NB. This review relates to the US Blu-Ray release.
HBO puts a lot of thought and effort into how it presents its programmes. When you buy something from HBO, they will have spared no expense in making it the best possible viewing experience for the person who bothers to buy physical media. I’m the sort of person who likes having physical copies of the things I want to watch on hand, just in case the internet goes out or my various streaming services drop the thing I want to watch, but HBO sees fit to reward the purchasing of discs by presenting those discs in the best possible way with the best possible special features. Bang for your buck is HBO’s motto, and from the moment you put the first disc into the player, that’s evident.
The selection menu is once again an awesome, stirring montage of moments and characters from the fourth season, including the Martells, Littlefinger and Sansa, flapping banners and the pattern of the Stark wolf, the Wildlings, lots of great moments from the show’s fourth season presented in dramatic fashion with a great remixed version of the theme music playing behind it. It’s nice to just let the opening montage play and then try to remember just where all these things happened in the season (or I guess to do it in reverse and watch the montage then have that moment of recognition during the episodes itself). The Lannisters, the Tyrells, the battle with the Mountain… all the best moments are hinted at, promising an awesome viewing experience inside.
As always, the special features bend over backwards to make the show accessible to casual viewers who aren’t quite as invested in the world as they perhaps should be. A guide to the new characters and new locations features prominently on the very first disc of the series, as well as a guide to the bastards of Westeros. There’s the welcome return of the In-Episode guide on the Blu-rays that provides a lot of helpful information, and once again it’s an awesome feature worth investing in the physical media for. There’s also a good catch-up guide for Season 3 for those who don’t have the time to catch up before diving into the latest adventures.
That’s one of the interesting new angles of the fourth season. The In-Episode guide now features character callbacks. Have you forgotten who Alliser Thorne is? There’s a guide for that. If you’ve forgotten just who Janos Slynt is, there’s a guide for that too. Once again, the characters themselves narrate the guides in character; that’s particularly effective in the sense of, say, the Magnar of Thenn speaking of the tribes of the North and the frost giants. Those living history lessons, on famous men of the Kingsguard or of the various houses and kingdoms of Westeros, enrich the world that much more and provide some much-needed filling-in for this very rich universe with lore stretching back hundreds of in-universe years. It’s a great way to supplement your knowledge of the kingdom, fill in some of the back stories, and avoid looking up potential spoilers while trying to figure out what in the world a Magnar is.
The colour and sound of the Blu-ray is spectacular. With a good player and good cables, the picture and the sound is as good as anything ever captured on television. Having watched this season via the magic of satellite television, I got a very good picture—better than my old cable picture was barring a few problems related to wind and inclement weather—but this, again, surpasses it. The blacks are rich and velvety, and the delicate use of light and shadow really pops in the scenes (and mirrors the packaging of the discs themselves, decorated as they are with moody black and white pictures of the faces of the cast with a bit of a red wash).
The only thing that’s a step down from last year is the packaging. Gone are the dragons, replaced with a glossy black crow with blade wings on a matte black slipcover. The fold-out case looks nice, and the discs are very easy to remove and replace, which is a great thing to say about any physical media purchase these days. I would have liked something as lovely as the dragons, but it’s what’s on the inside that really counts. The packaging might not be as pretty, but it’s sturdy and will look good on the shelf.
If you’re interested in purchasing the digital copy of Game Of Thrones‘ fourth season, don’t bother. As per usual, the physical copy comes with digital files available for download, too. There’s either the iTunes version or the UltraViolet version of things, depending on your preference, and as I’ve said before, physical is pretty much my choice when it’s available. As always, HBO put a lot of special features onto the discs, and if you’re at all interested in cast roundtables, behind-the-scenes stuff, gag reels, and generally fleshing out the world of Westeros, you won’t go wrong here.
Game Of Thrones season 4 is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is thrilled by the knowledge that Game of Thrones is returning by this time in April. He could not recommend this Blu-ray set highly enough for fans of the series who want to see it in its full glory. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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