Series 5 stars
Picture 4 1/2 stars
Sound 4 1/2 stars
Extras 4 1/2 stars
“Winter is coming.” That ominous mantra hangs heavy over the full arc of the inaugural 10-episode season of Game of Thrones, one of the best-looking and best-sounding shows on broadcast cable TV. And it’s even more fulfilling on Blu-ray — yet another high-water mark for HBO, undisputed kings of desirable packaging, high-def visual presentation, and fully engaging surround soundtracks. (Note: The collectible physical format still has some life left in her yet.)
A faithful adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series template, Thrones skimps on nothing to convey the spectacle of its proceedings and its dense canon. Northern Ireland and Malta serve as verdant green stand-ins for the grand sprawl of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Want deep blacks? During the imprisonment of Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) in Episodes 8 and 9, the glow of a blue-white torch and its reflection in his iris are clearly defined against the pitch-dark, dank dungeon surroundings. Want detail? Witness the vary degrees of mud and grime on tunics and shawls in Episode 2 and the consistent huffing and puffings of breath in many scenes set in the frigid temperatures around and on the massive Wall being guarded by the Night’s Watch (though see if you can spot the one critical sequence atop the Wall where you don’t see any breath during the entire conversation).
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is masterfully utilized, especially for the ominous all-channel snarls of the mysterious White Walkers; the symphony of clangs, crunches, and screams and thundering hooves during a pair of deadly jousting spectacles in Episodes 4 and 5; and the ominous winds hounding Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) as he’s imprisoned in the open-air Sky Cell in Episode 6.
The best entry in the plentiful extras docket is Anatomy of an Episode, an interactive picture-in-picture commentary that enlists many of the principals involved in the pivotal Episode 6, “A Golden Crown.” (Without giving too much away, you may think twice before gorging on Gummi Bears en masse.) If more commentaries were as informative and visually stimulating as Anatomy, I bet you’d watch them all.
Thrones is a riveting, stark (pun intended), thrilling series that reinforces the power of expertly executed episodic TV, fit for a kingdom full of A/V kings and queens.
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