Game of Thrones – Episode Four Review: Old Wounds

game-of-thrones-episode-four-headerAfter the last episode of Game of Thrones (A Telltale Game Series), I lamented the fact that it felt like the story was far too on-rails for my liking and that the Forrester clan were getting no hope spots in their continuing battle to save their House from being crushed by the combined forces of House Whitehill and the various Bolton and Lannister forces. While the latter doesn’t really change that much (it is a Telltale game after all), we finally see a glimmer of hope and a little comeback from Team Ironrath.

Given that we’ve been beaten down emotionally by Game of Thrones on TV and in the game, it was nice to have that little bit of hope.

Spoiler Alert: As per usual for our review of these episodic Telltale games, the details of the episode being reviewed will be kept as spoiler-free as practical. The details of previous episodes and the first 35 episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones TV show are fair game for discussion.

Let’s start with Asher whose contribution to this episode might have been the best of the four stories in Episode 4 – Sons of Winter and three of the four plots in this episode were fantastic.

game-of-thrones-episode-four-promo-01The key to Asher’s storyline was Beskha and her history in Meereen that gave her pause when Asher and Malcolm wanted to set off there for an army. For such a badass sellsword, the trip back to Meereen reopens some deep wounds that Beskha had from her time in Meereen prior to leaving and joining up with Asher. It’s a really poignant sequence that sees Beskha try to dull the pain with wine and Asher learn things about Beskha and redefine the relationship between the pair.

The funny thing about this episode is how a simple little choice that you’ve been advised against can feel in two different episodes. In the last episode, Maggie specifically prohibits Mira from talking to Tyrion Lannister so most people didn’t. In this episode, Asher given instruction that he can either ignore or heed. While the statistics say that most players made the same choice, I didn’t think that it was as cut and dry a choice. That’s a credit to all of the character development that was focused on Beskha in this episode.

Interestingly, this is the first game that sees a divergence from the TV show’s timeline. While Asher’s part of the episode takes place around Season 4, Episode 4 (Oathkeeper), Mira’s takes place at Tommen’s coronation one episode later (First of His Name). Granted, it’s a one episode departure from the established timeline and the TV show is all over the place compared to the books but conveying the passage of time is not one of those things I would consider a Telltale strong suit unless the outright tell you about the passage of time between episodes.

Mira’s part of the episode might have been the shortest of the four characters’ contributions but her’s was the most intriguing. Mira’s efforts to save House Forrester have gone from finding her family a buyer for their ironwood to stopping House Whitehill’s commercial efforts in King’s Landing.

game-of-thrones-episode-four-screenshot-03I don’t want to keep coming back to the Stark comparisons but Mira really reminds me of Sansa through four episodes. As she progressed in the series, Sansa looked like she was going to fall victim to the Lannisters like the rest of House Stark but she learned to play “the game” and it all went well until she returned to Winterfell. For Mira, it looked like she couldn’t keep up with the demands placed on her by her family and was set to be sent packing but made a turn for the better through sheer luck than anything. The pieces fell into her lap and in this episode, Mira can plant the seeds for an economic turnaround of House Forrester to save them rather than relying on Asher coming with military strength. It sounds more like Civilization when I put it that way.

It occurred to me while writing that going through Sansa and Mira’s timelines that their experiences don’t really line up perfectly but the overall themes do. After the fall of the leaders of their Houses, each is held in low regard in King’s Landing which doesn’t help matters when they run afoul of the Lannisters. That results in their lives seeming to be in perpetual danger until circumstances turn in their favour and allow them to manipulate people to their advantage.

The long and short of it is that in the span of one episode, Mira’s contribution to the game has gone from me hoping that the Lannisters off her for her general uselessness to the most intriguing part of the game. She’s gone from the most useless member of House Forrester (except the Rickon equivalent) to the one who ends Episode Four as the most likely to save her house from destruction. It shouldn’t have taken half of the season for Telltale to do something about Mira’s “go away heat” but I suppose that’s one of the challenges of writing for four POV characters as opposed to the one POV character that they’ve gotten so good at in The Walking Dead.

After looking at the shortest segment of the episode with Mira, let’s move on to the longest portion with Rodrick.

game-of-thrones-episode-four-screenshot-05While Rodrick’s portion of the episode started with a little bit of combat training in the art of tripping someone with a cane with Ser Royland, I will mention that I do like how Telltale is allocating the action sequences to the characters best suited for it. While Season Two of The Walking Dead had Clementine right in the middle of everything, it was very much written in such a way that would only make sense in a video game. Getting someone who is a sellsword like Asher to have the bulk of the action sequences while Rodrick the Ruined is more of a talker makes perfect sense from a logical standpoint. Of course, watch Telltale have Rodrick turn into a ninja just to screw with me.

