BLACKWATER Yay, Bronn made smores!
  • BLACKWATER Yay, Bronn made s'mores!

The third season of Game of Thrones starts on Sunday night, which means you've got just enough time to burn through season two once more—or, fine, for the first time, if, for whatever stupid reason, you haven't yet done so. The best way to do that? The impressive Blu-ray set, which, like the first season's, is a remarkable package. Few shows are as well-suited for in-depth obsessing-over as Game of Thrones, and these Blu-rays not only help you do that, they pretty much demand it.

I'll try to remain spoiler free below, but if you're nervous all the same, here's the short version: Unlike about 99 percent of Blu-rays, these are an excellent investment. If you like the show, you should get them; if you haven't started watching it yet, well, these are the way to start.

If there's one thing that stood out to me about the second season of Game of Thrones, it's how much of this season's story and emotional heft are carried by the female characters: Game of Thrones has never lacked for female characters (or hell, characters in general), but this season of the show was the first that dramatically improved characters who had been lacking in the books, particularly Sansa Stark (a sniveling moron in the books, but an increasingly nuanced and sympathetic player in the show), Cersei Lannister (who, as in season one, benefits not only from an excellent turn by actress Lena Headey, but also from writing that gives her significantly more depth and humanity than the books), and Margaery Tyrell, who I can barely remember from the books, but here becomes herself one of show's canniest connivers. Catelyn and Arya Stark continue to be predictable badasses (as, to a lesser extent, is newcomer Ygritte), while the appearance of Yara Greyjoy—AKA the books' Asha Greyjoy—almost singlehandedly makes one of Westeros' houses, the Grumpy Gus Greyjoys, about 10 times more interesting.

Don't get me wrong: This season is even better than the first, and most of that is due to the simple but effective escalation of the stakes, not to mention the fact that the vast majority of characters are interesting, smart people doing their best to survive. But it's also better because we now get to know these characters better, and, for whatever reason, the female characters have seemed to benefit the most from that, at least in these 10 episodes. (That said, not all the female characters win out: Daenerys still just does the same kinda interesting/kinda boring stuff she's always doing, which is complaining and vowing vengeance and worrying about her dragons—this should improve in season three—while Brienne of Tarth is as blandly one-dimensional as she is in the books.) It all builds to a hell of a conclusion—one that lacks season one's shock value, but sets characters up in far more interesting positions for the upcoming season.

The episodes all look and sound great, as is to be expected, but it's the special features that make the discs worth picking up: Like the first season, the "Histories & Lore" features go through the complicated, never-ending history and legends of the lands where Game of Thrones takes place, with animated visuals accompanied by in-character voiceovers from the cast. (A few of them feature multiple characters talking about the same events, with their differing and conflicting perspectives intact.) Meanwhile, the "War of the Five Kings" feature walks you through each of the armies' advancements and plans on a step-by-step basis—something that show simply wasn't able to do. As the episodes play out, you just know a whole bunch of dudes are fighting; thanks to this interactive guide, you can see where their armies are going, how they're strategizing, and who's winning and losing—all while following along with the season's larger narrative. It's some deep nerdery, to be sure, but it adds a whole lot of depth and clarity.

Speaking of battles, my favorite feature on these is the half-hour-long "Creating the Battle of Blackwater Bay," which delves into the technical aspects of making the season's best episode, "Blackwater," including interviews with writer George R.R. Martin, director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday) and showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. Granted the time and the money that they didn't have in the first season, Benioff and Weiss more or less went all-out to make this, the first full-on battle seen in the show, a big deal. Thanks to a script by Martin and Marshall's well-honed instincts for intense action, it doesn't disappoint.

There's some other good stuff here—commentaries, an in-episode guide to help keep things clear, a rundown on the different religions of characters in the show, and a roundtable discussion between Benioff, Weiss, and a few of the show's actors. These aren't as memorable as the other features, but they still do what special features are ideally supposed to do, yet rarely pull off: Enhancing the experience of something that's already pretty great.