Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season

I saw the Thrones pilot a few weeks before it aired last April, and liked it just enough to want to see if it got any better. Not having the channel at home, I had to wait for the home-video release of the first season, which now is here in HBO’s usual top-notch packaging.

The problem — and it is a problem, even for the proverbial choir — is accessibility. Being based on a novel that numbers upward of 700 pages, the freshman year has no shortage of characters, kingdoms and plot lines, so crunching that into a running time just shy of 10 hours would be a highly daunting task for anyone. Thankfully, showrunners/writers David Benioff (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and D.B. Weiss (novelist of Lucky Wander Boy) do it about as well as one could’ve hoped.

On its fifth of five discs, the Blu-ray box set attempts to throw newbies to George R.R. Martin’s world a bone in the form of a navigable guide and character sketches. While these certainly make great use of Blu-ray technology, it’s also as intimidating as you may fear. This is one of those cases where ye olde print would do better, in form of a one-page chart (similar to the one in Entertainment Weekly’s current issue) to help you keep track of who is who and how they relate to one another. Believe me, it would help.

My advice is to find that chart is keep it handy in the first hour. By episode two, you’ll be hooked on the sweeping, epic tale of the battle for the Westeros throne, and all the soapy, sexy stories that splinter from this main narrative. Not every hour thereafter is as excellent, but when you’re juggling that many balls in the air, some are likely to be dropped. That’s just physics. Some gaps and lags are simply inescapable.

While Sean Bean (Black Death) is the ostensible series star as Lord Stark, so many scenarios compete for attention and favor, including the oddball marriage of albino-esque Dana Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) to a hulking barbarian (Jason Momoa, Conan the Barbarian) who doesn’t speak her language; the royal manipulations of Queen Lannister (Lena Headey, TV’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles); and any scene in which Peter Dinklage (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) appears as the dwarf Tyrion. His Emmy and Golden Globe wins last year for Best Supporting Actor were merited.

Give it a shot. It’s another argument for cable’s ever-strengthening dominance over the networks in telling stories the correct way, from shorter seasons to era-appropriate violence, and even a little — OK, a lot — of T&A thrown in just because it can. This is, after all, fantasy ... in every meaning of the word. —Rod Lott