9.9 this episode scored on IMDb! 9.9!! The highest rated Game of Thrones episode (on IMDb, anyway). Interestingly, this episode also featured a wide range of ‘show-only’ content. Which backs up my point that with the whole Dorne thing, book readers aren’t annoyed because it’s different: they are annoyed because it’s bad. Show-only folks feel the same. But this episode greatly restored my faith (which was never really dwindling, I swear) in the writers’ ability.
The book-to-show adaptations this week focused solely on Arya and Cersei’s stories. Cersei’s is pretty straight forward, continuing on from last week’s cliff-hanger. Arya’s, on the other hand, is slightly more convoluted and confusing. The question is, what is Arya actually doing? Well, it seems like she is training to become a Faceless Man, that’s for sure. To understand how to be another person, Arya must live the life of another person. Hence, she becomes the oyster seller. In the books, she talks the name Cat of the Canals – a nod to this can be seen during the scene when multiple cats cross her path. The ‘skinny man’ sat at the desk was essentially an insurance dealer (boo!) who had cheated a family out of their money. Arya has killed before, but for her own reasons, so it will be interesting to see how she deals with taking the life of someone who has done her no wrong.
Breaking away from the books, we are treated to a fantastic couple of scenes between the little Lion and the Dragon. As Tyrion has not yet met Daenerys in the books, this is all original stuff, save the “wheel” speech, which is said to another character. As Barristan is now sadly deceased, it appears that Tyrion will be taking his role (as advisor, anyway, not knight…though that would be good). Tyrion, obviously, knows the political scape of Westeros more than Dany, and doubts she would gain many supporters. However, the Martells were Targaryen supporters until the bitter end, after years of a love/hate relationship between the two. We still haven’t really seen the extent of the Martell’s power, as they tend to keep themselves to themselves…though I’m hoping more light will be shed on them in the final two episodes of the season.
Ok, time for the biggie. Beyond the Wall (which apparently has some sort of magic spell on it to stop Baby Sam from aging??) is a vast wasteland: the Lands of Always Winter. Very little is known about this area, save a few leagues from the Wall where rangers have explored. The Wildlings have scouted further, as far as Thenn, which is where the bald cannibal people from. Beyond that, however, it is largely uncharted, and the map just kind of fades off. Hardhome is a settlement situated on the east side of the Lands of Always Winter, geographically roughly the same distance north of the Wall as the Fist of the First Men (where the Night’s Watch set up camp in season 2). Hardhome has acted as a refuge for Free Folk all over. Leaderless, they have become shambles, and appear to be governed by a group of ‘elders’ representing each faction. We see the (brief) return of a character from season 2: Rattleshirt, or the Lord of Bones, before he is brutally bashed down by Tormund. This not only shows Tormund’s brutality, but also acts as a final nail in the coffin for another character: Mance. In the books, Melisandre puts a glamour spell on Mance, and disguises him as Rattleshirt, and vice versa. So, it’s actually Rattleshirt that dies on the pyre at Castle Black. Meanwhile, Mance goes incognito and heads south on a secret rescue mission. Book-readers may well have hoped that the same happened in the series, but, alas, it’s not to be.
