(Warning: Spoilers for both HBO's "Game of Thrones" TV show and Telltale Games' "Game of Thrones" series below.)
"The Ice Dragon," the sixth and final installment in Telltale Games' "Game of Thrones," saw my jaw drop for the second time in the adventure series. Then the third time. Then the fourth.
The series started last year with the kind of knife in your gut for which the HBO hit has become infamous, ending premiere "Iron From Ice" by killing a teenage main character. Your teenage main character.
Then, for four episodes, the game hummed along bloodlessly, inconsequentially. It started to feel like Telltale was amending the brutal laws of George R.R. Martin's land to accommodate its own, like it was sanding away the rougher, pricklier edges of "Game of Thrones" to accommodate the same branching point-and-click rubric it used for "The Walking Dead" and "The Wolf Among Us."
But those edges resurface in "The Ice Dragon," and they do some lethal damage. The climactic culling of House Forrester, the protagonist family written into Westeros for Telltale's series, gave me the same precipitous sinking feeling as the Red Wedding and the gang assassination (?) of Jon Snow. It was the first time since Ramsay Bolton stuck young Ethan Forrester in "Iron From Ice" that Telltale's "Game of Thrones" felt like HBO's, like Martin's.
It's also the most a Telltale game has felt at the mercy of your choices. The last scene in the game saw Mira Forrester, handmaiden to future queen Margaery Tyrell, beheaded — all because I pridefully rebuked a slimeball suitor who wanted the deed to the family's ironwood reserves. Just saying yes, I'd discover, would have spared Mira's head its fate atop the same ruddy chopping block in King's Landing where Ned Stark's pride led him.
Such singular moments, such mistakes, sign the death certificates of important "Game of Thrones" characters all the time. But until Mira, they hadn't for any of Telltale's. Ethan, for example, was dead either way.
So was your choice of Asher or Rodrik Forrester at the end of episode five, "Sons of Winter." The survivor leads his long-suffering house of northerners in the centerpiece of "The Ice Dragon," the conflict between Houses Forrester and Whitehill. I sacrificed Rodrik, so as Asher, I once more in this finale weighed my humanism against my cynicism, my heart against my mind.
Posing such dilemmas to players has long been a talent of Telltale's, one fleshed out in "Game of Thrones" by the fact you face them as multiple characters and are therefore tempted by the opportunities they represent to hike the roads not taken. Until "The Ice Dragon," though, they all seemed to arrive at similar destinations anyway.
The finale, finally, makes the consequences of choosing wrong — or even just choosing — as immediate as they are in "Game of Thrones'" other incarnations. And as bloody. In my case, most of the Forresters die and Lord Whitehill survives, barely, an ambush at Ironrath, all of which is followed by Mira's execution. Some of the losses, like that of Lady Forrester, can't be avoided — though she can meet one of two altogether different ends.
Still, Telltale impressively builds you the space to leave a brighter future for the Forresters at the end of season one of their story. Whitehill can die. Mira, though miserable, can survive. And squire Gared, now party to something so mystic it feels like it should impact Martin's and HBO's "Game of Thrones," can either remain there or aim its ancient might against the Whitehills.
A coda showing a nearly dead Asher, Beskha and Ryon regrouping away from Ironrath suggests the already confirmed season two of Telltale's series will reprise the Forresters' struggle — but who knows how Gared's choice and the presence of Mira and Whitehill will factor in. The narrative branches they form could rejoin or stray farther from one another by season three. What I do know, however, is how my approach to the game might differ.
Telltale has always shown you what percentage of players made the same decisions as you at the end of an episode of its games. In "The Ice Dragon," though, the studio goes a step further. It not only recaps your decisions over the course of the entire season, it renders an emotional judgment, a diagnosis of what guided your decision-making. Mine was instinct and nobility.
Though my Forresters met a bloody, abysmal end befitting "Game of Thrones," I'm glad to know how to avoid another should I choose. Or should I be able to.