the show’s first season. The show has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only mild amounts of grain and no defects from the source material. There is some grain here, but I can’t help wonder if it wasn’t intentional in order to add to the gritty look of the show. The colors look good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. We don’t get a lot of bright colors here, so when they appear, they stand out. The image displays a nice amount of detail and we can easily see the textures on objects. The depth is good as well, most notably in the many landscape shots. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For a TV show, Game of Thrones offer great audio. The surround and stereo effects are very detailed, often highlighting sounds coming off-screen. Stereo separation is evident and we can easily make out individual sounds. The subwoofer effects are strong, most notably when big doors are opened, but they are never overpowering or distorted.

The Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Disc set contains many extras, which are spread across the five discs. Each episode can be watched with the "In-Episode Guide" which offers further information on four subjects -- Characters, Location, History, and Complete Guide (which offers maps and biographies). (I probably should have had this on the first time that I watched the series.) Disc 1 offers AUDIO COMMENTARIES for Episode One from Executive Producers/Writers David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and Episode Two from Lena Headey, Mark Addy, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. "Complete Guide to Westeros" is an interactive feature in which the viewer can learn more about "Histories & Lore", "Houses" and "Lands". (Again, I probably should have used this sooner.) "Character Profiles" offers biographies on seventeen of the main characters. Disc 2 has AUDIO COMMENTARIES for Episode Three from Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, and Isaac Hempstead Wright and Episode Four with Writer Bryan Cogman and Kit Harrington. Disc 3 has an AUDIO COMMENTARY on Episode Six from Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Harry Lloyd, and Director Daniel Minahan. Disc 3 also contains "Anatomy of an Episode", a one-hour feature which takes a very detailed look at the making of Episode Six. This contains interviews with the creative team and the cast, as well as behind-the-scenes footage and storyboards. It carefully examines key moments from the episode. Disc 4 contains an AUDIO COMMENTARY for Episode Eight with Co-Executive Producer/Author George R.R. Martin. Disc 5 delivers an AUDIO COMMENTARY for Episode Ten from Benioff and Weiss and Director Alan Taylor. The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 5. "Making Game of Thrones" (30 minutes) contains comments from the cast and crew who discuss the themes and scope of the show. We also hear from Author George R.R. Martin who talks about his fears of having his work adapted. The piece looks at the cast, the music, the costumes, the sets, working with animals, visual effects, stuntwork, and locations. "From the Book to the Screen" (5 minutes) contains many of the same comments from Martin and the producers heard in the previous featurette. "Creating the Show Open" (5 minutes) examines the creation and thought behind the maps shown in the opening credits. "Creating the Dothraki Language" (5 minutes) introduces us to David Peterson, who actually came up with a foreign language for the show. (Weird.) "The Night's Watch" (8 minutes) offers a discussion of "The Wall" and the soldiers who protect it.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long