Game of Thrones – Episode Five Review: The George R. R. Martin Special

game-of-thrones-episode-five-headerWhat’s the old George R. R. Martin special? Political intrigue mixed with copious amounts of violence, death and destruction. Sure, that’s probably over simplifying the books and TV show but that’s what keeps people coming back every time.

It was only a matter of time before Telltale Games’ Game of Thrones series also started to get closer to resembling a video game version of Game of Thrones rather than a Telltale game with a Game of Thrones coat of paint. That doesn’t mean that Episode Five – A Nest of Vipers was the best episode of Telltale’s Game of Thrones this season.

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.

So the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones takes place immediately following the last. Unlike the last few episodes, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of passage of time between episodes.

The episode starts exactly where we left off with Ramsay Snow, Talia and Rodrik. While we’ve been focusing on Rodrik’s endeavors to keep the Forrester house from being crushed by the force of the Whitehills, this episode focused on the relationship between Rodrik and Talia.

If there’s one thing that we haven’t really explored is the family dynamic of House Forrester. In the A Song of Ice and Fire, every character’s POV comes back to family. Whether it’s the Starks or Lannisters or the Targaryens, in the books, Martin seems to always bring characters back to thinking about family. It’s something that’s not so apparent in the TV series that this game is supposed to be based on.

game-of-thrones-episode-five-screenshot-01So this is the first time that we’ve really seen an attempt at any sort of family storyline that goes beyond “we have to save House Forrester.” We’ve never really seen the older brother / younger sister dynamic play out properly in the earlier episodes. There were a few moments where the pair treated each other almost like equals (or as equals as one could get given the circumstances). It gives a little bit of weight to the brother/sister relationship that often felt too much like Lord/smallfolk than it did like family.

We also get a resolution to the traitor to House Forrester storyline. I’m a little disappointed to say that it ends in the most predictable way possible. No, the traitor’s reasoning doesn’t make sense. Everyone else in ASOIAF has a good reason for their actions. This is more just an excuse to have a little intrigue with no payoff. At least you get an option at the end to determine the traitor’s fate.

Mira’s part of the episode was teased in the post-Episode 4 teaser which saw her meeting with Cersei. I’d like to say there was more to Mira’s part of the episode but she talked with Cersei and Tyrion and that was the sum of her involvement. It didn’t even feel like you had a decision to make in her part of the episode that will matter in the finale.

I will say that it’s kind of amazing hearing Peter Dinklage do a pretty good version of his TV Tyrion here just as it’s announced that Bungie is planning to retcon him out of Destiny and replace him with Nolan North. No, that has nothing to do with his performance here because Dinklage has a competent script writer and director for GoT but it’s a funny little juxtaposition between the two franchises.

game-of-thrones-episode-five-screenshot-03Speaking of lacking impact, Gared’s trek north of the Wall doesn’t really seem to matter either. He and his travelling companions ran into an army of wights and ran for it. There was little progress made in Gared’s quest for the North Grove apart from heading north. It was something of a waste.

Saving the whole episode, however, was Asher. The exiled Forrester has been nearly single-handedly carrying Telltale’s Game of Thrones. I say nearly because if he didn’t have Beskha along for the ride, this wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

Asher and Beskha’s relationship and her past is the focus of the first Asher scene (he gets three major scenes in this episode) but it doesn’t feel as though that story really progressed from the last episode. While I’m not going back and playing each episode multiple ways to figure out all the permutations of all of Asher’s decisions, I can’t see how any decision would change the follow-up conversation with Dany and the hunt for an army change.

On the plus side, once Asher gets away from Khaleesi and starts on his own path away from the TV show, things pick up in Essos. Through five episodes, most of the interactions between the Forresters and the established GRRM characters feel more like fan service than part of the plot. Dany, Jon, Cersei and Tyrion really didn’t add anything to the Telltale series even if their appearances were cool from a fan perspective. Ramsay didn’t have to be in the game but his sporadic appearances worked in that psychopathic way that only Ramsay can. Really, only Maggie’s appearances with Mira as a handmaiden worked in Telltale’s story while not feeling like it was leeching off the TV show’s popularity.

game-of-thrones-episode-five-promo-01Still, as I said, once Asher gets set on his own path as the loveable rogue that has single-handedly carried this game for the previous three episodes. Once again, he gets a combat sequence (this time, in one of the legendary fighting pits of Meereen) that might be the most intense fight of the series. Sure, if I died, I would have gotten a game over and had to try it again. Still, it felt as fun as a QTE Telltale fight has felt so far because of the on-screen action, dialogue and the build-up to the fight. It’s kind of like a wrestling match. Sure, you can watch a five-star match out of context and still enjoy it but knowing the story building up to and through a match makes it that much more enjoyable.

The ending was probably the best part of the whole episode. It was a something that reminded me a bit of one of the end scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring crossed with Game of Thrones. It’s the only scene in the whole episode that had any real heart and probably the only scene with some emotional weight in the eight or nine hours that we’ve gotten so far.

It probably also helps that it was a decision point that doesn’t immediately seem like Telltale could helix the story back together because that wouldn’t make sense unless a second Game of Thrones game doesn’t involve the Forresters. So it’s one of those rare Telltale moments that feels like it matters even after all those other moments that we were swerved on because they don’t matter. I think that’s a big accomplishment by Telltale.

game-of-thrones-episode-five-screenshot-05In my review of the last few episodes, I’m not sure if I’ve been focused on other things or been too lenient but I have to say that the animations brought me out of the moment on several occasions. The opening with Ramsay Snow might have been the most egregious example of terrible animations ruining what was supposed to be an emotionally-engaging scene in a Telltale game.

When you have characters that are supposed to be scared or in pain or what have you, it’s hard to buy that when the characters’ faces are so blank and soulless. If the characters aren’t showing anything, you can’t connect emotionally with them so the scenes don’t have any impact.

There were a couple of animation issues this episode. A couple of limbs would snap into place but they were more out of the corner of your eye moments than right front and centre like those issues tend to be in Tales From The Borderlands. The animations also seemed very stiff compared to what I recall from previous episodes of Game of Thrones.

My biggest complaint about this episode is the length. Most of the episodes this season have been about 1:45 in length (with the possible exception of the first one). This episode finished in under 80 minutes. Since I’m a slow player (though not as slow as GameStop’s Alexa Corriea who pegged this episode at two hours long), I’d give this a playtime range of 70-80 minutes. That’s shaving off some 25% of the time from the usual running time. I see what they did in terms of setting up for the finale but I can’t help but feel as though we were a bit shortchanged as everything what hustled through as a transition episode to set up Episode Six.

Conclusion

game-of-thrones-episode-five-screenshot-04Looking at the critics’ reviews of Episode Five, I’m not sure the last time I’ve seen a more polarized set of reviews. There’s a spread of 40 points from top to bottom and I think I know why. I think this entire episode swung on the last decision you make. Sure, Rodrik’s portion of the game wasn’t bad and I always love some Asher but the real heart of the episode hinged on the final moments of the episode. The choice I made injected some feeling into the episode. If I made a different one, I doubt that I would have cared.

It’s telling that the emotional impact of that last decision weighs almost entirely on the choice you make. Both should have made you feel something but I very highly doubt that’s the case. If I made that other choice, I can certainly see myself rating this episode a 6.0 or 6.5. Telltale’s probably lucky I made that decision. And I’ll tell you what I chose in the finale’s review.

Rating: 7.0/10

Game of Thrones – Episode Five: A Nest of Vipers 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 would rather want big action from a game instead of big plot.

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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 August 19, 2015, in Game Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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