The climactic scene gave us more information about the White Walkers than we have received in the books. Largely, this is due to the fact that this scene is show-only, and a lot of information on the White Walkers comes from gossip and Old Nan’s stories! Exciting times. Obviously, we still know very little about them – such as their motives, their intelligence, community etc. But it’s apparent they are a serious threat, which many Westerosi seem to poo-poo. Suddenly, the tribulations of King’s Landing seem irrelevant, now that we have seen the real enemy! It’s important to note that this isn’t just a ‘medieval Walking Dead zombie apocalypse’; this is full out war. These undead soldiers (known as Wights) are relentless and brutal, as opposed to your classic zombie which survives on instinct. No, these guys want to hurt you. And now we know how easily the White Walkers (also known as the Others in the books) resurrect their undead Wights. Just a simple ‘come at me, bro’ gesture and you’ve got yourself an army. We also got to see how they really do ‘bring the cold’, and the Wight’s sheer determination as they flung themselves off of a cliff in order to kill their prey. Another big reveal was the importance of Valyrian Steel. I think I have talked about this previously, but Valyrian Steel, as the name suggests, was originally forged by the Valyrians (see my post on episode 5 for information about them). It is said to be the strongest, sharpest metal around, and only a gifted few know the secrets of how to forge it. Known Valyrian Steel swords are few: Ned Stark’s massive sword, Ice, was melted down and presented to Joffrey on his wedding day, and to Jaime, who later passed it to Brienne as Oathkeeper. Samwell Tarly’s family also own one named Heartsbane. Littlefinger’s dagger that was used to try and assassinate Bran is also Valyrian Steel. To my knowledge, these are the only blades that have been mentioned in the books. There were many more, but they have been lost to time
This whole final scene was brilliantly shot, with some wonderful cinematography, and, in my eyes has made up for the awful Dorne scenes (especially choreography wise). And the sound; oh, the sound! I’ll be interested to see how the rest of the Watch react to Jon bringing bands of Wildlings and a Giant (whose name is Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun, or Wun Wun for short, if you were interested) to the Wall. Also, I’m awfully suspicious about that hooded figure navigating Jon’s boat at the end. He didn’t even turn round! I was half expecting it to be some sort of disguised White Walker…or, and I had my fingers crossed for this, that we would hear a voice “Jon?” *Jon looks down* “Uncle Benjen?!” BLACKOUT!
Next week’s episode is titled The Dance of Dragons, which is an obvious allusion to the title of the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons. Ramsay also mentioned how he would leave Stannis’ army as “a feast for the crows”, which is a nice little nod to the title of the fourth book, A Feast for Crows. Whether you think this season has been slow or not, it’s definitely apparent that it’s picking up now, with next week’s episode looking pretty darn epic, and episode ten will apparently “break the internet”…! Also, Oberyn died this time last year. Just saying.
Please excuse me whilst I….wipe away these tears and….DAMN IT WHY COULDN’T I SAVE EVERYONE?!
DISCLAIMER – All these images I use in this review I took from various Google searches as I was SO ENGROSSED with the story that I forgot to take any…
Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead takes inspiration from Robert Kirkman’s comic series of the same name, the same which The Walking Dead TV series is loosely based on. You may recall, if you read my blog often (pft, of course you do) that Telltale games has popped up before in my The Wolf Among Us Review. Well, The Walking Dead follows the same basic structure – it’s essentially an interactive story, where your actions and choices affect how the game pans out. As with The Wolf Among Us, the overarching story is always the same; your decisions just determine how you get there. This game is an emotional rollercoaster that had me close to tears on several occasions. It’s won over 90 Game of the Year awards, and here’s why.
This is a review for both Season 1 and Season 2 of The Walking Dead games. Lots of my comments will be generalised and apply to both – they are essentially one big game – but I will be specific too. Both games are episodic. Season 1 was released in five episodes between April and November 2012, with one DLC episode, 400 Days, following in July 2013. Season 2, also comprising of five episodes, was released between December 2013 and August 2014, so it’s still pretty hot off the press. The 400 Days DLC bridges the gap between Season 1 and 2.
The driving point behind The Walking Dead games is the incredible character development. Whilst the setting is indeed a zombie apocalypse, the game focuses more on characterisation and action, as opposed to action – to quote Robert Kirkman. That isn’t to say that zombies don’t play a pivotal role in the game – because they do – but the focus is really on how people band together and survive in times of such hardship, not just go gung-ho shooty crazy a la Left 4 Dead.
