With the release of A Nest of Vipers, Telltale brings us one step closer to the end of their season of Game of Thrones. With its cues taken from the award winning HBO series, this penultimate episode continues to up the stakes in the Forrester’s battle for their collective lives as well as the continued existence of their house. While it presents some of the series’ strongest drama and some truly harrowing action sequences, this 5th episode also seems to wilt technically under the weight of its set pieces, with some major performance issues coming in the worst possible scenarios.
Picking up right where Episode 4 left off, Rodrik is forced to deal with Ramsey Bolton, resident psychopath of the North, son of its Warden, and the referee sent in to “straighten out” relations between the Foresters and the Whitehills. Without getting into spoilers, Ramsey’s answer leaves the Foresters a path towards possible resolution, while their position is left even more precarious, and in need of help from the other family members working for their cause abroad. Key among those is Asher, whose story finally, and with much bloodshed, brings him home, while Mira, who has decided to build her particular viper’s nest out of Lanisters, finds herself going toe to toe with a former queen and a current dwarf. That leaves poor Gared, freezing, alone, and now facing a terror that is very well known to the show audience, to fend for himself in his journey for the North Grove, a mission with an outcome that feels almost inconsequential given Ironrath’s current state.
The action runs hot and heavy throughout the Gared and Asher’s portions. Their scenes play out nicely, with Gared’s building a ton of tension through the proceedings as the true threat beyond the wall makes its first game appearance. Asher’s portions remain a source of pleasure, with his humor and charm always at play with the difficulties of his life as a sellsword. Sadly though, and for the first time all series, the engine which runs Telltale’s games became more than a grudging disappointment, with the action visibly slowing to a crawl, and my mouse behaving erratically. At one point, during a relatively quiet scene shared between Garret and another character, I was asked to shoot a rabbit by holding down the mouse button to aim, and then letting go to fire. Holding down the mouse button caused the bow to immediately fire, driving off the rabbit, and giving my companion a poor view of my hunting skills.
In a game where small decisions are made to feel like they matter, game performance dictating those decisions is unacceptable. Whether or not my performance with the bow comes to anything is inconsequential, but the very idea of a game’s performance making those decisions by not allowing me to succeed is something that will need to be addressed, especially if Telltale wants to keep pushing their stories forward with these more action oriented scenes.
This episode also featured one of the few points where the man behind the curtain could be seen, as it were, with one of the revelations, namely the traitor in Ironrath, playing out more like a “oh had I gone another way this could be easily changed” then a major character moment. The results were still powerful in the ripples they sent out into the landscape, but seeing the working innards of a show in production even once calls into question many of the other results, and whether or not they feel genuinely earned or simply the answer to a bunch of tick marks on a writer’s sheet.
Even with those issues at the forefront, there is no doubt that this was the strongest episode to date. Mira and Rodrik continue to carry to dramatic weight of the game, Rodrik pulled between doing what's right or doing what needs doing, while Mira plays the Great Game, growing by leaps and bounds as she is thrown one problem after another. Her meeting with Tyrion in the jail cells of King's Landing is fantastic, and is a scene I would love to play fast and loose with, testing the boundries to see just how many ways I could get Peter Dinklage to respond. I will also never forget answering a question for Cersi in true King's Landing fashion and watching “Cersi was impressed” flash across the top of the screen.
With only a few things left to be revealed, Episode 6 feels like it's going to be a bit back loaded, especially with 5's running time of around an hour and half. It sticks to the Telltale formula, runnning around the same time wise as other nearly there episodes, but unlike previous outings, it doesn't feel short or lacking. It does however, make the inevitable two months until I can see the conclusion feel like an awfully long time. Winter is most definently coming, and for the Forresters, they had better hope that their family motto, Iron from Ice, hold true.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!