Telltale Games
May 26, 2015 at 05:04 PM EDT
We gave it an A-

The penultimate episode of every Game of Thrones season is usually the one that leaves fans talking until the next season. The action is ramped up, the effects have an extra sheen of polish, and the episodes often include major twists to the plot (read: deaths) or the format.

“Sons of Winter” may not be the penultimate episode of Telltale’s take on Game of Thrones, but in many ways it feels like that impressive culmination of action and plot in one riveting episode. The fourth of six entries in Telltale’s episodic game series is perhaps the series’ best episode yet, highlighting and utilizing the individual strengths of each House Forrester member.

Several of the plots in Telltale’s Game of Thrones have occasionally fallen into a wheel-spinning rut in the season’s middle episodes. The plights of characters like Mira and Rodrik Forrester seemed to be stuck on a loop now and then, repeating narrative and emotional beats until they were allowed to proceed.

But “Sons of Winter” changes all of that. Nearly every playable character reaches a major climax in their stories, giving the series its greatest sense of narrative momentum since the first episode. And perhaps just as importantly, it finds ways to tie into the TV show without feeling ham-fisted in its approach.

Take Asher’s story, for example. Sent by Daenerys to help free the city of Meereen, Asher, along with Beshka, engages in one of the series’ best action sequences. It’s a thrilling stealth mission that actually informs the current season of Game of Thrones and makes the player feel integral to the show’s trajectory.

Mira’s story in King’s Landing may not have the same implications for the show, so Telltale smartly reverses the approach from Asher’s plot. Sequences from the show—namely, the many coronations in King’s Landing—inform Mira’s story, which calls for the series’ trademark manipulation. And for once, I felt prepared as Mira to properly interrogate the other players in the game of strategy governing Westeros.

Gared and Rodrik’s storylines similarly ramp up their pacing, the latter finally bringing to a head all of the problems plaguing Ironrath while ensuring any happy ending that may be in the cards is still far off. Gared’s segments still haven’t enthralled me like Asher or Rodrik’s segments, but this episode finally breaks him out of the confines of Castle Black and sets the stage for an exciting journey.

Will Telltale follow the map HBO’s drama has established and make the fifth, penultimate episode its grand, sweeping climax? Possibly, but “Sons of Winter” feels like the franchise has finally found its groove. Hopefully it’s a groove that Telltale can maintain in the final third of the season.

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