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GAME OF THRONES: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headley, Maisie Williams, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Fairley, Kit Harington
Directors: Various
Audio: English, French, and Castellano DTS 5.1, Spanish and Polish DTS 2.0; English, French, Spanish, Castellano, Polish, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish subtitles
Video: Color Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: HBO
Length: Seven Discs, 561 minutes
Release date: February 18, 2014

“If you ever call me sister again, I’ll have you strangled in your sleep.”

Show ****

Just when you thought all anyone cared about were zombies and quasi-reality shows, and that HBO’s run of great original programming was over, along comes an excellent adaptation of the best-selling novels by George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones. With a reported annual budget of around $50-$60 million, and more viewers and fans worldwide than Harry Potter (see all those subtitles?), Game of Thrones is a true blockbuster franchise. Combining a medieval ethos with dragons, magic, and several very distinct kingdoms, there is much to enjoy about the series. Much like the Sopranos updated and changed forever what could be done with crime and mob dramas, this show has reinvented the fantasy film genre with very thoughtful characters and few limits on violence.

I admit that I had difficulty watching the first season because there are so many characters, some of whom go by more than one name. Instead I read enough of the first novel to understand the main characters and their respective kingdoms, and then I was able to enjoy the series. And of course the Blu-Ray releases have plenty of explanation for what is going on and subtitles help with English actors.

“All men must die…but we are not men…”

Each season sees major characters dying and new ones to take their place. The most fascinating is Danerys Stormborn, who calls herself the “dragon’s daughter” and has a genetic resistance to heat and fire. In the first season she is presented with three dragon eggs, presumably fossilized over the centuries. When she decides to burn a medicine woman at the stake because she could not save her husband, she walks into the flames with the eggs, and by the next morning, she emerges wearing only some ash and three baby dragons on her shoulders. Each season the dragons grow larger and deadlier.

Mance Rayder is a great new character this season, a new king-beyond-the-wall , played by the marvelous Ciaran Hinds, whose portrayal of Julius Caesar in Rome was exactly the way I thought Caesar really was. He is a convincing slightly mad king here as well.

Geoffrey continues to demonstrate that he is a depraved psychopath in just about every way imaginable. His uncle Tyrion, played brilliantly by Peter Dinklage, tells him “Any man who must say ‘I am king’ is no true king.”

Viewers unfamiliar with the show should be warned of the graphic violence and nudity. But more than this, key characters have a way of being killed on a regular basis. Most authors would never do this in their novels, but there are so many characters to choose from, with new ones appearing constantly, that losing some here and there does not leave a void. Season Three features a now-infamous episode of a wedding feast in which many key characters die. Even when you know it is coming, it is shocking at its swiftness. Viewers worldwide expressed their outrage, even though this was in the books. But the books are very long and detailed, and I admit I have not finished the first one yet. It is much easier to watch the show, which is mostly faithful to the written page.

This season also features slow physical torture, a warrior woman more than six feet tall, and a queen stepping out of a bathtub to ask a soldier to fight for her. We also learn more about why the Wall was built so long ago. It is miles long and nearly a mile high, solid ice, and is guarded by men who are mostly outcasts from society who will never marry or father children, and will live the rest of their days guarding The Wall. Thousands of years ago, ‘white walkers’ were to the north of the wall, thus it was built. But even the very first episode of Season One hinted that something was wrong, that these strange beings might be back. They are like zombies, but they enjoy bitter cold, and since “winter is coming” and it may last decades, the evidence of their return is chilling.

We also meet Ygritte, played by Rose Leslie, who viewers will recognize as Gwen from Season One of Downton Abbey. She shoots arrows into Jon Snow (Kit Harington), her beau.

Somehow this show avoids what I call the “Empire Strikes Back letdown.” While that was certainly an amazing film, when I saw it in the theatre I was disappointed because I knew I would have to wait a long time to see how it ends. Game of Thrones Season Three ends with Danerys conquering another small kingdom in an amazing way, so while the story has not ended, so much has happened that it will take repeated viewings to absorb it all.

Video ****

Definitely worth the Blu-Ray price for the fine color palette. No artifacts or problems. You always feel like you are right there with them. It rivals The Lord of the Rings in exotic, expansive cinematography. The giants and other creatures seem completely real.

Audio ****

Considering all the battle noise and dragons growling it is still always easy to hear everything. The rear channels are used well to spread it all out. You can tell that they really took time with the sound effects and mixing.

Features ****

HBO has always loaded their releases with good packaging and plenty of extra features.

I like menus that allow you to pick any of the various special features, then remind you that you have the wrong disc in the tray. The commentaries vary in quality, but we learn much from all of them, and even the author contributes to one.

“The Red Wedding” episode is actually titled “The Rains of Castamere” has more than just the wedding. In this feature, it is revealed that to the executive producers, the entire series up to this point is worth the whole making of episodes before then. The feature has behind the scenes footage and interviews while the episode actually plays at the bottom left of the screen.

“New Characters” is definitely useful in any series with so many characters. “Roots of Westeros” is an interactive guide that provides more in depth information about the season. “A Gathering Storm” is a lengthy and detailed recap of Season Two. “The Politics of Marriage”, “Inside the Wildlings,” “Histories and Lore,” and of course the obligatory deleted and extended scenes are almost overkill, but still very useful in understanding how the series reached such a high level.

As with prior seasons we also have the usual in-episode guides that can be accessed while watching any episode.

Summary:

Dragons, kings, giants, ten-year winters, divided loyalties, bloodbaths…can’t we all just get along? No way, not when the Iron Throne is the prize. Plenty to absorb in this fine release.

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