I am so filled with anger, despair, and frustration. These are not uncommon emotions to be feeling after an episode of Game of Thrones. But last night’s episode, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” has taken the suffering to new heights. And as if that weren’t bad enough, the reactions of the show’s creators, writers, and producers are what really pushed me over the edge.
For anyone who doesn’t know, here’s a brief summary of the specific plot-point I’m referring to [SPOILERS AHEAD, OF COURSE, AND MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING FOR RAPE]:
– Sansa Stark is replacing the plotline of a completely different character in the books, Jeyne Poole. To paraphrase the writers’ reasoning, “Sansa Stark has become an important character, and we wanted to keep her relevant and continuing to grow on the show.” Sansa wed Ramsay Bolton last night in Winterfell. In the books, Ramsay forces Theon/Reek to give cunnilingus to Jeyne Poole after their wedding. In the show, Ramsey rapes Sansa and forces Theon to watch.
Needless to say, there was a shitstorm of fan reactions on Twitter and elsewhere when the episode aired. It was extremely difficult to watch a character whom we’ve seen grow up get maliciously and violently raped. But what bothered me even more were the insensitive, ignorant reactions to it from men who WROTE THE PLOT. If this is their justification for the move, then obviously they did not think this through in a critical and sensitive way.
Example #1: GoT Producer Bryan Cogman’s comment in this EW interview:
“I also asked whether the scene would be as sadistic as the version in George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons, where Ramsay’s bride is played by a different character who is not in the show. In Martin’s novel, Ramsay forces Theon to sexually interact with his bride. Cogman looked somewhat horrified at that idea. ‘No!’ he said. ‘Lord no. No-no-no-no-no. No. It’s still a shared form of abuse that they have to endure, Sansa and Theon. But it’s not the extreme torture and humiliation that scene in the book is.’ ”
Um, excuse me? Let me translate this conversation:
EW interviewer: Is Sansa’s rape going to be as sadistic as Jeyne’s is in the book?
Cogman: Lord no. No-no-no-no-no. This is just going to be a NORMAL rape. Jesus. What kind of monsters do you think we are?!?!
How many times must it be repeated? RAPE. IS. RAPE. Every kind of rape is sadistic and violent – that is the very nature and definition of the act. Am I supposed to like this scene BETTER or be somehow RELIEVED because Sansa is “only raped,” not raped in the same manner as Jeyne is in the books? That’s what it sounds like Cogman is telling me, and here’s a hint as to how I feel about that: Eff. No. Advocates for victims of sexual violence have been struggling since the dawn of time to get the message across that any violation of a woman’s body is RAPE. There is literally no gray area here. It seriously disturbs me that one of the men responsible for this scene doesn’t understand that.
Example #2: George R. R. Martin’s response.
In a way, I feel for George. Now that he’s spilled his secrets to the show creators and GoT is the one of the most watched shows on television, he has, to quote Labyrinth, no power over them. Deep in his heart of hearts, I don’t think George approves of this plotline for Sansa. Obviously, this is only my instinct, but I feel this way because George left Sansa in Joffrey’s clutches for THREE WHOLE BOOKS and never subjected her to rape. Every other kind of violence, yes. The threat of sexual violence, yes. But not rape. I’m not trying to belittle the abuse that Sansa faced at Joffrey’s hands. But I think George clearly understood something that the GoT writers/producers do not: there are many forces a woman can overcome to grow stronger. I repeat: A WOMAN DOES NOT HAVE TO BE RAPED TO HAVE A CHARACTER ARC.
(Side note: this is not to say that I don’t have my qualms about GRRM’s approaches to sexual violence. See also: Arya’s chapter from The Winds of Winter. And before you say “but it’s realistic,” a friendly reminder: Westeros. Is. Not. Real.)
So, keeping all that in mind, George’s “official” response just added to my despair:
“I have a lot of fans asking me for comment.
Let me reiterate what I have said before.
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.”
That’s right, ladies, gentlemen, and non-gender-conforming readers. George R. R. Martin just compared a rape to two additional babies. Because the motivations for and repercussions of those changes are obviously the same.
