As Game of Thrones and the A Song of Ice and Fire series have been so well known for, alliances and loyalties are merely pieces in the series’ ever-changing chessboard.
As breakable as a rusty sword’s blade and as prone to destruction as any fortress or ships of the sea, the intricate politics and devastating double-crosses that Game of Thrones are known for are among one of the biggest reasons why it’s become such a huge cultural phenomenon.
In Telltale Games’ episodic adaptation of the series, figuring out who to trust and who to look out for has never reached such a boiling point.
Continuing with the branching storylines of House Forrester following the second episode in February, the epsiode marched on this week with the release of the series’ third episode, “The Sword in the Darkness,” and taking its stories to some unexpected and terrifying new places.
Juggling between the various storylines of the Forrester clan with Mira, Rodrik, Asher, and Gared all playing their part across Westeros and beyond, Episode 3 comes together remarkably as the high point in the series so far.
Coming off the somewhat shaky first episode, “The Sword in the Darkness” easily stands as the high point of the series so far; though it’s far less action heavy than the previous two installments, its genuinely challenging decisions and story progression help to make this title stand out a little clearer from the rest of the Telltale pack, with the series finally coming into its own.
More importantly, Episode 3 truly evokes the heart of both the television series and novels, and that when you play the game of thrones, there is never truly a decision that distinguishes between “winning” and “dying.”
Moving briskly between its four separate storyline, “The Sword in the Darkness” progresses between the tales of the aforementioned characters at a quick, but never brief, pace.
With three of the Forrester clan members working to survive in Westeros while another works for forge alliances and gathers an army of Essos, this episode’s position as the middle of the season carries with it a lot of narrative weight.
Thankfully, the episode pays off well with the build-up from the previous two episodes, while giving an exciting look at what lies ahead in the remaining three installments.
Though this episode contains less action than the numerous set pieces that filled the first and second episodes, it challenges players all throughout its roughly 90 minute running time with hard decisions that will truly make players grief-stricken about what the right course of action is.
As Game of Thrones has proven time and time again, bad things happen to its best-intentioned players while the cruel and merciless get away clean, and Telltale’s episodic title has continued admirably to hit that vein.
In particular though, the decisions faced during Episode 3 reinforce the fact that, no matter what, the outcomes chosen by the player will never be able to please everyone.
In cases where alliances have to be forged and relationships saved, many of the most tense and nerve-wracking situations come from decisions where choices are nearly no-win scenarios. While one decision may appease one particular party/character, another will have dire consequences for the other.
Many moments of “The Sword in the Darkness” had me genuinely struck, waiting until the last possible second to weigh my options and make a decision I may or may not have regretted.
As the season moves into its second half, the foundations laid by the series’ first two episodes have finally begun to hold and take shape — decisions and implications from Mira’s dealings in King’s Landing are starting to build (in ways both good and bad), to Asher’s quest to find an army to defend House Forrester, to Gared and Rodrik’s difficult situations in Castle Black and Ironrath, respectively.
After two episodes of world-building and introducing us to the players of this version of Game of Thrones, the third episode covers a lot of ground between its four running storylines and for the most part keeps its well-paced experience continually exciting, even if to varying degrees.
In particular, Mira’s storyline of acquiring funds and business negotiations in King’s Landing remains one of the highlights of the series so far, with politics, intrigue, and the occasional dose of violence making it ripe with the kind of tension that only Game of Thrones can accomplish.
On the eve of King Joffrey and Lady Margaery’s wedding day, tensions between Mira and her relationships with Margaery and the Lannister siblings, Cersei and Tyrion, are running at an all time high.
With Mira now faced between her loyalties to the crown versus the needs of her family, her storyline provided some of the most difficult decisions yet, with a few particular scenarios that I can’t wait to see how they play out in later installments.
Between choosing whether to keep up her word to Cersei and Margaery or continuing to secure business deals that could save the Forrester family with Tyrion, of all the Forrester clan’s tales it is Mira’s story which contains the most tragedy.
