The epic scope of the grand television fantasy series Game of Thrones
is matched by the extraordinary wealth of extras found in its sophomore-season set. Based on A Clash of Kings
, the second novel in George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, season two of Game of Thrones
admirably encapsulates the sprawling War of the Five Kings, which pits the malevolent Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) against a host of contenders for the throne of the late King Robert (Mark Addy), including his brothers Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and Renly (Gethin Anthony). Further complicating matters is the appointment of Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) as Hand of the King to Joffrey, which sets off an intense behind-the-scenes power struggle with his siblings, Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who carry on an incestuous affair. Meanwhile, there's also the issue of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and her three dragons; Daenerys spends much of season two making her way across the Red Waste in order to launch her own plan of conquest. These central conflicts are supported by a host of secondary storylines, including Alfie Allen's Theon Greyjoy, who is faced with dreadful choices in his own quest to prove his worth, and new cast member Carice van Houten as Melisandre, a priestess who uses a variety of wiles, including sex, to spur Stannis's assault against Joffrey's forces in the series' showstopping set piece, the Battle of Blackwater Bay. That Game of Thrones
manages to not only weave together all of these myriad threads but also make them compelling and fully realized is among the keys to the show's astonishing popularity, as are the performances, which, along with the direction and writing, help to make the series the best costume fantasy drama ever produced on television. Its blend of historically inspired intrigue and supernatural elements keeps it far afield of camp territory, where most TV fantasy has bogged down in the past, while the cast, led by the extraordinary Peter Dinklage as the wily Tyrion, rivals any modern day/dress series. Of course, the show's copious violence and sexuality (the latter of which borders on excessive this season) are also key factors, but the visceral nature of these parts mesh well with the show's overall theme of a medieval land gripped by extraordinary bloodshed.
The five-disc DVD set of Game of Thrones' second season provides an exceptional amount of supplemental material on the show's production, primarily through 12 commentary tracks, including multiple tracks on single episodes. Among the participants are the main cast, including Dinklage, Headey, and Coster-Waldau, as well as series cocreators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss; director Neil Marshall (The Descent), who helmed "Blackwater"; and Martin himself, who explains many of the differences between his source novel and the program. The Battle of Blackwater Bay gets its own half-hour making-of featurette, while a quintet of the actors, including Headey and Clarke, participate in an informative roundtable discussion about their characters and the show's locations. Martin also returns for a brief conversation about the various religions of his fictional world along with Benioff and Weiss. Both die-hard fans and first-time viewers will appreciate the length and depth of the extra material included in the set, which expands greatly on the already massive world of Game of Thrones. --Paul Gaita