This article contains spoilers for the Season 5 episode of Game of Thrones “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” as well as several earlier episodes of Game of Thrones, and the books.
Rape, beheading, incest, the attempted murder of a young child.
All of that and more, and that was just the series’ first episode.
I’ve watched half of my favorite fictional family be brutally murdered at a wedding. I’ve watched a pregnant woman stabbed in the stomach. I’ve watched a man’s head get exploded by another man’s hands. I’ve watched the prolonged sadistic torture of another guy, including having his penis cut off. I’ve watched a lot of sex and even more death.
This is Game of Thrones. This is what you signed up for if you happen to be a watcher of the show, and this is why it’s so beloved – because it crosses every line there is. That’s not to say it’s without its critics, of course. Book readers like to criticize the show for having something different from what was in the books, because book fiction is realer than television fiction, or something. Most people like to criticize the show for killing off key characters. I get that, I really do. I was brokenhearted when Eddard died. I needed to chain-smoke half a pack of cigarettes after the Red Wedding. I even came dangerously close to letting some feelings fall out of my eyes when Ser Barristan Selmy died earlier this season.
This is what makes Game of Thrones such a great show. The character development is unparalleled. You care about the characters – love them or hate them, it doesn’t matter. You care. It’s because of this that Game of Thrones so regularly upsets people. We all know if there’s one thing Game of Thrones is good at, it’s pissing off fans.
It appears, though, that Game of Thrones went “too far” for a few viewers – and Vanity Fair – this week, with feminist geek site The Mary Sue even publicly declaring they will no longer promote the show.
Season 5’s “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” aired Sunday night, and the internet blew up immediately. Ignoring the fact that the greatest line of dialogue of the 2015 television season was revealed (“The dwarf lives until we find a cock merchant.”), people instead exercised their Right to Free Tweeting in order to share their outrage over the episode’s ending. Following her wedding to the psychotic sadist Ramsay Bolton, Sansa Stark is raped off-screen for an extremely emotional and uncomfortable 30 seconds, while Theon Greyjoy/Reek is forced to look on.
People are calling for boycotts and firings. Additionally, #SaveSansaStark is a thing happening on Twitter.
The primary complaints about this scene, in no particular order, are:
1. The use of rape did not serve to add anything to Sansa’s story arc.
They’re absolutely right. Sansa being raped did absolutely nothing for her arc. Why, you ask? It was the final scene in Sunday night’s episode. Of course Sansa’s arc hasn’t been affected yet. The aftermath has not yet occurred; however, putting my speculation goggles on for a moment, I suspect that scene wasn’t intended entirely for Sansa’s storyline anyway. Two other major characters were involved in the filming of that scene: the sadistic torturer Ramsay, and Reek, the shell of Theon Greyjoy, who had his penis cut off by Ramsay after months of torture and was forced to watch. This scene was just as much about the development of those two characters as it was about Sansa. And I think what comes from this will be monumental for not only these three characters, but the series as a whole.
2. We shouldn’t have to watch rape on TV.
Luckily for you, you didn’t. At least, not this week on Game of Thrones you didn’t. You actually watched Theon/Reek cry and listened to very uncomfortable crying off-screen.
3. The depiction of rape is never necessary to the plot of a story.
Tell that to Daenerys Targaryen. You know, one of the strongest lead characters in the series. She was raped episode one. And two. And three… And we actually had to watch that. But then she went from a meek little thing to a damn ruler, and one of the top contenders for the Iron Throne.
4. The wrong girl was raped!
OK, so I haven’t actually seen anyone say those exact words. The argument is posed as “That didn’t happen in the book.” This is a correct statement. In the book, Sansa never married Bolton. In the book a character by the name of Jeyne Poole, while posing as Arya Stark, marries Bolton. The showrunners decided to merge her character with Sansa’s in order to give Sansa more airtime, and to avoid introducing yet another new character. So yes, critics are correct, Sansa was not raped in the books, Jeyne was. She was also forced to have sex with dogs in the books. I’m sure the complainers would much rather see that…
5. It made people uncomfortable.
Of course it did, it was rape. Rape isn’t supposed to be comfortable, and Sunday night, rape wasn’t portrayed as a comfortable thing. It was portrayed as a brutal, gruesome, vicious thing – which it is. This was not a feel-good episode of a feel-good show with a feel-good ending. Creators of any visual media typically depict bad people doing bad things, in order to mold their audience’s view of these characters. Just as they portray good characters acting nobly and strong characters rising from weaknesses. No one has had it easy on this show. There has been suffering and recovery. Game of Thrones was never intended to be the type of show that made you go to bed feeling good.
This was an episode that showed multiple instances of horrible people acting horrible, and that’s OK.
When asked by Entertainment Weekly about the scene in question, actress Sophie Turner (Sansa) said, “When I read that scene, I kinda loved it. I love the way Ramsay had Theon watching. It was all so messed up. It’s also so daunting for me to do it. I’ve been making [producer Bryan Cogman] feel so bad for writing that scene: ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this to me!’ But I secretly loved it.”
Going back to this quote for a moment: “The dwarf lives until we find a cock merchant.” We learned this week that there are actually people in Westeros who sell real penises. Discuss.
Liz Finnegan is a soulless ginger with no political leanings. Pun enthusiast. Self-proclaimed “World’s Okayest Person.” Retro gaming contributor for The Escapist.
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