Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season
DVD: 3.5 stars
Blu-ray: 4 stars
Never was there a TV series more worthy of binging on than "Game of Thrones," HBO's hit adaptation of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels.
It's a masterfully told story that returns for a second season on April 1. In the meantime, if you wish to review Season 1 or see it for the first time, there's no better way than with "The Complete First Season" DVD ($59.99) or Blu-ray ($79.98) sets, both out Tuesday.
If you're about to say, "I don't get into fantasy stories," zip it. You will miss out. Writers-producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have shaped this epic series about the conflict engulfing the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros into a smartly written examination of power plays, family dynamics, loyalty and standing firm for your beliefs no matter what the costs.
They never get lost in the vastness of Martin's tale, however, keeping a firm focus on the individuals involved in all the intrigues. Despite having several major storylines and at least a half-dozen minor storylines, "Game" is character driven, and they are as complex as characters can get.
Take Tyrion Lannister (Emmy winner Peter Dinklage), for example. The dwarf brother of Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) starts out as a vile monster who is hated by his sister and feared by people outside his family. As the season progresses and we learn about his past, Tyrion becomes much more sympathetic and earns your respect and, dare I say, love.
Your opinion of many characters will change over time, which is a testament to the excellent writing and marvelous cast of actors.
The series alone makes the DVD set worth buying, but I only purchase DVD sets if they offer fantastic extras to expand on the show or movie I've already seen. I even love listening to the episode commentaries. (I'm kind of a geek that way.) HBO delivers with the "Games of Thrones" sets.
The DVD extras include character profiles and seven audio commentaries with the producers and many of the actors (Headey curses like a sailor; it's awesome) and one with Martin himself. The featurettes include a making-of, "From the Book to the Screen," "The Night's Watch," "Creating the Dothraki Language" and "Creating the Show Open." The sets are packaged with a foldout map of Westeros and a look at the powerful houses, or families.
There's enough fun in the DVD set to keep you busy until April 1.
Blu-ray extra extras!
If you really want to go deep into the world of Westeros, I suggest you splurge for the Blu-ray version of "Game of Thrones." In addition to everything on the DVD set, the Blu-ray offers four more extensive extras. Despite the large amount of characters and the many storylines, I feel the series does an excellent job of keeping everything moving and clear so as not to confuse viewers. But if you want more help keeping everything straight, these extras are indespensible:
The "Complete Guide to Westeros" is an interactive compilation of entries about the noble houses and their lands, along with 24 animated histories of the Seven Kingdoms as told by the characters themselves (actors Mark Addy, Harry Lloyd, Charles Dance, Michelle Fairley, Richard Madden, Isaac Hempstead-Wright and others).
The In-Episode Guide acts like an optional menu bar down the side of the screen while you watch. Without pausing, you can learn about the people in the scene you are watching and the location they are in. You can pause the episode and go to the "Complete Guide" if you want to go deeper.
"Anatomy of an Episode" examines in great detail what went into making Episode 6, called "A Golden Crown." My favorite little nugget from this feature is learning the horse heart that Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) eats was basically a big gummy bear.
I have yet to find the Hidden Dragon Eggs (their version of Easter eggs), but apparently six are hidden here. I've read they include audition tapes and one of Jason Momoa doing the Hawaiian haka dance. HBO says it will offer clues on Twitter and Facebook to finding them.
"Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season" is not only binge-worthy. I'd call it splurge-worthy, too.