After the success of the Season 1 & 2 re-releases of Game of Thrones in steelbook format last year, now come Seasons 3 & 4. Redesigned artwork, slimmed down design, what’s not to like about another effort to turn physical media into a more collectable item to combat the growing popularity of the mythical cloud and streaming services?
After Season 3’s Red Wedding blew the plotlines apart as well as the fragile minds of the viewers, the unstoppable narrative continues to slather on the misery and shock. With the good guys practically obliterated, Season 4 confirmed Game of Thrones was not going to be any kinder. Karma is non-existent in Westeros. The bad guys rise to the top and keep consolidating their power. You finally hit the point where you really think there may not be any justice or victory for the good guys, if there really is such a thing in this show. The one exception being the small matter on the most hated character on the show getting his comeuppance. Joyous scenes at the Purple Wedding giving way to murder and thunderous celebrations across the US that I still recall today.
D.B. Weiss, David Benioff and the whole writing team honed their tricks learnt from previous seasons to expertly pace the stories, drop in on the ever expanding roll of characters, and advance the overall themes while allowing for intimate moments with the whole main cast. What’s most impressive here is that the bulk of the material for the season is drawn from books 4 and 5 of George R.R. Martin’s ever expanding opus, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, Crows being notable for some meandering and uneventful plotlines and both books mildly hamstrung by geography, each novel dealing with a select group of characters, chronologically concurrent but kept separate. Merging them back into a unified stories has brought harmony to the Martin’s sprawling and unwieldy narrative. Except Dorne, we all know that’s been a bit of a clunker. Save the Red Viper of course. Besides that, we get the eventual clash of Wildlings and the Night’s Watch, Daenerys unleashing her forces to seize Mereen, the Boltons seizing the North and the trial of Tyrion Lannister, blamed for the events of last season’s Red Wedding.
THE PACKAGELike the majority of HBO releases, this Blu-ray is a doozy. Crisp images, excellent detail and a throughly slick presentation. Be it the dark foreboding lands of the North or the sun kissed sands of Dorne, the picture quality is superb. The discs are essentially the same as the original release, containing all the previous extras.
There are eleven audio commentaries featuring showrunners Weiss and Benioff, author/writer George R.R. Martin and a revolving array of other talent, frequently cast members pertinent to the specific episode. Histories & Lore continues the trend of the Blu-ray releases for the show having extra little animated segments to elaborate information on topics as varied as Dragons, The Kingsguard and The Iron Bank of Braavos. Another 15 are offered up here. Also returning is the In-Episode Guide, an interactive in-epsiode encyclopedia offering up more details on “Characters”, “Locations” and “Histories” as episodes play. A very rich and very slickly integrated feature.
The Politics of Power is a concise (25 minute runtime) but efficiently put together recap of the preceding season 3 and into season 4. New Characters and Locations is a quick refresher on all those new faces brought in this year while Bastards of Westeros has showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and author George R.R. Martin discuss how bastards like Jon Snow and Ramsay Snow fit into the hierachy of Westerosi society. The most significant extra is Behind the Battle for the Wall, a nearly 50 minute look at the The Watchers on the Wall, an episode that due to the action content proved a mammoth undertaking… pun intended. It includes information on the script, production design, VFX and action choreography, a really insightful featurette.
The Fallen: A Roundtable is a 30 minute conversation hosted by co-producer/writer Bryan Cogman bringing together 7 cast members who had their final appearance in this season. It’s a fascinating and at times hilarious look into how the cast interact and view the show themselves as well as how the production comes together. Rounded things off are two short Deleted Scenes, also present is an incredibly short Blooper Reel. Finally, the Blu-ray comes updated to include Dolby Atmos technology and includes a digital HD copy for download.
The major difference in this release is the actual packaging. 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 4 showcases Castle Black and the towering ice wall; the magnet is a replica of Longclaw, the sword wielded by Jon Snow. Check out pictures below of the release.
THE BOTTOM LINEOnce again HBO has put together a release more loaded than a Lannister. A handsome, streamlined packaging, a plethora of extras and superb quality visuals doing justice to a fantastic season of one of the best shows currently on TV. The best way to rewatch that moment from the Purple Wedding over and over again!
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 3 release.