GAME OF THRONES: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON – Blu-ray review

“They would never cancel Game of Thrones! It’s a crossover hit, it’s not just for fantasy enthusiasts, they’re telling human stories in a fantasy world.”
– Ben Wyatt, “Parks and Recreation”

That is a good way to put it, Ben.  “Game of Thrones” has quickly become one of HBO’s most beloved series, rivaling “Boardwalk Empire” in scope, production value and storytelling. It closely resembles a full blown Hollywood production in the guise of a television series.  Having the benefit of adapting its material from lengthy novels, “Thrones” characters and history are completely realized and comprehensively deep. For purposes of trying to not make this review too lengthy, I will skip of the tertiary events and characters.  Hopefully if you are reading this review about “Season 2”, you are at least vaguely familiar with the families and tug of war for ruling parties.

First are the Starks, the family most resembling a protagonist.  The actions and reactions within the show seem to revolve around their story and family members. The Starks are the most likable family as they are the most noble and seem to have progressive intentions towards violence and the female gender.  In contrast, most of the other families seem barbaric in the treatment of their women and prisoners.  Arya Stark  (Maisie Williams) takes on a more pronounced role in season two as she is able to gain access to the Lannister’s inner workings disguised as a poor, captured boy.  The main antagonists would be (most of) the Lannisters, headed by Cersei (Lena Headley) and Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), brother and sister who have dabbled in forbidden territory with each other from time to time.  Cersei’s incorrigible son Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), who in Season 2 takes over as ruler of  King’s Landing. They are a group of sociopaths who have little regard for anyone outside their family.

But with those blank and white labelings said, there is a lot of gray area still to be had with characters within each family and that is what makes the storytelling so successful. There is rarely an easy answer to any of the plot twists concerning the families.  Each kingdom, no matter how loathsome you find them, has endearing characters you are interested in and still root for.  For example Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), pretty much the new face of the “Thrones”, is arguably the most sympathetic character of the show even though you hope his family loses everything they have.  He is not like the other Lannisters as he exhibits honor, moral goodness and genuine heart.  Muddying the affairs of all the families are many secondary characters who have duplicitous natures and who maneuver for personal gain or just to simply survive such as Baelish and the eunich Varys.

The production values rival anything that would be seen on the silver screen. In one of the extras, production designers site the development of HD broadcasts and Blu-ray upping the ante for creating more realistic sets.  Everything on screen is so clear these days that anything looking less than authentic will end up looking cheap and thus ruining the intended effect.  Shot on location primary in the Ireland countryside and various other places like Iceland, Scotland and Croatia, they are able to fully create authentic locales for each of the five kingdoms, all with their own look and feel that comes together into one world.  “Game of Thrones: Season Two” is a slow burn leading up to the Blackwater battle in episode nine. It stands out as scary and poignant because of the deliberate style that comes before it, creating sympathetic heroes and irredeemable villains.

Video:
Presented in 1080P in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 using an AVC encode “Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season” is nearly perfect. Please excuse my hyperbole but this is by far the best Blu-ray presentation of a series I have ever seen. During bright outdoor scenes, detail is crisp and has incredible depth.  Much of the show takes place in foggy, cold areas and so the color palette can lean towards the grayer side giving the audience a wintry feeling. Even with this, colors remain accurate and lush.  Probably the most punishing of scenes for the video presentation would be the Blackwater Battle near the end of episode 9.  Here there are constant inky blacks right up against bright flames of torches, explosions and fire arrows. Contrast is never an issue, neither is blocking in the crushingly black sky.  I cannot imagine any part of the video being improved. Each Blu-ray is a BD-50 disc.

Audio:

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is nearly as perfect as the video.  Again, the Blackwater Battle is the demo worthy moment of the season.  Here, the LFE is pushed to the limits during the peak of the battle.  This is also the case when the pounding, heavy score crops up throughout the show.  During the quieter moments there is a tremendous amount of ambient activity in all of the speakers.  This is readily apparent whenever there is a scenes taking place within the confines of the castle’s walls. Voices, distant metal clanking, chickens and atmospheric effects can be heard from every direction. This is a rich, involving sonic experience.

Extras:

HBO again rewards their fans with a wealth of extras that are nearly as entertaining as the show itself. Housed in a flip out holder there are five Blu-rays conating the episodes and extras.  There is a thinner secondary folder with the DVD versions of the show.  There is a nice looking slipcover that sheaths the package. The following is a list of the extras found inside:

“Character Profiles” – This is a set of videos profiles of the main characters of the show.

“Religions of Westeros” – A discussion with author George R.R. Martin, writers David Benioff and D,B. Weiss. This entails talking about the original work and what was adapted to the show.

“Episode Commentary” – Even though there is a total of 12 commentaries, thre are some episodes that are not covered.  That means there are multiple commentatries for several episodes.  For those who need more “Thrones” in-between Season three episodes, these are worth a listen.

“Game of Thrones: Inner Circle” – The writers are back along with several of the main actors talking about the making of the series.

“Creating the Battle of Blackwater Bay” – This is one of the more fascinating extras as you can feel all the love and a care that went into the biggest action set pieces of the entire season.  Here, you can see the production designers, writers and producers talk about balancing the season long budget so they can go all out for this battle, all the effort that went into making authentic looking sets and all the pyrotechnics involved during the scene.

“In Episode Guide” – This is a text-based information guide detailing locations, trivia and insights into each show.  This is viewed as you are watching each episode.

“War of the Five Kings” – An interactive guide mapping out the entire region and the families within it.  It summarily describes everyones movements and plans throughout the season.  It is primarily text over pictures  however this is a nice little tutorial for people who are slightly confused by some of the characters motivations and the relationships to others in the show.

“Histories & Lores” – This is one of the more interesting extras as there are some beautiful animations.  They are basically short animated stories of what happens to the characters in the season.  It is a terrific idea executed brilliantly.

“Hidden Dragon Eggs” – Like Easter Eggs, these are short extra Extras that can be found through each show.  Some are easy to find and others can be quite daunting to locate.

Bottom Line:

“Games of Thrones: The Complete Second Season” is equal to or even surpasses what was accomplished in Season 1. There are hints that it is finally headed towards a more fantasy-like direction with a broadening of its scope.  This is what many fans were waiting for.  It will be interesting to see how season three handles this.  So much was accomplished in the first two seasons by grounding the story in reality and only hinting at the fantasy aspects. I personally feel the story is in capable hands and will be handled nicely. HBO’s presentation if practically flawless, from the Audio/Video to the bountiful extras, it’s a complete package in every sense. This comes highly recommended to anyone who has interest in “Game of Thrones” or may be contemplating a blind buy.

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