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 we don't score each individually. Episode reviews like this one will be recaps and unscored critique.
You'll find Game of Thrones spoilers in here, so turn back if you want to experience the game fresh.
I knew what to expect, but even so, the first five minutes of "A Nest of Vipers" so depressed me that I switched it off in favor of toying with candyland voxels in Trove for five hours. In some ways, that's a strength of the series and a testament to how well the writers know the fans—the mere sight of Ramsay Bolton dragging a little girl through the woods while waxing poetic about hide-and-seek is enough to conjure the most awful visions. But as is so often the case with A Song of Ice and Fire, I made my way back, and I found wonderful things that counterbalanced my moments of disgust.
I've said before that the recognizable faces from the HBO series sometimes hobble the plot, and "A Nest of Vipers" seems to show that Telltale's writers realize this as well. One HBO character in particular has acted as a perverted deus ex machina throughout the series, thwarting the Forresters' every semblance of hope with darkly comical timing, and he complicates every choice since his continued existence on the HBO show means you know that no one's going to push the jerk off a cliff in the game.
And thus, under the flimsiest of pretenses and with an arguable break in character, he's whisked off the digital stage. Almost immediately the plot springs back into action like a catapult loosed from its tether, and the shift in circumstances suggests the Forresters might make it out of this nightmare with their house intact, after all.
Telltale extends this treatment to the other HBO faces. Margaery gets to flash her characteristic smirk, Cersei sends Mira Forrester on a mission, and Tyrion guzzles wine while performing his best scene in the series so far. Daenerys maintains her odd anger from the previous episode, but she swiftly ends a potentially troublesome plot thread with a gift. These are all brief moments, and in all cases the spotlight swings quickly back to Telltale's own characters like Gared Tuttle, Asher Forrester, and Rodrik Forrester. In most cases, it finds them standing fine on their own despite their heavy debts to various figures from House Stark.
They're not only standing; they're often fighting. "A Nest of Vipers" features some of the series' best fighting sequences in the series to date, with the best taking place in a gruesome fighting pit against what may be the first East Asian character in the entire corpus. These bits are particularly enjoyable since they're relevant to the plot, with key decisions hinging on whether you're good with a bow or whether you know when to fight instead of talk.
All of this suggests that the pieces are falling into place for an endgame, but the problem is that the endgame still feels far off—or at least far off enough that it can't be satisfactorily resolved within the one episode left. It's subtle, but there's an undercurrent of haste about the whole affair, not only in the shuffling aside of key HBO characters but also in the way that massive events such as a traitor's ousting drop out of the blue.
I'm a little disappointed to report that I wasn't too surprised by the betrayal itself; I'd suspected that something like this would happen as early as the first episode, where I met two characters who were at such exaggerated odds with each other. I'm also disappointed that the revelation hints that Telltale wants to shoehorn us into the same black and white extremes. Where are the gray areas Martin's world is so known for, Telltale? The traitor's speech made it sound like I was all this or that, despite my careful shift in tactics depending on the mood or the person throughout the series.
In fact, truth be told, his harangue against my supposed incompetence seemed a little short, as though I'd not done nearly as many dirty deeds as the voice actor's script called for. "But, dude," I wanted to exclaim, "what about all those times when I did exactly what you wanted me to?" He would have none of it.
Cut to the final scene, where a bunch of ruffians manage to do what the Mother of Dragons never does. This is probably my favorite scene in the series, as it forced me to make a tough decision I never saw coming—or, perhaps more accurately, one I never wanted to come. It's a decision that could dramatically alter the end of the series (at least as I envision it) and it's based as much on practicality as on love, and that's why I was so disappointed that the signature choice comparison didn't pop up when the credits rolled on my review copy. A series low, then, followed by a massive high.
"A Nest of Vipers" is a bloody episode, and one that kills off key folks so quickly that it's easy to imagine an internal memo in which the makers are accused of failing to live up to Martin's reputation. There are plenty of characters left, though, and the success of the whole series will depend on how successfully Telltale manages to bring together souls that are still hundreds of miles apart. Perhaps, about a month from now, we'll open our news feeds and learn that Telltale has decided to take the unwieldy final episode and break it into two chapters. That would be about as Martin as you can get.