With the release of “A Nest of Vipers,” the Telltale developers haven’t just thrown the goblet, they’ve flung the stale wine into the face of every single person responsible for HBO’s Game of Thrones show. In “Women of Westeros,” we explore this episodic series and the women consistently featured at the forefront of the story from the very beginning. Every single one of them are complex characters with hard-won agency and clear motivations entirely devoid of influence by men. They aren’t props to be passed around when the narrative takes a sharp turn and someone decides, “Hey! It’s unnecessary boobs time!”
What’s more, the Telltale team is turning attention away from the fringes of powerful society, and instead working to elevate the stories of the people who are so often silenced. They’re challenging players to experience what truly comes of war through the eyes of the impoverished and the enslaved. Telltale’s version makes the HBO show look like elementary school children acting out George R.R. Martin’s series with dolls and toy sets. The best part about this? You get to actually play it.
As you probably already noticed from the links above, I’ve been covering Telltale’s Game of Thrones for a while now, and it’s been one hell of a ride. With each episode, my confidence only increases. They’ve been nothing but respectful and innovative with this admittedly difficult material, and I’m so impressed! I really, really am. So impressed, in fact, that I’ve started keeping a much-needed tally before the final episode, “The Ice Dragon,” drops upon us all with hellfire and feels. Here’s hoping these numbers hold steady!
Let’s kick things off by introducing the newcomer to the bloody festivities, shall we? In stark contrast to Daenerys and her white savior complex, Amaya proudly stands as the self-appointed leader of many former Meereen slaves. We learn that she was a big supporter of Beskha’s (I mean … who isn’t, though) and deeply respected her rise to power among their fellow pit fighters. The two share an impassioned, if strained reunion filled with enough tension to choke a Crow, and it was absolutely delightful to watch. Two complex women of color, both equally strong-willed and in command of their own fate, sharing a scene together that had absolutely nothing to do with the white guy standing in the corner? Sign me up. No, really. If you’re lurking, Telltale, I’m prepared to throw money at the first sign of a DLC featuring the history between these two.
It’s so refreshing to even have the chance to explore Meereen’s uncertain future and the newly freed citizens who will be affected by this. Unlike the needlessly naked, white-washed Game of Thrones we’re treated to by HBO, Telltale is shifting the focus away from the heroic stories told by those in power and offering up a much more nuanced perspective. It was made absolutely clear from the get-go that Asher has no place among these people, and he learns fairly regularly to actively check his own privilege if he wants to proceed any further. Beyond the comfy borders of Ironrath, ignorance really is as dangerous as a blade. What’s more, they were only permitted entry because Beskha had once fought beside them, and even then, Amaya had the final say as to whether or not she would even permit the two an audience.
Amaya is a Queen in her own right, and perhaps more suited to the role than even Daenerys. She represents the heart of Mereen’s people, not the slave owners or even those who come to claim a culture not their own. She is enduring against all odds, fiercely proud, and loyal to her core. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather Amaya rule than some kid who walked out of a fire once. Just saying.
We’re treated to another form of oppression experienced by the Free Folk, a group of people similarly all but left to decorate the background of larger, apparently more important stories, as is the case where HBO is concerned. You always have to be mindful of the way a story is framed. Take, for instance, Jon Snow—who did in fact live and travel with the Free Folk for a time, as Gared is now. Despite seeing the way they were treated, Jon was still framed as the hero. The viewers are shown time and again that he’s noble to a very distinct fault, and while the true Northerners are largely not to blame for their current situation, Jon, as the newcomer, is painted near-saintly next to their barbaric way of life. Yawn.
Now back to the far superior Telltale team, all of whom in some magical alternate universe actually wrote the HBO script. They took this time-honored storytelling tradition and, again, turned it on its head: Gared is the Crow completely out of his element, stumbling around in some desperate attempt to adapt to a new environment. (Spoilers: He’s utterly failing at it.) Finn even dies at the hands of a White Walker because he just couldn’t let go of his unyielding pride. In the land beyond the Wall, you don’t have the luxury of clinging to your own ignorance.
