Judge Clark Douglas has no interest in traveling north of the wall.
Our reviews of Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray) (published March 5th, 2012) and Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray) (published February 20th, 2013) are also available.
There is no shelter from the storm.
"Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder."
Facts of the Case
As the third season begins, war continues to rage across the kingdom of Westeros. King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson, Batman Begins) continues his tyrannical rule, though his savage whims are somewhat tempered by the fact that his unflappable grandfather Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance, Gosford Park) is now watching his every move. As for the other key members of the Lannister clan: Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Oblivion) is being dragged across the countryside in chains under the supervision of the tough, sturdy Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), Tyrion (Peter Dinklage, Lassie) is recovering from his battle wounds while negotiating his royal status with Tywin and Cersei (Lena Headey, Dredd) watches in fascination and horror as Joffrey continues to reveal himself as a monster.
The surviving members of the Stark clan are in even greater disarray. Rob Stark (Richard Madden, A Promise) continues devising plans to retake the throne, but Sansa (Sophie Turner, Another Me) lives in fear within the confines of Joffrey's castle while young Arya (Maisie Williams) tentatively aligns herself with a group of suspicious travelers. Matriarch Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley, The Others) continues making efforts to have her daughters returned to her, while her step-son Jon Snow (Kit Harington, Silent Hill: Revelation) attempts to make a new life for himself with his enemy-turned-lover Ygritte (Rose Leslie, Now is Good).
Elsewhere, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke, Spike Island) begins amassing considerable power as her dragons and forces grow larger. Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane, John Adams) licks his wounds after a major defeat in battle and plans to take full advantage of the witchcraft the sinister Melisandre (Carice Van Houten, Black Book) has offered him. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley, Anna Karenina) senses increasing tension within the ranks of The Night's Watch, and begins to wonder whether he'll survive much longer. Poor Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen, Atonement) has been imprisoned and is being tortured by a mysterious, sadistic figure. As always, all of this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Welcome back to Game of Thrones!
From the conclusion of its first season, Game of Thrones has established itself as one of the most merciless, masterful shows on television. Sure, nearly every pay cable drama places its characters in danger constantly, but Game of Thrones is the only one that manages to convince us that it might kill off anyone at any moment (even The Walking Dead feels conservative in contrast). While the second season was comparatively restrained in this department, spending much of its time moving chess pieces across the board, the hammer falls repeatedly in season three (despite the fact that this is the first season of the show that is only based on half of one of George R.R. Martin's sprawling novels). The series doesn't revel in its sadism: it genuinely has a great deal of empathy for its good-hearted characters, but it also refuses to pretend that goodness and survival have anything to do with each other.
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss stepped up their game with the dense-yet-propulsive second season, and they've once again delivered ten near-flawless episodes of television. Yes, there are bound to be plot strands you'll find more rewarding than others (I don't think anyone will particularly enjoy the prolonged scenes of Theon's torment, though they're effectively horrifying), but the showrunners have mastered the pacing and plotting of translating Martin's massive, unfinished epic to the small screen. It can feel as if the plot is inching forward one slow step at a time when you're watching it in weekly chunks, but watching the whole season in a shorter period of time reveals a real sense of forward momentum and a host of startling (yet always convincing) dramatic developments (I certainly found myself gasping at the conclusion of episode three…and four…and six…and seven…and nine…mercy, episode nine). As time has passed, Beniof and Weiss have only gotten better at determining when to set certain characters aside for a while and when to bring them back into the fold. Unlike certain shows that attempt to juggle every plot strand all at once (here's looking at you, True Blood), Game of Thrones doesn't permit its huge cast to become a burden (though Martin's source material significantly aids this by killing off important characters every so often).
