The Forresters’ insubordinate behaviour from Sons of Winter has not gone unnoticed. A Nest of Vipers connects both episodes with bouts of action and suspense that brings together usually separate family members for the very first time. Rodrik’s war with the Whitehills reaches its peak, as Asher finally arrives in Westeros with an army from across the Narrow Sea. These chapters abound once again in great moments of characterisation and joviality, and flow from scene to scene with a noticeable emphasis on confrontation and excitement. Gared’s chapters have a similar focus on action, but his romp towards the North Grove ends with a startling abruptness. The same can be said for Mira’s time in King’s Landing, as her section finishes with practically zero story progression, and with very little evidence as to where her character will be heading next.
At the beginning of Mira’s section, we instantly see the repercussions of her outburst from episode four. She is shunned by her friend Sera, and is tasked by Cersei to interrogate her brother, due to her much sought-after deviousness. This scenario presents another great performance by Peter Dinklage, as his character Tyrion quips wholeheartedly despite his troubled spell in prison. Mira’s part in episode five is set up as an interesting aftermath, but despite some promising ideas, it remains startlingly short, containing an almost non-existent level of development for every character involved.
Gared’s vignettes contrast heavily with those of Mira in this respect. The young squire has always received a fair treatment in his portrayal, but the black brothers around him have usually remained minor in their characterisation. A Nest of Vipers brings these characters into the fore as especially interesting companions. Finn’s hatred for Wildlings is a point of contention amongst the group, while Cotter’s family life is revealed through a lengthy set of dialogue options. While these moments may lack the emotional resonance of other Forrester instances, they do reveal some much needed information on persons that have thus far been slightly lacking in importance.
Quiet times do not last long beyond the wall however, as a group of White Walkers make an appearance to startle the dishevelled band. The action here is superb, as the almost invincible frozen zombies make for suspenseful enemies within the deadly wilderness. Great characterisation and activity aside, Gared’s chapter ends on a brief note that feels unfinished. This may have been cut off to make way for a larger scale section in the final episode, but it is still disappointing that the almost impeccable Gared has been painted with the same mediocre brush as Mira.
Thankfully, these undercooked segments are pockmarked by the wonderful antics of Asher and his crew. The cast-off sibling is finally heading back to Westeros, along with an army fit to defend the Forrester ilk. But before this however, he must deal with a rowdy crowd of slaves in Mereen. This entire section is riddled with quirky characters, well-put sarcasm, death matches and bountiful eruptions of gore. Since the beginning, Asher has constantly exuded this pirate-esque lifestyle; frolic, fisticuffs and fun have come towards him at every turn. His role has always been that of the entertaining, swashbuckling savant, providing an exhilarating break from the sometimes dour happenings of his homeland. The fantastic role that Asher plays in episode five is certainly no exception to this rule.
While Asher’s actions in the previous episode come into play with a frustrating, yet wholly deserved conclusion, Rodrik’s assertiveness last time is dealt with severity and horror. I may have been shocked to see a strong willed character flayed beyond belief upon a rack, but these connections show that my choices matter within the context of a larger narrative structure. The story being told here is one of consequence, which therefore evokes a greater personal and emotional response to certain threads as a result.
Telltale have never shied away from making Rodrik’s chapters emotionally painful at times, and in episode five, this tenet is utilised again and again. His relationship with Elaina meanders between distressing, hopeful, tense and loving; he struggles to cope with being both a brother and a ruler; he must deal with a traitor who was once a trusted member of the family. Asher may be represented as assertive and entertaining, but Rodrik is still fantastic as his antithesis: constrained, bullied and dark. The emotional currents that flow through his chapters are deep, tense and captivating; they finish in horror for both characters and players alike.
Whitehills, White Walkers and violent pit slaves; these are the so-called snakes present in A Nest of Vipers. While both Mira and Gared’s stories fall flat like limp corn snakes, the tales of Asher and Rodrik provide the backbone of an enormous python. Action abounds within this Game of Thrones chapter in a fantastic panache of swords and blood, with a climactic cliff hanger that closes with distressing gasps that beg for more and more. Despite its short length, episode five culminates with strong moments of emotion, suspense and excitement, promising an even greater spectacle of consequence in its closing instalment.
Will The Ice Dragon prove its worth as the greatest serpent of them all? I wait with enthusiasm to find out.