There’s nothing quite like the feeling of buying a new boxed set. Just something about the act of opening that plastic wrap feels like anticipation. Once the wrapper is off, the very act of opening the latest collection of Game Of Thrones from HBO feels like an event. With every little flip of the gatefold package or the slide of the plastic cover from around the discs, the anticipation for what may be the most ambitious season of Game Of Thrones builds.
Ambitious is a great catch-all phrase to describe Game Of Thrones, and the features on this particular season’s home video release go into great detail about just how hard it is to make a show of this magnitude work with a variety of fun behind-the-scenes features. There are a lot of angles to approach the show from, and the special features provide a lot of opportunities to learn just how much effort goes into creating it.
One of my favorite special features is “A Day In The Life”, which looks at one of the 240 shooting days that goes into crafting a season of Game Of Thrones. It’s a look at the production process of the show, detailing just how complex an affair it is to manage two active film crews on opposite sides of Europe. While filming takes place in Ireland and Croatia, the Croatian crew is also preparing to travel across a continent to film in Spain, where they’ll head two weeks after filming wraps in the protected UNESCO World Heritage Site the Old City of Dubrovnik to shoot in the Alcazar of Seville, a royal palace and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. I can’t imagine the amount of legal hurdles the production crew of Game Of Thrones had to clear to film in these places, but the technical hurdles are arduous enough: the camera equipment had to be wheeled through the streets of Dubrovnik, and cranes were needed to bring equipment into the former royal palace, with platforms built to support said equipment. All the while filming takes place in one location, building takes place in another location, and actors, producers, and crew members are flying back and forth to make sure everything works out just as it should.
That attention to detail comes through in the making of a single episode. Another great behind-the-scenes feature is a walk-through of the making of the last episode of season 5, Mother’s Mercy. The “Anatomy Of An Episode” feature goes through the production of the episode, from the writers’ room to post-production, but it’s the special effects features that prove to be most interesting. It’s amazing to see just how much practical work goes into creating an episode of Game Of Thrones, and how seamlessly the CGI is integrated into the live action portions. Some sets, like Winterfell, are complete locations built from the ground up. Other places integrate real locations—the home of the High Sparrow is a former convent—with added CGI backgrounds and backdrops, courtesy of some very clever green screens and build-outs in real places. If that’s not enough background information, there are a staggering 12 commentary tracks to listen to.
Game Of Thrones is one of the most expensive shows ever produced for television, and it looks it. That care taken in preproduction leads to a great viewing experience. The scenes are crisp, the blacks are luxuriously inky. The sound is crisp, even through my inferior flat-screen speakers, and the balance is good with background noise rarely overwhelming the spoken dialogue. The backdrop CGI is incredibly well done, and upon review, the blending CGI on Cersei’s walk of shame is much better than I remember it to be, though I don’t think it’s been smoothed out after the episode aired originally.
In addition to these new features, some familiar features are back. The animated features about the history and lore of the Game Of Thrones world are beautiful as always, providing some enthralling background. The longer feature on the war between the Green and the Black Targaryens was wonderful, almost long enough to be a stand-alone animated special, with great voice-over from some long-missed former friends who may be dead in Westeros, but who live on in our hearts. The standout In-Episode guides remain. If fictional history isn’t enough, there’s a great two-part feature on the real-world inspirations for George R. R. Martin’s characters from England’s infamous War of the Roses, as well as other random folks drawn in from other parts of history to flesh out Martin’s unique world.
As always, the Game Of Thrones boxed set is phenomenal, and if you have a proper Blu-ray player, the only way to consume the episodes are on physical media. Of course, like most media these days, it comes with a downloadable copy you can get through your provider of choice (iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and Flixster), but after watching the episode in HD on a big screen, it wouldn’t be much fun to watch it on a telephone or tablet screen. Still, it’s always a nice option to have, and I will definitely be redeeming it.
I’m not sure how the minds at HBO keep one-upping their stellar home video releases, and yet they do. More features, more extras, more of what people like myself want when they pay for physical media. It looks good on the shelf, and it looks better on the screen.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is thrilled by the knowledge that Game of Thrones is returning within the month. 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.
Game Of Thrones season 5 is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital release.