Review: Game of Thrones: Episode 4 – You Win or You Die

on June 4, 2015 10:30 AM

As fans of the mega-popular Game of Thrones television series (and the original A Song of Ice and Fire source novels) know all too well, the world of George R.R. Martin is one that’s cruel and paved with misery.

Often times it can be crushingly so, week after week, page after page; yet, even in the darkest of times, moments of light and success shine through, with Telltale Games’ rendition of the TV series finding a similar portion of its story in its latest installment.

Episode 4, titled “Sons of Winter,” marks a slightly different step in the march of House Forrester and company, marking truly one of the first instances where the Forrester clan is finally on the offensive: the story is beginning to take shape, and the plot is beginning to thicken.

As Episode 4 takes us into the back-half of the season, it stands out for progressing the story in many positive respects, while still holding back the series in others.

Following the past several episodes of House Forrester facing extermination on all sides with the ruthless House Whitehall bashing down their doors and the likes of House Bolton just around the bend, the first three episodes of Game of Thrones took time to introduce players to the dynamics of House Forrester in only the way that Game of Thrones can.

Though the series is notorious for killing off characters at the drop of a hat (or a sword), the four main playable characters each have their own motivations and goals and their own measure of likability; the survival of House Forrester continues to drive the plot and unite them, even when oceans and continents may separate them.

Switching back-and-forth between the perspectives of each playable member of House Forrester — Mira, Asher, Gared, and Rodrik — Episode 4 kicks off briskly by re-introducing where each character was left off at the end of Episode 3.

Over in the Forrester’s home of Ironrath, Rodrik discovers a new plan (with the help of new allies) to unshackle the hold of House Whitehall on the family’s home, leading to some unlikely allegiances and unexpected discoveries.

In the North near Castle Black, the consequences of Gared Tuttle’s actions in the previous episode lead to some dire effects, though with the help of fellow Night’s Watch brothers Finn and Cotter, the plot thickens as the group heads beyond the wall to search for the mysterious North Grove.

Elsewhere in the realm, Mira Forrester’s appearance is a bit more brief this time around, though her journey continues as she enlists the help of fellow handmaid Sera to sneak her into the coronation party for Tommen Baratheon as king of Westeros, leading to a sequence of heavy dialogue interaction and eavesdropping for clues among party guests.

Meanwhile, the majority of the action-heavy sequences in “Sons of Winter” are handed to Asher, as he and his companions Beskha and Malcom engage in a stealth mission in Meereen on behalf of the illustrious Mother of Dragons herself, Daenarys Targaryen.

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Where Telltale has firmly set its episodic series’ story in the world of the HBO television series, Episode 4 marks one of the stronger installments of the series so far for its tight focus on the Forrester clan’s trials and tribulations, as each of the four playable characters’ stories advance in several significant and pleasing ways.

After several episodes primarily devoted to character development and building up the various dynamics and politics between House Forrester and both its friends and enemies, one of the weaker aspects of the season’s first half was the over-reliance on several repetitive story beats, mainly coming down to an overly downbeat battering of House Forrester on all fronts.

Thankfully, for those that have endured some of the series’ more monotonous plot devices in the first half, this episode effectively puts House Forrester on the offensive with several satisfying moments within each characters’ arcs, to varying degrees.

In particular, both Asher and Rodrik’s storylines lead to exciting new developments, with Asher’s more action-heavy scenes as a result of meeting Daenarys in the walls of Meereen. As one of the fan favorite characters from the television series, seeing one of the series’ more prominent major characters is certainly exciting from a fan perspective.

Though her character model is great and performance from actress Emilia Clarke serves equally well, the treatment of her character in the episode did seem a bit off at points, coming off far more hostile and abrasive than her strong-willed but benevolent appearance on the show.

Despite her sometimes out-of-character dialogue, the appearance of Daenarys is still a welcome addition. The most prominent character to appear in the episode, as the majority of the game’s cameo characters are kept to the sidelines this time around, save for brief appearances by Jon Snow, Margaery Tyrell, and Ramsay Snow.

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Sent off by Daenarys on a mission to secure Meereen and prepare for a revolt by the cities’ slaves, Asher’s storyline turns up an engaging mix of character development-minded sequences mixed with heavy duty action set pieces.

Leading Asher, Beskha, and Malcom through the streets of Meereen while avoiding enemy guards, this section of the episode provided a fun and satisfying thrill akin to many of Game of Thrones‘ more heart-pounding moments, though also manages to pack in some surprising emotional developments, in particular with Beskha and her past with the city.

Though most of the segment is self-explanatory action in the usual Telltale quicktime event-driven way, the story culminates with one particular choice I’m excited to see play out in the upcoming episodes.

Mira’s wheelings and dealings in King’s Landing, one of the highlights of the series so far, takes a bit more of the backseat in “Sons of Winter” keeping her appearance to a more brief segment this time around, though continues to stay true to “playing the game of thrones” in a mix of uncovering information and using it to your advantage.

