Surprise, surprise! It’s actually time for “Women of Westeros” again. While my initial adoration of HBO’s Game of Thrones has begun to fade to disappointment and disgust with the fifth season, I pushed myself to approach Telltale’s next installment with an open mind. Two very different teams are working on both productions, and just because the show isn’t living up to four seasons of expectation doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy the little game on my iPhone! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a thrill when I heard the release date for “Sons of Winter” announced, and with that in mind, I loaded up the well-loved app to check back in with the women kicking ass in Westeros—hopefully with some agency, too, but I wasn’t holding my breath on that front.
Let me say this before we really dig into the fleshy bits of Telltale’s newest addition to the game: it’s ironic this episode is titled “Sons of Winter,” because it heralded some of the finest moments of in-game lady power to date. If I had to pick only one episode that represented women’s stories the most and with such fervid candor, I’d pick this one without question. We saw less of Rodrik to make way for major decisions made by Elaena and Gwyn, Asher’s plight took a few steps back so that Beskha could step forward, and Mira has all but eclipsed the narratives of anyone lingering in the shadows of King’s Landing.
If you purchase no other Game of Thrones episode from Telltale, I highly recommend that you play through this one. It was nail-biting without being heavy-handed, which is a delicate enough balance to keep given the often sensationalized melodrama that is the HBO show. For once, I’m deeply satisfied with the work these developers are obviously punching in to craft such a satisfying experience for a diverse gaming community. Telltale has this episodic game well in hand. I’m only here to praise the ladies and remind you of the utter badassery that their storylines entail.
Beskha’s story was, by far, the most gut-wrenching of the entire episode. We learn after Asher agrees to help Daenerys take the city of Mereen that Beskha not only once lived there, she was enslaved. It serves to make an already deadly, reckless mission even more complex. You’re forced to leave Malcolm behind on this venture, which really allowed the player to explore the friendship between Asher and Beskha, and to call into question just how much they can really trust each other. Are you willing to risk the good graces of the Mother of Dragons and the Forrester family line on that supposed trust? You can truly rely on so few people in this game, which makes Beskha’s storyline all the more difficult to play through. I loved it.
In general, when faced with difficult decisions such as these throughout Game of Thrones, there is more or less one constant: most people choose the merciful and/or “lawful” option when dealing with a bad situation. No real surprise there. I’ve seen the percentages skew pretty drastically in one direction over another when the results are listed at the conclusion of every episode. However, Beskha’s confrontation with her former slave master garnered one of the most disputed choices of Telltale’s entire game. According to the official Wiki page, as of this writing, players made the following decisions:
What happened to Beskha’s former master?
Beskha killed him: 26%
Asher killed him: 34.5%
Spared him: 39.5%
You know what this tells me? That players have proven Beskha’s storyline is more diverse, multifaceted, and provocative compared to every single character on the roster. This is what video games are supposed to do—what developers want you to feel when you experience their work. What’s more, you learn about the growing dissent in Essos through Beskha, and why it’s deeply problematic that Daenerys—a white woman from Westeros with no lived experience of Mereen’s culture or society—can’t simply sweep into a city that isn’t hers expecting a warm welcome. Slavery is wrong, yes. But so too can colonialism destroy heritage.
For this, I applaud the Telltale team for their continued efforts to diversify their games and challenge their audience to think critically. The players have spoken in the statistics, however unwittingly: Beskha rules.
Last time, Rodrik’s betrothed didn’t receive any mention or place in the lineup of women, mostly because she had so few lines to begin with. It wasn’t clear whether Elaena Glenmore would feature front and center in Game of Thrones or, much like in the HBO show, would instead be relegated to background decoration and occasional chess piece to further the narrative of men. While that was initially true of her character, this episode saw Elaena rise to an irrefutably important position within the unspooling chaos. The Forresters owe everything to her now—but whether they will pay in blood or marriage has yet to be seen. Did she have a hand in the plot to overthrow the family all along? Is her concern and willingness to aid in the fight against the Whitehills genuine? There’s no telling where Elaena fits into this story just yet, but what I love about that is just how deliciously ambiguous her character is at this pivotal moment.
