Editor’s note: This review may contain potential spoilers for Telltale Games’ Game of Thrones: Episode 4 – Sons of Winter. Hodor.
Ludd Whitehill will remember that.
Jon Snow will remember that.
Daenerys Targaryen will remember that.
It’s uncanny how often you’ll encounter some permutation of these five words, but without fail, they always manage to communicate the visceral thrill and distinct pleasures that come with playing Telltale Games’ Game of Thrones series. Yet, what makes Sons of Winter stand tall as a dynamic, engrossing episode is what comes before those five little words. Moral quandaries, life-or-death choices, decisions that could change the course of your family’s fate — they’re all here and if you aren’t careful, you’ll chew your cuticles down to the bone fretting over what to do. Fortunately (or unfortunately), there’s no escaping the inexorable march of the ticking timer bar, always depleting, always taunting the player. But then again, that sort of moral and mental masochism is one of the best parts of the game.
Sons of Winter, the fourth episode in the series, wastes no time in backing the player into the corner, turning them wild and riled up like a caged animal. A fitting metaphor considering we open on Gared Tuttle being imprisoned at Castle Black after his fateful encounter with his father’s murderer, Britt, at the climax of The Sword in the Darkness. Yet, this is not where our dear Tuttle is meant to die; after all, he promised to find the North Grove! Indeed, this episode finally takes players beyond the Wall, which as we know from this week’s episode of Game of Thrones — the stunning “Hardhome” — is a place fraught with danger, death, and destruction. Though the perils that Gared and his former brothers in black face are harrowing, they almost pale in comparison to the rainbow of human cruelty that shines over the rest of Westeros, awaiting our other put-upon protagonists.
In the wake of King Joffrey’s death, Mira Forrester must perform the delicate dance of political intrigue at King’s Landing. She knows there’s a conspiracy against her family, but not who, what, when, where, or why. Okay, the why is probably to get their precious ironwood, but you catch my drift. Meanwhile, back in Ironrath, Rodrik must learn to stand tall after Gryff Whitehill and his men walked all over him and his family. Though his leg is lame, his will is strong as the ironwood that made his family famous — which is good because lesser men would bend and break when faced with the choices awaiting Rodrik on his quest to reclaim his home and rescue his brother, Ryon.
Though he may be all the way across the Narrow Sea in Essos, Asher and Beshka find themselves forced into an uncomfortable situation after their negotiation with the Mother of Dragons herself, Daenerys Targaryen. Terrible secrets, brutal battles, and one exceedingly painstaking choice await them within the heavily guarded walls of Mereen, a city not yet liberated by the Breaker of Chains. In fact, of the episode’s many intertwining stories, this one may be most effective in its mission to blend tense conversation, split-second decision-making, and blood-soaked battle sequences. Moreso than previous episodes, Sons of Winter throws the player into intense combat situations that leave you with white knuckles and a spiking heart rate.
As we enter into the latter half of the narrative, our interweaving plotlines begin to accelerate at a startling, albeit welcome pace. Previous episodes spent much of their time setting up the stakes of this alternate view of Westeros with tales of brewing family conflicts, mercenaries on the run, and high-stakes political posturing. Here, however, hands are forced, power plays are made, and irreversible courses of action are set into motion. As the dominos begin to fall, so too will the bodies, but this is Westeros after all, and if you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. Not everything is perfect about this episode. Technical glitches aside — I experienced some stuttering and audio sync issues during the “Previously On” segment — there are a few narrative conceits that don’t quite ring true, namely Daenery’s seemingly implacable, constantly rising temper; and the fact that the Night’s Watch is ready to lop off Gared’s head in spite of Jon Snow’s countless string of fuck ups. I guess this ancient brotherhood isn’t big enough for two Gary Stus…
All joking aside, Sons of Winter is one of the best episodes in the series to date, and is an absolutely essential experience for anyone looking to get an authentically immersive Game of Thrones experience. Much like the arc of a Game of Thrones season, we’re entering into endgame territory and one gets the sense that things are only going to get crazier from here on out. Clever writing, tremendous pacing, and a near-perfect blend of swordplay and wordplay make Sons of Winter an episode that I’ll be thinking about, fretting about, and obsessing over for many, many moons to come. Iron From Ice, indeed.
Rating: 4 out of 5 burritos
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One using a download code provided by Telltale Games.
Miss a previous episode review? Catch up here:
What choices did you make? Let us know in the comments below.