Living through the Red Wedding the first time was bad enough, so it’s evidence of Telltale’s sadistic streak that it wants us to revisit the scene of the Stark-slaying crime. In fairness, your participation during the developer’s debut Game of Thrones episode is slightly less harrowing, but nevertheless it gets proceedings off to quite the stern start.
Stationed outside the venue of the Bolton’s butchery, Iron From Ice kicks-off with you in the shoes of Gared Tuttle, squire to Lord Forrester. Although not for long, as the opening sees the big man, and pretty much everyone in your camp, get brutally murdered as part of the underhanded power play. And so the events of this series are set in motion.
One thing that differentiates Thrones from Telltale’s flagship series is the number of player characters: there will be five in total, with this first part seeing you inhabit two more in addition to Tuttle. All are affiliated with House Forrester, and vary across the age/sex/location spectrum. They’re a faction that hasn’t appeared in HBO’s mega-series, but the game quickly brings you up to speed: this lot have been loyal Stark bannermen for generations.
Of course their fealty to Rob and co puts them at risk in the wake of the murderous marriage ceremony, and it’s this that the plot centres around. The second character you control is young Ethan Forrester, thrust into the big chair following his pa’s demise. His scenes are where Telltale’s strengths most shine through, as you must balance the desire to stand up for your people with the reality of your situation, faced as your are with more powerful enemies. It taps into what the books and TV show are really all about: cat-and-mouse politicking, and the transient nature of authority.
Finally (for now) you’re put in the stead of Mira, handmaiden of Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing. It’s here where the show’s cast is most prominent, with Cersei, Tyrion and MT all voiced by their TV counterparts. Sadly the script can’t match what they’re used to, with several scenes throughout coming across as overly twee despite the occasionally coarse language. And this connects to the biggest problem Telltale seems set to have as it continues: the aesthetic. The aimed-for ‘oil painting’ look is simply too sanitised for both the atmosphere and the events unfolding, with the whole affair possessing something of a Disney sheen that just doesn’t fit. This is grim, gritty, violent fantasy, not clean-cut.
That said, even this opening instalment is packed with tricky decisions to make, and by recreating the source material’s uncertain power dynamic you’ll often be left wondering if you could have done things better. What also seems to be shared is a desire to shock, and scenes which will be prime spoiler-fodder for anyone so inclined. (We’re nicer than that, so fear not.)
It’s a slightly uncertain start then, which is both surprising given Telltale’s recent track record, and not so given the magnitude of the IP being tackled. But despite some surface failings there’s potential here, and the understanding of what makes Thrones tick should stand us in good stead for the winter to come.