The Mountain, military leader and all-around bastard of house Lannister, is a big guy. He eats truck parts for breakfast and shits human skulls. He squeezed a man’s eyes out years after killing and raping his wife. He’s a monster, to be sure. But no one in the Game of Thrones universe scares me more than Cersei Lannister.
For those who don’t follow the books/show, I’m referring to the wiry, beautiful, flaxen-haired matriarch of the Lannister family. However, I’m not being facetious. Despite her high cheekbones and ruby-lipped smile, Cersei’s presence in the GoT universe has always put me on edge.
Apparently, she scares the makers of Telltale’s tribute to the world of George R.R. Martin as well.
Allow me to elaborate.
As fans of the series know, Game of Thrones is a world of perpetual danger. In any given day, dragons, dire wolves, white walkers, swords, axes, knife-wielding ghosts, steep cliffs, food, and family could all threaten your life without breaking a sweat.
This is no different in Game of Thrones, the video game. The opening scene sees triumphant soldiers quaffing ale and embellishing tales of their “bravery” with reckless abandon on the eve of the infamous, main-character-exterminating Red Wedding. In line with the timeline of the series, the spurned Freys of The Twins begin summarily separating all Stark heads from their respective Stark bodies as you, a young squire, try desperately to protect your faithful lord from an inexorable demise.
It’s a classic medieval trope: betrayal, swords, swearing, and crossbows all exchanged with righteous fervor. It’s here that you meet the classic Telltale tactic of turning quick-time events with timely button-mashing into a profound and frustratingly futile attempt to stop the inevitable. Despite only pressing a dozen or so keys in the first 30 minutes of play, you’re already addicted.
But this is just half the story. The action, as is common in Telltale games, only serves to punctuates the game’s main mechanic: dialogue. It’s been mentioned to death in reviews of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, but Telltale’s time-based system of three dialogue choices plus silence is as sharp as ever, forcing the player to suddenly choose between verbal shades of grey, all while weighing the greater significance of their words in a world they barely know.
And this is what makes Game of Thrones so compelling. Telltale brings its stereotype-busting moral choice system (with actual moral ambiguity, instead of the “kill Hitler/kill The Pope” choices of other titles) to bear with acuity, but it does so in a world where your words can mean everything.
I mentioned earlier that I am terrified of Cersei Lannister. In one scene, which I played many times over for the sake of testing, forces you to teeter uneasily in front of the devil-tongued queen regent, supplying answers that could, at any moment, mean the death of everyone you’ve ever loved. With each furrowed brow and flippant remark, the Lannister’s second most cunning member cuts you open in ways that a sword would have the mercy to render lethal.
And truly, that’s the beauty of both Telltale titles and GoT: when everything is on the line, every word, step, and slash is a chance to make history. After traipsing my way through hours of gut-wrenching moments and gut-rending action, I can safely say this: Telltale knows the power of words, and continues to dextrously weave intricate stories like no other. Lucky for us gamers, we have the privilege to spectate, manipulate, and ruminate on their most dastardly and endearing works.