Get ready for the Battle of Blackwater Bay
Season Two Review
The stakes are even higher in the second season of Game of Thrones as five kings battle for the right to rule Westeros.King Joffrey may now sit on the Iron Throne but he's going to have to fight to keep it. There are plenty of other pretenders for his crown, some with a more legitimate claim than Joffrey and most are a damn sight nicer. There's Robb Stark, the self proclaimed 'King of the North', although he's so busy fighting the Lannisters that he might just lose it to Baylon Greyjoy, the 'King of the Iron Islands'. There's Stannis and Renly Baratheon, brothers to the dead king and technically Joffrey's uncles. They both feel they have a claim to the throne, especially given Joffrey's questionable parentage and Stannis in particular is prepared to go to any lengths to claim what he feels is rightfully his. Meanwhile the remnants of the Night's Watch head north looking for evidence of White Walkers and Mance Rayder - the 'King beyond the Wall'.All the while, as civil war rages across Westeros, on the other side of the Narrow Sea, Daenerys and her dragons grow in strength. Some of the best scenes in the second season revolve around Daenerys, as she gradually matures into a queen to be reckoned with. The second season closely follows the second book - A Clash of Kings - retaining all the key elements and mainly just condensing some of the many characters. The result is a sophomore effort that is as good as, if not better than the first, bringing back our favourite surviving characters and introducing some new ones. The events of the second season will go a long way towards shaping the rest of the series and as the game of thrones continues all roads lead the season finale and the epic Battle of Blackwater Bay. It is, of course, unmissable.
Picture QualityThe transfer for the second season of Game of Thrones is just as stunning as it was for first, with a top-notch 1080p AVC video encode in the correct 1.78:1 aspect ratio. As good as season 1 was, it's clear that even more meticulous effort went into the CG in this season. Once again, the stark contrast in location is represented with unique grading and colour palette choices. Winterfell and the North is typically grey and bleak, while King's Landing is an arrid red and orange hue. It doesn't stop there, with plenty of varying locations this time round, and each flaunting it's own visual stamp. Of course, the stand out location is Harrenhall. It looks grim. Stunning, but very grim. Absolutely perfectly replicated from the books. Contrast is also excellent, giving the image great depth, whilst the fine detail is absolutely flawless.
It's another reference transfer from HBO, with Game of Thrones putting some movies to shame.
Skin tones are incredibly well rendered and the scenes shot “beyond the wall” in Iceland put a whole new dimention on what it means to be cold. Icicles hang from the Lord Commanders mammoth-like beard, and sway in front of Sam Tarley's eyes like acrobats hanging from his eyebrows. However, it would be impossible for me to complete this picture quality review without making mention of the stand-out episode in the whole series. Fear not, I will give no spoilers here, but the Blackwater episode redefines the entire series when it explodes onto the screen. It's epic, and it's both beautiful and terrifying. It's clearly where the majority of the CG budget went, and was the show's most expensive episode to date. When you get to episode nine, you're certainly in for a tense, edge of your seat hour-long rollercoaster ride.
Sound QualityThe initial Blu-ray release of the second season of Game of Thrones boasted a superb DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround audio track that was near perfect. In fact, I say “near” perfect, but the truth is I could literally find no fault with it at all. The dialogue was crystal clear and never once unintelligible. The high frequencies were present throughout and will give your tweeters a bit of a work out. If you have the speakers to handle it though, you're in for a treat – the highs are scintillating. Low end is deep where necessary, and never muddies the mix, or dips the dialogue beyond audible ranges. Dynamic range is used to an incredible extent, and it creates an amazing impact. Everything has plenty of room to breathe.
The surround array will get a pretty good run-in too, with plenty of elements stretching their legs over the rears. Everything sounds like it has it's place in the mix and nothing bleeds in a noticeable way. Ramin Djawadi's epic score has, for me, become one of the finest soundtracks for a TV series I've ever heard, and the mix here in season two elevates it even further. Once again, the stand-out moment arrives in episode nine, this is when your speakers will show their quality. Try to time it so that you watch episode nine when you can really crank it up, sit back, and be enveloped by the silky and ridiculously heavy sounding Battle of Blackwater Bay. All in all, the original soundtrack was excellent in every way.
You haven't heard the Battle of Blackwater Bay until you've heard it in Dolby Atmos!
Game of Thrones has been breaking records since it was first aired but with the steelbook re-release of the first season on Blu-ray it passed a new milestone by becoming the first TV series ever to be mixed in Dolby Atmos. If you don't have Dolby Atmos capabilities then don't worry because you can still enjoy the core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack, although for some reason the discs default to their Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack when first loaded. We tested the new soundtrack using a full Dolby Atmos setup with a 7.2.4 speaker configuration that consisted of three front speakers, four surrounds, four overhead speakers and two subwoofers. As with the first season, this new Dolby Atmos mix is a revelation, elevating what was already a superb sound design to another level.
