Game of Thrones appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on these Blu-Ray Discs. From start to finish, the series looked great.
At all times, sharpness seemed strong. Virtually no instances of softness materialized here, as the episodes were consistently tight and well-defined. Jagged edges and moiré effects failed to materialized, and the programs lacked edge haloes. No signs of source flaws popped up, as the series always offered clean visuals.
The series’ palette depended on settings. When we spent time up north, we tended to get cold, bluish colors, but other locales provided warmer, more golden tones. All the hues came across as full and dynamic. Blacks were deep and tight, while shadows appeared clear and smooth. I felt totally pleased with the visuals of Thrones.
Though not as impressive, the series’ DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio also seemed positive. In terms of soundfield, Thrones started a bit slow, as the first half of the season lacked tons of action. This changed as events progressed, though, and the last few programs delivered a higher level ofactivity and involvement. Whether the track went with lively action or general ambience, the mix used the five channels in a compelling manner. It created a good sense of place and environment, with elements that blended in a satisfying manner.
Audio seemed good. Speech was concise and distinctive, without edginess or other issues. Music was full and dynamic, and effects came across as accurate and clear. When necessary, the tracks boasted deep, rich bass. Because the shows didn’t always deliver a lot of activity, I thought the series deserved an overall “B” grade, but the audio was perfectly satisfactory.
Thrones comes packed with extras, and we open with audio commentaries for seven episodes. Here’s what we find:
Episode One: executive producers/writers David Benioff and DB Weiss. They discuss the opening credit sequence, story/character topics, cast and performances, sets and locations, costumes, music and production design. Though not a scintillating chat, this one covers the basics reasonably well. I'd like a bit more depth, as the piece remains pretty "meat and potatoes", but it includes enough info to be worthwhile.
Episode Two: actors Lena Headey, Mark Addy and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Actor commentaries tend to be pretty dull, and that trend continues here. We get a few thoughts about aspects of the shoots and characters/story, but most of the time, we just hear about how great everything is. There's a fair amount of dead air and a general sense of banality afoot in this bland track.
Episode Three: actors Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams and Isaac Hempstead Wright. You know what's usually worse than actor commentaries? Child actor commentaries, which is what we get here. This one starts out obnoxious, as the kids "sing" a loud version of the theme tune, and doesn't do much to improve from there. Actually, it's not an awful track, as the kids occasionally contribute some decent observations about their experiences, but there's not much of interest here.
Episode Four: actor Kit Harington and writer Bryan Cogman. We get notes about locations, story and characters, and performances here. While this never becomes a fascinating discussion, it's the meatiest we've heard since the first, so it's reasonably informative.
Episode Six: director Daniel Minahan and actors Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, and Harry Lloyd. Though a partial return to the banality of the first actor commentary, this one proves to be a bit more interesting. It comes with a lot of the same sort of praise and joking, but it contributes a higher level of actual production information. While it never becomes an especially insightful track, it's acceptably useful.
Episode Eight: co-executive producer/screenwriter/author George RR Martin. This probably should be the best commentary of the seven, as no one boasts greater involvement with the franchise than Martin. Unfortunately, the track doesn’t live up to its potential. Martin tends to tell us what he likes or he narrates the show. A few decent insights into the series and its adaptation appear, but for the most part, this is a mediocre chat.
Episode Ten: Benioff, Weiss and director Alan Taylor. Like the track for Episode One, this one tends toward basics. We get notes about standard subjects like cast and performances, sets and locations, and the expected production subjects. It’s also not especially lively, but it’s enjoyable and informative.
Under Complete Guide to Westeros, we find an “interactive compendium of the noble houses and lands featured in Season One, and the histories that bind the Seven Kingdoms together”. The “Guide” combines text and video snippets to look at the subject matter.
The “Guide” breaks into three areas: “Histories and Lore”, “Houses” and “Lands”. Within “H&L”, we get video clips for 10 different topics; these often break down into varying viewpoints, so “Lore” includes a total of 19 snippets. They run between one minute, 45 seconds and four minutes, 50 seconds for a total of 55 minutes, 36 seconds of footage.
