The saying that has defined both George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and its HBO adaptation Game of Thrones more so than any other was spoken by Cersei Lannister, before the land of Westeros was set aflame by war. “When you play the game of thrones, you win – or you die.” In the larger scheme of the series, this has always referred to the Iron Throne at King’s Landing, but it can refer to more than just that chair of blades. And in Telltale’s Game of Thrones, it can mean more than just a literal place of power. Sure, there is the throne of House Forrester that has come under threat, but it also is easily adapted to Telltale’s series itself, jockeying for legitimacy in the Thrones hierarchy against the books, the show, and previously mounted (poorly received) video games.
Rest assured, then, that Telltale is not mounting some half-assed effort. If episode one, Iron from Ice, is any indication, Telltale is making a serious play to earn a seat on the Iron Throne of brilliant fantasy storytelling alongside the show it exists in and the books it is based upon.
Taking place near the end of the third season of Game of Thrones, Telltale’s story follows five members of the House Forrester – loyal bannermen to the since deposed House Stark. Ending up on the wrong side of the war after the Red Wedding, the members of House Forrester are forced to assemble themselves as best they can with one goal – prevent the collapse of House Forrester at any cost.
That the episode opens with the Red Wedding highlights immediately the largest problem Telltale’s Game of Thrones faces – it must exist three seasons into a television show in which its characters have never once been mentioned. And yet, the main players for Forrester’s survival are scattered throughout the world with all the famous faces of the show – Margaery Tyrell, Cersei and Tyrion Lannister, and Ramsey Snow all make appearances, with more waiting in the wings. Because of that, it is difficult to initially identify with the struggles of Forrester, since they appear to be so unimportant to the larger world.
It is a testament to the writers, then, that the struggles of the three protagonists of Iron from Ice are compelling. Appearing here are Gared Tuttle, squire to Lord Forrester, Ethan Forrester, his son, and Mira Forrester, the handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing. Such a broad approach is a departure for Telltale, but one they handle with aplomb – Iron from Ice is brilliantly paced, each change of character feeling motivated as if part of a chain of events, one leading to the next. Telltale’s Game of Thrones’ structure appears to be a literalization of Telltale’s own design philosophy, one action leading to another and changing something else down the line. And all of it coming from a single decision.