Another Talk About the ‘Game of Thrones’ Rape Controversy
We’ve already posted one article about this topic. I was a bit relieved when Darth Gandalf said he was writing a piece because it felt like it should be addressed but I had no idea what I wanted to say about it. In between DG’s comments and the responses to it, and some conversation with fellow viewers, I think I know what’s bugging me about this controversy.
Why this scene?
For a quick recap, we’re talking about the closing scene from the most recent episode ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’. Sansa Stark has been forced into a marriage with known sadist and heir to the Warden of the North Ramsey Bolton. Already uncomfortable situation things turned downright sickening with Ramsey taking delight in raping Sansa off screen while we’re left watching Theon Greyjoy’s expression as he is forced to watch this horrid scene play out.
There have been some strongly worded responses to this, with some calls for boycott, and some equally passionate responses. Some have pointed out that it’s not as bad as it was in the book (albeit with different characters), but that’s not going to make anyone feel better about seeing it. It’s also been noted that acts of extreme violence have been seen on the show with tongues ripped out, people burned to death and plenty of torture. Let’s put that argument aside for now, because this controversy is about sexual violence.
I’ve also seen one prominent Australian news outlet suggest that Game of Thrones are reducing rape to entertainment. That sounds like someone jumping on the band wagon without considering the issue, because I doubt anyone was ‘entertained’ by this. The Mary Sue, positioning themselves as the gate keepers of morality in pop culture, took it upon themselves to apologise to readers for not boycotting the show earlier as though they somehow had influence over the program. They also lead the argument that the scene does nothing to advance the plot of develop the characters. How they know this is a great mystery…I’m not aware of them having access to the shows development and find it ridiculous that they or anyone else can claim that there’s no repercussions to these character actions.
The Mary Sue, and many others, also claim that Sansa should have been able to get herself out of this situation having already survived others rather than becoming a victim yet again, but I think shows a forced ignorance as to the situation she was in. Could allowing this to happen not be the only course of survival for Sansa? They suggest that she should have pulled out a knife and murdered Ramsey because she’s a proven survivor. Not only would this have been out of character for her, but suicide. She doesn’t trust Theon, thinking he murdered her brothers, and doesn’t have a single ally in Winterfell. I find it unlikely the Bolton’s would have applauded her show of strength and feminism with a free pass considering their tendency to make tents out of their enemies skins (as seen in The World of Ice and Fire).
These are all arguments that I consider misguided or false. The scene shouldn’t be condemned because it goes against Sansa’a character arc, or because it was just for shock value, or because it deviated from the source material. If you’re offended by the content, I’m not going to try and convince you otherwise. You’re sensibilities are your measure of what you find acceptable and if you don’t want to see it, that’s fine, but claiming it’s something it’s not isn’t going to get us everywhere.
One thing does confuse me though – why this scene. This is not the first instance of sexual violence in the show. Daenerys was repeatedly raped by Khal Drogo in the first episodes of the series. Theon was sexually tortured and ultimately castrated. Ramsey sends dogs to hunt down women and has them flayed for his apparent sexual enjoyment. Brienne was almost gang raped before greed was used to distract her attackers. Many background and side characters have been subjected to sexual attacks and disgrace. The only thing that’s comes close to attracting this kind of attention is when Cersei was raped by her brother Jamie next to the corpse of their dead son. Some have said that they’ve found these scenes more upsetting, with others pointing out that what we’ve seen Ramsey doing to women prior to this scene was far worse.
So…why now? Why did the Mary Sue give Cersei’s rape a pass but spit the dummy at Sansa’s?
One could chalk it up to rape and sexual assault being a hot topic right now. That’s not untrue, but it doesn’t explain the discrepancy in the response. Some would claim that Sansa has been reduced to victim status for shock value, but as it was noted before we don’t know how this scene fits into the rest of the story.
