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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the entire first season of Telltale’s Game of Thrones series.]
Ironrath is gone. Rodrik Forrester is gravely injured, his body filled with puncture wounds, his heart brimming with fury. His parents and siblings are either dead or in peril, including his sister Mira, the captive bride of a megalomaniacal lord. Far north beyond The Wall, House Forrester squire Gared Tuttle has come across the dark secret of the late Lord Gregor, and has participated in some twisted blood magic rituals of his own.
Such is the state of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros right now — at least, that’s one version of current events. The experience varies greatly from player to player, depending on choices made throughout the first season of Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series, a six-episode adaptation of the HBO fantasy series that concluded with its final installment, “The Ice Dragon,” this week.
But it’s only a conclusion for now. THR spoke with Kevin Bruner, Telltale’s CEO and co-founder and executive producer on the Game of Thrones adaptation, about the season one finale, the future of House Forrester and more.
“The Ice Dragon” ends with bloodshed and heartbreak for House Forrester, and also ends without resolution to many major stories. Is it safe to assume that these cliffhangers will be resolved in a second season?
When we initially announced the series in 2013, we let everyone know this would be a multi-title, multiyear partnership with HBO. After this week’s finale, I’m pleased to officially confirm that there will be a second season of Telltale’s Game of Thrones series and that it’s currently in development.
The questions left on the table at the conclusion of season one — who survived and who didn’t — as well as all the other choices you made play a huge role in the second season. We’ve been planning the second season all along, but I really shouldn’t be revealing more than that.
How far along in the development process is season two?
While we cannot divulge any of the specific details, we can say that Telltale’s approach to game development is much more like television than most other game developers. Across all of our series — The Walking Dead, Minecraft: Story Mode and more — the development process at Telltale spends a significant amount of time upfront in the writer’s rooms not just with writers, but designers, directors and creative input from all across the studio. It’s not unusual for our games to exist longer on whiteboards and sticky notes and in scripts than they do in traditional game production. It’s incredibly similar to how TV often spends so much time in preproduction and planning before moving into actually shooting. It’s from then on that we take the live development aspect into play, observing the audience and their feedback as we adjust and build upon the experience along the way.
I’d say that’s been a defining approach here at Telltale over the last 10 years, as we’ve always envisioned our games as more in line with interactive drama and playable cinema than what most might traditionally think of as “games.” So while we cannot say exactly how far along season two is right now, we can say that there’s never a shortage of sticky notes on the walls around the studio.
Focusing on season one, the final episode ends with House Forrester in shambles — at least in my play-through as Rodrik. Is a happy ending possible, depending on decisions made in previous episodes, or are the Forresters doomed no matter how the game is played? What informed the decision to conclude their story on such a dark note?
Things rarely go well in the Game of Thrones universe, and there is always a price to be paid for playing. Indeed the Forresters did have a very rough time in season one, but there is a larger story to be played out. What may seem like small victories after the downfall of Ironrath are important ones. The choices players make in season one set the stage for what’s to come.
House Forrester’s story mirrors House Stark’s story in some explicit and subtle ways, from murders of the family’s patriarchs (see: Gregor Forrester and Ned Stark) and matriarchs (see: Elissa and Catelyn) to potential death fake-outs (see: Rodrik and Jon Snow) and more. How consciously were you following the arc of the main family in Game of Thrones, and why was that important for the story you wanted to tell?
We wanted to provide an experience that was familiar and accessible to both players of the game and fans of the show. We intentionally started squarely at one of the most memorable scenes of the HBO series, the Red Wedding, but now players are creating their own circumstances, carving their own path through a story that’s happening in parallel to the events in the show.
We were consciously aware of how important the themes of the Stark story arc have been to Game of Thrones. Starting players in a similar position with House Forrester was useful in providing an authentic experience, but we let the player take the story in their own direction, letting them live or die with the consequences of their own decisions.
Players finally reach The North Grove in episode six, where it’s revealed that Gregor Forrester had two bastard children, both of them with magical abilities: Josera Snow is a Warg, and Elsera Snow practices blood magic. These seem to be pretty significant characters to exist beyond The Wall, a land of great significance in George R.R. Martin’s novels. Can you talk about Telltale’s collaboration with Martin and HBO in creating these characters and creating the North Grove? Were these primarily Telltale creations, primarily HBO and/or Martin’s creations, or somewhere in between?
The team at Telltale has been working in close collaboration with HBO in creating the game since its inception. The entire idea of House Forrester was born from a single line from Martin’s novel A Dance with Dragons. Since that moment, Telltale has fleshed out House Forrester’s backstory, their stake in the Ironwood forest and their position as bannermen to House Stark. It’s been great that we are able to introduce important characters such as Elsera and Josera into this universe as well as the mysteries of the North Grove. So it’s safe to say these creations have all been “somewhere in between.”
Not only does season one end with bloodshed and heartbreak for the Forresters, it also ends without resolution to some major stories — for instance, we still do not know what “great power” exists in The North Grove, or how Cotter’s still-beating heart will fuel Elsera moving forward. Can you talk about the balance between resolving certain plot threads, and leaving others dangling at the end of the series? Do you feel the North Grove story, for instance, concludes well enough on its own?
Just like the show, we knew we had to leave some questions unanswered, while firmly resolving others. We love that different players will end up with different Forresters depending on how they play, and that those decisions will affect how the unanswered questions get resolved. I won’t spoil the details of those for anyone, but I’ll say this: “The North Grove must never be lost.”
Throughout the series, players command a total of five playable characters at any given time. Given the complexity of how the story can change based on players’ decisions, how do you feel about how the multiple perspectives ultimately played out? In the second season of Game of Thrones, do you imagine a reduction in the amount of playable characters, or perhaps even an increase?
Making a game where you play five different characters was certainly challenging, but you can’t tell a great Game of Thrones story without seeing things from different perspectives. This allowed us to explore interesting interactive story moments such as the devastating choice at the end of episode five where players had to decide which of their Forrester characters will sacrifice themselves so that the others can survive, making an incredibly personal and bespoke Game of Thrones story. We’ll continue to have fun with multiple perspectives in season two, but I can’t divulge exactly how right now.
Consider this a formal request to make Beskha a playable character next season.
?We’re really pleased that people have responded to a strong character like Beskha. She’s been one of our favorites as well and we are always listening to feedback from our players … ?
Can you speak to some of the lessons Telltale learned over the course of making season one? Are there any critiques or concerns from fans that you’re taking into account ahead of season two?
We knew that going into the first episode, it was going to be a big risk in having one of the main playable characters die early on without any other possible outcome. It was a risk we were willing to take, as we wanted to establish upfront that no character would be safe, and also provide a catalyst for the conflict between House Forrester and House Whitehill. The emotional response to his death was strong, but we also heard criticisms that there was nothing the player could do to survive. While that was partially anticipated, it helped influence our later decisions to leave the fate of Rodrik, Asher, and Mira entirely up to the player.
Beyond this season, we know that the choices made will have long-lasting effects on later episodes … but we’re still not quite ready to go into detail.
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