Season one of the HBO series Game of Thrones is a lot about setting up the world of the show, introducing us to the characters and their various positions and relations. Season two, though, which aired last spring, and is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Download, is about floundering for control in a major power vacuum, the world thrown into chaos, and enough uncertainty that anyone could come out ahead.
Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) sits on the Iron Throne, the traditional place of power for the Seven Kingdoms. He is young and arrogant, battling with manipulative mother Cersei (Lena Headey) and frustrated uncle Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) over what should be done for their land. Only Tyrion truly understands the costs of Joffrey’s actions, with Dinklage delivering a stellar performance, and Cersei begins to question whether she has sway over her son any longer.
Joffrey’s rule is disputed by many, both because of (true) rumors that he is not the actual son of the departed King Robert, but instead a product of incest between Cersei and her brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and because he coldly executes the beloved leader of the North, Ned Stark, late in season one. Ned’s eldest son, Robb (Richard Madden), is declared King of the North by his people, a title Joffrey is determined not to let stand, while Robert’s brothers, Renley (Gethin Anthony) and Stannis (Stephen Dillane), the latter of whom is distracted by the lure of a wicked temptress (Carice van Houten), each hope to take back the entire Seven Kingdoms.
These are the main power players at this point, and they clash numerous times. It’s interesting how Game of Thrones not only can balance so many personalities, but keep them all feeling distinct and authentic. The series is not about the war, even though that is a major focus, but instead is about the characters. Each have good and bad sides, struggling with their flaws, and occasionally getting to showcase their strengths. The bad guys are deliciously creepy, and the heroes are noble, but each also have other elements about them, and people in their camp who should be on the opposite side.
This trend can be seen continuing among the various other inhabitants of the realm, who are also featured, even though many are not directly involved in the battles. There are quite a few of these, but some of the most striking include: the Hound (Rory McCann), Joffrey’s pitbull who doesn’t always follow orders he disagrees with; Sansa (Sophie Turner), Joffrey’s betrothed, who hates him for killing her father; Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), Ned’s young son, running their hold of Winterfell; Jon Snow (Kit Harington), serving in the Night’s Watch in the frozen North, from which the next major threat will likely come; Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), once a resident of Winterfell, but who lets ambition move him; Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), whom is raising dragons and trying to keep her small group of subjects alive, all the while plotting to eventually re-conquer the Seven Kingdoms, which her father once ruled; and Arya (Maisie Williams), Ned’s daughter, on the run, alone in the land.
Believe it or not, these are only some of the many characters that populate the world. Game of Thrones is a sweeping epic, with many, many peoples and lands. It’s like Lord of the Rings on steroids, and with slightly less magic (literal magic, not a slam on the production). Yet, this is all expertly balanced, so many given their due, and a number of twists occur that will make season three a different beast entirely. For those who haven’t yet watched these installments, I won’t spoil any happenings.
Likely because of the lush, beautiful landscapes and startlingly good special effects, Game of Thrones looks stunning in high definition. The colors are deep and full, and the blacks are rich and layered. The soundtrack, with all of the background noises and the at-times sweeping score is also excellent and clear, free of hisses and pops. Game of Thrones has the benefit of a nice budget and being made in the modern day, with great technology, and it takes full advantage of all of this.
The release is a combo pack, featuring Blu-rays and DVDs, as well as codes to download digital copies of the episodes. It’s a beautiful, well organized box set, with the priority going to the Blu version.
It is also loaded with bonus material. The booklet inside is slim, and gives only the briefest overview of the various houses. On the disc, though, there are character profiles, a guide to the “War of the Five Kings” that is more comprehensive, and nineteen animated histories of the various characters and mythologies. If you so choose (I recommend only doing this for repeat viewings), you can make use of an In-Episode Guide that has resources throughout the episodes to help you track the characters. Which is not to say you’ll need help keeping score, if you’ve watched from the beginning, but it’s nice to have the option. Game of Thrones is complex, but accessible.
There is also a 30 minute behind-the-scenes look at the huge sea confrontation from the penultimate episode, a talk with some of the main actors of the series, and a discussion by George R.R. Martin, the author of the book series, and others about the religions of the land. And twelve audio commentaries for the ten episodes mean fans will not be hurting for insight.
All in all, Game of Thrones really delivers, both as a show, and as a Blu-ray set. There is so much material here, one could spend weeks wading through the depths. And the story and characters are so rich, it practically begs for such study.
Game of Thrones The Complete Second Season is available now.