I’m going to suggest another potential reason and it’s going to piss people off. It’s possible that people have taken offence to this scene because of the characters involved. Could it be that Sansa is, on some level, perceived to be more innocent than the other victims of sexual assault? Daenerys was less established at the beginning of the series and there was less emotional attachment to the character, and by the time we’d come to that point she had taken control of her destiny. Theon had committed unspeakable acts and betrayed his adopted family. Cersei has long been cast as a villain in the series, bringing Joffrey to the throne and warring against fan favourite characters Tyrion, Margaery and Sansa. Is there a part of viewers who, somewhere in the back of their mind, think Cersei deserved what she got whilst Sansa didn’t? I’m not saying people were cheering and toasting the rape of Cersei, we’re not monsters, but perhaps they subconsciously catalogue Sansa as more of an undeserving victim.
It’s likely that such an accusation is going to earn me some negative responses. That’s fair. But it’s worth considering because there has been a much stronger response this time around and there’s not a clear reason why. It’s one more event on top of the previous, but how is women being hunted and dismembered for fun not given column inches and this breaking the internet?
I’m going to throw another idea out there for those who haven’t stopped reading in disgust – what is the purpose of Game of Thrones? At the very basic level, it’s here for entertainment, and if the quality of entertainment is measured in the size of it’s following, then Game of Thrones is the bloody king. With that established we need to consider what has made it so big, especially for a genre show that does not typically bring in the mainstream crowd. Excellent writing, casting, performances and the scale of the show go some way to explain it, but another part of the reason is that it challenges us.
The actions of the characters, the sudden deaths and the ambiguity of what is right and wrong plays heavily into the shows popularity. The most memorable moments are those that challenged us, the viewers. Who can forget the shock at the execution of Eddard Stark, who up until that point had been portrayed as the hero of the series? We thought we were familiar with the tropes – he’s the good person in the world of darkness who maintains his values in the face of adversity and wins the day. Then he got beheaded. His son rose an army and went for revenge, and that ended in the now infamous Red Wedding.
Game of Thrones has set out to challenge us. It pushes boundaries of what we expect and what we can accept, and even what is right and what is wrong. The rape of Sansa Stark fits into this concept, and can even be seen as an escalation. As the story continues the stakes are raised and the consequences become harsher. For some viewers this continuous pushing of our sensibilities and values is eventually going to be to much. With the brutal sexual assault of a well established and highly sympathetic character, who had already survived much unscathed, some viewers will be willing to tune out. That’s fine. If this isn’t your cup of tea then no-one will force you to drink it.
The scene makes sense in context of the story and fictional world, and for the characters involved. Claiming that it’s anything else is erroneous. It’s also an established part of the show, one could argue that it’s not the worst depiction of sexual violence the show has presented (the sexual torture of Theon and Ramsey’s hunting activities, for example). Turning it into another argument about depiction of women or rape culture sounds like some commentators are looking for ammunition for their set argument.
Now this image is somewhat counter to a point made before, but I’m stuck for final statement and it made me chuckle.
Reblogged this on blacklightmafia.
After disagreeing with, but deeply scouring through both of these articles, I feel I understand now why this particular uproar has occurred.
Instead of referring to rape as a “hot topic” which it most certainly is not, I implore you to make a simple generalisation: How often do you think that someone would encounter male genital mutilation, molten gold over someone’s head, or someone being burnt alive during their everyday life?
Now how often, or even how easy (for sake of a better word) is it for someone to experience non-consensual sex in their everyday life? This isn’t a ‘hot topic’ it’s a topic that hits closer to home.
The same violence and torture seen in a ‘Saw’ film for example, will not be received in the same way that violence and torture is seen in a film such as ‘Schindler’s List’ and this principle of realism applies here too.
The abuse of other characters in this series has not gone unnoticed as previously stated either. There have been uproars and many of them, this one in particularly I believe is because people are fed up, this dispensable, almost gimmicky plot device has been used to no purpose time and time again.
I love fantasy, I do, it lets me see and experience things I wouldn’t even dream of. I even love dark fantasy such as this, seeing Viserys’ head bubbling away made my day. But please, for the love of god, don’t excuse them for pushing something in our faces that we CAN experience and that we CAN dream of, or something that can potentially be experienced during my OWN day.
Inb4: ‘feminazi’ or ‘women, am I right?’
