There is a new word that needs to exist in the English language, and I in my mighty arrogance will take on the role of Shakespeare to coin that word. That word is “DVD-phile.” It’s like bibliophile (someone who collects books, often for their aesthetic qualities at least as much as their content), but with DVDs.
The reason I have dared to be so arrogant is because I recently obtained the newly released Season Three Blu-ray/DVD set of Game of Thrones. Opening the package was honestly a little like Christmas, on a business day – it’s that cool. I’ve never owned a DVD or Blu-ray set made by HBO before, which perhaps accounts for some of my appreciation; but, my inexperience in this department notwithstanding, the entire set is a quality piece in oh, so many ways.
In fact, I’m beginning to think that DVD presentation and packaging has become an art form in itself, comparable to book binding and illustration, and perhaps in our digital age, DVD collecting should be the new form of book collecting (not that I don’t love books, but my predilection for mercilessly scribbling in the margins usually ends that endeavor before it’s even begun). I tend to view books as receptacles for content more than anything else, but a DVD set – well, it feels like something else entirely. And the Game of Thrones Blu-Ray/DVD set is such a particularly apt example of this fact that I’m going to have to spend at least a paragraph on the wrapping paper before I get the stuff inside, because it’s spectacular in a way that’s not conveyed by the pictures.
The set itself comes looking as a sturdy box-set, with the shadowy dragon that’s the distinctive mark of this season flying over the title. This shadow is on a plastic cover that slides off, revealing a beautiful, engraved box set. Within there’s two separate items: the holder for the two DVD discs, and a much more lengthy and intricate holder for the Blu-ray discs. Once opened, the faces of this season’s major players – Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, Robb Stark, Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister, and Tyrion Lannister, confront you in beautiful high definition. Included, too, is a small insert that is, on one side, a description of the episodes and extras on each disk and, on the other side, and atmospheric poster of the infamous Iron Throne.
The season itself comes in three different versions –DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital Copy. The digital quality of these, as I’m sure other reviewers have noted, is more than excellent, which only enhances the already high production quality of each of the episodes. It must be noted, however, that the digital copy of the season is enormous – about 18G – and takes hours to download from the HBO site.
This third season is where the story of Westeros starts to get really exciting. It begins in the aftermath of Stannis Baratheon’s defeat at King’s Landing; this victory for the Lannisters notwithstanding, the battle for the horribly uncomfortable chair that everyone wants to sit on continues unabated. Robb Stark continues to claim the title of King of the North, while at King’s Landing the atmosphere is thick with both plots and marriages, often at the same time. An even more complex web of alliances, enmities, and connections is being slowly forged, amplified by the addition of a whole host of new characters to play the game of thrones. Meanwhile, across the sea, Daenerys is seeking power and allies while Jon Snow ventures beyond the wall to learn the secrets of the men who dwell there. And, of course, the season culminates in the infamous “Red Wedding” that’s made headlines everywhere, with even the Colbert Report giving a quick nod to the massacre in “The Rains of Castamere.”
Given this ever-increasing complexity of the storylines (an unsurprising fact given George R.R. Martin’s brick-sized books), the special features this set is packed with are more than welcome and incredibly relevant. They’re scattered throughout the five Blu-Ray discs (none are on the regular DVDs), a fact that, unfortunately, causes some inconvenience. Though superficially well-designed, the “Features” tab of each disc lists all of the special features that come with this set – including ones that aren’t on that particular disc. Thus, when selected, a handful of features will appear to load, before referring the viewer to the disc that feature is actually found on. Both the navigation and organization of these would have benefited from some more attention, or from being put on one single disc.
This inconvenience notwithstanding, the special features complement the season well. Most useful is the recap of the previous season, titled “A Gathering Storm,” with the summaries of notable events provided by the actors and actresses themselves. With the increasingly complex storylines, this feature forms a well-put-together SparkNotes of everything you need to know. There’s also a feature on the new characters of season three, with, again, the performers commenting on their own characters and their role in the story and making it more accessible. Another interesting addition is “The Politics of Marriage,” in which cast, writers, and producers explore the role of marriage as a form of politics and power play, and how that’s relevant to the story of season three. The most interesting feature of the entire set, though, is the in-episode guide that comes with each episode. When selected, this guide provides background on all of the characters and settings in a particular scene as the episode plays, allowing the less name-savvy viewer to keep track of all the players and locales of the story (I almost wish Martin’s books came with a similar guide).
Slightly less interesting are the features “Histories and Lore” and “Roots of Westeros,” which both tell the stories of ancient myths, battles, and families of Westeros, and how they form the kingdoms and alliances of the present day. These two features, though listed as separate ones, borrow content from each other, with some of the “Histories and Lore” showing up in the family histories of “Roots of Westeros.” They’re still moderately engaging, though, each one narrated by an actor in character, including Jon Snow talking about the north and Peter Baelish debating Lord Varys about the Targaryens.
Overall, I’m stunned by the quality in every aspect of production – from the writing and acting, to the costumes, design, scenery, and music, to the aesthetic appeal of the material item itself. Though there’s minor flaws scattered here and there, it’s still an investment worth making.