Honour thy family and protect thy kingdom. Those are two of the major themes which run through Game of Thrones, the HBO television adaptation of George R. R. Martin‘s first novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. Like its literary source, the show delivers a look at a gigantic fantasy land in chaos, where different houses all want to obtain the metallic king’s chair in beautiful King’s Landing. A classic scenario presents itself where every character has his or her own agenda; some being righteous and others treading on the devious side of things. This intricately woven narrative blends many other themes, in order to deliver one of the best literary adaptations we’ve seen from a major studio. If one were to state that polish bleeds through in every scene of this televised masterpiece, that would be an understatement.
Over the course of its ten episode long debut season, Game of Thrones weaves its way throughout the fictional land of Westeros and the adjoining kingdom of the Dothraki, a race of conquerors that is made up of people who fear the deep waters that surround their land. At its core, this narrative is an ongoing character study of epic proportions. There are multiple main characters who are cut to throughout the book, each one having his or her own set of chapters and an individual story arc that sometimes blends with another. This visual translation does a good job of putting that design onto our home television screens, although some adjustments were made to make the narrative’s switch from paper to live action a great one. One such alteration was the aging of specific characters, allowing the producers to keep true to the brutal and sex-filled tome that George R. R. Martin masterfully created.
Our introduction to the world of Westeros, where most of the plot’s action takes place, begins with a look at the Stark family and its direwolf sigil. Northern by location and also desire, this historically rich and noticeably close family inhabits the castle of Winterfell. Their motto of “Winter is coming,” happens to signify the fact that a long, cold season is on its way to a land that has seen an incredibly long summer. You see; this is a world where many years can pass before a drastic change in weather occurs, and it’s been around sixteen years since their ongoing summer started. Many children were born during that time, having yet to experience the harsh and freezing conditions that the incredible snows bring. Rumors are also spreading about terrible creatures known as White Walkers, whose death-filled return may be imminent, after a lengthy bout of inactivity.
Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) and his family quickly become major characters with just means. When King Robert Baratheon’s closest advisor, his Hand Jon Arryn, suffers a quick and suspect death, the war-loving leader approaches ‘Ned’ about the role. Close familial ties to the King and his deceased Hand force the lord to accept the offer, in an attempt to watch over the drunken leader and the realm he rules. It’s this fateful decision that puts a new set of cogs into motion, as careful sleuthing leads the new Hand of the King to information regarding terrible secrets and an ongoing conspiracy relating to the sword-crafted throne.
The Stark family is well-detailed, as Eddard takes the position of Hand, accompanied by his two daughters, Sansa and Arya. His wife Catelyn and their other children, the new lord Robb as well as his younger brothers, Brann and Rickon, stay at Winterfell in order to overlook its needs. One other child, a bastard by the name of Jon Snow, is sent to take the black as a member of the Night’s Watch – a group made up of cheats, bastards, criminals and rapists – in order to protect the realm from the aforementioned White Walkers and other devious creatures. Their home is the Wall, an enormous, ice-based structure that spans the northernmost point of the ruled kingdom, acting as a protective barrier.
In the south, King Robert, his wife Cersei and their teenaged son Joffrey act as the land’s ruling family. Their court is made up of a group of unique faces, all of whom have their own ideas of what is best for the land. One of those men happens to be Jamie Lannister, the Queen’s brother and a fierce warrior. This rich, golden-haired family plays a large role in what goes on during each fifty-two minute-long episode, but I dare not go further. Then again, it’s not surprising that the richest family in the land would have its own agenda. Tyrion Lannister, who’s known as the Imp, happens to also be the best character amongst the whole group, due to his humorous lines and great individual plot line. Peter Dinklage brings the character to life in an amazing way, delivering an impeccable performance that was deserving of the Golden Globe award that he won for being the year’s Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
Last, but not least, is the previously-noted Dothraki clan. Their tale begins with Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke,) the last female survivor of a slain dragon born clan, which once claimed the throne before Robert Baratheon and his allies seized its metallic structure. A beautiful outsider, she’s pledged to wed the gruff race’s leader, Khal Drogo. Thus begins one of this fiction’s greatest triumphs – Daenerys’ incredible transformation from a child to a strong adult, which is aided by a phenomenal performance. It all occurs amidst a setting where war is all there is and sex isn’t a hidden facet of life. Those who worship the horse live off of the land, traveling in packs with their intentions on their sleeves.
When all of the aforementioned storylines are interwoven, rich television is born. Game of Thrones is an excellent show, which does an incredibly impressive job of turning an 800 page novel into a beautiful and well-acted visual experience. There’s no way that any other medium could have captured the essence of this literary beast better than television, and the same thing can be said about HBO versus its competitors. Three of my favourite shows (Six Feet Under, The Sopranos and Deadwood) are all masterful releases from the Home Box Office, and this is no different. Fans of the books will find an accurate and completely adult adaptation, which doesn’t skimp on any of its intricate themes. To be blunt, what he have here is a television spectacle.