Going in either direction of either being faithful to the Westeros nobility or to saving House Forrester, Mira’s storyline continues to throb with the tension of House Forrester’s fate in the hands of perhaps the most delicate member of House Forrester, and the ways which her story spins is always unexpected and gripping.
On the other side of the world in Essos, Asher’s tale of acquiring an army of sellswords to defend House Forrester against its many incoming enemies continues to thrill with equal doses of action and intrigue.
Kicking off with a tense action sequence right from the beginning with swordplay and a satisfying cameo from Drogon (one of the famed dragons of Daenarys Targaryen herself), the bright colors and vivid turmoil in Essos give a nice break from the action in Westeros, but still retain great significance to the overall plot.
Partnered with Beskha and Malcolm in their quest to find a mercenary army, Asher’s storyline breaks up the pace with charm and even light doses of humor — or at least the minimal amount of humor that can balance out the death and violence around every corner — with Asher and Beshka continuing to be a great pair.
In Gared’s side of the story following his arrival at Castle Black last time around, Episode 3 moves the younger Forrester’s story forward by taking his oath and officially donning him a member of the Night’s Watch.
Similarly to Mira’s storyline, Gared’s plot comes to a crossroads between his duties taking the black and his responsibilities to aid House Forrester — a conflict that makes itself apparent by the episode’s end.
With Gared guarding secrets and finding out new details about the mysterious “North Grove” alluded to in earlier episodes, Telltale’s build on what exactly the fabled stronghold is and what it can provide to the Forrester clan is a good mystery that is sure to play a big role in later episodes.
Though Gared’s storyline could have easily hit a brick wall at Castle Black and contain little-to-no progression for the overall Forrester plot, it instead makes it possibly into the most crucial element of House Forrester’s survival.
Though there is still plenty more to be seen of what exactly Gared’s involvement with both the Night’s Watch and his duties to his house will hold, a newfound mystery and purpose will continue to make the storyline intriguing but also difficult to make decisions that will work out well, in either direction.
Back at home in the forests of Ironrath, Rodrik’s storyline unfortunately continues to falter slightly as the weakest of the series’ plot threads, with Rodrik having taken over as House Forrester’s leader but faced with opposition on every side.
While maintaining dignity and keeping his pride to House Forrester but also bearing its survival in mind, most of Rodrik’s thread forces him between submitting to the oppressive House Whitehill and keeping Ironrath from falling apart.
Though Rodrik’s plot is rich with sympathy for a beaten, battered man struggling to keep everything together, the Ironrath plot-thread continues to move along slowly compared to Mira, Asher, and Gared’s adventures.
Little has progressed beyond Rodrik and company being oppressed and berated by the Whitehill clan, often repeating events we have already seen in the previous two episodes — with one of the Whitehills coming up to threaten Rodrik and his family, the choices come down to either standing up and facing dire consequences or submitting to humiliation and mockery, but keeping the family alive.
Though the tension in those scenes are still palpable and awful to sit through, the storyline still suffers from repetition and the misery that the Forresters have been experiencing is getting old.
However, new information acquired from an unlikely source does lead to some genuine development, leading me to play more warily in what will surely be a big plot point for Rodrik in the next episode.
Despite the growing pains of the last few installments due to technical issues and slight narrative misgivings, Telltale’s rendition of Game of Thrones has finally come into its own with an episode that neatly builds on the setup of the last two episodes, while also promising some exciting new territory in the later half of the season.
Though it’s hard to believe that the series is already halfway through its run, Telltale hasn’t let up its grip when it comes to providing a storytelling experience that remains faithful to the setting that many know and love but, more importantly, has led to characters we can root for just as heavily as Jon Snow or Tyrion Lannister.
The game of thrones is never an easy game to play, and while House Forrester is currently on the losing end of it, “The Sword in the Darkness” at least shows that hope may still remain for the family’s safety by the season’s end: even if it’s only a silver lining.