This show is so superbly-cast from top to bottom, but let's praise a few of the most valuable players. Peter Dinklage's work as Tyrion is less entertaining than usual but no less impressive—the character is largely a broken, beaten-down man for much of the season, and Dinklage plays Tyrion's weary sadness beautifully. Charles Dance tends to tower over most of the scenes he appears in, his imperious demeanor often standing in sharp contrast to the more flippant attitudes of those around him. Maisie Williams takes Arya Stark to some interesting places this season, suggesting that there may be a murderous psychopath lurking within her—no surprise, given the psychological damage she's endured over the course of the show. The most-improved character is arguably Jaime Lannister, who becomes a good deal more complex due to the events he endures over the course of the season and finds himself transforming into something much more interesting than the smarmy villain he was in the show's earlier days. Though they're rarely quite at the center of the action, I never ceased to be impressed by the work Aiden Gillen (The Wire) and Conleth Hill (Whatever Works) do as two of the show's slipperiest characters: a dark conversation they share midway through the season is a memorable highlight. Also worthy of special recognition: Liam Cunningham's Davos, who suddenly finds himself serving as the show's moral compass (and becomes one of the most consistently imperiled characters as a result). Emilia Clarke takes some serious strides forward as an actress, too, faring impressively in some challenging scenes and enjoying a subplot that proves one of the season's most riveting strands (whereas her storyline last season was arguably the weak point).
Game of Thrones: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray) has received another knockout 1080p/1.78:1 transfer from the good folks at HBO. This really is the best-looking TV series available on home video, and HBO takes measures to ensure that quality by spreading the ten episodes across five discs (other shows would likely try to get by with three). The level of detail is simply stunning throughout, allowing viewers to soak in every nuance of the lavish production design. Every so often the CG will look just a little dodgy, but the special effects are generally better than anything else you'll see on the small screen. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is essentially perfect, too, fully immersing the viewer in the world of Westeros and giving your speakers a real workout during the action sequences. The rich, melodic score (which remains the finest work of Ramin Djawadi's career to date) simply soars, but never competes too much with the dialogue or sound design. It's a beautiful mix.
As usual, the supplemental package is quite generous. Every episode comes with an optional interactive in-episode guide, providing viewers with plenty of pop-up text tidbits and videos that further enhance one's knowledge of the world in which this tale is taking place. You also get a whopping twelve audio commentaries spread across nine episodes (the first installment is commentary-free) featuring assorted combinations of David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, George R.R. Martin, writers Vanessa Taylor and Bryan Cogman, directors Daniel Minahan, Alex Graves, Alik Sakharov, Michelle McLaren and David Nutter, actors Jack Gleeson, Natalie Dormer, Lena Headey, John Bradley, Diana Murray, Diana Rigg, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gwendoline Christie, Richard Madden, Michelle Fairley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke, Iain Glen, Iwan Rheon and Rose Leslie, production designer Gemma Jackson, costume designer Michele Clapton, weapons master Tommy Dunne, stunt coordinator Paul Herbert, assistant stunt coordinator David Forman and swordmaster C.C. Smiff. Whew! "The Rains of Castamere" also receives "The Rains of Castamere Unveiled," a picture-in-picture track that examines the making of that pivotal episode in impressive detail.
On top of all of that, you get a handful of featurettes: "A Gathering Storm" (14 minutes, though it's more of a recap of the previous two seasons than a making-of piece), "New Characters" (10 minutes), "Inside the Wildlings" (6 minutes) and "The Politics of Marriage" (9 minutes), some deleted scenes, two interactive guides ("Histories & Lore" and "Roots of Westeros"), a DVD copy and a digital copy. And the packaging is exceptionally attractive and sturdy, too—one of those HBO sets that takes up a lot of space but looks great on the shelf.
Now that Breaking Bad has concluded its run, I can say without any hesitation that Game of Thrones is the finest show on television. It gets more assured and gripping with each season, and never fails to leave me simultaneously satisfied and wanting more. If they can maintain this level of quality for the duration of the run, it'll be a legendary achievement, indeed. Bravo!
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