After last week's episode of Game of Thrones, where the show decided to completely misunderstand its own popularity in an egregious ending scene that I would frankly describe as an attack on viewers as well as characters, fans for the first time have been declaring themselves "done" with the HBO series. The degree to which many of these people mean this will not be determined until next week's episode. However, with the rather public declaration that TheMarySue will no longer be promoting or recapping the show, it seems as if this last episode has truly pushed it too far.
With all this furore over changes to George RR Martin's books, what is a hardcore Game of Thrones fan to do? Well, adventure game developer, Telltale have been cultivating what might be a pleasant alternative to Season 5's shenanigans. With Episode 4 of Telltale's Game of Thrones nearly upon us, it's worth asking just what kind of series these games are becoming. Sure, they're largely based on HBO's adaptation of Martin's books, but Telltale's series is starting to represent an entirely different product to it's TV counterpart.
What is Telltale's Game of Thrones?
Telltale's Game of Thrones is not a reimagining of Marin's work, but simply a much smaller story taking place within his world of Westeros, and in the format of a point and click adventure game. It tells the story of the Forresters, a small family in the North who risk being wiped out as the Boltons make their presence felt in the aftermath of the war of five kings. The game takes place from the perspective of one, and only one, family as they spread across Westeros in a fight for survival. So far, only three episodes are available, but they've done a fantastic job of capturing the essence of the books and show. There are complex political allegiances, tense decisions to be made, and of course, character deaths no one could see coming. However, there is one vital thing that Telltale's Game of Thrones doesn't have.
Game of Thrones and Fan Abuse
Some of the most insidious forms of abuse can occur without a victim even knowing it. Strangely enough, it seems Game of Thrones and the fans that so dedicatedly watch it may be in a similar situation. HBO, DB Weiss and David Benioff have become so used to being praised for shocking the audience, and brining them a sense of anti-pleasure, that their attempts to replicate it have become cynical and mean-spirited. Fans were at once dismayed and wowed at the show's dedication in depicting the Red Wedding , and that the show runners have pushed the bar further with the excuse of "hey it's what you wanted!" It's like a kid who does a funny voice, and everyone laughs. Then he tells a joke, and everyone laughs. Then he sets the cat on fire...
The one thing creepier than Game of Thrones' approach to meaningless, sexualised suffering is the fans' approach. Many reacted along the lines of "well, you got me! That was horrific but I'll come back next week!" Both parties have confused an abusive author/audience relationship with compelling story telling. The "Valar Morghulis" mentality has consumed so much of the viewership that it now overrides any calls for a sensibly managed, and more importantly, not exploitative show.
Now, given how little content we've experienced of Telltale's Game of Thrones, it's hard to tell if it too will eventually indulge in the same wrote, repetitive, slap the audience in the face and ask for a cookie tactics. We can rest fairly sure that Telltale won't start with the nudity for the sake of it and sexposition thing the show tries so often. This is partly because nudity and sexuality don't go so well with videogames, but also because the story simply doesn't require them. So what is there to stop fans jumping ship and following Telltale's Game of Thrones as adamantly as the show?
Telltale's Game of Thrones is only part-canon
The Forresters of Telltale's series are mentioned pretty much as part of a throwaway line in A Dance With Dragons. Their presence is technically confirmed in the books, and their actions in the game interact with, but don't intrude upon, characters from the show. Still, it's hard to watch Game of Thrones Season 5, and imagine that the characters on screen have any idea that the figures in the game even exist.
Perhaps George RR Martin will be accommodating, and include the Forresters in a more substantial way when his next book comes out in 2038, but for now, the events of the game are in a state of flux. They are accepted, but ultimately have no impact. The problem arises when we realise that the Game of Thrones audience loves impact! Our modern nerd landscape's obsession with things being the ultimate iteration could be a hinderance to this series.
Whether you thought the latest episode of Game of Thrones was exploitative or not, check out Episode 4 of Telltale's series. It may be the perfect alternate way to experience A Song of Ice and Fire.