Everyone in Riverdale is playing Gryphons & Gargoyles. Are we playing Gryphons & Gargoyles, too? Where does the game end and the characters’ lives begin? Where does the game end and the show itself begin? Everything is Gryphons & Gargoyles. Life is but a game.
If I sound a bit deranged, perhaps a bit of gamemaster Jughead Jones has rubbed off on me. We pick up where we left off last week, with Betty interrupting a bunker game of G&G being played by Jug, Cheryl, Toni, Sweet Pea, and Fangs. Jughead’s slightly unhinged ranting continues one-on-one with Betty, when he tries to explain that the game is much more than a game, that it bleeds into real life. Rescuing Hot Dog from the Ghoulies? That was a quest. The Ghoulies versus The Serpents? Those are warring tribes like those found in the game. Maybe all the wild shit that happens in Riverdale is controlled by some sort of evil overlord. Maybe it all goes back to this roleplaying game found in a classroom in the ’80s.
Or maybe Jughead just needs to get some sleep. Even if there’s something true to his conspiracy theory that RIverdale is controlled by a game, Judhead’s erratic behavior is definitely out of control, which I will get to momentarily, but first, A Rant: Sweet Pea and Fangs attempt to take the game off-board by playing around with Cheryl’s bow — apparently interrupting a tent sex situation between Cheryl and Toni, which is only implied and not shown even though a lot of attention is given to a Veronica/Archie sex scene later in the episode and like haven’t we had enough Varchie sex scenes?! Sure, we get one Choni kiss, but as a whole, their relationship doesn’t get nearly the same treatment as other love stories on the show on an emotional or sexual level. There has been very little character development for Cheryl this season and virtually none for Toni, and their relationship is starting to feel weirdly like just fanservice, but what us real Choni fans actually want is some good storytelling and compelling relationship dynamics/development for Cheryl and Toni! It almost feels like the writers only found them interesting within the context of the conversion therapy storyline! Nope! I know there’s a lot going on right now, but why make them — and Cheryl with her bow in particular — such an essential part of the game when they’re barely an essential part of the show right now?
Back to the game though: Jughead “handles” the situation with Sweet Pea and Fangs by placing a soda can on his head and asking Cheryl to shoot it. (She, of course, nails it, because if there’s one thing we can count on Cheryl Blossom for other than creating a little chaos, it’s hitting her goddamn target every time.) When Sweet Pea refuses to take the same bonkers risk, Jughead concludes that he is not ready to go off-board, warns the crew not to defy him as gamemaster. Jug, buddy, are you ok?
And then when Betty is like, “Hey, we’re gonna break Archie out of juvie,” Jughead’s reaction is to design a new quest within the game inspired by the jailbreak instead of, you know, actually helping his best friend break free. The escape plan comes as a result of Veronica sneaking into the fight club with her pal Elio and seeing the horrors for herself. She teams up with Betty, Kevin, Reggie, and Josie to concoct a truly ridiculous but very fun escape plan. Jughead’s quest, meanwhile, mimics their plan, reframing it in fantastical terms. Jughead’s motorcycle that Betty cruises on becomes a stallion. Hiram Lodge is a dragon. The return of Mad Dog becomes a resurrected hellhound. It continues a lot of the very fun ’80s-style camp of last episode, the escape team dressing up in elaborate costumes, gas canisters masquerading as innocuous soda cans. Hiram continues to underestimate Veronica and her loyalty to Archie.
And there are some genuine twists, too, like Veronica injuring Hiram and, even more shockingly, when Joaquin stabs Archie just before his fight with Mad Dog because the warden told him it was the path toward ascension. The warden, after all, plays the game, too. The parallels between Jughead’s quest and the escape plan aren’t the only overlap. The game rather explicitly seeps into real life, blurring lines, when Joaquin mentions ascension after stabbing Archie and when the warden laments losing “the red paladin,” the character analog within the game for Archie. Jughead posits that the warden could be the ultimate gamemaster, but that theory gets shot down when the warden becomes the latest casualty of the game, killing himself with the blue drink before he can face any consequences for running an underground teen fight club.
In my mind, there’s no suspect more obvious than Hiram for being the ultimate gamemaster. We already know how many strings he’s pulling behind-the-scenes of Riverdale, and he has been doing it ever since he came back. He’s power hungry and no doubt has a God complex. And he seems to have no problem manipulating, abusing, even killing teenagers. I don’t really see Hiram dressing up as a Gargoyle King and chilling in the woods, so it isn’t a perfect theory. But the connective tissue between the game and everything else happening on the show is strengthening.
The jailbreak/game mirroring in “The Great Escape” is certainly silly Riverdale fun, but it also gives real stakes to this whole G&G storyline. The episode doesn’t let us forget that this is all very life-or-death. The Black Hood storyline last season was always at its best when it didn’t get too mired in plot and instead made the threat feel very real and imminent to the characters, played with their emotions. The game has taken hold of Jughead in a truly disturbing way. And the more the game interacts with the real-life problems the characters have, the more the game matters. The past is repeating itself, much like it did with the Black Hood. The teens make a pact not unlike the pact that their parents made all those years ago, this time promising not to betray Archie or his whereabouts. But we know that betrayal courses through the town of Riverdale’s veins.
And Riverdale has been so successful in its world building and tone setting when it comes to this game that when Kevin pulls out a G&G manual for him, Reggie, and Josie to start playing, it’s straight-up unnerving. The pacing and tension of “The Great Escape” works very well, an immersive experience that mimics the way some characters have been pulled into the game. We’re all playing G&G now.