The DVD and Blu-ray release of Game of Thrones season 2 hits on Tuesday, February 19 and includes a huge bundle of special content, including commentaries on every episode, special featurettes, histories accessible in-episode, and hidden “dragon eggs” (deleted scenes, actually).
Some of what gets revealed in those commentaries and featurettes is a little eye-popping, so I’ve combed through all of it and pulled out some of the best bits for curious fans. Want to know how to get on the show? Need a summary of the hints dropped about the forthcoming third season? Want to know what wildfire is made of? And what cast member the entire ensemble is really worried about? Read on!
1.) Everyone is really afraid Joffrey actor Jack Gleeson is going to get hurt.
In nearly every episode commentary, whenever Joffrey comes on screen the commenting cast or crew members go out of their way to point out that actor Jack Gleeson is not at all like the character he plays. It gets brought up so often that one can only assume that there is a very real shared fear that someone might genuinely harm the actor based on his portrayal of Joffrey. (Or rather, based on his having to portray Joffrey.)
According to several different sources throughout the commentaries, Gleeson is actually a very sweet, very quiet intellectual (the showrunners once found him smoking a pipe and reading Kierkegaard on set), and is considered a scholar at Trinity College in Dublin. He’s also intent on going into teaching after the show is over, and not into full-time acting.
2.) Cersei and Tyrion have a relationship that goes beyond Westeros.
Peter Dinklage (Tyrion) and Lena Headey (Cersei) are long-time friends and even share an apartment when the show is filming in Belfast. This relationship sometimes manifests in their portrayal of their characters. For example, in episode 3, “What is Dead May Never Die,” during a scene where Tyrion reveals he is having Myrcella sent to Dorne, Cersei gets so angry that she shoves Tyrion while screaming at him to get out of her chambers. The shove wasn’t actually in the script, but Dinklage played it as if it was. The two actors also provide commentary for episode 9, “Blackwater,” and tease each other about various aspects of their characters.
3.) You can watch animated shorts about Valyria, Robert’s Rebellion, and much more.
The featurettes include character bios, battle tracking, and more, but perhaps the coolest ones are the motion-comic style animated shorts that give you the history of the world from the perspective of the characters in the show. Hearing Alfie Allen (as Theon) describe the Greyjoy Rebellion is far different than hearing Stephen Dillane’s (as Stannis Baratheon) explanation, but both are illuminating and fascinating. Catelyn, Stannis and more chime in about Robert’s Rebellion. Natalie Dormer (as Margaery Tyrell) relates the history of the Tyrells and their deep connection to the Targaryens. Iain Glen (as Jorah Mormont) gives a handy rundown on the unique qualities of the nine Free Cities, and there’s a fascinating visualization of Valyria at its zenith.
For newcomers to the series, the featurettes provide an exceptionally clear history to the characters seen on the show. Eager readers of the books will find a lot in the histories that resonates with the most recent book A Dance With Dragons, as well.
4.) Want to be on the show? Be a stuntman.
Stunt men for main characters often end up playing extraneous knights, warriors, and town/city denizens. You can see them as brothers in the Night’s Watch, knights in King’s Landing, and more, and sometimes they creep into the story. For example, a stuntman-turned-extra is actually the one who kicks off the slaughter of Robert’s bastards in episode 1, “The North Remembers.”
5.) Don’t ever let George R. R. Martin know you’re working without a helmet.
Series author George R. R. Martin gives a commentary for episode 9, “Blackwater,” the episode he wrote, and while the commentary begins with Martin connecting events in the show with how they originated in the book, once the battle begins he goes off on a lonnnng tangent about… helmets.
Specifically, Martin wanted the main characters to be wearing helmets during the battle scenes. (Sandor Clegane, Tyrion, Stannis, and Lancel Lannister all go without helmets during the battle scene.) The author explains his reasons why (it’s far more realistic, and Clegane’s helmet is really cool) but also acknowledges that he knows why they aren’t wearing helmets (it’s a visual medium and you need to be able to see the main character’s faces).
And yet…! Any time the battle scenes reappear, Martin brings up the helmet issue again. At one point he’s simply repeating “no helmet, helmet, no helmet…” as the camera pans across a bunch of soldiers fighting. Finally, Peter Dinklage goes onto the battlefield to fight and wears his helmet… only to take it off before the second wave of soldiers hits.
Then George R. R. Martin reveals even more gruesome reason why he insisted on helmets for the actors.
6.) Tyrion’s post-Blackwater Bay noselessness was inspired by a real event.
George R. R. Martin’s very first episode of the 1980s reboot of The Twilight Zone involved a fight between two knights. Neither actor had a helmet on and one ended up “zigging when he was supposed to zag” and got his nose cut off. This served as Martin’s inspiration for Tyrion’s own de-nose-ification in the Blackwater battle in A Clash of Kings.
7.) Who gives the best commentaries?
All the episodes except for the fifth one have accompanying commentary and they are by and large entertaining or informative. The showrunners have commenting down to a science, juggling lots of cool little inside information with a lot of dry wit. The very afore-mentioned George R. R. Martin’s commentary is also entertaining, if only for the protracted helmet tangent.
