Telltale makes adaptations. That’s what they do. It’s something that we as a community have come to expect from them and understand about them as a company. It’s something we put up with about them as a creative entity. Adaptation itself isn’t a problem. Plenty of great works of art in all mediums are adaptations of other works. However, Telltale has become defined by their output being exclusively adaptations. They are the studio that stitches together great adventure games out of the cloth that others have woven.
As a result, fans of the studio are generally most concerned with how they will adapt the material that they have licensed as a video game. With Game of Thrones that didn’t seem like a difficult question. Way back when it was first announced, the community at large thought that Game of Thrones was a perfect fit for the Telltale treatment. At that point, we had only the first season of The Walking Dead and its DLC 400 Days to go by. These were games about hard choices with life or death consequences. Playing was much about negotiating in order to gain the loyalty of various factions in a bid for survival. Thus, as a community, we looked at this and looked at the material being adapted and saw that perfect fit.
Four episodes in, though, and I began asking a different question. By the time the fifth episode released, I began thinking of something less than a question and more a serious issue that Telltale has to directly tackle or suffer some fallout.
Game of Thrones had been riding high after several successful seasons on television, having provided some of the hardest hitting and shocking twists seen in the medium for the last decade. Of course, though, the material now being covered by the show hasn’t been completely written yet. The new book hasn’t been published and the writers no longer have a clear, concrete example of where the story is headed. The last season of the television show was its dullest and contained the most mismanaged episodes of the series. Game of Thrones is losing its impact, and its audience is wavering in their loyalty to it.
Of course, it’s not just the show. I’ve read the first two books and a third of the next one. Only a third, because I had just grown exhausted with the constant misery and vileness of Westeros. So, I just up and quit. With the television show, I lasted longer, but it too is hitting that threshold for me. It’s exhausting to watch every character that one might still keep watching the show for getting killed, maimed, or captured. My mom, someone who will continue on with a television show long after its prime, asked, “What’s the point in watching anymore?” when the last episode aired.
All of that is relevant because exhaustion with Game of Thrones isn’t the result of weakness in its execution, but my exhaustion stems from the material and the world itself. For going through this much trouble, an audience has to feel like they’re getting something worthwhile out of it. The more that you ask of them to deal with, the more that the creative force behind it has to provide. Game of Thrones feels like it’s running out of things to say. Presentation in a new medium could breathe new life into the franchise, as can a fresh perspective. Telltale offered both with a video game adaptation following a before unseen house in the Game of Thrones universe. Yet, that freshness has now faded and what once felt like a perfect fit based on the studio’s previous work, now seems like an acceleration of the exhaustion Game of Thrones is now plaguing its audience with.
The last two episodes of Telltale’s Game of Thrones are by no means bad. In the moment, they can exhilarate. The scenes keep the tension high and one’s eyes glued to the screen. The trials of the Forrester family still intrigue to a certain degree. The raw emotion in these moments leave one with a generally positive feeling about the game. However, this is when I intended to describe the various parts of the story. Except that when I began to write them out, I found only criticisms coming forth. Because a lot of it feels like the game is simply retreading old ground. Either ground tread by the television show, other Telltale games, but mostly of the game itself. I’ve played through intrigues, I’ve shut down my rival, I’ve tempered myself in front of royalty, and I’ve gotten screwed over at a critical juncture. The plot continues with new minor wrinkles added here and there, but on the whole, the experience has lost a sense of originality.
A lot of it is the game’s tone. It is singular. It is relentless. Most of all, it is exhausting. When the credits finally roll, all I can do is lean back, allowing all the built up tension of playing through these scenarios to be released, but leaving me feeling drained. I feel in danger while playing, but afterwards I feel distant. I do not feel connected to these characters or their plight. Some manage to maintain some interest. But on the whole, I feel like: Who lives? Who dies? I’m not sure I care anymore.
The one exception to this feeling of tension is a character named Gared, a squire that was sent to the wall in an earlier episode. He is featured in one interesting, but minor scene regarding a rabbit hunt, but as for the circumstances surrounding the character more broadly, I’m just left thinking, “Why?” While other threads of the story of the Forrester’s at least feel relevant, Gared’s mission feels too forward looking. It is setting things up for a sequel, which fails to engage my otherwise waning interest right now. At this point, his whole storyline actively aggravates me, rather than passively dulls my senses. I have no doubt that Telltale’s Game of Thrones will get a second season, but I may be done with the series in any iteration by then.
An adaptation is intrinsically connected to the material that it is adapted from, for good or for ill. You might get an audience that wants to see something that they love presented in a new medium. A book has become a spectacle for the eyes, or now, a “television show” that the player can now participate in. However, if people are sick of the material, an adaptation will suffer from that apathy. What Telltale’s Game of Thrones is making me ask is: can an adaptation survive exhaustion and apathy?