It’s been over four months since the penultimate episode of Telltale’s Game of Thrones left everyone on an ominous cliffhanger. That’s far too long, even by Telltale’s standards. Too long to retain any semblance of a connection with the characters you’ve been desperately trying to save from doom. So straight away, the impact of the events in the season finale are greatly diminished by time. Sure, the big moments are as brutal and visceral as you’d expect from Game of Thrones and the decisions hold just enough weight to leave you wondering if there is ever going to be a way out for the beleaguered Forrester family, but never has there been a better advertisement for holding out on a Telltale series till all episodes are available than with The Ice Dragon.
The end of the previous episode continued in much the same way it began; with the various scattered members of House Forrester desperately struggling to find a solution to the increasingly volatile relations with the odious Whitehill family. The tension has been building between the two families all season long and left me with a passionate hatred for the manner in which the Whitehills have encroached upon Ironrath, the home of the Forresters, the game has done a superb job keeping that chance at full on revenge at arms length, making you think you’ll get it eventually, but being in George R.R. Martin’s world means things are rarely that simple, and not everybody gets what they deserve, in fact, barely anyone does. The most recent television series was criticised for being overly bleak, and a little of that has rubbed off on Telltale, with this episode leaving some plot threads firmly cut, burned and buried for any possible second season.
Asher comes into his own in this episode. Finally back in Ironrath just in time for all out war, he is quickly thrown into the deep end and takes the pressure admirably. He (and you) know that some situations are simply unwinnable, and about getting the best results out of them. His evolution from quipping grunt to a passionate leader of men has turned out to be one of the better tales told in this season. He’s still pig-headed and a little underdeveloped, but miles from the vacant husk of the second episode. There are moments of vulnerability for the character here that go a long way to endearing him to the player. I’ve noted throughout the season that Asher and Gared have gone in opposite directions from their starting points, and it remains true here. Asher is the one member of the Forresters that feels like his own man, not a copy/paste of a Stark family member (even with a small hint of Robb Stark to his unrequited love subplot).
Gared Tuttle has been on a steady decline into Jon Snow territory for a while now, and of all the characters we’ve played as over the season, he is still the most blatantly lazy facsimile for an established character by far. At this point the similarities are bordering on parody. Unofficial member of a noble family? Getting pally with Wildlings? Unpopular best friend? At odds with the Night’s Watch? Caught up in some supernatural on the wrong side of the wall? All this and more describe both Mr Snow and Mr Tuttle to a tee. It’s a crime that the promise of Gared as a character in the first episode has been thrown aside to create a duller version of the HBO show’s heartthrob. His story has great implications for any second season, but at this point, it’s hard to care.
The cast left at House Forrester flit in and out of the episode, spouting small expositional reminders while doing little more than exist. This could be said for most of the supporting cast in this episode. The clear exception is that Lord Whitehill gets to be an even bigger bastard than before and that sort of takes over the majority of the episode’s time in Ironrath with it, which is fine I suppose as he gives much needed focus to the overarching plotline with his overall unpleasantness. Beshka has important moments, but sadly has little interesting to say or do this time around. She’s a character I’d be more than happy to see in a future series, as outside of the TV cast and the Forresters she is by far the most intriguing personality.
Then, there is probably the standout story of the entire season. Mira’s attempt to wrangle the devious politics of King’s Landing has always looked like a doomed cause, but I couldn’t help but root for her every little victory. The strong air of defiance and action she embodies, even in her darkest moments, has been fascinating to watch. Her story in season one wraps with one of those ‘’Telltale Games Moments’’ that echo in your mind much longer than the story itself and easily produces the best scene in the whole season. It’s not overly dramatic, gory or even shocking, rather it is a moment of grim calm. Mira pushes beyond Rodrik in the battle for my favourite playable character in Game of Thrones with the events of this episode, and that’s saying something as Rodrik has been the one to hit the headiest of heights throughout the season.
The wait between episodes has been poorly handled, but you could forgive that if this finale was something spectacular. It isn’t though. Plenty of strong, memorable events occur, but the fabric connecting them feels flimsy. For starters, it baffles me that Game of Thrones features both the best and worst voice acting in any Telltale series so far. The playable cast have all been decent, with Rodrik and Mira being the standouts, while the likes of Beshka and Lord Whitehill are the best examples in the supporting cast. This episode relies less on employing the cast of the TV series, allowing the game’s cast to tell their own story, but when they have appeared, they’ve been as good as their televisual counterparts. The problem lies with only a few voices, but they are grating enough to be a constant thorn in the game’s side. I’ve harked on about Lord Whitehill’s daughter having a jarring, waffly Australian accent since episode two, nothing in Game of Thrones annoyed me quite that much, and its reappearance here doesn’t do anything to change my mind.
They even throw in another Aussie accent briefly as if to make it less noticeable, but alas, it just means there are two jarring Aussie accents. It just doesn’t fit well, more so when her father is as northern English as Brian Glover reciting the northerner’s skit by Monty Python while drinking a pint of gravy on t’moors. So when an important decision revolved around her reasoning, I felt no need to heed her wishes. She has fresh contenders in The Ice Dragon though, a newly introduced brother/sister combo have wayward accents, delivered in such a stilted manner you think you’d walked into a stilt-walkers convention. They appear to be trying to sound Scandinavian, yet it jumps from the Muppet’s Swedish Chef to Russian gangster to Celtic. I started having flashbacks to the audio horror that was Just Cause 2’s voice acting and I had to sit in a corner for a bit. Deeply traumatic that one.
The other glaring issue is how messy the finale feels on a technical level. Tales from the Borderlands and Minecraft Story Mode seem to have ironed out the jerky camera and stuttering frame rate in transitions, but here those old issues not only return, but somehow are worse than before. At least three times a potentially exciting moment was hampered by the game lurching to a slow amble just when a smoothness was required, and this problem exists before and after every loading screen too. I can only hope that this is the last time we see it this bad, but with over double the regular time needed to sort this episode out, you expect a lot better.
The stirring battles, backstabbing dialogue and somber realisations of the finale certainly thrill and captivate as they are meant to, but there is this nagging feeling that too much is left up in the air for the purpose of a second season. Even the threads that seem like they should be resolved are cheekily framed so they could yet turn out to be a bluff. Closure is needed for certain parts of the story told here and by denying that for the sake of false cliffhangers feels unnecessary and a bit insulting as a reward for finishing the game.