Physical media is being supplanted by the cloud, digital streaming and other manner of ethereal ways to bring film and TV to your screens. Or so they say. While sales of Blu-rays are down, it seems to have ignited a fervor among people determined to keep actual tangible copies of their favorite pieces of entertainment, likewise it has stirred efforts by companies such as Criterion, Shout Factory and Twilight Time to up their game and make their releases more of a collector’s piece. The Steelbook phenomena has also fed into this and after the success of the Season 1 & 2 re-release last year, now come Seasons 3 & 4.
Season 3 was widely regarded as the best the show has offered up, perhaps until now as Season 6 continues to impress with its astonishing pace and rate of plot development that makes previous seasons look uneventful. There was a step up in the writing, production design, budget and consequently overall scale. In the aftermath of the Battle of the Blackwater at the end of season 2, the show could only go bigger. Like the third book in the Song of Fire and Ice series, season 3 pulls few punches. It is a heart wrenching, vicious time where the good guys rally and then get smacked back down in the most brutal way imaginable.
The show added more characters and locations effortlessly without losing the focus or pace. The Tyrells’ influence was expanded, and we were introduced to the magnificent Queen of Thorns (all hail Dame Diana Rigg!), Daenerys continues to snowball her way across the continent of Essos collecting armies and suitors, we get the quite brilliant first pairing of Arya and The Hound and north of the wall, Jon and Ygritte’s relationship starts to thaw. This is a season that was incredibly cohesive and yet provided some memorable individual moments both comedic and dramatic that have and will continue to define the show. *Cough Red Wedding *cough.
THE PACKAGEImage quality is outstanding. Deep blacks, vibrant colors, crisp details and textures. HBO really know how to put together a Blu-ray. A significant addition is that of Dolby Atmos, a new type of surround that targets sound and music to specific areas of the room. I WISH I had a setup that would allow me to express an opinion on it, but I don’t. The discs are essentially the same as the original release, containing all the previous extras, which are seriously extensive.
Audios commentaries are present for all episodes (excluding the season opener), typically featuring actors that have prominent roles in the episodes they record for. Producers, writers, directors and showrunners Benioff and Weiss also contribute. They’re often entertaining and frequently insightful additions. A In-Episode Guide provides an interactive database to access during viewing that offers up information on characters, places and backstory of what comes onscreen. It’s a deftly executed addition and is likely a great help to those having trouble keeping up with the sprawling scope of the show.
A Gathering Storm is a featurette that recaps all the political maneuvering that has built up to the events of Season 3, intercutting scenes from past episodes as well as interviews with the cast. Believe it or not, but New Characters gives a little introduction to the new cast additions this season including Olenna Tyrell, Missandei, Mance Rayder, Tormund Giantsbane, Jojen and Meera Reed, Thoros of Myr, and Beric Dondarrion amongst others. The Rains of Castamere Unveiled is a lengthy (nearly 50 minutes) featurette that serves as an accompaniment to The Rains of Castamere, the infamous episode that showed the events of the Red Wedding. It can screen as a “picture in picture” presentation with the episode and adds insights via cast and crew contributions to this episode that elicited a collecting “FUUUUCK” from the populace.
There are five deleted/extended scenes that are solid, although no commentary is added to offer explanation for their excision. The traditional Histories & Lore animated segments are present, always a snappy and interesting addition, this time looking at 15 Houses, Characters or Locations featured in Season 3. Roots of Westeros is similar to Gathering Storm, looking at the way certain Houses are entwined in both alliances and feuds. Inside the Wildlings is an on set look at the people north of the Wall with input given by cast and crew. Finally, The Politics of Marriage examines marriage as a political tool in the show and past civilizations. All these features are both entertaining and insightful and represent a benchmark by which other releases should aspire to, very nicely done. The show has also been updated to include the aforementioned Dolby Atmos technology and includes a digital HD copy for download.
The major difference in this release is the actual packaging: a slim Steelbook that looks rather elegant on the shelf, although getting discs out is a little tricky. One of the most memorable visuals in Game of Thrones is the exquisite Emmy Award-winning opening sequence. Elastic, the design agency responsible for this, was recruited to head up the package for these collector editions. Each release showcases a location pertinent to that season as well as a magnet to signify a notable House sigil or representative symbol from the show. Season 3 showcases the Twins, the seat of House Frey and the magnet their sigil. Check out pictures below of the packaging.
THE BOTTOM LINESeason 3 was when Game of Thrones really hit its stride. An impressively executed run of episodes that contain some of the most memorable moments in the series so far. If you’re a fan of the show, and don’t already own it, this handsome re-release, brimming with special features is a must buy.
Game of Thrones Seasons 3 & 4 Steelbook Collectors Editions are available June 7th, 2016 from HBO Home Entertainment
Check out our review of the Season 4 release.