Finally fulfilling its full potential, this episode of Game of Thrones is unpredictable, open-ended and makes the most of its source material.
Last month I bemoaned that a certain choice in the 4th episode of Game of Thrones promised devastating consequences, but failed to deliver on that account. Generally the experience has felt a little railroaded throughout, with only minor changes to dialogue and character animations seeming to occur based on your choices, but this particular instance from the last episode felt like a flat-out slap in the face. Offering the player a significant choice, only to back out at the last minute and tell them that it’s wrong isn’t ‘player directed narrative’.
However, taking its lead from the HBO show, Telltale Games have saved all the shocking narrative twists for the penultimate episode, and with multiple different outcomes that actually are possible this time. No spoilers here, but it seems like episode 6 will be drastically different depending on how you act at the end of this one. Working on an emotional level, and coming as a real shock, the ending here is the high-point of the series so far.
But before we even reach that showstopper of an ending, this episode was already the best yet. Every narrative thread is at its most engaging, with no lulls to speak of. The Forester family is finally going to war with their rivals the Whitehills, Tyrion’s trial for the murder of Joffery is well under way, and Gared’s journey to find the mysterious “North Grove” is almost at an end. From dealing with the undead beyond the wall, to negotiating with Cersei in King’s Landing, every moment is edge-of-your-seat stuff.
Additionally, environments are noticeably more interactive than before, filled with life and points of interest. Previously you had only been allowed to explore a small circle of ground, with maybe one or two things to interact with. However there now seems to be a legitimate reason and incentive to explore. One walk through a fighting pit in Essos feels particularly immersive on this account, as you maneuver through hoards of brawling slaves to reach your destination.
This is probably the first episode to feel deserving of the 18 certificate as well, with violent deaths, severed heads, and a prolonged instance of Ramsay Bolton indulging in his favourite pastime. It might seem a bit shallow to say, ‘more violence = better’, but so far the entries have felt strangely toothless in comparison to their source. So honestly, it’s nice to see it embracing what is really an integral part of the show’s DNA.
But the real reason that this is the most successful installment to date, is that it’s the first time that I’ve known that my actions will have real, open-ended consequences. I had an inkling that this was the case when it became apparent that certain decisions had wildly differing results, but I still did a couple of playthroughs to test out my suspicions. And indeed I was proven right. There are substantial differences now, characters can die, opportunities can be missed and varying relationships can be forged. All of which is exemplified in that wonderful ending, which faces you with a (quite literally) game-changing ultimatum. Now that is player directed narrative.
Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series, Episode 5: ‘A Nest of Vipers’ is available on PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iOS, and PlayStation 3.