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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Action > Epic > War > Cable TV > Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season (2011/HBO Blu-ray Set)

Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season (2011/HBO Blu-ray Set)


Picture: B+     Sound: B+     Extras: A+     Episodes: A



Adapting a fantasy novel series with the incredible detail and rabid following of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (of which Game of Thrones is the first book) would present a daunting challenge to most any production house.  HBO has proven more than equal to the task, and fans of Mr. Martin’s books will find a lot to like in this expansive, ten episode adaptation.  The great care taken in casting and visual presentation shows themselves on the screen.


At its core, Game of Thrones details the struggles of two rival houses, the Lannisters and the Starks.  The show features a lot of characters, and this may prove daunting to a viewer who has not read the novels, but this five disc boxed set also provides a fold-out poster listing all of the main royal houses, their principal members, and their relationships to members of other houses.  This “score-card” will go a long way to helping new viewers acclimate to the show’s dense plot and character structure.


Characters do abound in this series.  Although short-cuts and some degree of compression are necessary to fit the contents of a 690+ page book, all of the major players (and many of the minor ones) are included.  Sean Bean plays a most convincing Eddard Stark, fairly inhabiting the role of the reluctant lord, called to aid his friend, King Robert Baratheon (ably played by Mark Addy) in a time of great need.  Little does Lord Stark know that plots and enemies surround him as he and his two daughters, Arya (Maisie Williams) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) take residence in King’s Landing, capital city of the lands of Westeros.  Amidst a court rife with plots and imminent danger, Eddard Stark strives to discern just who can trust.  Can he find an ally in the eunuch spy-master Varys (Conleth Hill), or the canny treasurer Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen)?


Every scene Peter Dinklage appears in shows why he earned an Emmy playing Tyrion Lannister.  The sometimes drunken, over-sexed dwarf makes for an unlikely hero among a house of seemingly despicable characters, but he pulls it off with aplomb.  Reminiscent of the care Weta Workshop took in crafting the costumes, weapons, and sets for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, you can see clearly see the craft that goes into every scene watching Tyrion strut about in his lordly attire.  Always impeccably dressed (and in some scenes, undressed), even Tyrion’s plans for young Bran’s special saddle are clearly shown.  The gowns worn by characters like the gorgeous Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headley) and Sansa also show this care--they’re described in amazing detail in the novel, after all, so HBO just translated that over into real-world garments.


Screen writers D. B. Weiss and David Benioff deserve much credit for tackling Mr. Martin’s hyper-detailed first novel and boiling it down into ten watchable, hour long bites.  Following Mr. Martin’s lead, the switch adroitly from location to location, following the perspectives of several key characters.  Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Eddard’s bastard son, finds his destiny in the far north along the frozen frontier of Westeros.  There he becomes a member of the Night’s Watch and meets a whole new raft of quirky characters.  Meanwhile, in the capital Eddard and his daughters immerse themselves in court intrigues, while the Queen Cersei seeks to protect her own plots.  The plot flies on the speed of raven wings, as favorite characters hurtle toward their inexorable destinies.


In some cases, Weiss and Benioff include expository scenes that did not appear in the book, as in the case of Queen Cersei’s discussion with her son, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) on how best to deal with the sometimes troublesome northern lords (the Starks among them).  This “new” scene delivers powerful information on just who Joffrey is (and what kind of king he one day might become) with great economy.  Another such scene occurs when Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) shares a brief battlefield memory with Stark’s right hand man Jory Cassel (Jamie Sives).  Not only does this scene provide further evidence of how perfect Coster-Waldau is for the part of Jaime, but it also serves to establish his hatred for the debauched king he is bound to serve.


Perhaps one of the biggest departures from what transpires in the book and what we see in the show rests in the extra development of a relationship only hinted at in the novels.  Mr. Martin provides a few hints that a young and powerful warrior, Sir Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones), the Knight of Flowers, is gay.  In the HBO series we get explicit evidence of this, and his paramour is revealed to be another major character.  Some might find this decision controversial, but it helps to place the series firmly into the realm of gritty, realistic fantasy.


Fans of the novels might also quibble with the handling of the dire wolves in the series.  In Mr. Martin’s novels, the dire wolves found as pups and each gifted to one of the Stark children play a huge role.  They’re described as massive beasts far larger than normal wolves.  The show’s producers made the decision to use real wolves instead of CGI creations, and they look a bit puny when compared to their descriptions in the novel.  They also don’t do nearly as much, and this becomes especially crucial in the cases of John Snow and his younger brother, Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright).  They develop close bonds with their wolves that really affect the story, but these relationships are not so well developed in the TV series.


None of these minor diversions from the source material rob the series of any of its power, and principal directors Alan Taylor and Brian Kirk do an amazing job juggling multiple story lines across the length and breadth of Westeros.  In the midst of all of this action and intrigue in the Seven Kingdoms, the last scions of the Targaryens, the house deposed when Robert claimed his thrown, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and her brother, Viserys (Harry Lloyd) fight to survive across the Narrow Sea in a land dominated by the savage Dothraki horsemen (think Mongols).  In another brilliant stroke of casting, recent Conan star Jason Momoa plays Dothraki leader Khal Drogo.  When Khal marries Daenerys, it seems Viserys may have an army to regain his kingdom, but will his own madness be his undoing?


A bevy of special features complete this set and provide insights into the incredible efforts behind its creation.  Extra offerings include: Making of featurette, fifteen Character profile clips (these will provide great help for folks unfamiliar with the books), Creating the Dothraki language, Inside the Night's Watch, From Book to Screen, Creating the Show Open, seven Audio Commentaries, Guide to Westeros (once again, excellent for bringing newcomers up to speed), Complete Guide to Westeros, In-Episode Guide, Anatomy of an Episode, and finally Hidden Dragon Eggs (“Easter eggs” with extra fun bits and information).


This Blu-ray boxed set delivers top notch picture and sound quality.  The 1080p digital High Definition 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio creates an amazing image on a high-quality unit, and the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 sound means viewers will enjoy clear and crisp dialogue and gripping music.


Perhaps the only thing about Game of Thrones that doesn’t work is the title sequence.  Long renowned for the creativity of title sequences on shows like Carnivale and Rome, the curious clockwork kingdoms that appear in the opening to Thrones don’t really thematically sync with the show.  There’s nothing of clockwork in Westeros--it’s gritty, Medieval-style low fantasy.  The sequence does do a good job of showing off the map of Westeros and giving viewers at least an idea of the critical geography that underpins the story.


Game of Thrones delivers just about everything fans of George R. R. Martin’s books could want in an adaptation of his first novel.  This tremendous first season bodes well for future installments, and should serve to introduce a whole new group of fans of to the amazing world of the Song of Ice and Fire.



-   Scott Pyle


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