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 recaps and unscored critique.
You'll find Game of Thrones spoilers in here, so turn back if you want to experience the game fresh.
Around an hour into Sons of Winter, Elaena Glenmore goads the broken and weary Rodrik Forrester into action with a pressing question: "What have you got to lose?"
I admit I laughed at the time. Elaena's words aren't meant as such, but they come off as sarcastic. Like the episodes before it, Sons of Winter reminds us that there's always something to lose, even when it seems as though the situation couldn't possibly grow more dire. Telltale's Game of Thrones series seems particularly vicious in this regard, and it clings to the idea so tenaciously that I've come to view every smile or muted expression of hope as an omen of awful things to come. At times, indeed, the series seems even more heavy-handed than George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series or the HBO Game of Thrones series, but to its credit, Telltale uses this tension to craft the finest episode in the series to date.
It's a brisk, action-oriented episode, for one, and it's largely free of the long, expository talks that bogged down our previous peeks into the affairs of House Forrester. Telltale knows we know who these characters are now, and it's increasingly willing to set aside the fan service and let the Forresters be something more than woodland versions of the Starks.
Some of the big movers and shakers from the HBO series again make appearances here, but their use sometimes feels a tad out of character. Daenerys Targaryen in particular comes off as a little nuttier than she does on HBO, as she continues to throw around words like "liar" even when confronted with almost irrefutable proof that our heroes had seen one of her dragons flapping about. She even mocks a character for flinching from one of the scaly beasts.
"Are you frightened," she asks. "I thought you'd seen a dragon before." Maybe she's fine with them snuggling her neck, but something tells me that encountering one myself isn't going to make me want to play fetch with it and feed it Milk-Bones from my hands.
Somewhat oddly, Sons of Winter sees Telltale faring better when it puts the main cast behind it. The conquest of Meereen especially gets more attention than it does on television, and Telltale uses the sequence to reveal more backstory about Asher Forrester's warrior buddy Beskha. One of the chapter's toughest choices pops up in the process, and it's followed by an excellent action sequence that feels as much dependent on light strategy as the ability to mash out QTE prompts on a gamepad or keyboard.
Sons of Winter also allows Mira Forrester to shine in King's Landing. Mira's chapters have frankly bored me for the most part until now, but the knowledge gleaned from all that chitchat allows the chapter to take on an air of urgency as she tries to sniff out information at a party. I've said before that Mira's little more than Sansa Stark, and that was true early on, but Sons of Winter sees Mira learning how to play "the game" in a way Sansa never did.
From there it's up to the Wall, where Gared Tuttle again finds himself struggling to live into his vows to the Night's Watch. Up until now, his story's almost comically parroted that of mop-haired bastard Jon Snow, but there's a significant moment here when said bastard turns his back on the Forrester squire. In response, Tuttle attempts the unthinkable. The resulting sequence is a mildly poignant reflection on the inevitability of fate and the meaning of friendship.
If there's a problem with these approaches, it's that Telltale seems to be distancing itself from criticisms that it's following associated tales in the show too closely by taking similar events and pushing them into different directions. Back on the home front, for instance, there's a scene that recalls the circumstances of the Red Wedding, but I never felt the tension I felt I was meant to since I was all but certain it wouldn't lead to the same conclusion. I also worry that the project's getting away from Telltale in much the same way as the books seem to have grown too complex for Martin. There's a lot that needs to be resolved here—a lot more, it seems, than can be resolved in two episodes. For all her confidence, Mira still seems politically weak, and Telltale seems intent on knocking the Forresters down two pegs when they move up one.
We'll worry about that later. On its own, this is a highly enjoyable episode. Scenes flow smoothly from one to another, and the only bug I saw involved a wine glass that mysteriously hovered in front of the action. (I imagine this is what Tyrion Lannister's dreams look like.) Perhaps best of all, it manages to capture the essence of Martin's world without miring itself in the same controversies surrounding the show itself over the last two weeks, but even there, it hints again that there's always something to lose.