Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season, The Matrix, Black Panther, Die Hard, A collection of Criterion discs, and more.
Rewatching Game of Thrones, this time on Ultra HD Blu-ray, so many years after first entering Westeros, that fictional realm conjured up by fantasy writer George R.R. Martin, is an experience akin to visiting an old friend—and a crime scene. As the series unfolds, and its extensive cast of characters get introduced, there’s an uncomfortable pang that comes from knowing what hellish circumstances these men, women, and children are about to endure. The first episode marks the first time you hear “winter is coming” uttered. The statement is tossed off casually and doesn’t land with much impact. But it does leave a certain chill in its wake. These poor folks don’t know the half of it.
As a fan of the original books, I waited until each season was issued on Blu-ray instead of watching the episodes via an HBO subscription. Why? Because as distinguished as the HBO series is, I knew then it couldn’t hope to match the books in portraying the seven kingdoms of Westeros in all its brutal, debauched detail. If I were to view at all, I could wait to experience it in the best possible format. The original Blu-ray release was a beautifully packaged, deluxe edition, with portraits of the key characters and a poster-size map of Westeros. This new edition simply contains the discs in a basic keepsake case with no fancy extras.
Originally shot in a digital 2K format, the first season of Game of Thrones has been upconverted here to 4K and given a Dolby Vision high dynamic range gloss. Season One first appeared on Blu-ray with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, and then saw a reissue in 2017 with Dolby Atmos sound. This new version features the same Atmos track with a Truehd 7.1 core.
Although the source for the 4K release is 2K video, there’s still a noticeable boost in quality: images look more solid, and there’s slightly less noise. Watched in Dolby Vision, the enhanced dynamic range also serves to improve shadow detail in the many dark scenes that take place in forests, castles, dungeons, and brothels. Otherwise, the mostly muted color palette appears about the same in both the regular and 4K Blu-ray versions. Watching in 4K also has the effect of calling attention to the limited budget of Season One as compared to the show’s later seasons: After HBO realized what a monster hit it had on its hands with Game of Thrones, the budget for sets and special effects shot up considerably. Still, the show manages to convey a fully formed, visually immersive world from the first episode on.
Having never experienced the soundtrack in Atmos, I was in for a definite treat. In the scenes that take place in cavernous halls where murderous pronouncements are made, or aggrieved residents of the seven kingdoms plead with the various monarchs for justice or vengeance, voices echo off the ceiling and fill up the room in a naturalistic way. The sounds of clashing swords and galloping horses have a full, dynamic impact, and even subtle elements like wind and rushing water come through clearly. Compared with new release’s Atmos soundtrack, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track from the original Season One Blu-ray box has a flatter, more restrained, and less spatially compelling presentation.
On the extras front, all of the key bonus materials included on the Blu-rays have been ported over to the new 4K package. The list includes commentaries, cast auditions, and animated histories and character profiles, both of which are useful for keeping track of the many characters and places that you’ll encounter in Season One. There are also interviews with the series’ executive producers and writer George R.R. Martin that focus on the difficulties of translating such a massive fantasy tome to the screen. Yet another compelling extra is a segment on the creation of the Dothraki language used by the horse-worshipping denizens of that kingdom.