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What you say is valid, but to clarify I was referring to non-consensual sex in FICTION as being a ‘hot topic’ in the media (especially bloggers) at present, as in its validity and use as a narrative device. I don’t wish to imply that it isn’t something that, as a culture, should be dismissed or reduced to a ‘hot topic’. Perhaps that a distinction I needed to make clearer
Some people have been quick to point out scenes of torture and violence as a counter argument – such as the last image posted – but I strongly feel that this is a separate issue and lumping rape in with exaggerated fantasy violence is trying to create a spectrum of acceptability. The reality is that rape and violence in fiction can not be treated as examples of the same thing because, as you said, the real world links are very different.
Reblogged this on Ely riblob.
I wasn’t surprised that this scene got a lot of attention, being right at the end of the episode and obviously very uncomfortable to watch. But I am surprised at the direction the discussion has gone.
For one thing, I disagree that the scene does not advance the plot of the show. To me there was obvious significance to it for all the characters involved even without knowing what will happen next. For Theon the significance is obvious having seen his reaction, and this was discussed in the earlier article on this site.
For Ramsay it demonstrates the lack of discipline that will hopefully be his undoing. Sansa has married him willingly, albeit with little other choice and certainly not happily. In the world they inhabit he could certainly marry Sansa, accept the consolidation of power that comes with that, treat her well, and continue to torture and kill other women with impunity. He has been shown assuring Littlefinger that he won’t hurt Sansa (and Littlefinger, untrustworthy as he is, seems to feel strongly about Sansa and is not an enemy I would want). Instead he has followed his sadistic desires and created a situation that he knows will cause Sansa to withdraw her consent, and from what we know about him, if she had not objected to Theon’s presence he would have escalated the situation in some other way. As the heir to the north, where the Boltons are newly in power, feared but not loved, this is quite the display of hubris. Winterfell is largely staffed by people who served the Starks, who were loved by many, and to be openly abusive to Sansa (and there is no doubt her cries will be heard) may be the last straw for many.
As for Sansa, her role in this scene did not surprise me at all. She has agreed to marry Ramsay her own reasons – to return to her home and kingdom, and perhaps with an eye to potential revenge (Roose Bolton being the likely target). She is clearly aware that Ramsay is an unpleasant person, but has only learnt of the worst of his activities shortly before the wedding. In this scene, she discovers just how bad marriage to Ramsay will be, but by now she is aware that the only way out would be a grisly death. Of course the character we know will choose to survive to fight another day, as she has done before, and we already know that she has been told of one way she can call for help if needed.
But I also found this scene bothered me far less than a lot of the use of rape in fiction. It is clearly something that is overused as a shortcut to develop a character, or to introduce a heroic rescuer/romantic interest. I am a lot more upset when it is used in a “low impact” way which I think could desensitise people to the concept more, or worse, when used for titillation. I doubt many people would have found this scene enjoyable, it was designed to distress, and there was far less flesh on display than your average GOT scene. I would actually consider this a more appropriate way to portray rape in fiction.
I really wanted to not like your article but the points that you raised were very valid. I think people are rallying because it is Sansa who was ultimately raped. In the beginning of the series we get to know her as this little princess who has that dream that most little girls have….marrying a prince and living happily ever after. We reconcile her apparent naivity and lack of strategy as the serious goes on because we have come to understand her character in that way. She is viewed as innocent. Viewers hated Cersei because of her manipulation. This show proves that there are still some very outdated views on rape and other subjects. In line with thought, nobody talks about the rapes of Craster’s ‘wives’. I get it. I do. Shock value! Whoo-hoo! Nobody rallied when it was those characters turn on the wheel of rape. Yeah they were saved but hearing their cries and whimpers (though fictional) was entirely too much. No. I don’t think rape is okay or incest or anything of the like even as a churners of the story, it helps desensitize audiences and after awhile, the previous amount of rape and gore will not be enough. I don’t watch Game of Thrones anymore. It makes this viewer very uncomfortable.
Thanks for giving the article consideration. It’s a shame that the show is losing viewers after supporting such great writing, performances and art direction, but they’ve obviously touched a nerve for many audience members.