This review contains spoilers for Episode 1 and Episode 2. If you are looking for a review without spoilers, check out my review of Episode 1.
One of my favorite bits of wisdom about writing fiction is, "You have to get your heroes as low as possible. Then you have to knock them even lower."
That's where the Forresters find themselves as Episode 2 opens. Their young lord is dead at the hands of the sadistic Ramsay Snow, and their worst enemies, the Whitehills, have occupied their lands. Underscoring this sense of despair, Episode 2 opens with the Forrester family's eldest son Rodrik—who we last saw getting crushed by a horse at the beginning of Episode 1—waking next to his father on a corpse cart and nearly getting thrown into the river before he is saved.
With Ethan out of the picture, Rodrik is Episode 2's new lead—a crippled lord who has to find a way to rebuild his shattered family. Rodrik is older and wiser than Ethan, and better able to command the respect of his underlings, but greatly limited by his injuries. His challenges are highlighted in an effective scene in which he must work his way through a group of drunk and hostile soldiers while leaning on his sister for support, his stamina at low ebb. He has enough strength to tell a soldier blocking his way to move aside, though, showing that he is more formidable than his brave but ultimately powerless brother Ethan.
As usual, Rodrik's characterization mostly hinges on your choices. He can be conciliatory, defiant, practical, or naive depending on your choices, all of which have a direct impact on the story. This being Game of Thrones, where idealism goes to die, I opted to take a strong but realistic stance. Whenever possible, I did my best to project power while at the same time being honest about the Forrester family's poor prospects for survival, which paid off later when I was able to swing an arranged marriage an earn a crucial ally—an accomplishment that Telltales informs me fewer than half have achieved. Thank heaven for small victories.
My desire to be practical followed me to King's Landing, where Mira Forrester continues to work on behalf of her family while doing her best to avoid getting caught up in the intrigue around her. As in Episode 1, it was these scenes that stressed me out the most. One of Telltale's most impressive accomplishments has been the way they've managed to capture complex characters like Tyrion, Cersei, and Margaery without dumbing them down or having them do something out of character. Tyrion in particular is at his wily best in this episode, using his power to help Mira while leaving her to shoulder the risk. When he leaves, he tells her that she owes him a favor, which I imagine will cost her dearly down the line.
One strategy that has served me well has been my determination to be honest whenever possible. If I've learned anything playing Telltale Games, it's that underhanded tactics will usually be punished harshly; hence my decision not to forge a letter in Margaery's name, knowing that I would almost certainly be caught. It's a tactic that has served me well in the past, and it works again here. If I've learned anything from watching the show, it's to avoid pissing off Margaery Tyrell. She will cut you.
The rest of Episode 2's scenes take place on The Wall and the recently liberated Yunkai, both of which prove to be less interesting King's Landing and Ironrath. Gared Tuttle, I'm sorry to say, is even less interesting than the famously stiff Jon Snow, who also happens to make an appearance in this episode. As a newcomer, he spends much of his time getting pushed around by a bullying fellow recruit before receiving some sage advice from Snow, who tells him that he has to learn to trust his new brothers or he will soon die.
This is mostly territory already covered by the show; and without the thrill of terror that comes with matching wits with the likes of Cersei and Tyrion, it comes off as a little flat. Ultimately, the scenes at The Wall feel perfunctory; there to satisfy the legions of Jon Snow fangirls and not much else. I'd rather Telltale had taken the approach they did with Asher Forrester—the exiled brother turned sellsword who gets to kill some treacherous mercenaries before setting out to recruit an army to help his family. I have no problem with Telltale introducing familiar locations or even familiar characters, so long as they do so in new and interesting ways.
Depending on your actions, Episode 2 ends on a bittersweet but slightly more hopeful note than Episode 1. Help may be on the way provided that Rodrik can hold out; but with the Whitehills pressing their advantage, that may not be for very long. It's less harrowing than the introduction, primarily serving to lay the groundwork for future installments; but it still has its share of strong moments, culminating in Mira narrowly avoiding an assassination attempt in King's Landing (interestingly, I was one of the very few to avoid killing my attacker). Like any midseason episode, it does the necessary if occasionally drab work of getting the pieces in place and setting up for bigger moments down the line. And if it's anything like the show, as it has been so far, those moments will be very big day.
Telltale's engine feels creakier than usual, but it's redeemed by some excellent art. Long pauses disrupt the flow of some of the conversations.
Cast members from the show portray their individual characters, lending the story a certain degree of gravitas. To their credit, Telltale manages to keep pace without their own characters looking foolish in the process.
Matching the on-screen cursor with a target and hitting the appropriate button feels unwieldy during what passes for combat. Movement feels slow and clunky in general.
Game of Thrones Episode 2 can be finished in one sitting, but it is only one part in what is turning out to be a very interesting sidestory in George R. R. Martin's fantasy epic.
Episode 2 is effective in picking up where Episode 1 leaves off, but is content to mostly move the pieces around the board in an effort to setup the rest of the story. Though not nearly as shocking as the first episode, it nevertheless manages to raise the stakes at both Ironrath and King's Landing, setting the stage for a very interesting Episode 3. If the teaser is anything to go by, the next installment will prominently feature a wedding, and we all know how those go in Game of Thrones...