You can’t buy Telltale’s adventures one episode at a time on PC; you’re buying all six in the season for $30/£23—so it doesn’t make much sense for us to score each one individually. We’ll review and score the whole package when all the episodes have been released, while individual episode reviews like this one will be unscored criticism.
You'll find Game of Thrones spoilers in here, so turn back if you want to experience the game fresh.
Asher Forrester, long exiled to Essos from his native Westeros, reminds me more than a little of Chris Pratt as Starlord in Guardians of the Galaxy. If he suddenly pulled out a Walkman around Slaver's Bay and started jammin' to The Jackson 5, I barely would have noticed. The painting in the Forrester great hall in Telltale's previous episode led me to believe that he'd be some grim, hulking Viking warlord lugging a six-foot battleaxe, but here's a guy I wouldn't mind barhopping with on Friday nights.
His character sets the tone for the episode as a whole. "The Lost Lords" is an episode of surprises with generally positive twists, and Asher's happy-go-lucky approach to his mercenary life in Yunkai (and his decidedly smaller axe) comes as merely the first. Even more surprisingly likeable is his female companion-in-arms, Beskha, whose scarred face and determined demeanor suggest a woman who could conquer Westeros herself while Xena the Warrior Princess was still busy getting ready.
Mere minutes in, she and Asher battle together, their swords disemboweling and delimbing guards as I mash button prompts and flick left and right as the screen commands. (Yes, I prefer a controller for this type of thing.) It's the first truly engaging fight scene of the series so far, fought by the first "couple" I've cared about. There's a quiet chemistry between Beskha and the wayward Forrester son; so much that, in true Martin style, it's hard to shake the feeling that these two are going to come to a bad end.
Or will they? "Iron from Ice" surprised me with death; "The Lost Lords" stunned me with life. Perhaps to a fault. A key character once thought dead turns out to be quite all right, after all, and he didn't even need a helping hand from R'hllor (although he definitely looks like he did). It's handled quite well and it's a plausible enough scenario, but it results in an episode that feels less like Game of Thrones and more like Family Guy resurrecting Brian for latter day broadcasts. The "Lazarus" in question is a welcome addition to the narrative, although the timing involved all but exposes him as a scarred deus ex machina.
From there it's off to The Wall where Gared Tuttle—Jon Snow lite—finally meets his mumbly archetype. Much like Jon Snow's first trip to The Wall, the setting change feels like the introduction of an entirely new character, and thus the segment sags a bit as Gared has to show off his skills and impress the in-crowd. Still, it points to better if familiar things ahead. Just like Snow, Gared learns how to handle himself among the rogues and ruffians he's now forced to call brothers, and just like Jon Snow, he takes a ride to the top of the wall to get a good view and a new perspective on life. The way things are going, we'd only need another version of Longclaw for the two to achieve synthesis.
Speaking of which, I said in my last review that young Mira Forrester struck me as a near-clone of Sansa Stark, but here she shows a degree of initiative that Ned Stark's little princess never had. This time around, she's less caught up in chitchat in King's Landing (although there's still plenty of that) and more concerned with demonstrating for the likes of Arya Stark that even handmaidens can wield needles with surprising dexterity.
Pity then, that the ultimate significance of the choices involved remain as iffy as it was in the previous episode (and, indeed, as it is in all Telltale games). Big decisions have an air of inevitability about them, and it's disheartening to see how little my choice of Sentinel in the first episode really mattered. I cheated a bit on a major decision by Alt-F4ing not long after making each different choice, and each time the awful turn of events unfolded no matter how I conducted myself. Is this a commentary on destiny or just the constraints of the design? Or, hell, just poor writing? I can't say.
But what I can say is that The Lost Lords sees Telltale putting aside the crutches of Martin's beloved characters and finding the strength to walk on its own. It stumbles a bit compared to "Iron From Ice," yes, and on the technical side, I experienced an issue in which the game froze up at the end on three playthroughs when I was supposed to see other players' choices. (This may spring from my early access code, but it wasn't a problem before.)
Yet there's some spirit here that may allow the series to break into the sprint it needs. Asher and Beskha bring a tale that may emerge as the series' strongest point, and the new figure in the Ironrath Forrester storyline works so well that he practically reboots the story. That, too, leads to problems, as some of the story feels rehashed as a result, and at one point I found myself in a situation roughly parallel to one I'd already seen back in December. But if there's any proof that Telltale has captured some of the same magic Martin and HBO have caught, it's that I wouldn't hesitate to experience it all over again.