Game of Thrones, Episode 5: A Nest of Vipers Review (Xbox One)
With the arrival of the penultimate episode of Telltale's Game of Thrones comes a rush of mixed feelings. I don't want things to be over, but I also want to bring some resolution to House Forrester. Whether or not the Forresters get the resolution they deserve I can't rightly say just yet, but nothing in Westeros comes without a price, for good or ill. For four episodes now, I've been guiding this family as best I can to ensure the safety and future of the Forrester name. It hasn't always gone the way I've wanted or imagined, but like any good installment of Game of Thrones, be it a chapter from the book or an episode of the show, there's a glimmer of hope off in the distance. Though this episode's pacing was a bit rushed, that horizon draws ever closer, and so does the final fate of the Forresters.
Spoilers for Telltale's Game of Thrones to follow.
To this point, each of the episodes moved the individual Forrester family member's stories forward in meaningful ways. Moves and counter-moves were abundant, and you really felt like you were in control of each character's fate. In "A Nest of Vipers," there are fewer moments for characters like Mira and Gared to find a means to their ends, and the focus is primarily on Asher and Rodrik. I have loved playing as Mira this game, as her evolution from handmaiden to agent of chaos has been one of the most interesting storylines. In this episode, the confident conspirator she's grow into becomes little more than a pawn for Cersei. What's more, there's no "win scenario" for Mira, as she's placed in an impossible place and our ability to help her in any way is almost non-existent.
Gared's story has been a bit more action-packed, and left to his own devices with few friends north of the Wall, you can expect that trend to continue. However, above all, Gared's narrative feels the most stagnant. There just hasn't been enough progress in his journey over the course of the last few episodes, and his worth is becoming more questionable every chapter. While it's true much of Game of Thrones is a slow burn leading to epic payoffs, Gared has accomplished so little in his valuable screen time that it's become a bit frustrating. Perhaps that's part of what Telltale is aiming to do, and our frustration is meant to mirror his own, but it doesn't make for compelling storytelling. This is particularly true considering there's just one episode left with far more important and interesting plot lines to tie up.
Part of that also comes from the pacing of this whole adventure, but in particular this episode. Up until "A Nest of Vipers," I thought the slow pace fit the nature of the world just fine. This episode is so rapidly paced, it felt like certain character arcs were rushed over so we could ensure all the pieces and players ended up where they needed to in order to finish things off next chapter. In hindsight, it makes it rather obvious where Telltale could have tightened up a few earlier episodes in order to give all the narratives the proper gestation time, and thus not make episode five feel as if it was in fast forward the whole time.
That's not to say there weren't some really strong moments this episode. Asher and Rodrik both got plenty of screen time this time around, and had the most impact overall towards the fate of their family. Asher has been one of the most active characters in any Telltale game from its current crop, and his sword-slinging sections provide a nice change of pace from almost every other character's dialogue-heavy portions. He's the only character that's consistently been developed each new chapter, and brings a certain flair to an otherwise political affair. Guiding Asher towards his (possible) redemption has been almost as enjoyable as living vicariously though Mira's conspiratorial intrigue, but as fun as he is to be around, I can't say that Asher's journey being told in full is worth truncating some other plot lines.
Rodrik is at the center of the two major decisions this episode, and like many of Game of Thrones' choices, there are no winners, only survivors. The outcomes you'll have to choose from will obviously have drastic ramifications for the finale, and no matter what direction you follow, the burdens will weigh heavily on you. Telltale has done a lot of things right with Game of Thrones, but the way in which these influential moments take a toll on you mentally are truly a testament to the developer's own unique brand of moral quandaries. There are always repercussions to the way you play, and it's sometimes hard to know if you made the right choice. I suppose that's because when playing the Game of Thrones, there is no "right" choice; there's just the choice that keeps you in the game.
Despite feeling rather hurried, "A Nest of Vipers" brings the adventure to a head. We know where everyone stands leading into the grand finale, and though many characters are worse for the wear, there's still a chance the Forresters might come out of this venture with their name and family (mostly) in tact. Few games have truly captured what it's like to be a part of Westeros like Telltale's Game of Thrones. This episode wasn't as tight as its predecessors, but was still able to deliver some strong character moments and enough twists to keep us guessing. With one episode left, there are no guarantees for the Forresters, but this family has proved to be incredibly resilient thus far. I just hope my heart can take whatever Telltale is preparing to dish out.
This review was completed using a download code of Game of Thrones, Episode 5: A Nest of Vipers provided by the publisher for Xbox One.