With these, series characters narrate vast amounts of Thrones backstory. We get hints of this material during the episodes, but the “Lore” clips provide a tremendous amount of information. They even give us alternate viewpoints; for example, we hear differing takes on the Night’s Watch from the Stark and Lannister camps.
The “Lore” segments aren’t perfect. There’s some redundancy, as occasionally we see parts of one clip repeated in another. Nonetheless, they’re a pretty terrific way to further investigate the world of Thrones and they add measurably to the viewer’s understanding of the series’ complex workings.
Under “Houses”, we find more video. Under “Legacy”, we encounter clips that cover the Houses Stark (2:10), Baratheon (2:33), Arryn (1:59), Lannister (3:43), and Targaryen (3:03) as well as Night’s Watch (4:50). Like the “Histories and Lore” elements, series characters narrate these and offer additional information about the characters, situations and histories. “Houses” also gives us text character biographies that cover virtually everyone you’ll see across the series.
Even more material shows up within “Lands”. These cover “The North and the Wall”, “The Riverlands”, “The Vale”, “King’s Landing”, “The Southron Kingdoms”, and “Essos”. Each one shows an overall map of Westeros with the specific area highlighted. A smaller map also appears to indicate the various locations discussed, and text offers details about those spots. All of these factors combine to make the “Complete Guide” a nice addition to the set.
Each show comes with an interactive In-Episode Guide. Each one includes a mix of components:
Characters: “Displays which characters are in the current scene, their house, and a brief biography that will evolve with the season storyline”;
Location: “Tracks where each scene takes place, providing a better understanding of the castles, cities and regions of Westeros as well as Essos, the continent across the Narrow Sea”;
History: “Reveals the legends of Westeros as told by the characters themselves. Learn about the backgrounds of the Houses and hear the varying perspectives on the important events that define the Seven Kingdoms. Throughout each episode, this icon will periodically flash, unlocking one of 24 histories relevant to the onscreen action”;
Complete Guide: “Leave the episode to view the ‘Complete Guide to Westeros’ with maps, facts, histories and full-length bios”.
“Characters” and “Location” offer simple text and graphics. When you click on them, you’ll get a quick description of the participants on the screen as well as the current location. The notes are short and perfunctory, but they may help you keep track of the series’ large roster of people and places.
As for “Complete Guide”, it simply takes you out of the episode to visit the feature I already discussed. This seems semi-pointless because it doesn’t deliver you to a specific episode or scene-related component; it just plops you in the main menu for the “Guide”. Couldn’t I do that anyway? Why would I want to do this from inside an episode? Maybe it holds some attraction I missed, but I think it makes more sense to visit the “Guide” separately and not bother with it during an episode.
Due to the “Guide”, “History” proves to be redundant – though not useless. It flashes when an appropriate component becomes available and then sends you to the logical clip from the “Lore” section of the “Guide”. Again, if you’ve already checked out all the snippets in the ”Guide” itself, you’ll learn nothing new here, but it’s still a logical presentation – and arguably the better way to experience the “History” segments since they correspond to logical series scenes.
Expect more video from Character Profiles on Disc One. This compilation of snippets looks at 15 different characters and covers a total of 30 minutes, 42 seconds. Across these, we get comments from actors Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Michelle Fairley, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Kit Harington, Jason Momoa, Sean Bean, Aiden Gillen, Richard Madden, Mark Addy, Sophie Turner, Peter Dinklage, and Harry Lloyd. The quality of these clips varies. Some prove to be reasonably insightful and interesting, while others are quick and borderline useless. They’re inherently promotional, so don’t expect much, but even the weaker ones go by fast enough to not cause problems, so the entire reel merits a look.