As Mira is able to sneak into King Tommen’s coronation ceremony, the player must then navigate her through the ceremony to eavesdrop on particular groups of party guests, trying to unravel one of the business negotiations threatening House Forrester’s most precious resource: its Ironwood supply.

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Though the sequence continues the highlights of Mira’s sections of the series featuring more tense, dialogue-heavy exchanges, her segment comes off as a slightly weaker portion than in past installments.

Compared to the fairly quick pace of the episode’s beginning, Mira’s segment this time around brings things to a fairly slow crawl between swapping crowds listening for information, bouncing back and forth to converse with different characters, etc.

Its spirit is true to Game of Thrones‘ strengths — manipulating and negotiating the politics of different Houses/people — but in execution it slows the episode’s pacing down dramatically and lacks some of the more dire tension of the other character arcs this time around.

Gared Tuttle’s storyline begins to move things beyond the Wall, with Gared facing dire consequences of the death penalty following his suspected murder of a fellow Night’s Watch brother in Episode 3. After breaking out of his holding cell, Gared ropes in fellow brothers Finn and Cotter to assist him with finding the fabled North Grove that could hold the key to his family’s survival.

Though the North Grove continues to be one of the main driving forces in Telltale’s Game of Thrones, Gared’s storyline progresses little beyond just barely making it beyond the walls of Castle Black; though the arc does lead to a tense encounter with several Wildlings, leaving Gared and company in a particularly interesting place for their quest to find the North Grove.

The highlight of Episode 4, however, comes through Rodrik’s storyline, providing a well-needed shot to the arm of what could have been seen as the weakest of the storylines so far.

After enduring several episodes in a constant cycle of abuse from House Whitehill, Rodrik’s negotiations with ally and love interest Elaena Glenmore provides plenty of insight into how his family can take a strike against the Whitehills while still avoiding (mostly) unnecessary bloodshed, thanks to a group of powerful mercenaries that could be just the tipping point needed in the Forrester/Whitehill struggle.

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Following the constant battering that Rodrik and the other denizens of Ironrath have had to endure in the previous installments, this episode rightly sets the family on a more proactive patch by having Rodrik confront Gryff and Ludd head-on.

While Telltale doesn’t provide too many choices in how it all plays out, it’s a tense and exciting chapter that provides a satisfying sense of progress.

After previously being one of the series’ more monotonous and struggling story threads, Rodrik and the team at Ironrath finally get a satisfying check mark in the “Win” column, and while the episode’s conclusion slightly takes the wind out of their sails, it’s finally going into forward momentum for the Forrester family.

Although Episode 4 takes big strides in having the Forrester’s take more offensive actions against their enemies and setting up valuable alliances, some of the series’ more glaring problems rear their heads, most notably in regard to pacing and the series’ ties to the television series.

As the game series switches between points-of-view and characters, much like the TV series and the books, the format has, for the most part, worked well in Telltale’s series. Episode 4, however, has noticeably more uneven pacing than episodes of the past.

In some instances, such as with Gared and Asher’s sections, portions of the episode pass all too briefly before handing the control over to another of the Forrester family, while Rodrik and Mira’s tend to grab particularly longer stretches of attention in the episode’s focus.

Overall, though the sequences themselves are enjoyable, the pacing feels noticeably more uneven than in the previous episodes, providing a fairly quick-paced beginning with a much slower second act.

Though the episode does keep its cameo character appearances to a much smaller duration of time, this episode in particular highlights another nagging problems of the series in its heavy resemblance to the Stark family story arc in both the television series and novels, with the Forresters often being swapped in for story beats that have been well-worn at this point in the series’ novel and television incarnations.

Where Gared’s storyline is molding into a familiar path as Jon Snow’s and a particular segment of the game echoing the infamous “Red Wedding,” the inclusion of events and characters from the TV series is both a blessing and a curse for Telltale’s series, but more often than not leading the Forrester’s story toward familiar territory.

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Aside from the more negative aspects of the pacing and familiar plot threads, “Sons of Winter” still marks an impressive step in the right direction for House Forrester.

Even with the family on the bad side of most negotiations and pearl waiting around every corner, Game of Thrones‘ fourth episode puts the family front and center and ahead of the curve in a satisfying, exciting way.

With two episodes to go until the season’s conclusion, there are still plenty of threats and more plot waiting to be unfolded for the Forrester family: the game now roughly leaves their tale, story-wise, at about the halfway point of the HBO series’ fourth season (now more than halfway through its fifth season on TV right now).

Though much of the Forrester plights can be traced to elements of the Starks, each of the individual threads for the Forresters in Telltale’s Game of Thrones are still working toward a unified cause, with the latest episode showing a bold new direction for the family in spite of the threats waiting for them.

In the game of thrones, you win or you die, and though House Forrester has always been on the verge of death in the episodic series, Episode 4 finally puts them on the narrow path toward victory.

 /  Features Editor
Ryan is the Features Editor at DualShockers, with over five years' experience in the world of video games culture and writing. He holds a BA in English & Cinema from Binghamton University, and lives in New York City.
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