As a kind of sidebar to R. R. Martin’s fantasy world, Telltale Games’ episodic series has proven successful as a new venue into Westeros without tromping over main plot points and story arcs left for the books and TV series. In delivery, however, fifth chapter Game of Thrones: A Nest of Vipers is very similar to the lauded “episode 9 thriller” pattern that occurs each TV season. With everyone expecting a major cliffhanger at the season finale, the showrunners hit us earlier than expected (almost always with a major character death). It seems like Telltale has taken more than a few cues from there, and for good reason.
A Nest of Vipers is an emotional rollercoaster, similar in crescendo and payoff. I went into the episode expecting a cataclysm and got what I wanted and more. It’s a whirlwind of hurt. As the credits rolled the idea of drowning came to mind; The people of House Forrester are in over their heads, desperately clawing for the surface, as watery demons born from their own cunning and the unyielding meanness of others – factors all completely out of their hands–clutch their ankles and threaten to drown them.
Rodrik tries to balance his individual family members’ demands and well-being while dealing with a hidden traitor, the Whitehills mounting threats, and the woman he loves. Asher desperately tries to build an army to bring home while placating his best friend Beskha, who grows more and more uncomfortable as Asher drags her deeper into his mess. Mira is playing the game of thrones with the Lannister and Tyrell families in King’s Landing, caught in a mess with the Queen and Queen Regent and completely abandoned by any friends she once had. And Gared is still ever marching beyond the wall, looking for the mysterious North Grove that could potentially save the Forrester family from ruin. In all these scenarios, the company you choose to keep won’t necessarily be there for you when your luck runs out, and it’s maddening to watch the allies you thought you had, some whom you’ve taken great risks for, either walk away or hinder your progress.
Many other smaller choices made early in this episode will affect how well you are able to execute your plans later on. It genuinely feels like you have a heavy hand in how these situations pan out. How merciful you are in combat could lose you respect among the rabble of newly liberated Meereen. Whether or not you comfort someone who has hit rock bottom could affect how much he or she supports you later. The butterfly effect of what you do in the moment coming back to haunt you later is a real threat throughout the episode, providing for a tense, and riveting, two-hour ride. But more importantly, many of these scenes make you think harder about those dialogue choices.
There is no way to tell which choice will placate someone and which will anger them, which will save you and which will damn you. This push to think harder – and sometimes panic and choose quick choices in the limited time you have – does an excellent job of building tension, creating situations that don’t just pluck at the nerves but sometimes genuinely make you feel sick.
With one episode remaining, and multiple major arcs and conflicts set to explode all at once, I honestly can’t see how everything is going to be resolved in just a few hours, especially after surviving Game of Thrones: A Nest of Vipers. Maybe that’s the idea Telltale has in mind, however, and wants something for us to chew on before Season 2 debuts (if ever). Whatever the case, their season finale can’t get here fast enough.