Here’s the thing: I don’t think fans are upset specifically because the show is different from the books. Yes, obviously some of us are disappointed that the show can’t follow every side character and plotline (especially since, um, most of the side characters being cut are women? And they’re not even side characters? I’m looking at you, Arianne Martell… and you, Jeyne Poole… and you, Tysha… but yeah… obviously there’s no pattern here…), but we are not idiots. We understand that the stories are being told through different media, which necessitates some changes. Case in point (more spoilers): when Jojen died last season, people were shocked, but not up in arms the way they are over Sansa. Why, you ask? Because the issue is not that her plotline diverged from that of the books. It’s the specific way in which it has changed.
Dear readers, let me take you back, way back, to season 1 episode 1. Yes, hindsight is truly 20/20. At the end of that episode, when Khal Drogo rapes Daenerys, I should have known what I was dealing with and given up then. Because in the books their wedding night is quite clearly consensual. What was the purpose of that rape, you ask? Because obviously such a delicate subject, that has so consistently been used to both sexualize and dehumanize women historically and in the media, should have a VERY EXPLICIT purpose, right? That gives agency to the victim rather than punishing her? Well, apparently it was to present Dany with the “challenge” of seducing her rapist so that she could slowly fall in love with him. Because god forbid he respect her right to her own body from the beginning. I mean, what kind of world would we be portraying if a man asked his wife for permission before consummating their marriage? Jesus, no one would believe that, or be interested in that, right? By the way, we also have Dragons, giants, wargs, and White Walkers. So you’re going to have to stretch your imagination, lol!
THIS is the issue we have, George. In a show that already shows WAY more rape (or threat of rape) than it does consensual sex (once we looked to Cersei and Jaime’s twincest, because hell, at least they were consenting – until season 4, when, what do you know. Rape. Except this time, the shower creators didn’t even acknowledge it as such), WHY does there need to be more? What purpose does that scene serve?
Possible answers to this question:
– To show how evil Ramsay is / to make us hate him more
My feelings on this one should be obvious. Stop using women as objects to further male character development.
– To break Theon from his brainwashing
*Heavy sigh.* Stop… using… women… as objects to further male character development…
– To break Sansa down so completely that she can only be rebuilt stronger.
To this, I repeat: A WOMAN DOES NOT HAVE TO BE RAPED TO HAVE A CHARACTER ARC.
Sansa could have fallen in love with an enemy and watched them die in her arms (kind of like Jon Snow). She could have been forced to sacrifice her morals to team up with an ally of questionable morality (Stannis and Melisandre, anyone?). She could have found out she was betrayed by a person she loved and killed them with her bare hands (like Tyrion).
Obviously I’m not suggesting that her arc should EXACTLY mirror anyone else’s, because that would be crazy, right? No one wants to watch a show in which different characters deal with the same exact issue over and over.
Wait a second… but if that were true…
Daenerys – Raped in the first episode.
Cersei – Raped by the only person she truly loved and trusted.
Brienne – Threatened with rape and only barely escapes, thanks to Jaime’s intervention.
Margaery – Threatened with rape from Joffrey and actually has to kill him in order to escape.
Um, looks like the main female characters are constantly facing the threat of sexual violence ALL THE TIME on the show. We get it. They live in a world where sexual violence is used to subjugate women. SO DO WE. But victims of sexual violence and their allies struggle every. single. day. to make that sexual violence a little less pervasive so that people stop thinking, even subconsciously, that it’s okay. One place to start is in our entertainment. Because personally I don’t find it very entertaining to turn on my television on a Sunday night and watch a monster rape a girl who is barely of age. Especially when it’s not contributing to her story, except to dehumanize her. To destroy her.
There are a lot of ways to destroy a character. Pick any of the plotlines that a man is facing in Game of Thrones right now. Alternatively, pick any of the horrors that Sansa Stark has ALREADY FACED. And then tell me why it was absolutely necessary to her character arc for Ramsay to rape her. Tell me why I shouldn’t be angry that this show tosses rape around as if it is the only plot point worth considering, and then acts like it’s “no big deal” or “just normal rape” when they are interviewed about it afterward.
And as a woman who watches this show, tell me why I should keep watching when, in the morality of the show, the only thing I’m good for is being treated like a sexual object with varying levels of violence and cruelty thrown in.
Until there is action taken to view rape and sexual assualt in a critical way, let me tell you one thing: I certainly won’t be watching anymore.