Review | Game of Thrones: Episode 5 – A Nest of Vipers
The big, final decision in A Nest of Vipers, the penultimate episode in Telltale’s Game of Thrones series, demonstrates the strength of the developer’s player-choice-based storyline. It’s the peak of two characters that have been forced to consider what it means to be a leader since their introductions. That inevitability makes it much more tragic when the choice is finally sprung on you in the episode’s last few minutes. The game asks you to choose which of the two characters will make a noble sacrifice. Moments like these are always viscerally engaging in Telltale games, but they’re not always satisfying in retrospect. They can feel manipulative, like an artificial twist to the story to leave you wanting for the next episode. That’s not the case for this episode’s decision–it only feels necessary.
Like the HBO show, Telltale’s Game of Thrones tells separate stories that have branched off of a central family house. There, it’s the Starks, here, it’s the Forresters. Both stories struggle with uniting their far-off characters into the central conflict. This is no longer a struggle for the show since its last season, but the game is still working at it. And because much of A Nest of Vipers plays into the game’s primary plot–House Forrester’s fight with the Whitehills and Asher’s journey back to the North–the other stories can’t keep up.
Gared’s escape from The Wall, while lead by an intention to find a way to help House Forrester, is narratively in a very different position than Rodrik’s or Asher’s stories. So is Mira’s. She’s ostensibly juggling the politics of King’s Landing to get an army for the Forrester’s to fight the Whitehills with, but she, like Gared, is in an interim period of the original thrust of her story.
Both Gared and Mira’s place in the fifth episode feel inconsequential to the connecting of Rodrik and Asher. Gared fights off the zombie-like Wights, loses Finn, gets to know Cotter’s sister, Slyvi, who initially wants to go in a different direction, and then is forced to go North anyway. Mira loses her friend and is given a task by Cersei, in exchange for help back home, to get an imprisoned Tyrion to spill about who he’ll ask to testify in his trial. Gared and crew don’t make any significant moves for the Forrester’s no-longer-simmering battle. And Mira’s role is so desperate, especially considering how unhelpful Cersei has been in the past, that her choice between letting Tyrion know he’s being tricked or not seems futile. These two storylines only work to slow the other two down.
Because Asher’s savage fight in Meereen and his rallying speech keep the game moving at a steady pace. There’s just enough engagement in choosing his words when confronted by the intimidating and violent men and women that were once slaves and his fighting moves against his opponent in the pit to earn the episode’s ending. And the same goes for Rodrik, who witnesses a horrific death in the opening minutes and finally discovers the man that has been feeding information to the enemy house. In the scene where the identity of the betrayer is revealed, Rodrik, and you, are forced to confront all the leader-like decisions you’ve made, whether it was bowing to the authority or fighting back. Either way, the choices you made could be twisted against you and it nicely dovetails into the final scene.
And it’s that final scene that really stands out in A Nest of Vipers. Even though a good chunk of the episode felt inconsequential, the way it ends suggests a big shift in how the story will be structured in the final episode. That suggestion isn’t enough to forgive the story’s faults, but it does show how effective Telltale’s delivery can be when everything fits into place. And in the Game of Thrones universe, that means a careful construction of dark lows that feel tragically right for the characters and the story. Half of the story gets this right. Hopefully the other half will too.