Review: Game of Thrones: Episode 5 – Chaos is a Ladder
As told by the fiery priestess Melisandre in Game of Thrones, “the night is dark and full of terrors” and in the case of Telltale Games’ rendition of the series, night for House Forrester and their (few) allies has only grown darker.
Flanked on all fronts by imminent threats from rival houses, Telltale’s Game of Thrones reaches its penultimate episode in the season with Episode 5, appropriately titled “A Nest of Vipers” given that the stakes for the Forresters have been raised to their absolute highest.
While players will be in for an episode filled with tense, impactful decisions, they are also in for the series’ truest episode to date that reflects the politics and perils that have long defined the experience of Game of Thrones.
Picking up from the conclusion of “Sons of Winter,” Telltale’s Game of Thrones tightens the screws for House Forrester in its fifth episode.
Kicking off the episode with a tense confrontation between Rodrik and Ramsay Snow, “A Nest of Vipers” quickly establishes that while the previous episode marked a satisfying string of victories for the Forresters, things quickly turn and at this point, anything can happen.
As both the original A Song of Ice and Fire novels and HBO’s television series have shown time and time again, major deaths and surprises come quickly and without compromise in George R.R. Martin’s world, and this episode accomplishes this strongly in its 1.5 hour running time.
As the penultimate chapter before we see the ultimate fates of Rodrik, Asher, Mira, and the rest of the Forrester clan, it forces players into some of the grueling decisions that the series has had yet, and leading to what will (hopefully) be a gut-wrenching conclusion.
Like with previous Telltale titles, Episode 5 of Game of Thrones switches players between the perspectives of four playable members of House Forrester, spanning across the continents of Westeros and Essos in varying perspectives.
Bouncing between the storylines of Rodrik, Garred, Asher, and Mira, the previous four episodes of primarily character development and small plot developments builds up to a head in “A Nest of Vipers,” which effectively drops all the pieces on the board, and will leave players to pick them back up in the upcoming final episode.
As Telltale’s Game of Thrones notably eschewed the typical five-episode structure of its previous games for a six-episode arc instead, this episode finally drives the series to a place where the various pieces and parts that the series has been moving around are finally starting to feel like they are clicking together.
Where previous episodes of Game of Thrones felt dragged down by excessive character development and repetitive plot threads/themes from both the television series and Telltale’s other titles, Episode 5 keeps up a brisk pace with a better sense of impact.
Previous actions will come into play in key moments and that comes through at numerous points throughout the story as each of the playable members must come to terms with their past while testing their virtues in the present.
This perhaps come through the clearest in the storylines of the eldest Forresters, Rodrik and Asher, as their storylines take up the bulk of the attention and converge for a dramatic set piece to close out the episode.
In “Sons of Winter,” Rodrik’s storyline finally took a turn for the better as the monotonous cycle of oppression at the hands of the Whitehills came to (nearly) a close with the capture of Gryff Whitehill and negotiations with his egregious father Ludd.
While the fleeting moments of victory for House Forrester are quickly taken down a peg by the appearance of Ramsay Snow in Ironrath, Rodrik’s storyline has continued to improve even with the situation continually growing dire at their home.
In particular, Rodrik’s storyline brings forth more intrigue that (thankfully) provides more varied plot threads than the continuing abuse by the Whitehills and their other adversaries.
Rodrik’s relationship with Elaena continues to develop and can branch into very different paths depending on your previous actions and the consequences of those events.
Most of all, Rodrik’s storyline also brings a conclusion to the threat of a “traitor” within House Forrester’s midst, though perhaps not as successfully (or shockingly) as fans of the novels or TV series have known from the countless cliffhangers the series is so well known for.
While obviously we won’t go too far into detail of it for the sake of spoilers (and being dependent on player choice), suffice it to say that even if you have been paying minimal attention to the internal struggles of House Forrester, it’s far from surprising to see the outcome of who the traitor is among the Forrester clan.
While oceans away and leagues apart, Asher and his close companion Beskha move forward in their quest to assemble an army to defend House Forrester and encountering equal amounts of danger in Essos along the way.
As Asher’s segments of the game have been focused on plenty of action set pieces, Episode 5 continues to fit that mold as Asher and Beskha find themselves unsuccessful in obtaining an army from Daenarys Targaryen, but the player’s decisions in previous episodes may still net them some rewards.
Meanwhile, the episode then puts Asher in situations of life-and-death as instead, they seek the help of Meereen’s pit fighters to aid in the fight for Ironrath.
Though Mira and Gared take a bit of a backseat compared to Rodrik and Asher this time around, their respective stories each provide their own moments of intrigue and excitement to varying degrees.
As Mira’s story has previously contained the most situations where players must negotiate and weave through the politics that Game of Thrones is so well known for, her presence this time around is a bit more limited, but does contain two great sequences with Cersei and Tyrion Lannister that test your wits as much as your loyalty to the crown, and to your family.
While growing stronger each episode, Gared’s storyline in “A Nest of Vipers” overcomes some of its more tedious plot with finding the fabled “North Grove” that may save House Forrester thanks to some tense action sequences.
Stranded in the wilderness beyond Castle Black, encounters with wildlings and a new enemy provide a great action set-piece for the episode, despite the minimal story momentum that often has made Gared’s storyline one of the least-interesting aspects of Telltale’s Game of Thrones, with this episode being no exception.
After four previous episodes, Episode 5 mostly succeeds in providing players with tense situations and consequences that will be sure to haunt them in the impending season finale, especially in regards to a shocking and heart-wrenching conclusion.
That being said, as much as it has contained some of the stronger elements of the series so far, in many ways it also highlights more of the technical and storytelling weaknesses that has burdened the games compared to Telltale’s other forays in the past.
While a few technical issues cropped up such as audio glitches during a crowd scene in Meereen and occasional stuttering that may be slight distractions, the more apparent issues with Episode 5 (and in some instances Game of Thrones as a whole) seem to show Telltale’s ambition for the series stretching beyond its technical abilities.
For instance, where Asher’s fight in the pit feels appropriately intense in many ways, it’s undone slightly by slightly unpolished animations.
The conclusion to Episode 5 features a sudden battle in the Forrester’s home of Ironrath where it quickly becomes a struggle of life or death, yet much of the motivation to protect Ironrath feels undermined at the fact that the town seems populated by ten residents at a time.
These technical issues, though slight, join some of the other inconsistencies with the series’ storytelling so far, including characterization that feels off with many of the characters implemented from the television, most notably those such as Daenarys.
Though seen as a strong-willed but not unmerciful leader in the television series, her often abrasive attitude in Telltale’s series feels off-model to her portrayal in the show, especially given the game relies so heavily on the events and canon of the HBO series.
Despite some of these nagging issues, the conclusion of Telltale’s Game of Thrones is nearly upon us, and for the most part, “A Nest of Vipers” succeeds in setting up the pieces for the endgame.
With one episode left to go, Episode 5 keeps up the pace and, most importantly, is starting to merge each of the respective storylines at Ironrath, King’s Landing, Meereen, and Castle Black together, despite the respective members of House Forrester being miles apart.
The reputation of the franchise through both the HBO television series and the original novels has always rested upon the fact that good things don’t necessarily happen to good people: instead, every character’s fate is up in the air.
“Good” and “Evil” aren’t entirely so clear cut in the world of Game of Thrones, and what fate lies ahead for House Forrester is unknown. However, Episode 5 of Telltale’s story still sets up what will hopefully be a satisfying end to the game of thrones: whether House Forrester wins or dies.