Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season was the fastest selling home video release in HBO’s history. Part of that was due, of course, to the show’s popularity. But a lot of that was because it was just an awesome set, with amazing production values and lots of great bonus features. Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season, releasing on Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 19 in the US, seems to duplicate that successful formula. But is this a case of “you can never have too much of a good thing” or “just more of the same”? Read on to find out.
The set comes in a smallish box and it is kinda hard to believe how much they fit in there. There are the five Blu-ray discs, which are housed in a five-folded, flip-out container that feature character photos on the back (from season one, strangely enough). Inside of that you will also find a paper insert that folds out to reveal a handy episode guide on one side and a beautifully illustrated map on the other. There is a separate cardboard sleeve which houses the two double-sided DVD discs. There is also the code and instructions for downloading your digital copy of season two. All of this is slotted into a hard cardboard shell, which features the Game of Thrones logo against a subtle black-and-grey background of the various major houses’ sigils. The whole thing is covered with a slipcover featuring the familiar image of Robert Baratheon’s crown (sans hand). All in all, some nice packaging with my one minor nitpick being they should have used season two photos for the characters.
Picture & Sound
I’m not qualified to say much on this subject on account of not having that great a set-up and, to be honest, I just don’t care. It has the episodes in digital quality and that is good enough for me. If you want some more detail than that check out Blu-ray.com’s review or HBO Watch’s review.
Now to the good stuff. The season one Blu-ray set was packed with extras and this year’s set is no different. In fact, they have added even more. Here is a rundown (Note: the first five features listed here are found on the DVD set as well, the rest are Blu-ray exclusives):
Short video profiles on the characters of Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Robb Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, Renly Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon and Theon Greyjoy. You’ve already seen these.
Religions of Westeros
George R. R. Martin, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss discuss the religions of Westeros and the roles they play in the story. You’ve seen this, too.
This year we get twelve (count ‘em, twelve!) episode commentaries. Not every episode is covered, but some are covered multiple times (see here for the complete list). The commentaries range from pointless yet funny, to highly informative and revealing. All of them are entertaining in their own way and well-worth a listen, but for me I enjoyed the ones that gave you a lot of interesting info.
Game of Thrones: Inner Circle
A roundtable discussion moderated by writers David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and featuring Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey, Michelle Fairley and Liam Cunningham. While there are some funny and interesting bits of info in here, overall it wasn’t quite as good as I had hoped.
Creating the Battle of Blackwater Bay
This 30+ minute look into the making of episode nine features interviews and behind-the-scenes footage galore. Fascinating to see all the aspects of production that had to come together to make this episode work. Oh, and Liam Cunningham is truly having the time of his life on this show. Definitely my favorite feature in the set.
A little pop-up guide that stays on screen while you watch each episode and gives you contextual information on the Characters, Locations and History in whatever scene you happen to be watching. All of this information is much more easily accessible in various other sections of the Blu-ray, however (War of the Five Kings for Characters and Locations and Animated Histories for History).
War of the Five Kings
A whole compendium of information on the places, people and events of season two presented via an interactive map of Westeros and Essos. Not the most compelling feature, as all of the information is presented in text form and, for me, was kind of hard to read. Not only that, but navigating this section via a standard remote is kind of a pain. The most interesting aspect was the “Battle Plans” that were available for Robb Stark, , Renly Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon and Joffrey Baratheon. Each major battle and tactical move was animated on the map and provided a much better overview of how the whole War of the Five Kings played out than one would get via just watching the show.
Histories & Lores
Animated histories of the various factions, houses and events narrated by the characters themselves (see here for the list of histories and who narrates them). This was one of the best features on last year’s set and remains just as good this year. The animations are beautiful, the narrations compelling, and you learn some cool stuff to boot. I think my favorite was the history of House Greyjoy, the art style and animation was very “Iron Born-esque” and Alfie and Gemma’s narration was spot-on.
Hidden Dragon Eggs
The hidden dragon eggs contain deleted scenes from season two. So far I’ve found one, thanks to HBO Watch’s help, a deleted scene between Loras and Margaery shortly after Renly’s death. I spent almost two hours last night clicking around trying to uncover more, but came up empty. Frankly, I agree with Westeros.org, the hidden dragon egg feature is an exercise in frustration more than anything. I didn’t even bother finding all of them last year, I found a couple and then just looked up the rest on Youtube. This season, it seems they’ve made the eggs even harder to find. It is just not a good user experience to have some of the most interesting content (last season cast auditions, this season deleted scenes) perpetually hidden deep within the menus or episodes. If HBO wants to keep the hidden dragon eggs, they should have them contain something really “bonus-y” like concept art. Or at the very least, once you’ve found the egg, it should unlock a regular top-level menu item so you can then easily access the content multiple times. But my vote is to do away with them all together.
So is the season two Blu-ray set worth buying? Do I even need to answer that question? It has the second season of Game of Thrones on there, of course it is. The pretty packaging, the high-quality picture and sound, and all of the bonus content is just icing on the cake. The one major gripe I have with the set is I wish I could watch all of the deleted scenes easily. But I have no doubt once it releases and hundreds of thousands of viewers are poking around for those eggs, they will be found fairly quickly. That aside, everything else about the set is top-notch. Any Thrones fan should be ashamed if they don’t pick this set up. And with both Best Buy and Amazon selling it for only $35, you really have no excuse not to. Buy it.