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Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray Review)

15 Feb, 2013 By: John Latchem

Street 2/19/13
$59.99 five-DVD set, $79.98 five-disc Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Peter Dinklage, Michelle Fairley, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Aidan Gillen, Iain Glen, Kit Harington, Richard Madden, Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Sophie Turner, Jack Gleeson, Alfie Allen, Rory McCann, Charles Dance, Jerome Flynn, Conleth Hill, Stephen Dillane, Gethin Anthony.

The second season of “Game of Thrones” picks up right where the first left off, with the continent of Westeros embroiled in war for control of the Iron Throne. The transition between seasons is so seamless that if one were watching all the episodes back to back, it would be hard to discern where the break was (aside from a working knowledge of the production, or the fantasy books by George R.R. Martin on from which the show is adapted).

As the War of the Five Kings takes shape, Young Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) maintains his hold on the crown, having inherited it after his father’s suspicious death in a hunting accident. But his penchant for cruelty is casting a shadow over his reign, despite the efforts of his uncle and advisor Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) to curb his darker tendencies.

Questions about Joffrey’s illegitimate parentage have inspired Joffrey’s other uncles, Stannis and Renly Baratheon (Stephen Dillane and Gethin Anthony), to take up separate claims to the throne.

As the brothers engage in their own battle for succession, Joffrey’s support in the north has eroded in favor of Robb Stark (Richard Madden), who must fend off attempts by the Greyjoy family to seize his lands.

And all the while, the beautiful Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) bides her time in far off Essos, caring for her newly birthed pet dragons and hoping one day to return to Westeros decades after her father was deposed. But first she and her meager band of supporters must survive a gruesome trek through the harsh desert and the treacherous wizards of the city of Qarth.

Such a simplified description does not do justice to the complexity of storytelling in a series such as “Game of Thrones,” a mesmerizing collage of politics and intrigue set in a vaguely medieval realm not unlike something out of our own history (magic and dragons aside). For every character who seeks to put his or her own scheme in motion, there seem to be two more plotting against them.

For season two, that means a steady build-up toward the massive Battle of Blackwater Bay, in which Stannis’ forces lay siege to Joffrey’s army at King’s Landing, the capitol of Westeros. The battle encompasses the whole of the penultimate of the season’s 10 episodes, and is, in a word, awesome.

The episode is clearly the centerpiece of the season, so much so that a whole half-hour featurette on the Blu-ray is devoted to how they pulled it off. The episode was specially scripted by Martin, who also serves as executive producer of the series and admits that depicting the complexity of the battle as described in the books would be prohibitively expensive. As it is, this is the first major battle depicted on the show, after one was cut in the first season due to time and money.

Since it abandons all the other subplots, which seems to diminish their importance, episodes like this make it preferable to watch the series as a marathon rather than weekly. When the season’s episodes are viewed in close proximity, it becomes a major sequence driving the larger whole, like an epic film.

As with the first season, extras on the Blu-ray are extensive. The bulk of material is contained in interactive guides to the characters, battles and mythology, like those indexes that usually appear at the back of novels to give more depth to the backstory.

Also included is a fun roundtable discussion among several of the actors on the show discussing their characters, and commentaries on nearly every episode. Some of these can get into rather dry analysis of the episodes, but others are hugely amusing, such as when Martin turns his comments about the “Blackwater” battle away from his love of the cast and into a discussion of why major characters never wear their helmets when they fight. In case you were wondering, Martin always recommends wearing your helmet when fighting with swords. It’s probably good advice.

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