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Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season(TV) (2011)
Kings, queens, knights and renegades use schemes and swords to battle for the throne.
For more about Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season and the Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season Blu-ray release, see Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on February 17, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Mark Addy, Jason Momoa, Michelle Fairley, Iain Glen
Directors: Neil Marshall, David Nutter, Alan Taylor, Daniel Minahan
» See full cast & crew
Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review
Winter has arrived. Good luck finding a better Blu-ray release this year...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, February 17, 2012
Once upon a time in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, a land where summers span decades and winters can last a lifetime, a king arose, donned his crown, and went hunting in the wilderness. Not the king of the Iron Throne, the seat of power so many die trying to acquire in Game of Thrones, but the true king of Westeros: best-selling fantasy author George R.R. Martin. Having grown weary of Hollywood pounding down his door, Martin set his sights on HBO and, as he tells it, HBO alone; in his mind (and, honestly, in reality) the only place a sprawling and faithful adaptation of his "Song of Fire and Ice" book series could be properly nurtured, developed and realized. And the king pursued HBO relentlessly... not that it took much time or much convincing. The ever-daring premium cable network anxiously scooped up the rights to Martin's richly textured, character-driven saga and set out to create a richly textured, character-driven television series unlike anything before it. And, to showrunners D. B. Weiss and David Benioff's tremendous credit, HBO accomplished exactly what Martin hoped they would, delivering a breathtaking, beautifully executed, perfectly cast ten-episode first season that brought uncertain viewers, hard-to-please critics, and skeptical fans of Martin's books to their feet in thunderous applause.
Outlining the factions and houses vying for the Iron Throne, though, can be a bit of a challenge, not to mention counter to the essence of the series. Part of the allure and appeal of immersing oneself in Game of Thrones is in unraveling the intricate web of loyalists, conspirators and crown-snatchers in the show's infinitely intriguing cast of characters; each one with his or her own reasons for drawing a sword (or plunging it in someone's back) and entering the fray. From the wintry northern city of Winterfell comes lead protagonist Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean, summoning all his being), an honorable, judicious but world-weary man of action who travels to the south to serve as the new king's Hand. That new king is Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), a gluttonous womanizer, rebellious usurper and longtime friend of the Starks. His wife, the new Queen of Westeros, is Cersei Lannister, a cold, manipulative shrew whose only desire is to see her young, impetuous son, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), sit on the throne. Cersei, not to be outdone by Robert's debauchery, is engaged in an incestuous affair with her twin brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a member of the Kingsguard who assassinated the previous king, Aerys II Targaryen, and made it possible for Robert to claim the crown. Which brings us to Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd and Emilia Clarke), Aerys' arrogant son and demure daughter. Viserys pledges his sister to a fierce tribe of nomadic horsemen led by Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), a brute who scoffs at seats of power, craving only power itself. With Daenerys wed to Drogo, Viserys hopes to reclaim Westeros and see the Targaryen banners hoisted high on the castle walls once again.
Feeling overwhelmed? Don't. While Game of Thrones is as densely populated as it is densely plotted, Weiss and Benioff weave an inexhaustible yet incredibly accessible tapestry of competing interests. It demands its audience remain vigilant and alert at every twist and turn, lest they be left stranded on the Westeros roadside, and simultaneously ensures there isn't too much information to process at any given time. It's a balancing act, really, and it becomes abundantly clear why Martin refused to condense such a tangled political and psychological epic into a series of bite-sized feature films. The show's writers run a tight ship, thank the gods, and it's apparent from start to finish. A flood of characters are introduced in rapid succession, but never so many that a "Song of Ice and Fire" newcomer won't be able to keep their head above water. Countless schemes, plots and motivations come to a steady boil as well, but the temperature never rises so suddenly as to make soaking in the narrative uncomfortable. We first meet the Starks and the Starks alone -- Ned, his dutiful wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) and their children, eldest son Robb (Richard Madden), betrothed Sansa (Sophie Turner), tomboy Arya (Maisie Williams), ten-year-old Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), youngest child Rickon (Art Parkinson), and bastard son Jon Snow (Kit Harington). -- and only then, slowly but surely, do Weiss and Benioff cast their net into greater Westeros. The Targaryen prince and princess, Khal Drogo and the Dothraki people, the conniving Lannister twins and their younger, instantly likable brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage, stealing scenes and Emmys like they were candy), and a slew of equally fascinating power-players, back-stabbers, politicians, opportunists and humble servants to the king come in quick but digestible succession. Yet none of it ever comes at the expense of the audience; never at the expense of a forging a cohesive tale; never at the expense of luring viewers deeper and deeper into Martin's literal game of thrones.