With all of that being said, there were a couple of times where I wished that other parts from the book had been added in to flesh certain things out just a bit more. Then again, that might have had something to do with my desire to see certain things appear in the show. It’s no surprise that parts had to be cut out in order to allow for the conversion to work, and it’s tough to fault the choices that were made. Having just read through all 800 of the noted pages, I went in knowing what to expect, and understood this fact.
This Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season Blu-ray set comes to us with beautiful packaging and even more impressive technical prowess. Ten episodes are spread out over its five BD-50 discs, with each one featuring a consistently exceptional transfer. Filters are used to slightly distinguish each of the individual houses and their plot lines, with a slight golden tinge being used for the Dothraki. Conversely, stark grey-based earth tones are employed during Winterfell’s scenes. Those well-used and somewhat subtle touches complement a show that has an incredible range of colour. All of its shots are extremely well-crafted, with unique camera angles and a a great use of light and shadow. Fire helps to illuminate certain areas like dungeons and tombs, looking great instead of muddy.
As I watched this arc for the first time on high-definition disc, I paid close attention to HBO‘s transfers. Since this is a brand new show, my expectation was that there wouldn’t be many issues, if any at all. That ended up being true, as each episode’s look can be listed under the flawless category. One slight occurrence of visual noise was noted in the background of a shot, but most viewers won’t even notice it. Other than that, it’s tough to complain about anything; then again, I’m nitpicking with that note. The show’s blacks are great and its fidelity is spectacular. Many of the included outdoor scenes are jaw-dropping, as is the show’s unbelievably great map-based opening sequence.
Furthering this technical spectacle is a rich, boisterous and diverse soundtrack, which is aided by intelligent editing. Original orchestral music, sharp metallic sword clangs and other incredibly realistic sounds bring Martin‘s detailed world to life. These accompany easily heard and well-spoken lines (including some in an amazing new Dothraki language,) from an exceptional cast of actors, many of which were new faces to me. If you have a great sound system, then this is a disc that won’t disappoint at all, with DTS-HD MA 5.1 support for its English tracks. Four other languages are also available, including French, Castillian, Spanish and Polish, but the latter two only have 2.0 support.
Rounding out this great package is a decent amount of high-definition extras, although there honestly could have been a few more thrown in. Some of these featurettes are surprisingly short, clocking in at between five and eight minutes each. However, there are two lengthier ones, which clock in at 30 minutes and one hour, respectively. They happen to detail the making of a specific episode, as well as creation of the show as a whole, containing interviews with the cast and crew, as well as George R. R. Martin himself. Fans of the literary fiction will want to check those two out for sure. However, viewers who take the time to watch all of the set’s extras will note that an interview with the author is shown more than once, appearing in two separate behind-the-scenes shorts.
One of the best parts of this set is its Complete Guide to Westeros, which acts as a detailed compendium for the characters, houses and areas that are showcased within this debut season’s narrative. Along with it, 24 character biographies are present, with detailed overviews of their history and intentions. Interviews with the characters’ stars are integral parts of each video.
The above-mentioned interactive feature is further complemented by each episode’s In-Episode Guide, which provides great insight into unraveling events. Viewers can gain valuable insight into the characters, locations and plot lines that factor into different scenes, in order to enhance their Game of Thrones knowledge. In-depth audio commentaries with the cast, crew and George R. R. Martin himself, also provide valuable insight into the majority of the set’s episodes.
Here’s a complete list of the extras you can expect:
Complete Guide to Westeros
Anatomy of an Episode (Covers Episode Six,” A Golden Crown”)
Making Game of Thrones
From the Book to the Screen
The Night’s Watch (featurette)
Creating the Show Open
Creating The Dothraki Language
Hidden Dragon Eggs
Physical fold out booklet, detailing the set’s episodes and featured bloodlines
Those who’ve yet to watch an episode from HBO‘s Game of Thrones will be in for a treat. This is fantasy fare delivered to near perfection, with incredibly rich themes and diverse characters who are all well fleshed-out. Opinionated fans of its literary inspiration will also fall in love with this depiction of the diverse world of the Westeros and all of its adjoining lands. It’s tough to fault such a well-made and poignant show. The same thing can be said for this Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season Blu-ray set, at least from a technical standpoint. It’s beautiful and boisterous, but a few more extras would have helped make it a better release. Still, it’s tough to really come down hard on what is a must-own for fans of great television and immersive fantasy fiction.
Winter is coming!
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-ray set that was provided to us for review purposes.