Everything you’ve been fighting for up to this point is finally in front of you. The third episode of Telltale’s Game of Thrones will decide whether or not you get what you want, and whether or not you need to stop thinking and just start running.
The Sword in the Darkness does an excellent job of mirroring the Game of Thrones HBO series’ tendency to place a high-tension, high-energy episode smack in the middle of a season. Episode Three never lets you catch your breath; each scene features major choices with consequences that ripple out to this chapter's credits--characters will continue to harp on decisions made early in the episode--and hint at larger problems to come in following episodes.
Episode Three upset me in ways the first two episodes haven’t. It made me physically anxious. As someone who has read all the books in A Song of Ice and Fire and generally knows what’s coming in the television series, it’s fabulously disturbing to see Telltale’s characters get kicked around and have no idea how their story ends.
You will let a lot of people down in The Sword in the Darkness. Every plot-hinging choice leaves someone you love out in the cold, debating how much they can trust you. You must choose between family and best friends, mothers and sisters, the lady you’ve sworn to serve and the lord you’ve made a dubious pact with. Friendships and alliances are made at the expense of breaking others. Game of Thrones nails the sentiment that author George R. R. Martin hammers home across A Song of Ice and Fire: you can’t please everyone, and the second you displease someone, you better watch your back.
The Sword in the Darkness brings plot threads that were left free-floating in Episode Two to their high points. Rodrik struggles to stand his ground against the cruel Whitehills while still treading carefully because the youngest Forrester, Ryon, remains the Whitehills’ captive. Half a world away, Asher and Beskha, joined by Malcolm, chase Daenerys Targaryen across the desert, searching for an army of sellswords to bring home to Ironrath. In King’s Landing, on the eve of the royal wedding, Mira must choose between waiting for Margaery Tyrell to have time to help her and seeking out her own, less favorable alliances. Gared, just as he’s settling into life with the Night’s Watch, is thrown a curve ball that proves he can’t escape his past.
It is in this episode that you finally see the fruits of your labor bloom; every big choice you’ve made in Episode One and Two catches up with you. Situations you tried to clean up, like the strange incidents with Mira and the coal boy or negotiating alliances with other northern houses, are proven to be un-cleanable. Everything you’ve worked for can be destroyed in seconds or made worse, depending on the people you side with.
Decisions available to you, as members of House Forrester, always revolve around what is best for the family. But some family members and their allies differ in what they feel is the right course of action. Episode Three brings to the forefront the struggle to keep your family placated and safe, either by listening to them, making empty promises, or acting on your own when you don’t have time to consult them. There’s a moment where Rodrik has to choose between standing up to the Whitehills to defend his little sister Talia, or biting his tongue and taking the abuse because his mother worries what repercussions his actions will have on Ryon’s safety. It’s a powerful moment, being forced to choose between your mother and your sister, showing weakness and allowing your enemy to walk all over you in hopes the danger subsides, or standing tall and showing strength because your baby sister is counting on you. The outcome is awful no matter what, because you’ve let someone down either way, and you always feel horrible.
There aren’t many combat sections in The Sword in the Darkness, as most of the episode is focused on verbally navigating situations and choosing the heinousness of the lies you tell. There is also not much time given to exploring environments, and in each segment when you get to poke around, you’re looking for something within a time limit. Twice I had to search for things--like a piece of paper or an escape route--while enemies were on the approach, leaving little room to look around. It’s a bit disappointing, as it takes away from the world feeling lived-in, with objectives in straight lines rather than allowing some wiggle room.
Once again, the Forresters continue to be the most interesting characters on screen, and their plight is much more interesting than what’s going on with Jon Snow or Margaery. But the way Game of Thrones’ canon characters come into play in Episode Three is great. Their presence seamlessly weaves into and out of the plot, with small things like a brief comment from Cersei Lannister making Margaery question your loyalty. Tyrion, Cersei, Margaery, they’re not just dangerous people to placate with conversation anymore; they are now completely in charge of your fate.
Most of this is witnessed through Mira’s storyline, as she has the most direct contact with them. As of Episode Three, Mira’s story is by far the most intriguing, as she’s playing with fire on a level a little higher than her siblings. Her plot started off slow in the first two episodes, but her struggle is the center of Episode Three, and she’s playing a game as intricate as those currently struggling for Westeros’ crown.
Asher and Beshka’s tale continues to delight, as the two of them play beautifully off each other with their bantering and sibling-like bond. The Ironrath plot, however, is starting to get dull; Rodrik and those left behind in the North continue to beat their heads against the Whitehills to no avail. The events are repetitive: Rodrik or another Forrester stands up to the Whitehill member in charge, the Forresters get slapped around, and the Whitehill in charge is replaced with another Whitehill a little meaner than the last. Each Whitehill makes the same promise to destroy the Forresters if they don't submit to authority, but so far there's only been some light kicking and punching. As of now, the Whitehills don’t feel like a threat as devastating as Ramsay Snow, but I’m unwilling to discount them just yet.
And finally, Gared and his secret about the North Grove have been given more attention and care within the narrative. What was tossed around briefly in the last two episodes is finally in the spotlight and becomes a matter of grave importance very quickly. Just like the series it’s based on, Game of Thrones has taken something small and seemingly minor and ripped off the curtain to reveal it as the most important thing you know.
Game of Thrones’ third episode succeeds in making you feel like the rest of the season is hinging on the decisions you make. It marks the narrative apex so far, the highest dramatic climax, with its barrage of tough choices in rapid succession. You can’t help but feel bad for these characters; it looks like there’s no way for them to win. If you’ve been playing it safe up to this point, deferring to answers that keep the characters safe and relatively benign, you’re in for a rude awakening. Episode Three marks the beginning of the end for neutrality. There are tough decisions to make and no way around them, making this episode true to the Game of Thrones atmosphere at its core.