Which brings us to a necessary word of warning: dismissing Game of Thrones as a genre series would be a grave mistake. Like Battlestar Galactica before it, Weiss and Benioff's stunning first arc doesn't play by genre rules. Thrones is no more bound to its fantasy roots than Galactica was bound to its sci-fi trappings. Oh, there are elements in place -- vicious creatures from the northern Wilds, dragon eggs, a Winter of legend that sweeps over the land without warning, supernatural blood rituals, rumors of royalty born with dragon blood and the like -- but nothing that detracts or distracts from the fabric of the story or the clash of the characters. Ned's reluctance to rule is steeped in history, explored and simply sensed, as well as a philosophy that separates him from the other players on the board: "Winter is coming." Contrast that with Robert or the Lannister twins, whose prevailing philosophy focuses on the here and now, as if Winter couldn't possibly descend on their illustrious capital city. Robert denies Winter as readily as he denies his kingdom's bankruptcy; Cersei denies her humanity as readily as she embraces her thirst for revenge; and war and chaos loom ever on the horizon, a fact that seems to escape everyone but Ned. The practicality of Winterfell is in stark opposition to the indulgence of the southern kingdoms (the Starks are, after all, on the front lines of the Wall, an enormous structure that protects Westeros from the beasts of the Wild), and the brutal cultural, political and socioeconomic conflicts that erupt are as intricate and volatile as the physical battles that dominate the landscape. All the while, Weiss and Benioff deconstruct genre convention, offer subtle commentary on a variety of topical issues, and probe themes and ideas that are startlingly relevant (modern even); far more so than you might expect from a swords-n-sorcery television series that dares to mention the word "dragon" after asking to be taken seriously.
And by some strange bit of dark magic, every one of the first season's ten episodes goes in for the kill. Unlike most shows that build toward a single season finale, Game of Thrones builds toward whichever end credits are closest. Almost every episode feels like another series' season finale; the game changes that abruptly, the gut punches hit that forcibly, and the story-shattering shocks come that surprisingly. Death lingers around every corner, and it doesn't discriminate. Betrayals lurk within every hall, fortress and shadow, and they don't always come from the party or parties that are most likely to deliver them. Mud, blood and defiance spills on hallowed ground and battlefields alike, and no one is safe from the fallout or consequences. Thrones is as much a game of dominoes as chess, as much a tumultuous political drama as it is an elaborate ensemble piece, as much an expertly crafted saga with exceedingly fine-tuned performances (even from the youngest actors, if you can believe it) as it is an extraordinary production teeming with gorgeous cinematography, stirring music, fantastic costuming, and arresting sets, locations and visual effects. It's a complete package and, for fantasy enthusiasts, a source of legitimacy that proves the once bastard genre (often overlooked or under-produced by television networks) has as much value as any other. And, since I'm already wading dangerously deep in potentially hyperbolic waters, I'll take that one step further: Game of Thrones has far more in common with a lavishly designed, fully realized ten-hour film than a ten-episode fantasy TV series. It breaks the rules, it doesn't play nice, it doesn't give you what you want or expect, only what you'll admit you should have wanted and should have expected. More than one of the best new shows on television (and now Blu-ray), it's one of the best series I've had the pleasure of following. If Season Two is any less than... no. No. That's impossible. I don't even want to consider the possibility. If you have yet to explore every inch of Westeros, don't delay. Pore through the first season and prepare yourself for the next stage of the game, set to air in April.
Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Video Quality
Let me just float in these hyperbolic waters for a bit longer. Wow. Though often uttered and often written (quite liberally I might add), there simply isn't a more succinct and accurate way to convey the quality of HBO's 1080p/AVC-encoded image than the word "wow." But, we've a job to do, so let me wade out of these waters and evaluate Game of Thrones' stunning video presentation on a more exacting basis. From a professional perspective, there's also a word that best conveys the precision and prowess of the HBO's technically proficient encode: wow. It's frightening how easy it is to lose yourself in the high definition world of Westeros. Colors are immaculate, primaries are bold and visceral, black levels are dark and ominous, skintones are dead on (pale in the frosty north, lovely in the summery south), and contrast and clarity are nothing short of impeccable. Shadows hang heavy on occasion, but only as much as its cinematographers and showrunners allow. Aberrant crush isn't an issue and any loss of detail occurs within the original photography, not the Blu-ray presentation. Fine textures are impeccably resolved, edge definition is crisp and clean (without any egregious ringing to worry over), delineation is revealing, and every inch of the series' lavish production design is showcased. Closeups feature the grizzled stubble, wind-carved wrinkles, and heavy brow lines of the warriors and assassins of Westeros; freckles and errant hairs spill down the faces of the queens and princesses of the kingdoms; and Dothraki blood and mud spatter with pixel-piercing perfection. What little softness exists is strictly of the filmic variety. What few eyesores there are trace back to the source, nothing more.
And there's nary a mishap to be found. I noticed two negligible instances of banding and a few slivers of judiciously employed edge enhancement, but nothing that might cast doubt on the integrity of the image. Significant artifacting, noise, aliasing, smearing and other uninvited guests are nowhere to be found, and compression limitations never came to bear on the presentation. As far as I'm concerned, this is, hands down, the finest encode HBO has given us and, considering the studio's sterling reputation, that's saying something. Game of Thrones already looked good when it was broadcast in HD, but the Blu-ray edition takes the murder, betrayal and plotting to a whole new level. This is the must-have release of 2012 and it's only February. Expect to find this one sitting atop my Top Ten list this December.
Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Audio Quality
HBO's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track doesn't miss a beat either. From the howling winds of the Wild to the rustling trees of Winterfell to the lapping seas of the southern kingdom, Game of Thrones sounds every bit as magnificent as it looks. Dialogue is warm, grounded and intelligible, whether whispered, spoken, shouted or coughed through a mouth of blood. Dynamics follow suit, embracing the faintest crunch of disturbed snow to the thundering clatter of a charging horse. Low-end output is fierce and hearty, with a love of battle and an almost brutal devotion to bold, violent courses of action. The ground quakes, oceans roar, the skies rumble, armies clamor and nations fall, all with the full, unwavering support of the LFE channel. Rear speaker activity is just as impressive. Voices echo convincingly within an old stone chamber, high grasses sing in nearby fields, castle walls groan, heavy doors creak, legions of soldiers talk in the distance, winds blow from channel to channel with ghostly ease, and houses and fortresses, cramped and spacious, sound exactly as each one should. Directionality is arresting yet never overplays its hand. Pans are smooth and unassuming... until springing a trap on unsuspecting listeners. And the soundfield is completely and wholly immersive, creating a series of believable vistas, locales and destinations brimming with as much sonic impact as with visual power. Make no mistake, the Blu-ray edition of Game of Thrones attacks on all fronts and walks away with the crown.
Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
"Winter is coming." So says Eddard Stark, nobleman and ruler, father and husband, warrior and Hand to the king. He says it with a sense of the inevitable, with grief and a heavy heart. And he says it with conviction, something that permeates every aspect of Game of Thrones. More than the best new series of 2011, it's one of the finest shows to grace television, and we're only one season in. If D. B. Weiss and David Benioff can maintain their creative momentum, if the cast continues to excel, if the production design continues to sweep viewers away to Westeros, we're all in for something special. HBO doesn't just put its weight behind its original series, though, it puts its full weight behind its Blu-ray releases as well, and this one doesn't disappoint. With a stunning video presentation, an enveloping DTS-HD Master Audio track, and hours upon hours of excellent extras, Game of Thrones already stands as one of the best releases of 2012. It would take an army of gods and kings to knock it off its throne.
Game of Thrones: Other Seasons
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Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: March 6-March 13 - March 5, 2012
One could argue that the biggest Blu-ray of the week is Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season. Since its premiere on HBO last year, Game of Thrones has enjoyed the kind of success that bolstered The Lord of the Rings Trilogy; strip away the program's attention-grabbing ...
• Exclusive Giveaway: Game of Thrones - February 28, 2012
Blu-ray.com and HBO are offering three Blu-ray.com members a chance to win a copy of Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season, based on the first volume of fantasy author George R. R. Martin's book series, "A Song of Ice and Fire." The highly anticipated Blu-ray ...
• Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season Blu-ray - November 30, 2011
In an early retail announcement, HBO Home Entertainment has revealed plans to bring Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season to Blu-ray next March. This highly acclaimed fantasy series takes a gritty and complex look at the violence and political infighting ...
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