That brings us to Sylvi, the younger sister of Cotter, who we learn was abandoned by her tribe when superstition over the color of her hair reached a fever pitch. It’s now more clear than ever what motivates the siblings: each other. They’ve had to learn how to survive completely on their own, and when Gared rifles through Sylvi’s things (à la Max Caulfield from Life Is Strange), you learn that the pair have likely encountered all manner of beasts in the wild. I really enjoyed the fact that, like where Beskha is concerned, we can only experience these stories through the eyes of Sylvi. It’s like pulling teeth getting Cotter to open up about his history, but Sylvi is honest and proud. She’s somehow survived the coldest weather known to Westeros, populated by the deadliest creatures, and here her starry-eyed brother is, dragging a Crow back from the Wall to get cozy up North with. Honestly, Sylvi? I’d be annoyed and exasperated, too.
Not going to lie: I was physically shaking every time I had to play as Mira. Despite everything that’s happened thus far, her narrative consistently ranks the highest on my scale of anxiety. It’s definitely a joy to muse over after the fact, but Jesus, I’m always left reeling. When we last took a stroll in Mira’s iron-plated shoes, the eldest Forrester daughter was playing two high-profile Whitehill merchants and charming information out of a Lannister cousin, so you know. No big deal, really. It seems as though she’s well and truly fallen out of Margaery’s good graces, but the consequences of that burning bridge weren’t quite so dire as I’d initially anticipated it would be. When one door closes, another one swings off its hinges and makes threatening gestures at you.
Of all the people in King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister is the one to summon Mira for a very important task: finding out who will fight for Tyrion at the trial by combat. Now, let’s take a step back for a moment. Not once in the whole of the story does Cersei suffer fools. She can pinpoint a valuable ally from miles and miles away, and as such, has fashioned herself an expert in political machinations. I’m not surprised that she took notice of Mira—what with the burgeoning alliance between the girl and her brother—but I am shocked and more than a little delighted that they shared such a revealing conversation with one another.
I’d like to think that, in even allowing for such a meeting to happen, Cersei sees a bit of herself in Mira. Maybe not very much, but in the conversation that follows, they discuss protecting their family, lying to people they’re sworn to serve, and a necessity for cunning—all very important things to both of them. This is a pivotal moment in Mira’s maturity as a woman and a character: she’s finally being recognized for her cleverness and intuition separate from the tragedies befalling the other Forresters. Would she have become what she has without that fire licking her heels? I don’t know, but I’m not missing her conclusion for anything.
While Talia played a smaller role than the rest, I couldn’t let this whole shindig pass without touching on a few key points in Game of Thrones that suggest her story is starting to come full circle. Let’s mix this up with a pop quiz, shall we? Try your hand at the following:
If you answered Talia for all of these, congratulations! You just asserted that she is, in fact, the most successful and strong-willed Forrester. At this point, the Telltale team is setting us up for one of two things: Talia will die protecting her family, or Talia will survive her entire family. And you know what? I’m starting to think her chances of outliving Mira, arguably the most cunning of the Forrester clan, are pretty high. “A Nest of Vipers” proved that although the youngest among them is too often dragged into risky situations like a well-worn chess piece, she still asserts her agency and quick intelligence in order to maneuver herself to safety again.
Do you honestly think Talia was taking a fun little stroll through the forest, happened to come upon the scene where Arthur Glenmore was murdered, and by a stroke of good fortune, found the written proof of Royland’s treachery? This is like that time Gwyn offered Rodrik key information in order to go toe to toe with her father, yet managed to plant the tip without suspicion. It’s forever interesting to see the men populating Game of Thrones skip through life blissfully unaware of just how ridiculously skilled the women have to be not only to survive themselves, but to protect the lives of those very same men, too. What an exhausting way of life. I vote all the ladies start their own city and leave the bros to their games, yeah?
But enough of all that! This is the part I know you all scrolled to see. 😎 These screenshots that didn’t make the cut, but were still too silly to pass up adding ridiculous captions to. You’re welcome.