Ah, the difficult second episode. In just about any episodic series, game or otherwise, the second episode has a lot of work to do with little chance of spectacular payoff. In the second episode of the fourth season of the Game of Thrones TV series, George R.R. Martin (who penned the script) was able to capitalise on the show’s deep bench and three years of accumulated characterisation, focusing in directly on a specific event with huge ramifications and an intensely satisfying twist. The second episode of the game doesn’t have those luxuries: it has further introductions to make and pieces to move around the board, and it needs to imply future conflict without being able to jump right into it. By nature, it needs to tread water…but it does a decent enough job of that.
In some ways, The Lost Lords feels like a series finale for the show, which typically expends its big moments in the ninth episode before winding down and setting up for future events in the finale. The Lost Lords sets up the rest of the season well, making it clear who the stakeholders are in every situation, showing the trouble to Forrester clan are in while also offering some hope for them.
It’s more optimistic than the first episode was, as the family reaches out in every direction for support, but it’s also a little light on Telltale’s typically difficult choices. There are two choices with clear and obvious ramifications, but it’s also clear that Telltale don’t want to rock the boat too far in advance, lest future episodes become complicated. Player interaction outside of conversation cutscenes is limited by even Telltale standards, although these aren’t games you’re coming to for action or puzzles.
As a story set in the established world, Game of Thrones works so far. The new characters shine brighter than the old ones (Tyrion Lannister is quite clearly shoehorned in), and the Forrester family – who we really need to root for if this game is to be a success – are a likable bunch. They’re politically minded and willing to fight, but they also have great love for each other, immense loyalty to their family and friends, and a strong sense of self-preservation (although one of the sons the game follows was exiled for dubious reasons, because it wouldn’t be Game of Thrones without a son fighting for family approval).
The story is split in four different directions, meaning that some plots don’t get proper attention and progress happens slowly. The editing on this episode is weird, jumping back and forth between different view-points with little sense of coherent logic, and Mira Forrester over in King’s Landing gets short shrift. There are a lot of crucial decisions given to Mira, but by the end of the episode I feel like I had less of a sense of who she was than I did for any of the other characters.
Aesthetically, Game of Thrones isn’t holding up against the splendour of the show. While Game of Thrones typically crowds scenes with extras, King’s Landing, The Wall (which is otherwise beautifully realised) and Yunkai all feel underpopulated. The writing does a good job of linking these places to the events that occurred within them during the show’s third season, but they never quite feel genuine. The art style, which intrigued me last episode, is starting to grate. It’s meant to look like backgrounds are oil paintings, but instead it just looks like every location is suffering from a serious gas leak. While the soundtrack is mostly fine, the episode ends on a bizarrely terrible song, souring what is, otherwise, a pretty fine wrap-up.
Despite its devotion to performing the necessary post-introduction busywork, and needing to tread water in preparation for future episodes, The Lost Lords remains entertaining. Time will tell whether it was building to something greater or not.