The added overhead channels and the object-based design of the mix simply give every scene a greater sense of environment, it's as if the walls of the room just disappear and you are standing on the frozen wastes of the north or down in the bustling streets of King's Landing. The addition of dragons is a sound designer's dream and they take full advantage of the added dimensionality of Dolby Atmos to breathe life into Deanerys's 'children'. However it's the Battle of Blackwater Bay where the sound design goes for broke, filling the soundstage with massive explosions, raining debris, flying arrows and clashing swords. The lower frequencies get a serious workout but in amongst the chaos of war, the dialogue and music always remain clear. The new Dolby Atmos soundtrack is a triumph of audio design and simply makes the best show on TV even better.
ExtrasThe steelbook re-release of the second season features brand new box art designed by Elastic, the agency responsible for the Emmy Award-winning opening credits of Game of Thrones, and includes useable magnets on the packaging. The design features King's Landing, where the King sits on the Iron Throne and the magnet is the lion sigil of House Lannister.
Dragon Eggs - as you watch each episode, these clever little guides track the onscreen action and offer information relevant to the characters, locations, histories that are onscreen at the time.
Pretty self explanatory really. Running commentary on each episode by various members of the cast and crew. Each episode gets a commentary, with episodes nine and ten getting two a piece.
In total, about 16 minutes of the actors discussing their characters and where they fit in with the story. Filmed on set, most of the information is pretty obvious, but its an interesting glimpse at how each of the actors managed to understand so much about their character – something the series' success is attributable to.
War of the Five Kings
An extremely slick interactive environment that provides a huge amount of detail on the happenings of Game of Thrones. Examine Balon Greyjoy's battle plans in depth, peruse over Robb Stark, the King in the North's many lands and pledged bannermen, or pour over plans for Joffrey's defence of the Iron Throne. This interactive map is actually extremely informative, and very interesting indeed. Again, it may prove more interesting to those who have read the books moreso than those who haven't, purely because of the background insight the books offer. Some of the information here might seem slightly confusing otherwise.
Histories and Lore
These appear to be the same as the In-Episode Histories. All unlocked here though, so you can browse through plenty of audio tracks of the characters explaining histories and backgrounds to their lives. All set to the stylistic comic book visuals, these really are a great watch. Each of them seem to be around the five minute mark or less, but with Nineteen of them here to play through, it's going to take you the better part of an hour or so to get through. Well worth it though. Information regarding the wall, the warlocks of Qarth, The Free Cities, Harrenhal and The Nights Watch, there's large amounts of information to get your teeth stuck into.
Creating the Battle of Blackwater Bay
A 30 minute featurette that looks at the epic Battle of Blackwater Bay. It disects the complexity that Neil Marshal, the director of the episode, faced while trying to pull the set piece together. Heavily green-screened, this was no mean feat to pull off. An interesting watch, and one I'm sure you'll jump to straight away once you watch Episode Nine.
Game of Thrones: Inner Circle
This is a 25 minute round table discussion between Actors Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Kit Harrington (Jon Snow), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark) and Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth), and David Benioff (Executive Producer/Writer) & D.B. Weiss (Executive Producer/Writer) where they discuss their experiences of shooting season two of Game of Thrones. It's remarkable to see the actors all interacting with each other in this way, you almost expect them to hate each other in real life. Sadly, things don't come to blows, but we do get a great cross section of each of the characters thoughts and ideas, which goes some way to making up for the lack of fisty cuffs. Listening to them chat about their roles had me chuckling away on numerous occasions. One thing you can take away from this if nothing else, is confirmation that Lena Headey is a bit of a weirdo.
The Religions of Westeros
Finally there's an 8 minute featurette in which Author of a Song of Fire and Ice, George R.R. Martin and show helmers D.B Wiess and David Benioff discuss how religion influences the goings on in Westeros and other lands. Quite a hefty piece to watch despite the depth of knowledge about the lore of Westrossi Religion it offers up.
Blu-ray VerdictHeads will roll, battle will be fought, schemes will be plotted, and power moves will be made. The second series of arguably the most popular show around at the moment does not disappoint. It's full of everything we would expect, including treachery, backstabbing and political game-playing, only with this game, if you play, you either win or die. Once again the creators of the show have done the novels justice, and for that we can all be thankfull. So rich and diverse are the characters and environments, that to bring them all together is a collosal job to take on.
This Blu-ray release is the perfect combination of content, picture, sound and extras.
It's with immense praise that we can sit back and marvel at the monumental achievement here, and the Blu-ray package is no less impressive. It's absolutely everything that a good Blu-ray package should be. Incredible sound that now includes Dolby Atmos, fantastic visual fidelity, absolutely ridiculous amount of extras on offer, it's extremely tough to find fault with. The only Blu-ray purchase you should be looking to before this one, is season one. Absolutely fantastic, and certainly one you'll be recommending to friends, family and even strangers for the rest of the year.
You can buy Game of Thrones Season 2 on Blu-ray here
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