[SPOILER WARNING – For Episode 5 of this Telltale game, previous episodes and the books and TV series in general.]
With A Nest of Vipers being the penultimate episode of Telltale’s Game of Thrones series, the plodding pace that has been consistent throughout the previous few episodes is in serious need of acceleration. Luckily, episode 5 has proven that whilst the Forrester house may be in a calamitous state its members are still willing to put up a fight even to a ruinous end. The building tension and renewed sense of dilemma in this episode are what has been missing.
• Developer: Telltale Games
• Publisher: Telltale Games
• Reviewed on: PC
• Also Available On: Mac / Playstation 3 / Playstation 4 / Xbox 360 / Xbox One / iOS / Android
• Release Date: Available Now
Episode 5 begins in Ironrath’s great hall, a harrowing setting where Ramsay Bolton killed Lord Rodrik’s brother Ethan in the first episode. Dealing with this infamous character once again has not become any easier. The sense of helplessness in any attempt to challenge Ramsay is present when witnessing him flay Arthur Glenmore, friend and ally to the Forresters. Anyone whose seen Iwan Rheon’s performance in the show knows he absolutely nails this sadistic character, and his voice-acting in the game is just as unsettling. This brilliant opening scene puts to rest the qualms I have noted about the previous three episodes – which was the lack of strong emotional events. The player is dropped straight into a grisly act that reveals that tides have not actually turned; the Forresters are still wholly at the mercy of the Boltons and their misfortune remains clear.
Another element that features more strongly in this episode is the opportunity to explore new phenomena found in the world of Ice and Fire. The North Grove may not be canon to the book series, but George R.R. Martin’s PA has assisted the storytelling direction of Telltale’s game, and the mystery of the North Grove definitely suits the veiled nature of the vast lands Beyond the Wall. All that has been uncovered thus far about the grove is its ties to the fate of the Forrester House, and that for some reason it is integral to their survival. Thankfully this hazily described location is explored a little further in episode 5 thanks to Sylvi, Gared’s new wildling acquaintance.
According to tales, it is a place that remains safe during the long winter and has been sought out by wildling nomads before…but none have returned to speak of it! It is not hard to envision magical, protected groves within the wild northern terrain; perhaps a place of sanctity rather than death. At the very least, Gared’s plan has more purpose – finding the North Grove supposedly has been the goal of others, suggesting there is something to this myth. There is some believable fan theories about what this North Grove will contain, the main ones suggesting it is a secret resource of Ironwood trees or is the dwelling of an Ice Dragon. The former, whilst less exciting, would make a lot of sense – with the Forrester House slowly being eradicated and competed with for their Ironwood business, their livelihood – the trees that have provided their wealth and name – would continue to live on in this North Grove, offering a chance of revival.
As expected of a Game of Thrones adaptation the conversations in this game have always been difficult to navigate, yet it has been to a lesser degree in the past several episodes. Whilst there have been some tense scenes between Lord Rodrik and the Whitehill clan, it is nothing on Mira’s first interaction with Queen Cersei, who in animated form is still somewhat terrifying. In King’s Landing, Mira’s role has been quite painfully slow and without a clear end goal, although it was satisfying to be able to stand up against her antagonists in episode 4. Still, much of the fighting in the Red Keep is done through words, and Mira’s scene with Tyrion – whilst not canon – involves a very prickly exchange.
Sent as an informant of Cersei’s in order to find out whom Tyrion will name as his witnesses during his trial – which, as viewers of the show will know, would do nothing to change the painful verdict – Mira has to either attempt to worm information out of Tyrion, or be as honest as she can whilst a Lannister guard is ear wigging at the cell door. I usually resist using the silence option in Telltale games as the dialogue choices seem more rewarding; but with Game of Thrones silence feels like a viable, safer option. It’s not a QTE event or a scrap with pit fighters, yet nonetheless Mira’s battles can be equally as deadly. This is a great strength of the series, but sadly has not been used to its full potential throughout.
The decisions in this episode have certainly ratcheted beyond previous ones, yet there remains a disappointing sense that whilst these choices rightly feel difficult to make, in terms of the story’s outcome they will not play a huge part. There has been a lot of talk with the increasing popularity of Telltale series’ that their formula falls short of delivering the player-driven experience that is promised. What was once an innovative idea is arguably becoming repetitive. Players are making difficult choices, which is fitting for a Game of Thrones game, and this episode is the best example of that; yet the Forrester fate does feel sealed. Driving towards a sense of inevitability is not what Telltale games are supposed to be about, whilst making changes and taking different paths where possible is. As a player of a Telltale game we hope to steer the twists and turns in the story, rather than be swept away by them.
However, it still remains that A Nest of Vipers is the best episode in this series to date, conjuring up an intense, emotional experience with even some chuckles thrown in. The final decision in this episode is devastating, making this well-rounded instalment the crowning one so far. Depending on whom the player chooses to save, a Forrester will fight to their last, taking down Whitehill enemies even as they are plagued with hits from arrows and swords. This ending provided a perfect Game of Thrones moment – betrayal, sacrifice and brutality. Proving to be a fantastic Game of Thrones experience, but perhaps not so effectively a Telltale one, A Nest of Vipers fiercely sets the foundations for a climactic season finale – admittedly one that feels somewhat fixed into place already.