Five episodes reviewed, nearly an entire year having past since the very first was released, and here we are. The Ice Dragon, the sixth and final episode of the first season of Telltale's Game of Thrones adventure game, is as bloody and heart wrenching as any episode of the TV series has been, but there is an attachment present that's not there when watching Tyrion or Daenerys on Sunday nights. Having played so pivotal a role in the story of House Forrester, assigning both meaning and desire to all of their individual actions, while trying to keep the family together, this finale delivers some answers, but little closure.
When we last left House Forrester, war was at the doorstep. A brother lay dead thanks again to the blades of the Whitehills, while the other prepares Ironrath for an army. Mira is running for her life as the guards of King's Landing search for the one responsible for the death of one of their own. Gared searches for the North Grove with nothing but the bitter cold ahead of him, and an army of Wights at his back.
Given that primer, I'd really like to delve into a description of what happens during the closing moments of Season 1, but this episode, more then any other, feels so dependent on not only some of the choices made, but also some of the decisions left to the end. While it can be said that this was true of the rest of series, and really of Telltale's games as a whole, the last two to three episodes have felt more like they were building to a pay off then delivering in terms of how things will play out. For example, Mira's back and forth with both the Lannister guards and Margaery comes to a head, with the possibility that your choices lead to a permanent end to this particular storyline.
It's Mira's story in particular that lead me to a realization regarding not only the Game of Thrones series itself, but this style of adventure game in relation to it. Success in Westeros means that you've sold whatever piece of yourself that you held dear. For folks like Tyrion, the price for what they've managed to achieve is evident in their day to day lives, as any manner of success against their burden is something cheer for. For others, monsters like Ramsay Bolton, their lust for power is ever growing, an insatiable addiction from which there is no release but death. It's when you approach the honorable, the Ned Starks or Jon Snows of the world, that the price for success becomes clear. Give up your honor, and you will have what you want. Hold on to it, and no matter how high you hold your head, you will die.
It's this choice, this brilliant, horrible choice, which makes this game incredibly heartbreaking. As someone who finds the hard choices, those that stand firm in the face of adversity or impossible odds, exciting, and more often then not, the better feeling of the alternatives, it has been difficult watching each and every one of them pay off in a way that is simply unheard of in most forms of storytelling. In Westeros, nothing works out, there is no comeuppance, no worthwhile revenge, no justice. Instead, life, or rather the pursuit of it, is found only in compromising that which makes you the person you are, and those few times where I did choose the “right path,” I always felt like I was letting someone down, whether it was an actual character in game, or just myself, for going with what seemed practical as opposed to what actually felt right.
There is no happy ending coming, and that, the realization that I won't get out of this unscathed even if there is no bloodshed, is what this game does better then anything Telltale has done before. Even when compared to the first season of The Walking Dead, I could still seem some hope at the end, because Clementine did survive, and she took everything she learned with her. At the end of The Ice Dragon, Telltale has made it abundantly clear that they hope to produce a second season, but I found no sense of hope, no thought of things actually coming back around for the Forrester clan. The question that forces me to face though, is whether or not that lack of hope is a hindrance? With the show the game is based on, I still have hope, and I think that's partially because I am not making the important choices, I'm simply following along on a journey. I don't have to guide Tyrion through a conversation, or measure every word when confronted by Cersei; I get to just sit back and watch what happens. With the game, I think that responsibility may be what ends up damning it in the end.
Regardless of where the story goes, I do think Telltale needs to seriously consider a different graphical style when it comes to a second season. With all the action brought to bear by this final episode, it was painful to watch the game struggle to keep up. Even when the action was slow, like a conversation between Mira and Margaery, the game struggled to keep up with what choices were made, forcing two items into my hand when I had only removed one of them, and then leaving the one I had chosen, a key, stuck to my hand for the rest of the scene. At other times, facial expressions on the different characters had trouble deciding which feeling they were attempting to portray, with some even cycling between a few different ones during the same line of dialogue. While certainly present in other episodes, they seemed even more egregious here since so much depended on what was presented.
Another not unique to this episode but galling issue is the dialog system's partial inability to deal with differing tracks of responses during a conversation. Certain conversations, like the throne room scene with Cersei or a powerful meeting with Ludd Whitehill from the finale, are made to pick up on the subtle nuance of different choices. Most others, however, seem to lose the thread if you deviate from a style of response, which, with the semi-opaque dialog system, happens when its the least needed. No part of it is a game changer, but when this game especially puts so much emphasis on the quality of conversation, any deviation from what you mean is upsetting.
This stands out in the finale's finale, a montage of scenes from the entire season played out with a “famous” character expressing their thoughts on both House Forrester as a whole as well as the actions of individual characters. Apparently my choices with Mira were such that it warranted two different recollections from Margaery, one in which she expressed mild disgust at Mira's need to disobey for “good reasons,” and a second that seemingly erased that disgust in favor of restrained admiration. While a change in attitude about someone based on their actions seems perfectly natural, the way the two were sowed together, with other characters interspersed between, painted the ideas as disjointed rather then evolving.
As a fan of the series that spawned it, these smaller gripes weren't enough to diminish actually finishing the season's last episdoe. Though it makes clear that nothing was truly decided in the Forrester's quest for survival, both as a family and individually, there's enough closure to the individual story lines to make the entire trip one worth taking. The same could be said for the series as a whole. Despite technical hiccups and a visual style that shifted effortlessly between beauty and inelegance, it was worth the hours devoted to seeing it through to the end. Time and sales will of course be the deciding factors in whether or not we see a season 2, but Telltale has done their part in proving that they are more then capable of hanging with titles that are larger then life.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!