Would you have the intestinal fortitude to stare down Ramsay Snow, Game Of Thrones’ maddest of homicidal bastards? Or would you, faced with this regrettable situation, instead bend the knee and hope he doesn’t get bored and scoop out your eyes with a melon baller?
This is but one of the many difficult, possibly fatal decisions you face in the first episode of Telltale’s latest episodic game series. Based on HBO’s Game Of Thrones TV show (and in turn, George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire books), the game is projected to encompass six episodes, during which you’ll control five different characters and face many other harrowing decisions, each one engineered and audience-tested to instill the maximum amount of instant regret.
“Iron From Ice,” the premiere episode, begins with Gerad, a squire in the service of House Forrester, a respected family from Westeros’ North. Gerad has just been promoted by Lord Forrester, and everything appears to be going well at camp—lots of drinking, storytelling, and general merriment—which, in the Game Of Thrones world, is an ironclad guarantee that bad times are around the corner.
Indeed, Gerad’s big day goes to hell. It’s his poor luck to have gotten a raise on the evening of the infamous Red Wedding. Or good luck, depending on how you look at it: When everyone else is dead, you effectively become your own boss. As the young squire makes his way back home, entrusted with Lord Forrester’s sword and dying request, your perspective switches to Ethan Forrester, the young man who will now lead his house as it tries to recover and survive following the massacre. As the third son, Ethan was looking forward to an easy life of wealth, leisure, and no real responsibilities beyond single-handedly supporting the Forrester tavern and brothel economies (presumably). Thrust into a leadership role before he can even shave, Ethan must decide whose council to trust in these trying times.
The game’s third and final protagonist is Ethan’s sister, Mira, a handmaiden to Lady Margaery in King’s Landing. Her decisions aren’t immediate life-and-death matters, but politics in the Westerosi capital city can be as dangerous as any battlefield. Her family, one-time vassals of the deposed Stark clan, makes Mira persona-non-grata as far as Queen Cersei is concerned. But the young woman is determined to help her family any way she can—even if that means standing up to the Queen and her tyrant’s eyebrows.
George R.R. Martin’s last book, A Dance With Dragons, came out back in 2011. Fans are starved for something—anything—new. And while the HBO program is great, its subject matter doesn’t stretch much beyond the scope of the novels. “Iron From Ice” feels like a legitimate part of the Game Of Thrones universe, and not just a cheap franchisee, making it arguably a more exciting development than the next season of the show itself. This legitimacy is aided by the game’s inclusion of actors from the show. (Peter Dinklage, in particular, acquits himself nicely after his turn in Destiny and the moon wizard debacle.) Cersei’s snarling contempt comes through perfectly thanks to Lena Headey’s familiar haughtiness. And although the new “living oil painting” animation style doesn’t do much for Ramsay Snow, his in-game avatar nevertheless contains all of the unpredictable menace brought forth by Iwan Rheon.
The real triumph here is how deftly Telltale has managed to distill the essence of Game Of Thrones’ appeal—something that even the series’ author can’t manage in anything under 1,000 pages. Martin’s inability to scale down stands in contrast to the first episode’s sub-two-hour running time. It speaks volumes that “Iron From Ice” packs much of the same emotional wallop as the books and show. I’m just as excited to see where this story goes as I am the next book, and the knowledge that the game’s next chapter will be released on a regular schedule is a balm to this impatient fan.
Game Of Thrones: A Telltale Series, Episode One—Iron From Ice
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: iPad/iPhone, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Android (coming soon)
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Price: $5 per episode; $25 for entire six-episode season