Game of Thrones is a special kind of television phenomenon. It is very rare that a piece of popular media so inaccessibly entrenched in the fantasy genre can inspire love from mainstream audiences that would normally roll their eyes at the words “dragon”, “giant” or “black magic”. Now, nearly a year after the premier of its epic fourth season, it’s time to celebrate the brutal spectacle and awe inspiring magic of Game of Thrones with the release of a blu-ray set tailored to make fans of all types go purple in the face (in a good way).
The Blu-ray set for the fourth season of Game of Thrones is a victory dance for HBO. The fantasy TV series is immensely popular, and as a result, many fans already have the show’s fourth season to watch at their leisure. Game of Thrones was not only the most pirated TV show of 2014, with over 8.1 million fans downloading it to their hard drives, but HBO has gone a long way in making its most beloved show available to the masses. If its not secretly stored on a laptop or USB drive, Game of Thrones is available to watch for HBO subscribers either through an On-Demand channel or on a PVR.
And yet, despite the fact that most people reading this can go watch Game of Thrones right now, the Blu-ray is still worth the investment, if for nothing else than it’s best special feature: the In-Episode Guide.
Unlike other TV series on Blu-ray and DVD, Game of Thrones deepens the experience of watching the show as a fan of the actual story. Supplemental material has been created specifically for this set so that viewers can become better acquainted with the fictional realm that they are obsessed with. Through the In-Episode Guide – a real time menu that can be turned on when watching the show – all of this supplemental content is curated and made available when it’s most relevant to what you’re watching.
The In-Episode Guide content can be extremely helpful for casual fans, viewers who haven’t read the books or experts that are curious about a plot discrepancy between the Westeros on the page and the one on their screen. Character blurbs can be accessed for every player in screen, a map and description of the current setting can be accessed, and tidbits of history and lore can make the experience near-literary in its depth.
The last of these is what truly shines in the Blu-ray set. Though much of the lore and history entries are written and will direct the more curious viewer to a full screen of text while pausing the episode, fifteen particularly important bits of mythos are given an impressive treatment. Each of the special entries are presented as an original character monologue by a cast member played overtop of a nifty illustrated motion graphic.
Pycell gives a history of dragons in Westeros, Jorah espouses on Valyrian Steel, Qyburn explains the symbolism of the Maester’s chain and Oberyn Martell teaches about poisons, his house and the Dornish view of Robert Baratheon’s rebellion against the Targaryens. Samwell, Bronn and Jamie all have their turn at this as does series one-time guest star Mark Gatiss, who plays Iron Bank boss Tycho Nestoris. The information contained therein expands the universe of the show in a way that allows for much better understanding of the on-screen drama, while the original art and performance keeps your disbelief suspended while you take your two to five minute detour from the current episode.
All of this is to say, the Game of Thrones season four Blu-ray stands out for offering something creative, well produced and useful for fans who have no interest in the standard home entertainment making-of featurettes or listening to running commentary.
The featurettes and commentary are here though, and while not as essential as the In-Episode Guide, they are still about as good as each can get. Every episode except for “Breaker of Chains” gets at least one commentary track, and each bonus audio option has a unique group of participants so that if you’re not into the shop talk of visual effects people, maybe you’ll enjoy a watch-a-long with Stark sisters Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams or a track of novelist George R.R. Martin explaining his thoughts on the Purple Wedding.
In fact, the one thing I’m left wanting after a thorough exploration of the season four Blu-ray is more Martin. For all the discs’ featurettes – which include a full length documentary on the season’s siege episode, a round table with the actors who played characters that died this season and a short blooper reel – the best is a tiny piece in which George R. R. Martin and showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff explain the role of bastards in the Song of Ice and Fire world. Martin is compelling when he talks about his creation, and having more of his voice would make for great additional show content.
Of course, as you always get with the standard home entertainment extras, there is plenty of self-congratulation in between neat factoids, but that’s to be expected. For every moment of discovery, there is another of flattery, sometimes two if an actor is talking to a director. Game of Thrones is such a large show though, and the personalities of those who work on it are so diverse, that the occasional gushing feels warranted, especially when you hear some of the anecdotes that illustrate just how much work goes into some of season four’s longer scenes.
The Game of Thrones : The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray set, thanks mostly to the In-Episode Guide, is recommendable even to people who already have access to all of the episodes. The presentation is top notch, and you already know if you love the show, so if you’re looking for something to spin in your Blu-ray player this is it.
No other home entertainment set has been crafted with so much good intent towards its audience. Whether you’re one of the fans who obsesses over tiny production details, among the crowd of newbs who doesn’t understand why the Maesters wear all that garbage around their necks, or just someone who wants a well presented way to relive some truly amazing fantasy genre storytelling, this is as good as you can hope for so join the celebration.