One thing that I really love about Telltale Games’ episodic structure is the way that they’re able to ratchet up the tension as the story continues. While each installment functions well as a semi-independent chapter of the story, the true strength of the series lies in how well subsequent episodes build on the groundwork laid in previous chapters. Their Game of Thrones series is – so far at least – a masterclass in this.
The series began at the Red Wedding, where we were introduced to the Foresters, Stark vassals from the north. Prior to the wedding, it was good to be on team Stark. They were attracting allies, winning battles, and positioning themselves to become an independent kingdom of their own. The Starks weren’t after power; they wanted independence, which made it all the easier to rally to their cause.
Of course, the Red Wedding put an end to all of that.
In one act of treachery, the Stark forces were all but wiped out, with only a handful of survivors scattered to the winds. Suddenly, it wasn’t so good to have fought on the Stark side of the war, and those former allies found themselves on the wrong side of a losing war.
This is an absolutely wonderful backdrop for a story. We don’t need to know a thing about the Foresters to appreciate the terrible situation they’ve found themselves in, but as we get to know them as the series progresses, we become more and more sympathetic to their story.
Game of Thrones is a series that’s lousy with victims. It’s as much about how people on the edges suffer as the powerful fight for more power. While some triumph and some fall, the vast majority are crushed in the middle, suffering through a war they never wanted. Those who suffer the worse happen to live under the rule of the powerful men who ended up on the losing side of the fight.
This is where we find the Foresters. The family patriarch is dead, and the eldest son who now leads the family was terribly wounded. Their lands are being quickly swallowed by a rival family that just so happened to pick the winning team, and every choice they make seems to make the situation even worse.
It’s absolutely fascinating to see how bad luck compounds bad decisions, and vice versa. As a player in the story, you quickly become personally invested in the story and the characters, and and struggle to make that one right choice that will get the Forester family back on the right track.
The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a right choice. At every step, you’re trying to make the most of a bad set of options, or to mitigate the damage that you simply can’t avoid. It’s frustrating, but in all the right ways. You’re frustrated for the situations of the characters, rather than the dearth of options or poor game play.
As an added bonus, the world continues to expand as the story continues, allowing the player to experience some of Game of Thrones most important and memorable moments. The brilliant part is that you’re generally not a direct participant, but an observer on the periphery. You might meet the major characters and key decision makers of the series, but you’re not playing them, and you’re certainly not influencing them in any meaningful way.
Much like the majority of those who inhabit the world of Game of Thrones, you’re a slave to whims of the powerful and the vagueries of fate.
I still hate the watercolor look though.