A high-point in an already impressive series. If you can look past the forced outcomes of the story then this is well worth checking out.
If you think that waiting a week between episodes of Game of Thrones on TV is hard, then try waiting upwards of a month for each installment of Telltale Games’ adaptation. The period can be so long that even after the recap provided at the start of every episode, you’ll still be a little hazy as to where everyone is in terms of narrative. From what I can best recall though, the halfway mark of the series left a lot of strands hanging.
Stark loyalists in the Bolton-ruled north, the Forester house, certainty don’t have it easy. Firstly their lord, Gregor Forrester, was killed in action outside of The Twins. Then his replacement Ethan was murdered by Ramsay Bolton and their home was taken over by their rivals; the Whitehills. Now most of the surviving members of the house are separated, each wrapped up in their own conflict. There’s Mira, a handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell, who is just discovering that King’s Landing is a particularly treacherous place, after an attempt was made on her life by a Lannister guard. Then there’s Rodrick, who is planning to finally take back Ironrath from the Whitehills. And lastly there’s Asher, who is currently trying to convince Daenerys Targaryen to lend him some of her sell-swords, so that he can help out his family across the sea. Meanwhile Gared, a member of the Night’s Watch and the only playable character who is not a Forester, is facing imminent execution after he violated his sacred oath by killing a fellow brother, in self-defense mind you.
‘Sons of Winter’ is probably the strongest episode yet and is certainly the most action packed. There’s dragons, a daring prison break, a city siege and even a skirmish with the wildlings as they march on Castle Black (this being set parallel to the events of Season 4). One stealthy assault on Meereen is a notable highlight. Open-ended, tense, cinematic and suitably brutal, it’s a perfect marriage of player-controlled gameplay and scripted action.
Additionally choices from previous episodes carry over into ‘Sons of Winter’ and when they actually impact the narrative in a meaningful way it can be incredibly satisfying. Every single time you have a conversation with someone in Game of Thrones, you are told by the subtitles that they will remember what you’ve said and done. I’ll confess that until episode 4, I didn’t really believe that. But now it feels like it’s all finally starting to pull together and that my play-through is becoming my own individually tailored experience.
Still, you often feel like you’re boxed in and constricted, as if the supposedly ‘player-driven narrative’ is only a surface and you’re really being manipulated at every turn. This is best exemplified by one specific moment that takes place during a negotiation with the Whitehills. No spoilers here, but suffice it to say that one potential outcome for this encounter is every bit as devastating and shocking as the Red Wedding. It was kind of jaw dropping to watch actually. However it becomes all too quickly-apparent that the game is going to put you back on course. So rather than allowing subsequent events to unfold, the screen simply fades to black, the game-over title appears and you’re forced to choose again, this time going the other way. The “right” way.
It may have been asking too much to expect Telltale Games to accommodate such a game-changing story path, but if that’s the case then don’t let us go down that route in the first place. Don’t offer us a choice and then essentially tell us that it’s “wrong”. Rather than adding to the experience, this solitary empty gesture almost single-handedly ruins the illusion of control and highlights just how scripted things can be. It’d really be better to provide us with less freedom and actually let the choices that we do get to make carry more weight.
It’s a good thing then, that the path which Telltale are deliberately leading us down is a damn fine one, filled with interesting characters and plot twists. The writing is almost (but not quite) on a par with that of the show and much like its spiritual predecessor The Walking Dead, it makes a good case for the potential emotional heft of video-games as an art-form. The difference here is that the main reaction that Game of Thrones will provoke, is hate. Lots and lots of hate. True to it’s source there are plenty of antagonists to really get your blood boiling and settling the score with them is a truly cathartic experience.
Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series, Episode 4: ‘Sons Of Winter’ is available on PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iOS, and PlayStation 3.