Over on Disc Three, Anatomy of an Episode looks at Episode Six. This is another “in-episode experience” that uses picture-in-picture to dig into the show. It runs one hour, 31 seconds and provides remarks from Minahan, Benioff, Bean, Headey, Weiss, Madden, Williams, Lloyd, Clarke, Momoa, Dinklage, production designer Gemma Jackson, special effects supervisor Stuart Brisdon, storyboard artist William Simpson, horse master Felicity Pierce, prop master Gordon Fitzgerald, armorer Tommy Dunne, stunt coordinator Buster Reeves, visual effects producer Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor, 2nd unit visual effects supervisor Angela Barson, art director Ashleigh Jeffers, construction manager Tom Martin, supervising art director Paul Inglis, graphic artist Jim Stanes, and actors Miltos Yeroldemou, Jerome Flynn, Kate Dickie, Esme Bianco, and Alfie Allen.
When I dug into the “Episode Guides”, I figured we’d get features like “Anatomy” for all the shows. That’s not true, obviously, but it’s good to get the standard pic-in-pic material for at least one program. “Anatomy” tells us a little about cast and performances but usually focuses more on nuts and bolts like stunts, action, sets, props, costumes and effects. Since so much of the Blu-ray’s bonus materials have focused on the fictional history of characters/situations, it’s good to get such a deep investigation of actual filmmaking factors.
Everything else shows up on Disc Five. Via Making Game of Thrones, we get a 30-mnute, two-second show with info from Bean, Taylor, Coster-Waldau, Dinklage, Headey, Clarke, Benioff, Weiss, George RR Martin, Williams, Turner, Lloyd, Madden, Addy, Jackson, Inglis, Tom Martin, Brisdon, Harington, Reeves, Barson, Allen, Minahan, Dickie, Jeffers, Fairley, directors Tim Van Patten and Brian Kirk, producer Frank Doelger, casting director Nina Gold, casting assistant Robert Sterne, Northern Ireland location manager Robert Boake, composer Ramin Djiwadi, set decorator Richard Roberts, costume designer Michelle Clapton, animal wrangler Jim Warren, visual effects supervisor Adam McInnes, stunt coordinator Paul Jennings, horse wrangler Camilla Naprous, costume armorer supervisor Simon Brindle, Malta locations manager Joseph Formosa Randon, art director Steven Summersgill, Language Creation Society’s David Peterson, and actors Gethin Anthony, Finn Jones, Iain Glen and Rory McCann.
We look at the source material and its move to the screen, casting and characters, sets, locations and production design, music and costumes, animal actors, various effects and stunts, the Dothraki language, and some general thoughts about the series. “Making” covers a lot of the topics found in the Episode Six “in-episode” feature, though with a broader focus. Most programs of this sort are pretty fluffy, and this one engages in some happy talk. Nonetheless, it’s fairly meaty given its length and scope,
During the five-minute, 14-second From the Book to the Screen, we hear from Benoiff, Weiss, and George RR Martin. As expected, they discuss the source material and its adaptation. Some of the footage already appears in the “Making of”, and the new comments don’t reveal much; essentially, we learn how faithful the series will be and that’s about it.
For a look at the credit sequence, we go to Creating the Show Open. It lasts five minutes, seven seconds and features Weiss, show open creative director Angus Wall, show open Hameed Shaukat, show open art director Rob Feng, show open CG supervisor Kirk Shintani, and show open chief designer Chris Sanchez. We learn about the design and execution of the credits. It’s a short but satisfying overview.
Next comes a take on one of the series’ “foreign languages”. Creating the Dothraki Language goes for five minutes, 27 seconds and features Benioff, Weiss, Peterson, Momoa, Clarke, Glen, dialogue coach Brendan Gunn and actors Elyes Gabel and Dar Salim. We get a quick but informative take on the fake Dothraki language and its implementation in the show; it’s a good little piece.
Finally, The Night’s Watch fills eight minutes, seven seconds with comments from George RR Martin, Weiss, Benioff, Harington, and actors James Cosmo, John Bradley, Joseph Mawle, and Owen Teale. This one delivers a short look at the series’ Night’s Watch guard. Though not bad, I think we learn a lot of this material elsewhere, so it’s not especially valuable.
While not as action-oriented as I expected from a fantasy show, Game of Thrones still proved to be engaging. It creates its own world well and draws us into its characters and situations. The Blu-ray boasts excellent picture quality, solid sound and an extensive roster of supplements. HBO has produced a terrific release for an involving series.