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Last week Game of Thrones gave us yet another rape scene. Like many of its rape scenes, this one was inconsiderately handled, added nothing whatsoever to the overall plot or development of the characters involved, and wasn’t in the original books. It’s made many fans decide that they will no longer watch the show, and unfortunately I am one of them.
There are a hundred different reasons why I, and many other die-hard GOT fans just like me, have finally decided that enough is enough this week. To go into them all in detail would make this into a book instead of an article, so I’ll be as concise as I can in explaining the main reasons for my own decision to not watch or review Game of Thrones any more.
In last week’s episode, ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’, Sansa married the carnage-crazy Ramsay Bolton, and he subsequently raped her on their wedding night while forcing Theon to watch. This was a scene which told us nothing we didn’t already know about the characters involved; we already knew that Ramsay is a one-dimensional sadist, we already knew that Theon is tortured and emotionally scarred, and we certainly already knew that Sansa has suffered, and is suffering. In short, the scene was gratuitous.
The camera panned away and focused on Theon’s stricken expression, an action that made clear the true purpose of the scene; in Game of Thrones, rape is a badly wielded narrative tool, used to create adversity for women, or incentive for men.
It seems that rape, or the threat of rape, has now become the only challenge that writers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff can think of to give to their female characters (and let’s not completely exonerate author George R. R. Martin, either). When Game of Thrones wants its male characters to grow as people by presenting them with challenges, they kill somebody they love. They promote them to a position of power, or suddenly take their power away. They have them betrayed by their friends, cut off their hands or otherwise injure them, or make them the keeper of a dark secret. When Game of Thrones wants its female characters to develop and change, they rape them, or threaten them with rape. And that’s not just lazy writing, it’s also seriously, disturbingly misogynistic.
The television show has now deviated from Martin’s books by quite a long way, changing certain storylines and cutting others out completely, but both books and show have a long history of including many scenes of rape and sexual violence. However, the writers of the show also have a much discussed habit of adding rape scenes that were never in the books.
In the books, it isn’t Sansa who marries Ramsay and is subsequently raped by him. It’s another character entirely, who doesn’t appear in the show. Which begs the question; why drop so many other storylines from the books, but keep this particular one, in spite of the fact that the character it chiefly concerns has been completely cut?
It’s because the writers ‘like’ rape scenes; they have fallen back on them again and again as an easy and edgy way to create drama, and to push the development of certain characters. Unfortunately, Game of Thrones has increasingly shown that it has absolutely no idea how to correctly handle rape. In the last two seasons especially, the show has moved away from plainly illustrating the horrifying world its women live in, and instead seems to take gratuitous delight in abusing them with little recourse to the actual story.
Concerning this particular scene; Sansa, as proved by the scene just before the wedding when she asserts her dominance over Myranda, has begun to grow into authority. That is then ripped away again by her rape. She shows her strength; she is immediately punished for it with sexual violence. That quick succession cannot be coincidental, and if it is, then we’re dealing with writers who are not only perpetuating misogyny, they’re also completely, obliviously, incompetent.
Many defenders of the show are asking why none of us objected to the rapes in Game of Thrones before now; the Drogo/Daenerys rape, the Jaime/Cersei rape, and all the other rapes of characters without names or lines. The answer is that we did; we did object. There was a minor outcry when the show depicted Daenerys’ wedding night as non-consensual (when it was explicitly consensual in the books), and a major outcry when Jaime raped Cersei in the Sept, which only got worse when the showrunners couldn’t seem to agree on whether they’d meant to shoot the scene as consensual or not, showing a profound misunderstanding of rape amongst some of the show’s creators.
Just as worrying was the constant threat of ‘background rape’; the nameless women raped by the Dothraki in season one, the nameless women raped at Craster’s Keep, first by Craster and then by the Night’s Watch rebels. Many called the show out for all of this, and many chose to stop watching after the Jaime/Cersei rape in season four. Some of us, myself included, elected to stick with it, but the show was on very thin ice and we were forever watchful for it to put even one toe out of line on the issue of rape.
For most of us, this has been a cumulative process; we haven’t just suddenly decided to drop the show because of this one Ramsay/Sansa rape scene. This has been a very long time coming, and Sansa’s rape was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The relentless use of rape as a reminder of how perilous the world of Westeros is, or as a shortcut to creating adversity for female characters, has got to such a pitch that watching the show now is punctuated by wondering who’s going to get raped next, or when the next casual rape scene is going to pop out of the woodwork. This is not what I signed up for.
I watched the next episode of the series – ‘The Gift’ – to see if by some miracle it dealt with the aftermath of last week’s events in a skilful and effective manner. No such luck, I’m afraid; not only did we have a terrified Sansa locked in her room 24/7 with her husband raping her every night, we also had the old servant who promised to help her nailed up and flayed alive. Ramsay forces Sansa to look upon the mutilated body of the old woman, similar to the way Joffrey forced her to stare at the severed head of her father back in King’s Landing – as if we needed any more reminding of just how dire her situation is.
Before she sees the dead body of her servant friend, she’s still got enough nerve to sass Ramsay about the fact that he’s a bastard, but frankly this small show of strength does little to make up for her character losing all semblance of agency once again, and turning to Theon to get help from outside instead of masterminding an escape effort herself. This is also doing little to assuage viewer’s fears that Sansa’s rape would just be a vehicle for Theon to redeem himself.
At the Wall, we have another near rape when two of the Black Brothers decided to force themselves on Gilly. Unsurprisingly, the showrunners screw up here as well. Just like Sansa’s rapes are more concerned with Theon’s character than they are hers, Gilly’s near rape is just an excuse for Sam’s character to develop, to give him a reason to stand up and fight. The sheer nerve of the showrunners – writing this scene, putting it in this episode, when they must have known what an outcry the previous episode would cause – is frankly staggering. It suggests to me that not only do they not understand their audience at all, they also don’t understand the story they’re trying to tell, or how to tell it properly without making rape the loadbearing wall of their plot and character development.
I’ve had enough. I don’t trust Weiss and Benioff any more, whether they’re sticking with Martin’s books or not. I don’t trust the directors or producers either, if these are the sort of ham-fisted plot developments they’re willing to work with, and to film so inconsiderately. I’m unwilling to continue watching, reviewing and writing about a show whose creators think this use and portrayal of rape is acceptable, and who seem to treat their viewers with so little credence and respect.
I’m not going to tell other Roobla contributors that they can’t write about the show if they want to, because despite being Chief Editor, I don’t think it’s my place to do that. Roobla is a site that is entirely created, built and staffed by people who aren’t making any money out of the enterprise at all; they do it because they love it, and they deserve the opportunity to write about what they want to write about, within reason. However – and this is a big however – you can rest assured that any article which makes any sort of apology for rape, rapists, or rape culture in general, I’ll come down on like a ton of bricks.
Having enjoyed Game of Thrones so much over the years, and invested a lot of time in reviewing and writing about it, I thought long and hard before making this decision. But eventually, the choice became painfully obvious – enough is enough.