So with Rodrick unable to do battle with Gryff Whitehill mano e mano and having only one capable fighter at his disposal, he’s forced to rely on his brains. That’s something that we saw in the last episode (as close as the Ironrath portion of the episode was to Episode One) as Gryff tried to show his dominance over Rodrick which meant that Lord of House Forrester had to pick his battle to preserve his House from the Whitehill wrath.

The big difference between Episode Three and Episode Four is that there is a glimmer of hope for the citizens of Ironrath. Much like with Mira’s portion of the episode, circumstances start to swing back in favour of Rodrick. Unlike Mira’s portion where things fall into her lap almost too perfectly, Rodrick’s choices feel like they carry some weight in that you can make an incorrect choice and they may have consequences going forward in this episode and beyond.

I guess that might be the overriding complaint about all Telltale games is that they need to make the decisions feel like they matter rather than the helix narrative design that sees a small divergence before reuniting at the same point later regardless of what choice is made. I hope that doesn’t happen with Rodrick, Asher or Mira in this episode but we won’t know until the next episode is released.

The weakest of the four stories was Gared’s. At the end of the last episode, we left Gared on top of The Wall with a dead ex-Bolton soldier at his feet (whether he intended that to happen or not). At the end of the last episode, I questioned if we would be given a choice as to whether Gared would break his vows to find the mythical North Grove to save House Forrester.

game-of-thrones-episode-four-screenshot-04Not to spoil this episode but with Gared accused of killing a fellow brother of the Night’s Watch, fans of the show and books know where this is heading. Unfortunately, that means that what has been setup to be a pretty interesting choice between Gared’s loyalty to the Night’s Watch and his loyalty to House Forrester doesn’t come to be.

The focus of his storyline is still the North Grove but you’re just going along the path set forth by Telltale in this episode. With the potential left on the table and the on-rails nature of Gared’s story in this episode, it’s easily the least enjoyable of the four stories this time after having one of the better ones in Episode Three.

Off the top, I said that the on-rails storytelling hasn’t changed much and I have a good example of that since it’s not canon so it’s not a spoiler. At one point in the game, Rodrick mounts an effort to get Ryon (who is effectively the Rickon of House Forrester) back from the Whitehills. This can end very well for House Forrester or moderately okay.

game-of-thrones-episode-four-screenshot-01One choice I decided to make was to just launch an attack when confronted by Ludd Whitehill with Ryon in hand. The result was a blood bath of Red Wedding-esque proportions. Everyone on both sides was either stabbed or shot with an arrow. Considering like half-a-dozen characters important enough to have names got killed in that scene, it was going to have a pretty big impact on the story going forward as the heads of Houses Forrester and Whitehill were killed along with some important family members and underlings, right?

The only problem is that when the scene plays out (and it wasn’t a short scene), you get the game over screen. There were no QTEs for me to fail. It was one of three choices presented to me in the standard dialogue format, an elaborate action scene was animated, all this effort was put into this and it’s all for a choice that can’t be made. It’s such a tease by Telltale and an annoying hint at what might have been. Choosing the bloody path would have completely thrown the game on its head without falling offsides of what we’ve come to expect from Game of Thrones. Suffice to say, I’m not impressed by Telltale’s little tease.

Conclusion

game-of-thrones-episode-four-screenshot-02The biggest problem that Telltale’s Game of Thrones has faced so far is the fact that they haven’t quite gotten the handle of telling four different and separate stories at the same time. They all appear to be building to the same conclusion but they aren’t coming together at the end which makes the whole game feel a bit scattered.

So while the whole still isn’t quite coming together, the sum of the parts is getting bigger each episode. This time out, we see a big improvement from episodes past largely because we start to see things get better for House Forrester. Nobody wants to see the good guys keep getting beaten down with no hope of a comeback. That turnaround started this time out and will need to continue in order for there to be some worthwhile payoff to this story, even if everyone ends up dead.

And the fact that the ending of the episode has one of my well-documented favourite characters in it doesn’t hurt either. No, it’s not Varys.

Rating: 8.0/10

Game of Thrones – Episode Four: Sons of Winter was played on Windows PC but is also available for Mac OS X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and iOS. The review code for this game was provided by Telltale Games. Your impressions of the game may change depending on platform played on, PC specs and if you always wanted your own interactive oil painting recreation of the Red Wedding.

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About Steve Murray

Steve is the founder and editor of The Lowdown Blog and et geekera. On The Lowdown Blog, he often writes about motorsports, hockey, politics and pop culture. Over on et geekera, Steve writes about geek interests and lifestyle. Steve is on Twitter at @TheSteveMurray.

Posted on July 13, 2015, in Game Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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