That Game of Thrones Scene, Rape as a Plot Device, and Presentation

Game of Thrones, Sansa, RamsayBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Yeah, so a girl got raped on Game of Thrones this week.

Oh, you’ve heard?

In Sunday’s “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” Sansa Stark is forced to marry the cruel and sadistic Ramsay Bolton. Subsequently, in an extremely uncomfortable and to many offensive scene, he rapes the virginal Sansa as his servant “Reek” looks on weeping. (It’s worth noting that Reek was castrated by Ramsay last season, in yet another intense, cringeworthy scene.)

This rape scene has resulted in an outcry from viewers disgusted with its graphic nature. Perhaps the outrage was best put into words by Missourri Senator and GoT fan Claire McCaskill, who tweeted that she was done with the series, calling the scene gratuitous, disgusting, and unacceptable. Naturally, there’s been a lot of talk about rape culture in America, and the show’s depiction of over-the-top sex and violence against women.

Sophie Turner, Sansa Stark, Game of ThronesThere’s also the other extreme to consider. Whenever something like this happens to a female character in a popular TV show or movie, a lot of fans get extremely defensive. If you’ve never perused the comments section on a website or a blog, I wouldn’t suggest starting now…

The scene has been defended by episode writer and show producer Bryan Cogman, as well as Sophie Turner, the actress who plays Sansa. Cogman noted Sansa made a brave choice in marrying Ramsay in an effort to return to her homeland, and the character will ultimately have to deal with this terrible incident in future episodes. Turner, oddly enough, told Entertainment Weekly that when she first read the scene, “I kinda loved it.”

For the record, while I do watch Game of Thrones regularly and am caught up on everything, I don’t consider myself an avid fan. I respect the show for the depth that certain characters have, and the pure magnificence of the world it’s brought to life on screen. But at times the violence, especially that of a sexual nature, is a turn off. You can argue that’s the tone George R.R. Martin set in his books, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with staying true to your source material (Though the show has deviated from Martin’s books somewhat.). But when you’re doing a television show, it all becomes much more real. So there’s a delicate balance to be struck in terms of just how much sex and violence you actually show, at the risk of grossing out your audience.

Ramsay Bolton, Game of ThronesAt the risk of angering many an avid GoT fan, I agree that from a presentation standpoint, this rape scene was too far. I’ve never been a victim of sexual abuse. But it definitely comes off as insensitive to viewers who may have been victims, let alone viewers who simply don’t find that kind of thing entertaining. And don’t call me the P.C. Police, because I’m not that guy. But sometimes there is a line you don’t cross, and they crossed it here.

Perhaps things wouldn’t look so bad if GoT doesn’t have such a spotty track record with its treatment of female characters. Female nudity is often a component of the show, as are sex scenes. And of course, we’ve seen female characters killed. But sexual violence against women is the driving issue here.

Over the course of the series, we’ve seen three major instances of rape or sexual assault against major female characters…

– The aforementioned scene with Ramsay and Sansa.
– The season 1 scene with Daenerys and Khal Drogo, where he strips her, and he forces himself on her as she’s in tears.
– The season 4 scene between Jaime and Cersei Lannister, where he forces himself on her next to the corpse of their son born through incest. (Ick.)

Jaime Lannister, Cersei, rapeThere’s also the infamous “Red Wedding” sequence from season 3, in which a pregnant woman is stabbed in the belly. That’s an image I’ve never been able to remove from my mind…

You can argue that there’s no shortage of violence against men on this show, and that we have indeed seen a man castrated. But it’s not the same, is it? I’d argue this stuff falls under the Women in Refrigerators category, i.e. women being raped or sexually attacked, as a frequent plot device.

Should rape be off limits in the world of entertainment? No. I’d argue nothing should. After all, this is just pretend. But if you’re going to show something tragic that has happened to real people, then when it comes to the presentation you need to have a certain respect for the people that might be in your audience. You certainly don’t want to go back to that same well time and time again, as Game of Thrones has.

I’ve seen certain arguments that the sexual component to this show is very much reflective of what things were like in the middle ages, and that it’s important for the show to represent that.

Game of Thrones, dragonI can only assume they also felt it was important to represent the dragons, white walkers, and magic. Because, you know, they were all the rage during the middle ages…

No matter how much people want to play up the more realistic aspects of Game of Thrones, the bottom line is that it’s a fantasy show. What we saw on television Sunday night came from the minds of various writers, producers, a director, etc. They created this fantasy, and they have the power to change it. So with that in mind, I ask these two simple questions…

1. How necessary was it in the context of the story for Sansa Stark to be raped?

2. If the rape was necessary, did it have to be portrayed in the gratuitous manner that it was? The ripping of the clothes, her crying, Reek watching and crying, etc.

Regardless, it seems the people have spoken. If Game of Thrones wants to stay in the public’s good graces, the showrunners will likely have to keep things less…rapey.

Images 1 and 2 from zap2it.com. Image 3 from vcpost.com. Image 4 from thewrap.com. Image 5 from movieviral.com.

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