The younger actors on the show give adorably nutty commentaries. You shouldn’t miss Theon and Yara’s, or Daenerys’, but you really shouldn’t miss the commentary that the Stark kid actors give. Arya, Sansa, and Bran are all adorable in that way that only oversugared adolescents can be; constantly interrupting each other, praising and teasing each other in the same sentence, revealing their cute nicknames for each other, and lamenting that the events of the books are drawing them further apart which means they don’t get to hang out on set anymore.
And they start it all off by beatboxing.
8.) Everyone reacts to the Game of Thrones opening theme differently.
According to the showrunners, the insidiously catchy opening theme to the show (It’s in your head now, isn’t it?) was written over a weekend and was 90% there in the very first go. They don’t sing along with it in their commentaries, unfortunately, and neither does George R. R. Martin.
The actors playing Theon and Yara sing along with it immediately and the Stark kids, since they sang along with it in the commentary they did for the first season, announce that they’ll be beatboxing and freestyling over the credits this year. To glorious effect:
The actors playing Davos and Melisandre don’t hum along in their commentary, same as Jon Snow and Ygritte. The actor playing Catelyn catches herself humming at the end of the episode on which her and Jaime’s commentary is featured. Tyrion and Cersei don’t sing, but Tyrion admits that whenever he had to whistle during a scene he would absentmindedly whistle the theme song, which they would have to fix in post-production. Daenerys doesn’t sing along but immediately admits that she hums it in the shower all the time.
9.) What is wildfire made from?
George R. R. Martin reveals during his episode commentary that wildfire is the fantasy version of “Greek fire,” the reactive substance famously used by the forces of the Byzantine Empire. (“When working in fantasy,” Martin says “you should ground your story in history, but then make it larger than life.”) The author thinks of Westeros’ wildfire as Greek fire (naptha and oils), nitroglycerin, napalm, and a little bit of magic because, hey, green fire!
Revealed elsewhere in the DVD/Blu-ray set is the jaw-dropping story about how the show’s production team actually tried to create practical green fire from batches of napalm and repeatedly tested their concoctions by firing them by catapult at stuntmen.
They made such a huge mess that they eventually decided to just use real fire/napalm and CGI it green.
10.) What’s coming in season 3?
The commentaries, features, and other special features were fairly mum on season 3 of Game of Thrones but a few tidbits did come out:
- We will hear the language of High Valyrian in season 3.
- Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) is filming in Belfast in season 3 instead of exclusively in Iceland. Belfast is where the castle and interior sets are located.
- Hodor gets a monologue in episode 9 of season 3! Or, according to the showrunners, “Hodor goes OFF.”
11.) The oldest alcohol on Earth, skinny dipping, and more fun miscellaneous bits.
- As a kid, Michelle Fairley played on the Irish cliffside location where her character and Renly Baratheon parley with Stannis in episode 3, “Garden of Bones.”
- The actor playing Ser Dontos in the beginning of episode 1, “The North Remembers” had to do fourteen takes of the scene where he’s being drowned with wine. He was so hammered by the end of shooting that he went skinny dipping in the Adriatic Sea immediately afterwards.
- The horse that Theon and Yara are on during the scene where Theon unknowingly feels up his sister would never stop farting and is the main thing the two actors remember about that scene.
- The kid actors aren’t allowed to watch the sex scenes in the show.
- In episode 3, during the Arya scene with Yoren just before the King’s troops show up, the actor playing Hot Pie is actually asleep. (Watch everyone but him get up on cue.)
- The actress who plays Melisandre is afraid of: rats, mice, pigeons, turtles, elephants, and other animals. “[And] I’m still afraid to ride a horse with nobody holding it.”
- Melisandre’s pregnant belly and crotch was one prosthetic piece or, as the actress dubbed it, “my super-merkin.”
- Charles Dance was so effective as Tywin that crew would rush to assist him based on the terror his character instilled.
- The direwolves are now played by actual wolves, enlarged via CGI.
- Rose Leslie, the actor playing Ygritte, actually grew up in a castle.
- When filming in Iceland for scenes Beyond-the-Wall, crew members would pick off ice from the 10,000+ years old glaciers to put in their drinks back at the hotel.
- The farmboys that Theon burns in episode 7, “A Man Without Honor” to fake that he killed Bran and Rickon are actually two orphans that Bran granted to the farmer during a scene in episode 1.
- Straight from the showrunners: “To all you Sansa haters out there… suck it.”
- Conleth Hill, the actor playing Varys, loves to improvise and try and break his fellow actors during takes.
- Peter Dinklage: “I’ve peed in all the corners of these castles! Don’t tell anyone.”
- So much fake blood was used during the Blackwater battle scenes that it began pouring into the lake in many small rivers.
- The House of the Undying was inspired by the painting “Isle of the Dead.”
It might feel like I’ve revealed everything here, but really, I’m only scratching the surface of what is contained on the Game of Thrones season 2 DVD/Blu-ray. I didn’t even mention the dragon eggs! But really, those are more fun when you find them yourself...
Chris Lough is the production manager of Tor.com and while Game of Thrones season 2 is excellent television, he recommends against watching the entire season four times in a row. Unless you want to spend a week head-deep in an ocean of nihilism.