Game Of Thrones Season Two DVD REVIEW

Game Of Thrones Season Two DVD review


Release Date: 4 March 2013
2012 | 18 | 537 minutes | £39.99 (DVD)/£49.99 (Blu-ray) (Various retailer exclusives with bonuses also available)
Distributor: HBO Home Entertainment
Creators: David Benioff, DB Weiss
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Michelle Fairley, Emilia Clarke, Aidan Gillen, Iain Glen, Kit Harington, Liam Cunningham

Movie-quality production values, an A-list cast, interweaving storylines, complex character drama… If Game Of Thrones was set in medieval Europe, it would hoover up major TV awards left, right and centre. But the people who vote for such things are traditionally conservative types, so the fact that it’s set in a fictional world – a world containing (whisper it) dragons and magic – means it’s had to make do with acting and technical prizes and a few high-profile nominations. It’s all rather unfair – even if this inconsistent second season can’t quite live up to the standard set by the compelling first.

That said, HBO’s take on George RR Martin’s epic A Song Of Ice And Fire series remains one of the best shows on TV. The level of ambition is particularly astounding. The realm of Westeros feels even vaster than it did last year, with an airmiles-busting extravaganza of locations – from Croatia to Iceland to, er, Northern Ireland – creating a landscape every bit as vivid as Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth.

But even the widescreen vistas feel tiny next to Game Of Thrones’ ever-expanding story. This is both the season’s greatest strength and its biggest weakness. On the plus side, it’s incredibly satisfying to be absorbed in a show that treats its audience like grown-ups. Not only is the content linguistically, carnally and violently R-rated, but Game Of Thrones resolutely refuses to spell things out in simple terms. To fully get your head around its increasingly complex machinations requires 100% concentration 100% of the time, and that’s a rare and rewarding thing in modern TV.

But too much of anything can be a bad thing, and season two is almost too big to take in. There’s so much going on that you need the Blu-ray extras (see below) just to keep up. The show’s frustrating lack of structure doesn’t help. Let’s put it this way: without the opening and closing credits to point the way, you could watch the entire series without knowing where one episode ends and the next begins, such is its refusal to indulge in traditional notions of beginnings, middles and ends.

And all storylines are not equal. While Theon Greyjoy’s betrayal of the Starks and the ever-watchable Tyrion’s exploits in King’s Landing make for essential viewing, Jon Snow’s travails north of the Wall and Daenerys’s ongoing hunt for her dragons quickly become tedious. There’s a lot of walking around in the wilderness this time out.

There are also times when your inner adolescent just aches for more action. Luckily, all your Christmasses come at once in episode nine’s Battle Of Blackwater Bay, an epic assault on King’s Landing that shows where all this season’s budget was spent, and which would put many a Hollywood movie to shame.

Most of all, this is a season of transition, with the majority of characters struggling to get used to new lives after the seismic changes of season one. Hopefully with those new roles more defined – and a slightly tighter grip on the storytelling – season three will return to the heady heights of the first.

Extras:

The painstaking level of detail that HBO puts into the show continues in a wonderfully comprehensive set of extras.

If commentaries are your thing, you’ve just stumbled into Westeros’s answer to heaven. Every episode (with the exception of episode five, weirdly) gets at least one voiceover, with various cast, writers, directors and special effects guys showing up to give their perspectives. You also get video profiles of seven principal characters (the fluffiest extra); George RR Martin and series creators David Benioff and DB Weiss discussing Westeros’s religions (one for the hardcore fans); an “Inner Circle” discussion, where key cast sit down with Benioff and Weiss to natter about the show (coolest university seminar ever, basically); and behind-the-scenes documentary “Creating The Battle Of Blackwater Bay”, a cracking half-hour watch that makes you wish there were more docs in the package.

The Blu-ray (rated) adds plenty of fun interactive stuff, most of it focused on the show’s fictional world. The highlights are 19 motion comic-style animations, in which key players help fill in the backstories the writers couldn’t fit into the show – stuff like Davos Seaforth coming into Stannis Barratheon’s employ, or the tale of the Greyjoy rebellion. Along with the “War Of The Five Kings” interactive map, they’re a great way for anyone who hasn’t read the books to become an expert in Westeros lore.

There are also pop-up in-episode guides that give you background info on locations and the characters in each scene, however obscure they may be. Want to find out the name of the naked woman who sits on Bron’s lap in “Blackwater”? Now’s your chance.

It’s a wonderful package, let down only by an incomprehensible navigation system that gives you the chance to click on a documentary or featurette, then tells you you’ll have to insert another disc to view it! Luckily, most of the stuff on these five discs is worth waiting for.

Richard Edwards twitter.com/RichDEdwards

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