Game of Thrones: The Complete Third Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) – The first two seasons of HBO’s lavish series, faithfully and intelligently adapted from George R.R. Martin’s epic cycle of fantasy novels with a medieval flavor, broke company sales records, displacing True Blood as their top seller and showing the strength of TV on disc. (I know, I know, it’s not TV. It’s HBO.) Season three looks poised to continue the run, thanks to an increasingly complex storyline, dramatic shifts in direction, and a little social event called The Red Wedding. As any fan will tell you, the ninth episode of each ten episode season is the game-changer, the moment in the storyline where the most dramatic events upend all expectations. This season, it was The Red Wedding and it that became the most talked-about TV moment of 2013.
That’s one of the things that has earned this show a devoted fan base. Though it is technically a fantasy (this is a world where magic, dragons, and zombie armies exist), Game of Thrones plays like a medieval historical drama embroiled in a civil war with an increasing number of players staking their claim to the throne, complicated alliances, and betrayals galore. The story has sprawled all over the map by this season but at the center of it all is the war between the families Lannister (who hold throne with the increasingly tyrannical teenage King Joffrey) and Stark (once loyal allies to the Lannister clan), while the odyssey of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her dragons through the barbarian lands presents a threat at least as serious as the creatures beyond The Wall.
It is lavishly produced—it has the canvas of a feature film, thanks to amazing locations and set and superb special effects—and features a fine cast of actors, but it is the compelling, densely woven story and the vivid, complicated characters and conflicts that keep viewers coming back to the series. It’s amazing how our sympathies shift as characters face new situations (like Jamie Lannister and his loyalty to Brienne, for instance). And because it’s exclusive to pay cable, there are those who just wait for the disc release to catch up, either in marathon viewings or carefully doled out to extend the experience.
Ten episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on nine of the ten episodes (three of them with multiple tracks) by the producers, writers, directors, actors and other members of the team, interactive “In-Episode” guides for each episode, a picture-in-picture video commentary track for the episode “The Rains of Cashmere” (yes, the Red Wedding episode), plus featurettes, deleted scenes, and guides to the mythology, history, and tangled family tree of characters and clans of the show. The Blu-ray edition also includes bonus DVD and digital copies of every episode. The fourth season begins on HBO in April.