You may play as Rodrik, but that doesn’t mean you get any say in Elaena’s fate. She alone decides to accompany you back to Ironrath with her brother and the Glenmore garrison, regardless of whether you give your permission or not. This is what real agency really looks like, friends, and it’s a defining moment for the player. Will you be the sort of domineering husk of a fiancé Elaena’s father now intends to marry her off to, or will you treat her like a human being equal to yourself? It’s always delightful to have the playable character’s assertions challenged, but in this, you hold no sway. Elaena will do as she pleases and damn the consequences.
It’s one of those times I dearly wish these episodic games were a bit longer. What I wouldn’t give for Elaena to meet Gwyn! They have so much in common, both in their arguably respected backgrounds and their dealings with their father. It’s a real testament to this writing team that these women are given the platform to defy expectation when all too often their plight is framed only within the context of men playing at war. (I’m looking at you, HBO.)
tl;dr: Northern women don’t fuck around. Seriously.
Speaking of the lady of Highpoint! Gwyn Whitehill is arguably the true survivor in all of this. While she hasn’t lost as many family members as the Forresters—not to mention her livelihood remains in tact—she still has to actually live with her ruthless, conniving shit of a father, Ludd. Imagine, for a moment, what the family dinners must be like. Yeah. We see that she cares about her father as well as her younger brother, Gryff, despite the fact that both men are playing far too fast and loose with their sudden rise to power. Gwyn reminds me a lot of Mira in this way: they both eat, sleep, and drink in a pit of snakes and must rely purely on their own cleverness and rational sense in order to survive. They make highly dangerous political machinations simply to keep their own neck away from the executioner’s axe.
The thing that I like most about Gwyn’s character—while her resourcefulness and cunning are certainly admirable—is the fact that she presses her advantage when she sees an opening. You can’t tell me she didn’t play Rodrik like a fiddle when he answered her father’s summons, and for that, she’s actually a lot like Ludd. That is, even if her temperament is a bit more subdued than his (which it would need to be, given the circumstances).
When she and the eldest Forrester child are admiring the tapestry of the Whitehill family, Gwyn makes a very clear decision to highlight her father’s weakness in as subtle a way as possible, what with the guards standing nearby. He cares about his son. Rodrik enters the negotiations armed to the teeth like he’s never been before when dealing with Ludd. Let’s just hope you, the player, had enough presence of mind not to have killed Gryff already. Gwyn might have handed you a loaded crossbow, but it’s up to you to pull the trigger. To be fair, even if you chose the all-or-nothing option that abruptly ended the game, Gwyn and Ryon are the only highborn people to walk away from that fight with their lives. That, to me, is quite telling of her character and odds of survival.
Last, but absolutely never least, I’m pretty much convinced at this point that Mira has a heart of steel. Let’s cover the facts, shall we? Herein you will find the highlights of a young life surviving the most notorious city known to Westeros:
Not only has Mira been busy weaving her way through courtly intrigue just to keep her head above water, she’s proven herself an incredibly adept businesswoman. If she doesn’t ultimately end up a merchant of some kind herself, I’ll be sorely disappointed. I do think, however, that Mira stands to be the only living Forrester if all the rest end up dead. We see so many flashes of her true cunning when she speaks to the Whitehill merchants, but softens herself in the company of Sera and Tom. Who is she really? Are all of these temperaments a mask? Every episode we’re peeling another layer back to find a new side to Mira, and I couldn’t be more delighted to be along for the ride.
Special mention goes to Talia Forrester who actually survived her encounter with the loose canon that is Ramsay Bolton. Do you realize what a small list she shares that honor with? When you return to Ironrath after “negotiations” with the Whitehills at Highpoint, you come upon little Talia having tea with the man who murdered her twin brother right in front of her. She appears scared, of course, but certainly not skinned like so many of Ramsay’s party guests. I don’t know if I should be thrilled for Talia’s character arc or deeply unsettled that she might actually be a dragon.
Who am I kidding? I’d love for her to be a dragon in disguise.
There were other women featured in “Sons of Winter” who retained less of a platform this time around: Elissa Forrester (lovely as ever), Sylvi (Cotter’s teeny sister), and the wildling women because holy shit, they were all women. I’ve never been happier that Gared ended up fleeing the Night’s Watch and following Finn to the land beyond the wall where ladies are seemingly in control of their own destiny. Can we, like, stay there forever? I’m sure Finn will get used to the cold eventually.
Anyway. I’ll get to the part I know you all swiped really fast to see: the screenshots that didn’t make the cut and my useless commentary on it!