It seems the more people they kill off in Game of Thrones, the more popular the show gets. With its sixth season beginning next month, heralded by this stonking trailer, now is the perfect time for HBO to release Season 5 on home video. Not content with providing these sumptuous episodes to watch over and over again, the release is also packed with riches that would put the vaults of Highgarden to shame.
Season 5 marked the culmination of an unenviable task begun the previous year, completing the adaptation of the fourth and fifth novels of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. The former especially is much maligned as the weakest entry in the series, bringing in many new (and thus far seemingly inconsequential) characters, more convoluted story-lines, and sprawling plot, seeking to begin new threads without giving any real progress in existing ones. It also omitted several popular characters, due to the this pair of books being split, not chronologically but geographically, each focusing on certain regions and its characters. With the show having caught up to the books and much of the material brought together, it is to the credit of showrunners Weiss and Benioff that they have not only reunified these books but streamlined their contributions to the show in a very positive way.
The fifth year of the show opens with a flashback, a young Cersei being told her future, and it doesn’t sound cheery at all. This sense of doom layered over her permeates the whole season, and that’s perhaps the focus of Season 5: fate, and destiny catching up to people. For four years we’ve followed people who have adhered to their faith (Stannis), been fueled by ambition or duty (Daenerys, Cersei, and Stannis again), by revenge (Arya), or simply strived to do the right thing (you really do know nothing Jon Snow). Now is the time the chickens (Harpies?) come home to roost.
As such we get some BIG moments, including comeuppance for various characters, as tragic and shocking as you’d expect: some satisfying, some horrifying, some managing to straddle the two. Cersei’s “walk of shame” moment, for instance, is a highlight. It’s a credit to the writers that in the space of a few episodes a character can shift from eliciting revulsion to sympathy. This is a show that has been built on pain and misery for five years now, but this year hits moments where it pushes some characters even further and has raised some controversy (the key points raising ire being the rape of one young character and the immolation of another). It’s brutal storytelling, but staying true to the world they have constructed, and with the context of later seasons each will likely be viewed as more integral to the overall picture than as one shocking scene.
Another aspect of Season 5 is in how it lays the groundwork for the upcoming seasons, with the death of Tywin at the end of last season opening up a vacuum and many looking to not only protect their positions but also take advantage. We see the wheels turning as plots are made to consolidate power or forge new alliances. It’s a season about stripping people down (literally in one case), tearing down characters, breaking them, and reshuffling the pieces, and it sets up some very interesting plotlines for the future.
But with the source material being largely exhausted, the showrunners have started to flex some creative freedom allowing for the glorious journey of Tyrion (the always excellent Dinklage) across Essos with Varys, then Jorah, and finally into the arms of Daenerys herself. No matter who he is paired with it’s pure gold. Hell, you could pair Tyrion with a direwolf and it would be one of the most watchable things on TV (I want to see this show). Moments like these balance out the drudgery of Dany’s “rule” of Meereen or the arduous training of Arya in the House of Black and White. As ever the show delivers with the big set pieces too and sets itself a new benchmark this year with Drogon’s entry to the fighting pits, or the entire Hardhome episode (and it’s “come at me Snow” moment), which left many, including myself, breathless upon viewing. If you want more insight into the specific details of each episode I’ll point you in the direction of Sharon’s wonderful weekly recap series.
It’s not perfect. Some of the pacing left a little to be desired and frankly the depiction of Dorne and its characters was fumbled. Readers will know how highly anticipated the Sand Snakes were, and for some reason the show just didn’t do them justice. An air of petulance hung whenever we ventured there, a static place lacking depth. Not the place you would expect to be the homeland of the vibrant Oberyn Martell. Granted the tweaks to the plot gave us a wonderful journey with Jamie and Bronn, so it wasn’t all bad. It’s certainly a murkier season; a little patience and attention is required to see how new plot developments fold into the show. But even with this in mind, when it comes to political intrigue, trashy tales, spectacular visuals, and emotional gut-punches, Game of Thrones still delivers.
