Game of Thrones: 'A Nest of Vipers' review: pick your poison

Game Info
Platform 360, PS3, Win, Mac, iOS, Android, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Telltale Games
Developer Telltale Games
Release Date Jul 21, 2015

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is the latest episodic adventure game from Telltale Games, delivered in six parts instead of the usual five. It is based on the HBO television show of the same name. George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels serve as the original source material for both.

Telltale's Game of Thrones focuses on House Forrester, a minor clan that is mentioned briefly in Martin's books but has not appeared in the show. The game is set primarily during the fourth season of the TV series. Players take the roles of five different characters: Rodrik Forrester, Lord Forrester's first-born son; Mira Forrester, the eldest daughter; Asher Forrester, the exiled second-born son; Ethan Forrester, the third-born son; and Gared Tuttle, squire to Lord Forrester.

In the spirit of the series' multi-perspective plotting, senior editor Ben Kuchera and senior reporter Samit Sarkar engage in a back-and-forth discussion of Episode Five, "A Nest of Vipers."

Ben Kuchera

"Be careful who you trust," Tyrion tells you during "A Nest of Vipers." This is a bland way for the penultimate episode of Telltale's Game of Thrones series to sum up what makes its world so interesting, with its betrayals and endless machinations. But it's still important to remember.

HBO's Game of Thrones tends to put the climax of each season in the second-to-last episode, and then have the final episode offer a surprise or two while all the characters deal with the aftermath. "A Nest of Vipers" has a different plan. This was very much an episode where pieces are moved to set up all the showdowns and confrontations likely on the way.

Telltale's Game of Thrones episode 5: 'A Nest of Vipers' screenshots

Plenty of people die in Episode Five, but very little is put to rest or resolved. Ramsay is still a cartoon monster, although even he realizes that this whole story revolves around wood.

The stakes are relatively low, and even Ramsay's cameos seem to be taking up too much of his own time. He lays down an ultimatum: The stronger house gets to control the ironwood. Strength is, of course, earned by violence. The Forresters and the Whitehills are on a path to war, and this episode deals with the ramp-up to open conflict.

Samit, I'd love to know: Did you find this episode as relatively calm as I did? So much of it dealt with the fallout of previous decisions, or leading up to larger events.

Samit Sarkar

"A Nest of Vipers" was indeed a parts-mover. I didn't mind that so much; the episode's short running time kept the pace up. My problem was that it felt like the writers at Telltale were setting the stage for their ending, not one of my choosing.

These kinds of games always have to balance telling the story that the developers want to tell against giving the player some control over that story. But playing "A Nest of Vipers" was often an exercise in frustration: On multiple occasions, it felt like the game was funneling me through story beats, rendering my dialogue choices essentially meaningless. In fact, I replayed chunks of the episode to see if the story would play out differently with other choices — nope.

You and I were discussing a story turn that resulted directly from events in Episode Four, "Sons of Winter." We made different choices in that episode, but the plotting of "A Nest of Vipers" disregarded our actions in that storyline. I suppose you could explain that away by saying it fits with the capricious decision-making that's a staple of characters in the Game of Thrones universe. But in the framework of an interactive experience in which the story is tailored by how you play, that's pretty unsatisfying. Hell, even the terrific big reveal in "A Nest of Vipers" was overshadowed by a "major" choice that didn't actually have any impact on the way the episode's climax went down.

Game of Thrones Episode Five review Tyrion crop a 480

Ben: It's really hard to talk about this stuff without delving into spoiler territory, but there was a major setpiece that took place due to a decision I made in a previous episode that I assumed could be avoided, or a better outcome achieved with a different decision. But no, this happens regardless.

I will say this: Until we talked, I was perfectly content with the way the episode went. I just assumed everything played out a certain way due to my actions, and it's only with multiple playthroughs that you begin to see how locked in the game is to a certain story or way of doing things. I enjoyed "A Nest of Vipers," and it's kind of fun to see behind the curtain when you discuss your decisions with others. The problem with knowing how a magic trick is done, however, is that you diminish your experience.

you begin to see how locked in the game is to a certain story or way of doing things

Telltale's Game of Thrones has focused on the conversations and intrigue of this world, mostly forgoing the epic battles you sometimes get on the show. I'm not complaining at all; figuring out how to get ahead in this world using your wits is way more interesting than the quick-time events you find in the battle sequences. I felt uniquely terrible at deciding when to be honest versus trying to bend someone to my will in this episode. Character after character told me how disappointed they were in my ability to work in their, or even my own, best interest. There are so many angles to every conversation that it's hard to keep everything straight, and it turns out I'm not the best at political intrigue.

Game of Thrones Episode Five review Mira crop b 480

That's part of the fun, though: trying to figure out what to say and then living with the consequences. "A Nest of Vipers" is an episode where everything you were building throughout the series seems to have dissolved, and I'm having a hard time imagining how a "happy" ending is possible. That's not a bad thing — it's very possible we've been playing a tragedy this whole time — but if someone comes in at the last moment to save the day, it kind of makes everything we've done in the previous episodes feel a little flat. This is something we're going to have to revisit once we've finished the last episode.

I laughed, I was surprised and people died. The stakes, although low for the world, are high enough for the characters we care about. Samit, how do you see this all coming out?

Samit: I'll be fine if there isn't a happy ending to this season; in fact, at this point, anything but a Pyrrhic victory for House Forrester would feel inauthentic to the story Telltale has been telling and to the Game of Thrones universe itself.

Wrap Up:

'A Nest of Vipers' prioritizes the story over your choices

Samit: As you noted, Telltale's Game of Thrones has been so fun largely because of characters and decisions that really put the screws to you, where you know that your choices may have unforeseen (and potentially deadly) consequences. The big reveal I mentioned? That scene succeeded because in the space of a few minutes, it forced me to reckon with all the decisions I'd made while playing as the character in question.

That's the power of Telltale's unique brand of tailored-by-the-player storytelling: a real sense of authorship and ownership. And that's what I want more of in the season finale. If somebody's going to save House Forrester from ruin, it better be me, dammit.

Game of Thrones: A Nest of Vipers was reviewed using Xbox One download keys and Steam download keys provided by Telltale Games. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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