Sunday night HBO aired the Game of Thrones episode titled “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” to a wash of controversy on the continued violence against women in the show. The audience is taken down a dark path as Sansa experiences first hand the disgusting truth about Ramsay and the depravity of House Bolton. With a history of problematic depictions of incest, rape and infanticide (to name a few), has your favorite television program finally gone too far? Major spoilers, and possible trigger warnings for sexual assault after the jump. Keep it classy internet, these are tough times in Westeros.
Ramsay Bolton rapes Sansa Stark. Nothing else from the entire episode mattered after that happened, and when the credits started rolling everything was silent. We didn’t care about dragons, or stone men, or the white walkers, or any other bullshit because someone we cared about, someone we were hoping would start to kick ass this season gets kicked to the ground. George R.R. Martin posted a statement about the scene on his Live Journal account this week (yes, he still uses LJ omg) where he talked at length about his take on the episode. He suggests the rape scene is analogous to Gone With The Wind, saying:
“How many children did Scarlett O’Hara have? Three, in the novel. One, in the movie. None, in real life: she was a fictional character, she never existed. The show is the show, the books are the books; two different tellings of the same story.”
He makes a really good point about how adaptations of novels or comic books make changes early on that have a “butterfly effect” on the long-term plot development of the characters. In this case he suggests that those kinds of changes were perhaps what inspired the TV show writers to take their story in a different direction than the source material. He even ends his comments with a bit of optimism, saying:
“In the meantime, we hope that the readers and viewers both enjoy the journey. Or journeys, as the case may be. Sometimes butterflies grow into dragons.”
Actress Sophie Turner who portrays Sansa Stark on the show was recently interviewed in Entertainment Weekly where she shared that she “secretly loved [the scene]”, giving the audience a sense of where Sansa’s mind might have been going into the wedding to Ramsay. Turner shares that in her mind, Sansa was more afraid of Roose Bolton and that perhaps she realized the danger of his sociopath son Ramsay too late. It’s probably worth mentioning that Lord Petyr Baelish did give her a false sense of security when it came to Ramsay, suggesting that the boy was in love with Sansa and that she might even have the upper hand.
Similarly actor Iwan Rheon who portrays Ramsay Bolton gave his take on the scene in an interview with Vulture. He talks about what he imagined Ramsay’s motivations were, that perhaps this is how someone as fucked up as The Bastard of Bolton might show affection towards the woman he’s supposed to have children with. Some fans of the show have said enough is enough, including the ever-awesome nerd news site The Mary Sue, who’s Editor in Chief Jill Pantozzi stated the site will no longer be promoting Game of Thrones due to their criticism of the show’s unecessary use of rape as a plot device.
Whatever your thoughts are on the subject, there is no denying some basics – it is sexual assault, it is a crime, it is disgusting and worst of all, its common. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) every 107 seconds someone is sexually assaulted in the United States alone. Of those assaults, 68% never get reported to the police. These numbers are staggering. George R.R. Martin is right, Sansa is just a character but his reluctance to acknowledge the impact that a narrative framework has on it’s viewers, especially when it comes to something so heiniously common has rape is short sighted. It was painful to watch a protagonist experience that trauma, and while some might argue that’s what makes a good TV show, there are just as many who would say its what makes a horrible TV show.
We can watch whatever we want to watch. There are industry standards that determine who can view certain programs without parental consent or discretion. But in the digital age where you can get whatever you want when you want it, ulitmately media consumption is about taste. Will we continue watching Game of Thrones? Probably, even though season five is arguably it’s weakest out of the gate. Do we hope that Sansa goes all Stoneheart on House Bolton? Who are we kidding, it’d be nice. The upside to this show is also its downside, in that really difficult stories don’t get resolved for months at a time. This is perhaps the advantage of episodic storytelling, with shows like Law & Order: SVU for instance – the audience gets resolution in an hour. In Westeros, things take time and don’t always go down easy before 10pm on a weeknight.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays on HBO