DVD Review: 'Game of Thrones: S3'

★★★★★
Lovers of Game of Thrones have been waiting eagle-eyed for the imminent debut of Season 4. Before then, Season 3 arrives on DVD and Blu-ray to remind all why this series has come to command such high-praise from critics and fans alike. The qualities of high production value, an outstanding cast and epic storytelling continue to impress in the show's third year. Adapted from George R.R. Martin's ongoing A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, Game of Thrones: Season 3 continues the fantasy saga of families and factions battling for the Iron Throne of Westeros.

As the Lannisters seek to consolidate their hold on the kingdom, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) licks his wounds following Season 2's climactic battle. The Starks become even more scattered, while across the sea Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) hopes to swell the ranks of her followers into an invasion force. One might call Game of Thrones "sprawling", but it would be a disservice to the intricacy and care with which Benioff and Weiss translate Martin's epic to the screen. The show's slow-burn approach is peppered with smaller showdowns en route to the already-traditional grand climax in episode 9; the stomach-churning, heartbreaking events of 'The Rains of Castamere' have already entered the pop-canon as one of those shocking moments of television in recent years.

To the credit of the writers, Game of Thrones is far more than a collection of surprising deaths and candle-lit sex scenes. For all that is made of the show's unpredictable killing, Thrones is an emotional, compassionate series that brilliantly balances its crushing lows with soaring highs. Much of this lies in the extraordinarily well-developed characters. A cast as large as this one - where major characters disappear for multiple episodes at a time (Season 3 features the return of Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney), last seen in Season 1) and new players are constantly joining the game - could have been tricky to follow, but the show is so well-written that very few characters are easily mistaken for one another.

A great deal of credit is due in this department to costume designer Michelle Clapton and production designer Gemma Jackson, who give each kingdom, family and individual their own distinct look. The acting is outstanding across the board. Emilia Clarke earned a deserved first Emmy nomination as Daenerys, while lower down the cast list John Bradley's Sam also provided some of the season's more uplifting moments as his character blooms from downtrodden object of ridicule to real heroism. Among the new additions to Season 3, Diana Rigg steals many scenes as the matriarch of the Tyrell family, Olenna Redwyne. It's Michelle Fairley, Oona Chaplin and Richard Madden as Catelyn, Talisa and Robb Stark who pull hardest at the heartstrings, however.

Despite the enormous mainstream success of Peter Jackson's Tolkien adaptations, the fantasy genre often still struggles to be seen as capable of greatness. Game of Thrones offers a stern rebuke to genre elitism: it is not only a grand adventure, but a series that pushes the medium of television drama into new fields. Episodes are less about contained bursts of narrative progression so much as collections of incidents grouped with intelligence and perception by theme. This season takes Game of Thrones to daring new places, but reminds the audience that this series had always been about family and home. Season 4 has a lot to live up to.

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David Sugarman

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