Game of Thrones Season Four is the Worst

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——Safe from major spoilers——

If you haven't seen Game of Thrones season four yet, the following references a few different scenes and plot lines, but should not ruin the story for you.

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Season four of HBO's Game of Thrones was a huge disappointment for me. It addressed some of my favorite material from George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire—awesome plot twists and scenes that were very fun to read. Nevertheless, the TV series let me down, and I place the blame on David Benioff and D. B. Weiss.


Benioff and Weiss are the executive producers of the show, and the scriptwriters and/or co-directors of most of its episodes. In short, they are most responsible for how A Song of Ice and Fire—the original material—has been modified into a television program. In season four, their modifications moved from practical and benign adaptations to overreaching, harmful, and downright stupid ones.

It was as if Benioff and Weiss not only thought they needed to change A Song of Ice and Fire to fit it to television; it was as if they thought they can improve the story itself. If that was indeed their intention, they utterly, utterly, failed.

One theme in particular is their attempt to create closer linkages between major characters and increase their interactions with each other through the use of invented story lines. Here are just two examples from the North:

Jon Snow's made-up raid on Craster's Keep and near encounter with Bran and company does little more than add to his clichéd hero credentials and needlessly excite the audience that the brothers might reunite. In fact, Jon Snow's character development was twisted for the whole season, only worsened by the inventions such as Alliser Thorne's lord commandership.

You can't travel from one side of
Westeros to the other for a quick raid.
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In episode six, "Yara" Greyjoy (Asha, originally) inexplicably makes a quick raid on the Dreadfort, encountering both her brother and Ramsay Bolton before leaving in defeat. Not only is the event illogical based on the personality and knowledge "Yara" is supposed to have, but it's geographically and logistically impossible. The Dreadfort is on the other side of the continent from where the Ironborn are. (Note that this episode was written by Bryan Cogman; I won't blame Benioff and Weiss for all season four's stupidity.)

It's not that creating new interactions between characters we love can't be a great thing. In fact, there's a fight in the finale between two characters who never meet in the books that I think was a great adaptation. Nevertheless, Game of Thrones cannot follow in the path of films like Crash that interweave characters and stories in ever more surprising and complex ways. Game of Thrones is based on an expansive epic: Yes, the stories and characters all connect to one another eventually, but in a universe of vast kingdoms and millions of people, they can't just step in and out of each other's scenes. If they're made to, it starts to look ridiculous.

Here are just a few more aspects to the season that I found especially worthy of rebuke:

Sansa saves Petyr Baelish through testimony she came up with herself, instead of Baelish coaching her on it, and the nobles of the Vale are entirely credulous. This scene was out of character for all three parties involved: Baelish never would have left that moment to fate, the nobles had every reason to maintain their suspicions, (as they do in the books), and Sansa's act is especially surprising because the show seems to portray her as more immature than the books. Then the show turns around and inexplicably gives her a moment of agency as a calculating manipulator. It makes no sense.

Cliché festival at the Wall!
Episode nine ("The Watchers on the Wall") is possibly full of more television tropes than any other episode I've seen in recent television. I'll spare you the details, but in the big picture of things, Benioff and Weiss turned what was a genuinely scared-out-of-your-mind battle in the book into a big show of heroes dancing around a battle finding and losing love, making speeches, taking stands, and killing each other in as showy a way as possible while countless nameless extras get killed around them.

Oh and by the way—if you think George R. R. Martin is crazy about killing off his characters, consider this: Benioff and Weiss have killed all the major characters that G.R.R.M. killed, but they have also killed off many of the supporting and minor characters that Martin has kept alive.

In "The Watchers on the Wall," Benioff and Weiss killed off two of Jon's friends who are still alive in the books. According to this,
"Benioff and Weiss explained that they wanted to show the real cost of the battle and for it to have dramatic impact, which meant they had to kill a few named recurring characters (instead of nameless background extras, which would carry no dramatic weight)." 
To me, this demonstrates how Benioff and Weiss fundamentally misunderstood the battle at the Wall: In the books, the battle was written to show the fear, pain, and then victory of all the brothers in the Night's Watch, and indeed, a fear for all the Seven Kingdoms if the Wall were to be breached. In the books, the deaths of "extras" had meaning that the reader could truly care about. Benioff and Weiss apparently believe viewers will only care about a person's death if it's one of Jon Snow's friends.

This conversation between Cersei
and Tywin made no sense.
Finally, episode ten is a mediocre tying-up-loose-ends episode. There are more than a few nonsensical plot lines that the episode had to try to fix, and the motivations for the Lannisters' actions in this episode are especially confused, though they were throughout the season as well. In the books, George R. R. Martin had all the pages he needed to develop his readers' understanding of Tyrion, Cersei, Jaime, and Tywin, so in a television series it's all the more important every action and statement to make sense for a given character and further their development. Game of Thrones failed to do that, confusing things at every turn. I feel bad for those who watch the show but haven't read the books; I can't imagine they understand the Lannisters at all.

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As I indicated before when reviewing The Hobbit, it doesn't bother me at all when epic stories are changed somewhat in adaptations for the big or small screen. In fact, I usually love the result. However, sometimes film or TV writers cross a line and venture too far from the guiding words of the original author. When those words are no longer heeded, the adaptation can fall into a deep dark pit of uninspired amateurism. In my view, Game of Thrones fell into that pit this season. I sincerely hope it can climb back out.

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[Please note: I left all my problems with the Daenerys out of this post, because in spite of my criticism of the season three finale, I believe the fundamental flaws of orientalism and a "white savior complex" in Daenery's story come from George R. R. Martin himself. While I think Game of Thrones season four strayed too far from the source material, that doesn't mean I think the source material is perfect.]

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