Game of Thrones Rape Controversy: Calls for boycott too extreme?

US senator Claire McCaskill has called for fans to boycott Game of Thrones. Was Sansa's rape scene a step too far for HBO's hit show?

The multi-award winning, boob-flashing HBO series is no stranger to sex and controversy. The ratio of naked women to, say, swords is staggeringly close – given it’s set in a faux middle-age era, that’s no mean feat. However, in the recently aired sixth episode of season five – Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken – the line seems to have been crossed.

Game of Thrones is a huge phenomenon – fact. I must admit, though, it’s pretty much passed me by. I’ve seen most of the first two seasons and the odd episode here and there, and screen time was dominated by the beast with two backs – or one, depending on your preferred sexual position. So when I found out that people were up in arms about the rape of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), I was honestly a little shocked; to me, it seemed to fit the bill.

Would we not say Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), in pre-Khaleesi days, was raped by Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa)? She was then forced to eat a horse’s heart, burned alive, and separated from her baby dragons. Of course, all this happened when the show was fledgling and people just couldn’t get enough of it. Maybe now the series has gone on a bit, people are looking for reasons to move on to something new? Might I suggest The Walking Dead.

The more you learn about it, however, it is quite shocking. In no situation is it ever a good idea to add a rape scene. We’ve all done secondary school drama – let’s leave the cheap storylines there. Perhaps in the next season a character will have a sex change, or slip in to depression, and all the cast will speak in chorus, encircling Sansa as she sits head in hands: “It’s all your fault, it’s all your fault, it’s all YOUR FAULT, it’s ALL YOUR FAULT, IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!”  Cut to black.

But seriously, never add a rape scene. And I think it’s important to note that it was added. George R. R. Martin, who penned the ridiculously sized books, never had Sansa raped by Ramsay (Iwan Rheon). So Bryan Cogman, who wrote the episode, must’ve thought it beneficial to throw the scene in there. Bryan, mate. No.

“Oh hey, we’ve got this dumb-ass water garden thing going on. We need something to pull them back in,” says Bryan, sipping his [insert most annoying drink here].

To which the other man replies: “Well, we all did drama, so…”

Bryan looks excited, the idea has dawned on him as well: “You don’t mean… ?”

“Oh, I mean!” his crony says, rubbing his greasy hands together.

“It’s the only option,” Bryan snipes, looking pleased with his genius. The two men laugh menacingly. Lightning strikes.

And what followed is, in fairness, what we’re all talking about.

They do say no publicity is bad publicity, but let’s think about this clearly. And yes, bad publicity is – shock horror – bad publicity. A bad review is a bad review, bad viewing figures are bad viewing figures and, given the recent swathe of American TV show cancellations, perhaps bad publicity is exactly that.

It does seem that the behemoth that is Game of ThronesGoT if you’re one of the cool kids – will be able to shake this off, despite US senator Claire McCaskill and hundreds of others calling for a boycott. The issue for most people seems to be that the scene made them feel uncomfortable; that the crime wasn’t the rape, but rather how it was portrayed.

The shot of Theon, played by Alfie Allen – brother of Lily Allen, cousin of Sam Smith, probably related to Kevin Bacon – suggests that Sansa’s not the only victim. Maybe we should feel sorry for Theon too, as he’s made to stand by helplessly and watch as his childhood friend is raped. This is of course… how can I put it…


To me, all the scene suggests is unease, mostly on the part of the director. If the intention of the scene was to shock us and make us even more keen for the next episode, then be brave about it. If you’re going to be ridiculous, then put bells on it, paint its face and dress it up as Batman – or at least show us! Don’t cower away from your decision, giving us the idea and no execution. It could be argued that the monster you don’t see is far worse than the one you do. In which case, Cogman, what is wrong with you? Why would you do that to us, to the show and to Sansa?

As this Twitter-er says:

Do you reckon Cogman just has a thing against Sansa, maybe even Sophie Turner? Some kind of personal gripe? Perhaps he thought the Starks had it easy and deserved a little more crap thrown their way. I guess we’ll never know.

What’s most important is that hopefully we can all learn from this, and the faults of countless other shows. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean it has to be done.

But let’s not hold this against Game of Thrones. If you enjoy the show, continue enjoying it. A boycott is a bit extreme – you don’t want all those hours, alone in the dark, watching Japanese-subtitled torrents going to waste. We should all see this thing through to the end and pray they don’t decide to end it all by cutting mid sen…

Discussion feed

Up next in tv