This review contains slight spoilers for previous episodes of Telltale’s Game of Thrones and HBO’s Game of Thrones.
It was always going to come down to dignity. Like the tragic first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones television show, Telltale’s episodic video game depicts a prestigious family falling apart. In the infamously brutal world of Westeros, where heroes never ever get what they want, but only what will eventually kill them, Game of Thrones, the video game, gets it right. It’s not about why your favorite characters are going to die, but how they’ll act in the face of death.
In Telltale’s games, the protagonists are realized by your actions. My Lee Everett was a good-intentioned man who handled whatever the zombie apocalypse threw at him until he couldn’t. He made mistakes, he had regrets, but he finished The Walking Dead: Season 1 knowing that a part of him would continue on with young Clementine. Whenever I was faced with a decision, whether it was something as mundane as who to give a candy bar to or something far more pivotal, like choosing to leave someone behind or not, I directed Lee one way over the other. His successes were mine, and so were his failures.
The hard truth to Telltale’s games is that none of your choices matter to the story’s outcome. There’s no way to finish The Walking Dead without learning to love Clementine as a child. The candy bar doesn’t matter, nor does the person you left behind or not. It all works out in the end. Telltale’s choices don’t matter like how my breakfast choices don’t matter. I can eat scrambled eggs or I could eat leftover pizza; both are going to give me the energy to make it through the morning. What actually matters is which food I want to experience at 8 am. In Telltale’s games, what actually matters is the effect of each scene. I felt what it was like for Lee to choose between a child and an adult when rationing out food. I felt what it was like to make the split-second decision to abandon someone for my own safety. These moments stuck with me, even when they all led back to a universal conclusion.
We’ve learned that nobody is safe and that nobody gets what they want.
Telltale’s Game of Thrones underscores this futility of your own influence. It’s a fantasy world that has a monstrous, cosmic threat that’s not only coming, but very near, given the current status of the novels and the television show. Game of Thrones might have worked better early on in the Westeros fiction, when the threat of the apocalypse wasn’t so close. It’s frequently hard to care about making decisions for House Forrester when you know that almost everyone is going to have to drop the politics and fight for their lives.
House Forrester demise fits better as a story that thematically complements that of House Starks. Both houses demonstrate Game of Thrones’ penchant for cutting the head off of anyone you like. Except, House Forrester’s story takes place years after we’ve had to reconcile the horrible fate of House Stark. We’ve learned that nobody is safe and that nobody gets what they want. If a character wants revenge, they will more likely die horribly in front of their enemy than land the killing blow on them. Telltale’s Game of Thrones is a reminder of this fact, not a revelation.
It’s too late though. Game of Thrones has moved on from petty house disputes. Winter is coming and you should be preparing for war, not a tense dinner after a disagreement about who weds who. The timed dialogue choices, the action set pieces, the Really Big Decisions, would like you to ignore this, but in the final episode, The Ice Dragon, where Game of Thrones does the thing where it kills everyone, it’s hard to feel invested. As Mira Forrester, who has been pushed around by the rich and powerful in King’s Landing for the whole season, I chose what she says knowing that her fate was not, and never was, in my control. The same goes for Asher Forrester and Gared Tuttle. The stakes the game raises in the final moments feel small, inconsequential–and doubly so with the awareness that playing Telltale games for the last three years will give you.
It was always going to nearly undo itself.
Like all of Telltale’s games, it will break down your choices and compare them to what other people chose. It gives you percentages and lists and montages and even a couple words like “passionate” to define your style. It tries so hard to convince you that what you’ve done has a point that it starts to feel juvenile, like it’s talking down to you. “Dear player, you’re important. All this time you spent has a meaning! You matter!”
By then, you would have already realized that Game of Thrones is uniquely equipped to spoil Telltale’s illusion of choice. All you can hold onto are the moments before the end, of which there are many. It’ll be hard to forget the season’s first shocking death, the humility of bowing to my enemies, meeting Daenerys, and verbally sparring with the always-clever Margaery Tyrell. These moments have to be remembered as vignettes, scenes where your decisions were made in the short-term, because as soon as you think about their place on the doomed timeline, you’ll question everything. Telltale’s Game of Thrones, as a traditional story, could never work as separated scenarios. It was always going to have to end with a tease of bigger things to come. It was always going to nearly undo itself. In the face of this inevitability, all you can do is accept this fate and finish it with your dignity intact.
A PC copy of Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series was purchased by the reviewer. To learn more about our score, read our review policy.