The Game of Thrones Telltale series has been a mixed bag since it launched just shy of a year ago. It started on a strong note, and has certainly had its moments along the way. On the flipside though, it's also had stretches where it felt like the wheels were spinning in the mud, far too lackadaisical about advancing the story. On the whole, I've been enjoyed it, but it has consistently felt like a trudging draw back of tension, ready to explode in the final episode of the season.
And now, that finale is here. Episode 6 – The Ice Dragon promises to end the slow build up that rest of the series has been tentatively cranking. The real question is, 'is this the promised conclusion we've been waiting for?'…Honestly, I don't think you've been waiting for this conclusion, but it sure as hell delivers on the promise of being a well woven ending that fits the DNA of this universe very nicely.
Since the series debuted, the real fascination, at least for myself, has been seeing the characters we play as grow based on my decisions. It's hard to talk about how they've changed specifically, as the nuance of their character's will largely be defined by how you reacted to conversations. However, one thing I think will be universal with all players, is how this world has beaten down each member of this family. House Forrester started off the series as a noble house who clung to honour, but by the time you get to this conclusion, It feels like this series is all about that being stripped away, replaced by blood, dirt and revenge.
In my specific instance, someone like Mira has been on a hell of a journey since this series started. As her time in King's Landing has gone on, the politics of that world has hardened her to go from well-meaning handmaiden to ruthless survivor, at all costs. Experiencing her, and by proxy, my journey as she grows has been a sobering experience. In this episode, I restarted a particular scene three times to change a decision from my initial choice after betraying the trust of a friend, but each time, I couldn't bring myself to change that first instinct. This is who Mira had become. This was the choice she would make. I am playing her character instead of making choices I would from my own moral stand point. It's such an interesting phenomenon that asks me to be an actor, rather than an avatar. It's a strong feeling that I feel most prominently in TellTale games, and Game of Thrones is one of the strongest examples of this yet, especially with this conclusion.
It's hard to go into the other characters, firstly because of who is still around will change player to player and also I don't want to get into major spoilers here. However, I will say this. Telltale Games usually have this feeling that no matter what choices you make, your decisions are mostly being pushed down one road. Here, that feeling is less niggling. While the broad strokes are certainly the same, the fate of the members of House Forrester feel like they're are up in the air a little more.
If there is one weak link in the episode, it's Gared who does finally reach the end of his journey of tracking down the North Grove. I won't go too far into it, but much of what happens here is quite vague in ways that aren't entirely compelling. It means that you are forced to make decisions where the terms and context aren't laid out properly for me to understand what I'm choosing between. That is a most certainly a problem in a game like this.
Ultimately though, what I believe to be the strongest part of this episode was just how much I was pushed to make decisions that were unpleasant in order to achieve my goals. That desire to get your House's strength back and exacting what is coming to the Whitehills was the through-line through the entirety of this season. What The Ice Dragon really throws up here is the question of, 'is this revenge really worth it?' The game doesn't pose it to you explicitly, but seeing everything fall to pieces as you commit to varying degrees of this mission is fascinating and really hits home the price of war and revenge, especially in a world like this.
There was certainly a point around Episode 4 in the season where I really fell out with Game of Thrones. The halted momentum and the constant drawing of the bow with no release across several hours hurt the pacing of the series. However, as we come to the end of it, I find my interest renewed thanks to this episode, as the picture of what Telltale are putting together with Game of Thrones becomes clearer. The characters are compelling to watch grow, and despite being a little fed up with them previously in the series, it's clear I've come to actually care about their fates. This title takes the core ideas of the Game of Thrones franchise, and not just the superficial ones like 'our favorite characters being brutal killed off', but instead gets to why we find that compelling. The cost of power runs through this franchise, and, at least in this episode, that felt like it came to a head. While not what I hoped for for these character, the conclusion makes sense in this franchise. It's been a meandering journey, much like the books and show can be, but it hasn't half ended with a sharp blade to the gut. There is certainly a lot of fat in this series, but it is supported by two strong book ends, which does go a long way. While some might find its lack of complete resolution to be a betrayal of the concept, I feel the messy conclusion is well justified and befitting. When you get down to it, that is so very Game of Thrones and what more could you really ask for?