The home release of season 3 of Game of Thrones sets its sights higher and succeeds on every level.
We here at HDN have been big fans of Game of Thrones since it premiered on HBO in 2011. Dark, violent, and even a little contemplative, the series by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss has done nothing less than establish itself as one of the greatest television series of all time. The fact that it’s an HBO production gives it more space to breath, allowing it to go places that network tleevion can’t and won’t. Whether that a slant against the big networks is for you to decide, but here Game of Thrones has become the unqualified leader of a growing troupe of remarkable series by the studio and by pay-television in general. Season 3’s arrival onto the home market is just as stellar, with reference quality video and sound, along with the deepest collection of supplements in recent memory.
The various plots began in Seasons 1 & 2 carry on into the current, as the families of the Seven Kingdoms continue to battle for supremacy. The Lannisters (Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) are struggling to hold onto power after Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) launches a naval assault, while events in the North threaten to tip the balance of power. It’s not all good news either for Northern King Robb Stark (Richard Madden), as he faces issues at home with his mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley). Beyond the massive Wall, Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds) and his Wildlings army continue to march south, while across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is reunited with her three dragons, hoping to raise an army to capture the great Iron Throne herself.
One would think that a 10-epiosde arc would be strained in its storytelling, but that’s only because we’re so used to the network system of 22 – Game of Thrones masterfully tells its story, leaving reviewers like us with little ability to write a synopsis that can touches on every plot point and character. We could have extolled about other familiar faces like Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Natalie Dormer, and Emmy nominee Diana Rigg, More admirable is the fact that one of these and the half dozen actors we’ve left out are as interesting as the next, more deserving of attention that we can give here. For some, such a large cast might signal lack of depth, with many truning in cameo-like roles. Not so here. As one well-fleshed out character departs, another takes their place, ready to tell their story. Thrones is also a very violent tale, not for the faint of heart, nor is it for someone who likes their episodes in nice neat packages. That’s the beauty of story arcs, and one of many reasons why this series succeeds. One day, the series might fall victim to its own ‘everyone’s on the guillotine’ approach ala Battlestar Galactica, but we’ll be happy until that date arrives.
Game of Thrones is one of the finest shows on television, weaving a complex tale of violence and political intrigue the likes of which network television can only drool at the prospects. Its production values share few equals, and the final result each week shows us just what can happen when bold vision meets the will to make it.
The Blu-ray release of Game of Thrones: The Complete Third Season features ten episodes spread across five 50GB BD discs. Episodes 1-2 are on Disc One, 3-4 on Disc Two, 5-7 on Disc Three, 8-9 on Disc Four and Episode 10 on Disc Five. HBO’s MPEG-4/AVC encode is even more impressive than the television release, allowing audiences to see a clearer 1080p picture than the 1080i presentation. The results bring more clarity to the picture, allowing us see more depth than ever before. Color is both strikingly beautiful in parts and darkly thin in others, revealing life-like skintones and outdoor scenes that look good no matter where they’re shot. Blacks and shadows dominate this series, but at no time are they crushed into non-existence. Shadows transition into black in most scenes, although there is some noise associated with it. But it’s the detail which will wow audiences, featuring crisp edges and detail in clothing, sets, and props. There’s even a bit of grain to each episode, granting it a sort of filmic quality. Blood, sweat, hair, and pores on female body parts (sorry, there’s a lot of them) all stand out, brining additional life to each episode. Finally, there’s no aliasing, banding, or edge enhancement to be found, strengthening an already excellent television release. HBO has done their homework once again, giving us a reference quality release.
For a series so set on its striking visual aspects, one might think something like the audio would fall victim – not here. Game of Thrones arrives with a terrific DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that’s as immersive as it is powerful. Forward speakers delivered a mixed-down track of dialogue, music, and sound effects, but the center channel boosts the dialogue to ensure we can hear every grunt, tear shed, and emote from our leads. Where Thrones ultimately succeeds is in its surround track, which always seems to be busy punching out music by Composer Bobby Tahouri and environmentals such as crowd noise, wind, and animal sounds. The LFE is similarly impressive, punching, slashing, and searing its way through each episode. Each clash of sword and shield, or the flapping of each dragon wing and the pounding of horse hooves is done with remarkable clarity. In the end, the audio for Game of Thrones outperforms some of Hollywood’s recent Blu-ray releases with masterful results.
Another impressive aspect of this release is the massive amount of supplements, almost too many to full investigate for this review. Trust us when you see it, which is all delivered in HD quality:
- Audio Commentaries (All Discs): Although the first episode strangely doesn’t include one, the other 12 commentaries are more than engaging. We get a nice pairing of actors and other creative teams on each, including Author Co-Executive Producer George R.R. Martin and Director Michelle MacLaren on “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.”
- In-Episode Guide (All Discs): Each episode sports an on-screen guide experience which one can use to learn more about the characters and world of the Seven Kingdoms. Like the commentaries, this is the sort of experience one should enjoy after watching Season 3 the first time. Although we did not watch each in this format, our experience was invaluably heightened by it use.
- A Gathering Storm (Disc 1, 14 minutes): If those YouTube Recap videos left a creative pit in your stomach, you’ll enjoy this professional-looking refresher on the events leading to Season 3. Actor interviews do an excellent job reviewing plot points and bringing us to speed.
- New Characters (Disc 1, 10 minutes): We learn about the additions to Season 3’s cast, including Olenna Tyrell, Tormund Giantsbane, and others.
- The Rains of Castamere Unveiled (Disc 4, 47 minutes): This ia a well done breakdown of the episode of the same name, almost a Maximum Movie Mode Experience, that plays alongside. We get cast interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and an icon which appears often which opens up even more content. It’s an amazing experience to be sure.
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (Disc 5): It’s honestly surprising to see so few here, but five scenes are available.
- Histories & Lore (Disc 5): These are a series of animated shorts detailing Westeros’ history and mythology. Segments include: Old Ghis & Slaver’s Bay, House Reed, House Bolton, Wargs and the Sight, and The Red Keep.
- Roots of Westeros (Disc 5): This is a companion piece focusing on the relationships, alliances, and feuds surrounding the various Houses of Westeros.
- Inside the Wildlings (Disc 5, 6 minutes): A nice featurette focusing on the Wildlings, their lifestyle and culture, as well as their interaction in the series.
- The Politics of Marriage (Disc 5, 9 minutes): For any of you who think love in the 21st Century is difficult, gain a new appreciation by watching this one about love in Westeros.
The discs arrive in a a quality Digibook package with interior artwork, surrounded by a sturdy case and a semi-transparent slipcase. A journey to the local audio-video entertainment store showed off several versions of the release, and Amazon responded with a fabulous Dracarys version with a 3D dragon on the cover. Our version also contained a Digital Copy of each episode.
The third season of Game of Throne is perhaps its best, filled with enough intrigue and violence to keep every viewer at the edge of their collective seats. HBO’s home release is easily one of the best of the year, filled with fabulous supplements and video/audio transfers that are second to none for television. In many ways, the series is re-writing television DNA forever, no doubt putting Over-the-Air stations on suicide watch. Game of the Thrones proves that bold vision can be realized, and that viewers will no doubt come along for the bloody and destructive ride.