THE PACKAGEOne word: sumptuous, from packaging to visual presentation to bonus features. The transfer is impeccable, detailed, textured, crisp. The package itself? Just look at this…
In addition to the episodes spread over 4 discs, there is a digital copy included. Scattered over the set are a host of extras;
- The Dance of Dragons – Hear the story of the Greens and the Blacks, the Targaryen civil war that led to the downfall of the dragons, featuring surprise narration from notable characters from past seasons.
- In-Episode Guide – Dig deeper into the show with this in-feature resource that provides background information about on-screen characters, locations, and relevant histories.
- Histories and Lore – Learn about the mythology of Westeros and Essos as told from the varying perspectives of the characters themselves in 14 history pieces. Select Histories feature illustrations from the show’s storyboard artist, Will Simpson.
- Anatomy of an Episode: Mother’s Mercy – From the early stages of the writer’s room to the final visual effects, see what went into creating “Mother’s Mercy,” the Emmy-winning episode fans will be talking about for years to come.
- The Real History Behind Game of Thrones – Watch historians, along with George R.R. Martin, explore the interweaving inspirations of the actual players in the era known as “The Wars of the Roses” and other historical events in this two-part series.
- Audio Commentaries – Twelve audio commentaries with cast and crew including David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Kit Harington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Iain Glen, Maisie Williams, Natalie Dormer, Gwendoline Christie, and more.
- Deleted Scenes – Four deleted scenes.
- A Day in the Life – Three countries, hundreds of cast & crew, one epic day. Get an inside look at the production process of Season 5.
- New Characters/New Locations – Explore the new societies, cultures and locations of Season 5.
Some of these are self explanatory; others we’ll dig into a little deeper. First up and perhaps the standout is The Dance of Dragons. The tale this animated feature (20 minutes runtime) tells will be familiar to readers of George R.R. Martin’s book, The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. It recounts the story of the Targaryen civil war, a time often speculated to be good material for a source series. Due to a conflict over who takes the throne, two fractured groups of Targaryens wage war on one another, not just throwing the houses of Westeros against each other but their dragons too. This bloody affair set in motion the eventual demise of this great dynasty. The animation is primarily static, drawn images with some small moving flourishes. It’s not overly elaborate but coupled to narration, provided by a host of Game of Thrones cast members both past and present, it is effective and entertaining.
Histories and Lore is a 40 minute feature (split into two parts) that looks at how real history, particularly Europe’s, has informed the creation of characters and plotlines on the show/in the books. Several historians and George RR Martin himself discuss the influence of the English War of the Roses, various Royals, the Black Dinner in Scotland inspiring the Red Wedding and more. As someone who was schooled in the UK it’s cool to be reminded of some history lessons and why some of the show’s characters seem so familiar.
Anatomy of an Episode -Mother’s Mercy crams a hell of a lot into its 30 minute runtime. It cuts together episode footage, interviews, and behind the scenes footage to show how the season finale was put together as well as the intentions behind certain creative choices. Viewers will see the rebuilding of Winterfell, the construction of the House of Black and White and wall of faces, how buildings and CGI are woven together as well as numerous filming tricks used to achieve the end result. A really insightful addition.
On top of all this is a wonderful “In-episode guide.” If activated, an unintrusive symbol pops up in the corner of the screen while playing an episode; clicking will bring up a small drop down menu allowing for selection of a refresher paragraph on characters, locations, or history connected to the scene currently playing. It’s a great addition and smoothly executed, like everything else in this release.
THE BOTTOM LINEIn its fifth season, Game of Thrones went very dark, many of the characters mired in the pits they had dug themselves into, reminding you of the harsh reality of this world and the grubby things people do to survive or thrive. A somber and gut punching affair, more challenging viewing yet no less engrossing. Add in its usual flair for the dramatic helped by some astounding visuals, a dry wit, and a cast at the top of their game, and the show has not only delivered once more but laid down solid foundations for the following seasons. It’s essential viewing and with this release, HBO has done the show justice and more. A Blu-ray truly fit for the Five Kings.
Game of Thrones Season 5 is available on Blu-ray and DVD March 15, 2016. Click here to find out how to enter to win a DVD set of Season 5!