- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2012

While HBO’s adult-themed epic fantasy series returns with new episodes next month, the first season, Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season (HBO Home Video, rated TV-MA, $79.98), arrives on Blu-ray to tempt new viewers and deliver some deconstructive extras for fans.

Writer George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga comes to oppressive life in a beautifully acted, 10-episode story arc covering the first book of the series and introducing the seven noble houses of the expansive Westeros.

The plot concentrates on the instability of King Robert Baratheon’s reign as the Hatfields and McCoys of Westeros — the Starks and Lannisters — duke it out for the control of the lands.

Middle Earth fanciers unfamiliar with the original source material (and not afraid of some sexually risque scenes) will find an easy-to-appreciate, gritty drama. The series is loaded with complex characters mostly grounded in the reality of a difficult, medieval lifestyle and features an assortment of rogues and heroes with just a hint of fantastical creatures thrown in.

Cast standouts include Sean Bean as Eddard Stark (patriarch of the Stark family); Lena Headey as the despicable, evil Queen Cersei (a nasty Lannister); Emilia Clarke as the dragon queen, Daenerys Targaryen; and Emmy winner Peter Dinklage as the conniving dwarf Tyrion Lannister, who often carries entire scenes with his wit and powerful presence.

Sean Bean as Eddard Stark in the Blu-ray release "Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season." (Courtesy HBO Home Video)
Sean Bean as Eddard Stark in the Blu-ray release “Game of Thrones: ... more >

The big-budgeted series presents some expansive set design and care in costume detail akin to John Boorman’s “Excalibur,” which makes for must viewing in high definition.

Best extras:HBO takes full advantage of Mr. Martin’s riveting stories to provide viewers with an exhaustive interactive resource on the Blu-ray set to learn about the history and culture of his imaginative universe.

Called the “Complete Guide to Westeros,” this menu-driven extra resides on all five discs and delivers a rich compendium tied to the lands, houses and histories and lore of the books and TV series.

Through navigation using a Blu-ray player’s controller, screens present text, narrated and animated illustrations (the most basic of motion comics), stained-glass storyboards and maps on dozens of topics.

For example, in “History of the Night’s Watch,” viewers can learn about the group of misfit soldiers tasked with guarding a wall of ice 700 feet high and 300 miles long through some gorgeous black-and-white, slightly animated illustrations narrated by the characters (the actual actors) from the series, including Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, Maester Luwin and Tywin Lannister.

Detail also quickly becomes encyclopedic within a breakdown of the houses with an introduction to their legacy, and then bios on family members, servants, small folk and nobles, or while reading Lands with its maps and text tied to many key locations.

It is a glorious supplement that flexes some of the Blu-ray’s technological might and educates the interested viewer through hours of exploration.

Additionally, each episode of the series offers an interactive experience tied to a banner on the right side of the screen. The banner slides open and contains clickable icons to characters (text bios appear for those currently on screen), location (a text entry) history (about two dozen chunks from the compendium) or immediate access to the Complete Guide. Yes, there is much overlap of information from the guide, but it allows a more bite-sized attack when exploring the complexities of the mythology.

Read all about it: Dynamite Entertainment offers a monthly sequential-art adaptation of the first book of the series, scripted by fantasy author Daniel Abraham and illustrated by Tommy Patterson. Look for either single issues of A Game of Thrones ($3.99 each) or grab the trade paperback ($25) later in March that will compile the first six issues.