The finale of Telltale's Game of Thrones series finally takes into account the choices you've made in the past five episodes. There have been tough decisions aplenty since Episode One's launch last December, although they never quite felt as though they were connected to something more meaningful down the line. When interrogated, did you tell Cersei what she wanted to hear? Or maybe you sided with Margaery? Were you honest with Daenerys Targaryen? And did you brazenly stand up to the Whitehills, or did you bend the knee and bide your time?
In Episode Six, The Ice Dragon, it's time to pay the piper and suffer the consequences of all these choices. And although this episode leans a little too heavily on some odd elements that feel out of character for the Game of Thrones universe, the climax of the Forresters' story brews a perfect mix of anxiety, heartbreak, and a smidge of genuine horror.
We open on our scattered heroes in their direst hour. Gared, with Sylvi and a wounded Cotter in tow, finally finds the North Grove, and it's nothing like he imagined. Mira is straddling the line between continuing the fight to save her family and abandoning the endeavor to save herself from disgrace and other awful punishments. Back at Ironrath, the remaining Forresters are rallying for a showdown against the Whitehills but are struggling to find a way to beat them without endangering their captive little brother, Ryon.
It's apparent the moment the episode opens that the end is nigh for our friends in House Forrester, and that everything you've made them do in the name of the family will come down to one final struggle. Depending on the choices you've had each individual character make, Episode Six is either a perilous minefield of ugly choices, or it offers more breathing room for you to manipulate circumstances in your favor. For example, Mira's tale of currying favor and keeping her loyalties finally comes to its heartbreaking head; if you've stood by Margaery she may stand by you too, but Sera is another story. Being a good friend could cost you your own safety--or your honesty and openness could win you a strong ally. Where her story goes is entirely dependent on how you've had Mira play the social circles in King's Landing, and the tiniest decisions she's made in the past can either come back to bite her or save her skin.
The same is true for all other members of House Forrester as our journey with them comes to a close. A major decision you had to make at the end of the previous episode completely alters the chain of events for the finale. Depending on that choice, you'll have a different set of options for staving off the Whitehills' invasion of Ironrath, down to the place, time, and allies you have when the final conflict starts. These diverging paths result in two entirely different episodes--one more focused on stealth and cunning, the other a little more tailored to brute-forcing your way--and it's worth going back and playing twice to see how both decisions play out.
In fact, if you're one of those players who needs to replay narrative-driven games to see all possible outcomes, The Ice Dragon may give you a headache. In addition to the two differing experiences dictated by the final moment of Episode Five, there are at least a dozen different branching routes to get to the end of the episode. I played through the episode four separate times, taking several stops to rewind to specific moments to see things unfold differently. It's a lot to unpack, and having so much variety in the finale has allowed the series--which has had its highs and disappointing lows--to end on a deeply emotionally note.
Without getting into spoilers, here's just a small description of how deep the rabbit hole of decision goes in The Ice Dragon: Depending on who is in charge at Ironrath, your plan of attack against the Whitehills changes. On several occasions, you're tempted to call off your plans. And if you do, you could endanger someone dear to you. But if you stick to the plan, you may lose someone else. And even if everything goes according to the plan, there's still the chance that something you've done episodes prior will result in something terrible happening to someone else. It's a nasty web of tension and grief that grants the series its perfect tragic ending, in true Game of Thrones style.
In other instances, small, seemingly unimportant decisions made at the beginning of the episodes can mean life and death for others, or whether or not you get your way. Being cocky to a potential new ally could cost you their respect. Allowing someone you love to stay near the front lines of battle could result in a terrible end of them later--and if you sent them away beforehand, they may be angry, but at least they'll be safe. It's a delicate balancing act, and the tension these decisions create has a lasting effect This episode is very good at making you second-guess yourself.
There are also some terribly gross moments that, in typical Telltale fashion, you'll be pressing buttons to complete yourself. If you thought helping Clementine stitch up her own arm was terrible, The Ice Dragon presents a particularly gruesome situation that trumps DIY stitches by miles. It's a gut-wrenching moment on both an emotional and physical level, and you never see it coming.
This episode's unpredictability is a first for Telltale's series. In previous episodes, you always had at least some sense of where things were going. You had a feeling Mira would have to choose between Tyrion and Cersei, and Margaery would be mad either way. You knew Asher would screw up his mission for Daenerys. You saw Talia's descent into a vengeful young woman coming. But The Ice Dragon throws no fewer than three plot twists at you, and it does so in moments that catch you entirely off guard. They are well-placed and well-executed, making the finale the most uneasy and traumatic episode in the series.
Like episodes before it, The Ice Dragon treads ground familiar to those who watch Game of Thrones. We go to The Wall and to King's Landing, see Ramsay Bolton's cruelty and Cersei Lannister's cunning firsthand. We meet Wildlings and the Night's Watch, pit fighters and slave traders. We see all these things in the source material; they all appear in the stories of the Starks. In the game, it felt as though we were watching the same story played out with a different cast. But Telltale's Game of Thrones takes some surprising turns in its later episodes, and although the Forresters' tale isn't as grand as the Starks', it does capture the desperation of one family to protect their honor and each other, no matter what the cost.
However, The Ice Dragon introduces more magical elements into the series--elements that feel like they would be more at home in Harry Potter than Game of Thrones. They feel a little too deus ex machina, and just a tad too fantastical to not roll your eyes at. I recognize that Game of Thrones contains its fair share of the eerie, including snow zombies and women birthing shadow creatures, but the show never presents the supernatural as something that's just hanging around waiting to be utilized. There are no overt magic spells or magical people, and their presentation has always been spooky rather than spectacle. But in Telltale's game, the circumstances and characters connected to these elements are shocking and a little sad, but the magic bits feel so out of place it's hard to invest in that part of the plot.
In the end, Telltale's Game of Thrones succeeds in telling a violent, sad story that feels very much at home in the world of Westeros. By the finale, the danger feels real and your choices feel like they have mattered. At times the episodes pass over ground well-trodden by the original series and the game feels more like an adaptation of the source material than a standalone story, but the introduction of several unpredictable plot twists makes up for the predictability of its earlier episodes. Telltale's Game of Thrones delivers grand battles and unavoidable heartbreak, and despite some out-of-place or overused elements from the source material, it's a journey in Westeros worth having.