I know it has been a couple of days, but I feel like I have to address what happened on Game of Thrones this past week. I’ll admit, I wasn’t going to. I am not a professional or trained journalist or critic, but after I saw the Mary Sue’s response (they will no longer be promoting the show) I feel like I should address it here. (Trigger warning! This post discusses rape and sexual assault.)
Game Of Thrones Episode 5.6 “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” ended with Sansa being raped by Ramsey Bolton while Theon was forced to watch. I understand that some people may not agree with me that what happened to Sansa qualifies as rape, but that is what I think happened. I’ve read all of the books, so I knew that *book spoilers* Sansa was taking the place of Jenye Poole, but after having seen Sansa grow so much I have been anxiously hoping the entire season that it would not happen. If you would like to read some articles written by people whose opinions I respect and who are all much more qualified than me, then I suggest visiting The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Decider. and Matt Wallace.com.
If you would like to read some more objective recaps, then a few I would recommend can be found over at Nerdist, Den Of Geek, Indie Wire, The New York Times, and Vanity Fair. I would recommend visiting all of the links provided and searching out more for yourself if you’re interested because this is a complicated issue and I think it’s important to understand different viewpoints.
I’ll try to keep my own feelings concise. I am not a writer. However I am a video editor, so I like to think that I know how to tell stories and that I get better at storytelling the more I work at it. I do not know the writers or show runners of Game Of Thrones, I don’t have a hotline to George R.R. Martin, I do not know where this story is going. I have my suspicions and, regardless of if those suspicions are correct, I would not have written this scene this way and am incredibly disappointed that it was because I do not think that it was the best way to tell this story. I have not been raped, so this scene was not triggering for me, but I was incredibly disturbed by it. While sex on a wedding night is not surprising, consent was dubious at best and I am of the opinion that Sansa did not really give hers*. One could make the argument that Sansa didn’t have a choice. That’s true, if she had refused Ramsey would have surely inflicted some kind of physical torture, but having no other option doesn’t mean consent. Because they showed Theon’s reaction to the rape instead of the rape itself or Sansa’s own reaction to it, it leads me to believe that this was to serve Theon’s storyline. My best guess is that it will serve as a motivator for Theon to help Sansa escape either via means of Brienne and Pod or Stannis’s army. But, that would make Sansa’s rape about Theon instead of Sansa, and I have a problem with that.
If this was instead intended to give Sansa a hurdle to overcome, then what has been happening for the previous four seasons? Sansa is nothing but a survivor. She has continually been victimized, she has continually endured. She already had motivation against the Boltons, they killed her family. There are other ways that Theon could have been motivated to rebel against Ramsey, there are other ways that Sansa could have been exposed to the reality that her new husband is a monster. Like I said before *book spoilers* I knew going into this that Jenye was horribly sexually and physically assaulted multiple times. What is further disgusting me in the conversation surrounding this is that I have seen the argument that since what happened to Sansa is not as bad as what happened to Jeyne, no one should be complaining. This is an argument that should not be happening. Rape is rape. Rape is always horrible. Rape should not be used in storytelling lightly. We should not be thankful that the rape happened differently. It also bothers me that they ended the episode with it. I think that the response to this scene would have been different if Sansa had immediately been given some agency, especially since we have seen hers building all season. Ending the episode with this scene made me think that it was intended for shock value, which I do not think gives the subject the sensitivity it deserves and instead treats it as a spectacle.
As George R.R. Martin said in his Livejournal post where he addresses this episode, the writers of the TV show are trying to make the best show they can, and he is trying to write the best books he can. But is this the best way to tell this story? Again, I do not know where the show is going. I do not know where the books are going. I can only base my opinion on what has already happened, I don’t think that the rape served a strong enough purpose to justify it’s presence.
I know many people are quitting the show. I am not, and plan on continuing to write about it. I need to see where it goes from here. But, I expected better. Let me be clear, I am not issuing a “stamp of approval” for this scene by continuing to write about it, but I think that it is important to have a safe place to discuss it. One thing that I love about this site and this community is that I feel like this is a safe and supportive environment. Until Winterfell, I enjoyed this episode. There are characters in the series that I still am actively rooting for. This is by far not the only thing I think the show could do better, but that is a conversation for another time.
I’ve expressed in my posts on Doctor Who some things that I don’t like about the show, and what I’m trying to say here is that while I am a fan of Game of Thrones, there are some things I don’t like about this show too. I am noticing myself going through a similar mental exercise as separating Adam Baldwin from his character in Firefly. Instead of learning to separate the art from the artist, I am learning how to be a fan of something while recognizing it’s problems. This is an imperfect comparison, but it is helping me. So the way I see it, the alternative to quitting the show is to continue watching, but to start a rational and open dialogue with constructive criticism about what we are disappointed by and why we are disappointed. It will most likely not change one of the most popular shows on television, but it will affect how television is made in the future.
*if you need a refresher on consent, please read this.