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HBO’s 'Game of Thrones' Needs to Stop Reading for Inspiration, and Start Playing

The TV adaptation has run out of novel support, so its makers would be wise to look to Telltale's games series.

by Mike Diver
17 June 2015, 5:56am

Gared Tuttle, in the foreground, getting himself in some shit or other at Castle Black.

This article does contain some spoilers for Telltale Games' Game of Thrones, but none whatsoever for the TV show so far, so read easy, tardy viewers.

HBO's television adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Game of Thrones, has finished its fifth-season run in dramatic fashion. You'll find no (television) spoilers here, naturally, but the plotlines of several major "perspective" characters, including Jon Snow, Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen – I'm assuming you know who they are, or what are you even doing here? – have arrived at the points they've been left hanging at in Martin's books. His fifth (and to date last) novel in a supposed series of seven, A Dance with Dragons, was published in 2011, the same year that the TV show began, and we've read nothing new since. Which puts showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss in a pickle, specifically: unless Martin really knuckles down, they're out of source material for 2016's inevitable season six.

The television show has taken a fair few narrative diversions throughout its run, and never more dramatically than it has across season five. Again, no spoilers, of the TV show kind at least, but several story threads that we've seen on screen played out very differently on paper, with established characters filling in for lesser ones who've not transferred from print to programme at all. It's clear to both fans of the pre-HBO lore and those who've only known Game of Thrones in moving pictures alike that Weiss and Benioff are far from afraid to muck about with the fates of audience favourites, regardless of Martin's original stories. Martin has written for the show, but hasn't a single creative credit on any season five episode, which may explain why these past ten weeks have witnessed such unexpected drama, particularly during the final two hours of shocks and horrors.

Daenerys, check. Dragon, check. Yup, this is definitely 'Game of Thrones'.

However, season six beginning from an absolutely blank slate would represent a massive gamble for HBO – can the series stand alone from the books, guided by screenwriters alone, progressing its key characters in a way that can then organically feed back into Martin's next two novels? Naturally he's doing what he can to have The Winds of Winter finished by spring 2016, yet filming for season five began the summer prior to its airing, in July 2014. Presumably the production schedule for the next batch of episodes would be of a comparable length, meaning that either show and books would overlap, potentially awkwardly, or HBO will simply have to put the brakes on its most popular series for a year, and focus on delivering a sixth run sometime in early 2017.

Alternatively, the show could look to another place for official canon inspiration – to Telltale Games' show-complementing episodic series, now on its fourth instalment of six having begun in December 2014. The game/s adhere to Telltale's traditionally narrative-heavy, action-light structure, with the events depicted occurring in parallel with those seen on television, spanning the time between season three's Red Wedding ending, where its own story begins, and the start of the fifth. Which, admittedly, places it slightly behind where the TV's at, chronologically, but since when has A Song of Ice and Fire's "order" stuck to such straight-line simplicity?

What it does offer Weiss and Benioff and their colleagues is the opportunity to bring fresh yet lore-established blood into televisual proceedings, mainly in the shape of House Forrester. These characters were once fiercely loyal to the long-since-scattered Starks of the north, and are effectively set up as an analogue of Ned and Cat's tragic family: there's a runaway son overseas (Asher, filling an Arya role, sort of); a daughter in King's Landing (Mira, a straight sub for Sansa for a spell of the latter's storyline); and a squire at The Wall, for a while at least (Gared Tuttle, essentially Telltale's own Jon Snow). These are three of the game's playable four at the moment, the fourth being the Red Wedding-injured Rodrik Forrester, but there are many more characters, too, each splendidly three dimensional on their own terms and wonderfully interwoven into Martin's deep and rich fiction by the guiding hand of the author's personal assistant, Ty Corey Franck.

Many of these "new" faces would fit right into the HBO show. For example, Asher has a companion, Beshka, who is a Brienne of Tarth type for Essos, albeit of the sellsword persuasion – tough as leather on the outside, but scarred to her soul, a dream to write a TV treatment for. The pair meet Daenerys – played in the game by her TV actress Emilia Clarke – and ultimately play a vital part in the taking of Meereen during the events of episode four, the late-May-released "Sons of Winter". Bringing this double act into the HBO equation in some way, given where Meereen finds itself at the end of season five, could be very interesting indeed – assuming that Asher hangs around, that is, as it's his current intention to travel back to the home of his house, Ironrath, a stronghold positioned north of Winterfell.

Beshka frequently lets her sword do all the talking, keeping her feelings bottled up.

His reason for going is an urgent one: the men and women of Ironrath are being subjugated by a rival house, the Whitehills, who themselves are acting under the command of the Boltons, effectively the rulers of the north since the demise of the Starks. Yes, you get to see plenty of the utterly batshit Ramsey Snow in Telltale's game, and he leaves no little impression on the Forresters, particularly their third-born son Ethan, at the climax of episode one. Don't click this link if you're yet to play the game and don't want that scene spoiled (or do, if you want to relive it).

Said opening episode of Telltale's sextet, "Iron from Ice", is something of a slow-burner until its final moments, but now that we're well into the game's unique yet "main"-plot respecting narrative, things have really become intriguing. Rodrik is forging an alliance through marriage with another family, the Glenmores, to stand up against the Whitehills, who not only want to crush the Forresters but also take control of their ironwood supplies. In King's Landing, Mira is becoming a master of manipulation, convincing a Lannister no less to spill the beans over dealings with the Whitehills. Gared, meanwhile, has fled north of Castle Black in search of the legendary North Grove, a site that might hold the key to the Forresters' future.

The trailer to 'Game of Thrones' episode four, "Sons of Winter"

Several of the television show's famous faces have appeared at pivotal moments, too, each portrayed by their respective HBO actors, including Peter Dinklage as Tyrion, Kit Harington as Jon, Lena Headey as Cersei and Iwan Rheon as Ramsey. That they've all got relationships with Telltale's cast makes the incorporation of these at-present digital-only men and women of the north all the easier to facilitate – should HBO want to lean on Martin-approved (interactive) fiction for support going into a book-free season six.

When David Perry wrote for VICE about "the world's reserves of Game of Thrones" running dangerously low at the end of last month, I was surprised that he didn't mention Telltale's project, which has developed all the emotional and political depth of an HBO season. I felt the same way again when I read his summary of season five, expressing concerns over the show's ability to break in TV-exclusive characters. But then I realised: just as fans of the TV show may not have read the books – hence all the white faces with mouths agape at the end of "Mother's Mercy" – there's every chance that they're not even properly aware of this excellent gaming series, unfolding right under their noses. As, if they've got a smartphone, that's where it could be: Telltale's adventure is available for Android and iOS, as well as PlayStation and Xbox platforms, PC and Mac. It's pretty likely you own a device that's suitable for playing it on.


Fancy a dance, with or without dragons? Visit THUMP.


So, do play it. Seriously, have a go. It's really easy to get into, with more enveloping dialogue than deadly battles, and each episode is around movie length, playable in a single sitting. It doesn't cost much, and the way the struggles of the Forresters dip in and out of events you think you know so well, seeing things like the Purple Wedding and the capturing of Merreen from whole new perspectives, brings an incredible amount of additional context to the births, deaths, massacres and marriages of Westeros. And if Benioff and Weiss haven't played through to the suspense-filled Snow-y end to "Sons of Winter", then they're really missing out on invaluable pointers on where to take their show next.

Find out more about Telltale's Game of Thrones at its official website

@MikeDiver

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