Based on George R.R. Martin‘s third book of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, ‘A Storm of Swords’, the third season of the HBO series “Game of Thrones” is beginning to hit its stride much like most series when they have a couple of seasons under their belts.  The story picks up soon after the Blackwater battle and Tyrion is recovering from his wounds.  John Snow is caught behind the wall and must do what he can to survive.  Sansa is getting on with her life at King’s Landing and must deal with her upcoming marriage to Joffrey.  Theon is shown the darker side of human nature as he pays for his earlier crimes.  In my personal favorite episode, four, much movement is taken on several storylines.  And with the plot turns in episode nine, the story joins the annals of television legend with a devastating gut punch.

Aside from the story itself, acting is the other true strength of the series. Peter Dinklage, Maisie Williams (as Arya Stark) and Emelia Clarke (as Daenerys) all do a fantastic job with their roles, displaying growth and adaption in their surroundings. Each of their storylines take great strides forwards leading to different lives than when Season 2 ended.  Tyrion has new duties in the city as well as dealing with his disappointed father, Tywin. He is more of an emotional punching bad in this season after the finale of the previous one.  Arya Stark is adapting to the ever-so-darkening world of adulthood she is careening towards.  Robb Stark (Richard Madden) tries to grow his army with his mother at his side.  Jon Snow (Kit Harington) finds refuge with the opposition beyond the wall but still holds his friends back on The Watch close to him. Daenerys has the most change during the season.  It was hinted at in season 2 but the most recent season has her close to cementing her legacy and future.

Then there are the Lannisters who continue to be the antithesis of all that is good.  Led by the dominating patriarch Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) who, as always, runs the kingdom with a stone cold face of business and never-ending disappointment.  His daughter Cersei (Lena Heady) continues to seem bored and threatens those beneath her by pulling rank when she can. Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has the longest journey in the family literally and figuratively as he is chaperoned back to King’s Landing by the very tall Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). He loses quite a bit in the season but also gains some positives along the way.  Jack Gleeson continues his amazingly maddening role as Joffrey and I mean that in the most appreciative way that I can.  He’s makes a great villain to root against and his psychopathic ways are brimming up to the top with each episode that goes by.

The Screenwriters did a wonderful job of paring down the 1520 page novel to ten 50 minute episodes.  There is a slight middle-ness to it but that is inevitable.  A lot of ground was covered and the season as a whole feels complete and necessary.  The special effects budget is spread out more in this season as well. In season two the producers said they blew most of their budget on the Blackwater scene. In season three they used their budget throughout to make the little things more realistic.  As an example, in one episode a Whitewalker turns into ice and falls apart after being stabbed and the cgi is exceptional.  Daenerys’s dragons all move realistically and the level of detail in their scales is rich and deep.  There are also many more establishing shots of large cities this time around with them all being cinematic grade.

As it is the standard with HBO’s release, the 1080p 16X9 video is astoundingly clear with nary a blemish.  The heat from the desert can be felt as well as the steely blue hues of the landscape near the wall give an appropriately cold feeling. Nighttime and shadowy scenes yield terrific black levels. Grain is almost a non factor as the series was shot digitally.  The only semi disappointment is that the image is so clear it can sometimes expose some of the more questionable effects, which is not the fault of the transfer.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is as equally impressive as the video.  Dialogue is clear and realistic. Directionality is rampant and accurate.  A scene worthy of being demo material would be episode four when Daeberys takes over the army and her dragons burn the place down.  Bass from explosions and armies marching thunder all around you.  Horses trampling the earth underneath is powerful and rich.

The box itself is a terrific extra with plenty or care and thought into fans wanting to proudly display their collection.  The Blu-rays, DVD’s and digital copies are all nicely housed in one case with a see through sheath which slides over it.

Audio Commentaries: There are 12 commentaries in total with each episode containing at least one. I personally love commentaries and found these to be highly entertaining.  One in particular involves the actors during one of the most emotionally charged scenes and they were audibly reduced to tears after seeing it again.

Deleted and Extended Scenes: There are a handful of deleted scenes that were interesting to watch and actually do help compliment what was shown in the final product.

Histories & Lore is an animated look at the show’s mythologies and battles.

Roots of Westeros is similar to the previous extra about all the intertwining plots and histories.

In-Episode Guide, which is the same feature found on the previous discs, is an interactive menu system clarifying plot lines and backgrounds while in the midst of any episode.

A Gathering Storm is a 15 minute recap of the plotlines leading up to season 3.

New Characters is an introduction to some of the new characters such as Tormund Giantsbane , Olenna Tyrell and Thoros of Myr plus many more.

The Politics of Marriage is a 10 minute look into the politics of the lands in the show.

The Rains of Castamere Unveiled  is a 45 minute Picture in Picture guide to episode 9 with cast interviews and behind the Scenes footage.

Inside the Wildlings is a small featurette dedicated to the wildings with a chance for the actors to talk about their roles.

Bottom Line:
Season three is a major step forward in the series.  It has always been bleak and hard and with certain new plot advances the show takes a decidedly gut punching turn displaying a world where atrocities are not always avenged swiftly or even at all.  Fans know, especially after the final scene in season one, that justice and fairness do not come sweeping in on a white horse to save the day.  Having said that, it never feels spiteful to the audience or added for shock value more than it feels like a lesson in cold reality.  It’s a harsh world these characters live in and one can only hope the good can overcome the bad. Highly recommended.