Season 1 focuses around protagonist Lee, a convicted murderer, who is caught up in the outbreak on his way to prison. After a narrow escape, he encounters eight year old Clementine, who serves as the deuteragonist (what a great word!) throughout the game. Thus, their story to survive begins, meeting various colourful characters along the way…many of whom’s fate is down to the choices that you make…so good luck with that. Each character is realistically flawed, and when the inevitable dissent among the group begins, you must really consider hard (in the short time that you have to decide) everyone’s arguments. Do you think of the group’s best interest? Or side with a favourite character whatever their decision? Or play the middle-man? There are a plethora of decisions that left me filled with regret and angst…resulting in various outcomes, adding that key word of “replay value” to the game. Like, so much. The characters are so well developed that you really do begin to empathise, sympathise and care for them. Which makes watching their struggle even more difficult. But overall it’s Clem and Lee’s relationship that really gets ya. It’s beautiful. It could be argued that these games are a commentary on how quickly children seem to grow up nowadays, and asks whether this is a good or bad thing? After all, we live in a pretty messed up world – should our children be protected in a bubble, or face the harsh realities? These are questions that characters are constantly battling with, and that you, as Lee, must face. Outside of dialogue, you’ll be faced with various quick time events and small explorable areas with several items that you can interact with. The QTEs are all pretty enjoyable and rarely feel stale, although some failures result in immediate death and game over whereas others effect the continuing story. The explorable areas are aight, but sometimes (in Season 1 more than 2) I found myself unsure of what exactly I was supposed to be doing…leading me to wander around aimlessly for a lot longer than I maybe should have. All of your actions have an impact, and if you so choose to, you can load up a Season 1 save file in Season 2 to see how your decisions affect the second season. Mass Effect did a similar thing in that you could load up your older character to essentially continue the story as a whole. It just makes the whole game a lot more immersive and connected…and might make you think twice about rash decisions. The last episode of Season 2 can end in one of six heart-string-pulling ways, but definitely leaves you wanting more. Thank God that Telltale have confirmed that a Season 3 is in the works…! In fact, as a result of that, I’m going to go back and get a different ending….
As mentioned, 400 Days bridges the gap between Season 1 and Season 2. You briefly play as six different characters, living parts of their lives during the apocalypse. As you may have guessed, your actions in this DLC also have a number of effects on how Season 2 plays out – from determining which characters you may meet, you minute details such as whether you encounter a certain body. I found, however, that I ended up disliking many of the 400 Days characters I played as when (if) I encountered them in Season 2. Especially Tavia. Fucking Tavia.
Visually, The Walking Dead utilises that same animated-esque style that various other Telltale games use, like The Wolf Among Us. Season 2’s graphics are that slight bit better, and the interface is more developed, but there isn’t that much difference. Character models are well animated for the most part, but sometimes can look a bit like they have been filmed using stop-motion, but I suppose that’s all part of the style. There are some issues with clipping that I noticed, or a character suddenly jumping forward in a lagtastic kind of way, but none of these are game breaking and, surprisingly, don’t break the immersion. And there is a lot of immersion. Oh, the immersion!
I’ll admit that it took me a while to get into The Walking Dead, but that’s largely because I was constantly comparing it to The Wolf Among Us, which, aside from its appearance and gameplay style, is very different. It’s like comparing something like Fallout to Call of Duty…although I know which one I would pick… I also, for whatever reason, went into The Walking Dead thinking that it was a comedy. It is not. Jesus this game knows how to make a man (nearly) cry. After I completed Season 1 I felt addicted and needed to go on and start Season 2…but I had to take a break. I just couldn’t handle it! If you’re into games with good story telling, then this is for you. I wouldn’t exactly class it as a horror game, despite its subject. There are a few jumpy, tense moments, but I’d put it more down as a thriller. There’s a Michael Jackson joke in their somewhere.
Both The Walking Dead Season 1 and 2 are currently on Steam for £18.99 a pop, which may seem a lot, with each season lasting about 10 hours each, but that’s kind of like buying a box set for a series, with 5 two hour episodes or ‘summit. Even still, I think that it’s well worth the money, partially for that good ol’ replay value. The games also allow you to go back and replay specific chapters of episodes, so if you wanted to see how making a different decision affects the story, you can! The Walking Dead is, or will be, available on pretty much every gaming platform including Android, iOS, PS3/4, Xbone, 360, PC and Vita. So go. Go! GO NOW! RUN! GO!!!