In my all too eager preparation for tomorrow’s much-anticipated new season of Game of Thrones, I decided to try my hand at episodic gaming for the first time. I’ve been meaning to dig into the acclaimed Telltale Games series, which follows House Forrester in the wake of the infamous Red Wedding, but my anxiety when making crucial decisions in only a few seconds kind of ruined the excitement. For the record, I found it way easier to navigate the high-stakes environment that defines Westeros if I plugged in my headphones and played the game while exercising at the gym. Weird, right?
Admittedly, I’d had my doubts about venturing into this world after Game Informer initially reported that three women out of the thirteen main characters would be playable. They quickly backtracked, clarifying that the character names released would only be reoccurring, not necessarily controlled by the player. For anyone with a long-suffering love affair with lady characters, this was spectacularly side-eye worthy. Why couldn’t these women be playable characters? Are you telling me you’re relegating them to background decoration? I’m pretty sure a 13-year-old Sansa Stark could outlive and outmatch you in King’s Landing any day. Give me a break.
Folks, I was wrong. So very, very wrong. (Not about Sansa—I’m in love with her.) My rash judgment kept me from an exceptionally satisfying experience with the women of Telltale’s reimagined Westeros. With GoT hype reaching its apex this weekend, it’s now or never. Please note that as of this writing, I’ve only completed episode one. For the next two Saturdays, I’ll be pushing myself to get through the second and third episodes, though I make no promises about my stress level. This one was a doozy. If you’d be so kind as to keep spoilers out of the comments, I’d appreciate it!
With that, let’s get to the real reason why we’re all here: women kicking some serious ass in Westeros. Follow along on my progress by clicking through the “Women of Westeros” tag!
Let’s start where everything, ultimately, originates: Lady Elissa, matriarch of House Forrester and resident chief in charge. It’s rare enough to find positive depictions of women in a video game narrative, but it’s even more rare to find one of a mother. They’re too often relegated to submissive, decorative roles that merely act as the background white noise of morality for the men in their lives—and that’s if they even survive, which they usually don’t. Gotta fill that quota of man pain, eh?
You can imagine my surprise and utter delight when Elissa arrived, instantly commanding the room despite never even raising her voice. On more than one occasion, she firmly instructs wayward dudebros to chill the fuck out. And get this: they do. Elissa doesn’t need to swing a sword or draw a bow when she wields her words and influence this effectively. Ludd Whitehill even shrivels like a flower in a draught the second Elissa puts him in his place. Boss, much? What I appreciate most about her character is the fact that we see her grieving the loss of her husband and eldest son, that she in turn guides Ethan with a gentle hand, and at the same time, we see Elissa steel herself like a warrior preparing for the battlefield. This, folks, is how you write a fully-realized woman in a video game.
And as a rule of thumb for the men populating Westeros: Listen to your mother. The entire Red Wedding incident could’ve been avoided if Robb actually, you know, shut his mouth and took his mom’s advice. I’m pretty sure Catelyn was the only decent war strategist left.
We meet Talia Forrester soon after, the second eldest daughter and twin of Ethan, the new lord. She’s levelheaded and practical, and if you seek her advice when navigating the keep as Ethan, it becomes clear the two siblings have always relied on one another in times of crisis. Talia’s counsel is neither rash nor cautious, toeing the very fine line that would really nominate her as the better candidate for Lord of Ironrath. Where Ethan is introspective and scholarly, Talia is forthright and decisive, much like her mother. She weighs the consequences of her brother’s decisions as effectively as if she were born to rule, and it’s a shame societal constraints keep her from assuming that role.
Because we never see Talia stray very far from Ryon, the youngest of the pack, it’s fair to assume she’s expected to be his caretaker. This, I think, is more of a side effect of being the middle child and a great testament to her priorities. Talia puts her family first, which is pretty admirable given the current threat of the Whitehall family potentially turning them all out into the cold. (Imagine The Long Dark but with Ramsay’s friends out hunting you. Yeah.) Even when Lord Bolton’s son, spawn of evil himself, saunters his way over to threaten kidnapping, Talia withstands it. I’d wager she was even prepared to go with him if it meant protecting her family—though, twist of all twists, Ethan ends up the sacrificial lamb instead. It will be very interesting to see how she matures in the face of so much chaos, particularly with Ryon now gone, too.
Don’t forget: Talia mentioned her father taught her a little swordplay, too. So watch your back, Ramsay.
Last but never least, we travel all the way down to King’s Landing where Mira Forrester is waiting on the to-be Queen of Everything, Margaery Tyrell. If you think it’s bad when Whitehill soldiers jockey at Ironrath’s doorstep like religious solicitors armed to the teeth, try living in the hell that is Joffrey’s birthplace. Especially when your family has served the Starks for centuries. I’m sure, because of the political climate, we’re meant to see some of Sansa’s story reflected in Mira. As a Northerner in a den of lions, Cersei immediately calls for an audience to interrogate the young woman. It’s a cover, really, but all dialogue choices ultimately define Mira as either cunning or courageous. While her home is raided and her family in danger of slaughter, she’s able to keep it together even before the infamous Queen Regent. That’s pretty damn impressive.
It should also be noted that Mira had the nerve to petition her mother’s plea for help to Margaery who, despite all her kindness, could have just as easily turned Mira over to the Kingsguard. This was a matter of life or death: put her own life in jeopardy to save the Forresters, or risk beheading for treachery. Not very good odds there, Mira. It didn’t end up working out with Joffrey (literally no one was surprised), but at least this plucky handmaiden is starting to understand how the game is played.
By the end of the first episode, only five Forresters from the main clan remain, and three of them are women. Think about that for a minute: women actually outnumber the men. With Gregor murdered, his two potential successors killed, and Ryon abducted by Ramsay, it’s now entirely up to the Forrester women to carry their house. Hell yes. This is literally the video game moment I’ve been waiting for my whole life. These women are now central to the story’s framework (given that this game revolves around House Forrester), and their individual narratives will ultimately define the fate of their family. They can’t afford to be idle when the very fate of their livelihood now rests in their capable hands.
And now for the bonus screenshots I loved, but had no place in this article. Can we all add our own captions to these things or what? (If you’re reading this, Telltale team, I’d like to request lesbians and/or bi women. Get on that, stat.)