This, of course, brought a storm of controversy that has become a recent trademark of the show. You’d think they would have learned their lesson after last season, when they received massive backlash over changing Jamie and Cersei’s consensual sex scene to one of rape. But no, they did it again, as if people just didn’t understand the first time. At this point I could pretend to be surprised, or rather I wish I was surprised, but the writers seem to have the same ace up their sleeve when coming up with dramatic experiences for female characters to go through. Either that or the dartboard they aim at when plots are running thin is covered with post-its reading “rape scene.”
Some have countered that, well, Westeros is a brutal place and the reason people are up-in-arms about this scene is because it involves Sansa continuing to meet suffering at every turn. Yes, we all know Game of Thrones isn’t a perfect fairy-tale where everything good happens to good people, but the main counterpoint to the ‘Westeros is a brutal place’ argument is this: for as much as people (or the writers) can claim that rape happens in Westeros and the general world Game of Thrones takes place in, they have added more rape scenes with these main female characters than George R.R. Martin originally had in the book.
A few people have also tried to point out that this is the tried-and-true formula for episodic shows: ending the episode with a dramatic or controversial scene gets people talking and builds excitement for the next episode, and eventually all the drama will add up together to make narrative sense within the story. I am not questioning this method, I know how effective it is. What I am questioning, like everyone else, is why.
We watch Game of Thrones to see these well-established characters go through highs and lows and see how they react in new situations. We are frustrated that we have to watch Sansa go through the same thing all over again. Sansa living under the violent hand of a terrible man is something we have already seen. They had an opportunity to show us a strong, new Sansa who could deviously plot her way through this arrangement. Whether it was murdering Ramsey or Theon, or perhaps turning the tables and seducing Ramsey, or even showing grim determination to get her wedding night over with, all of these would have actually done something to add more to her character. Sansa spent her time in King’s Landing witnessing calculating, underhanded plots and having to fend for herself, all the while getting stronger and smarter for it. She is no longer the naïve Sansa from earlier in the series, and we have been eagerly waiting to see her use her knowledge and all she had learned to gain a foothold in a larger plot and show her time paid off.
I’m not the only one finding issues with this scene. The Mary Sue and countless other sites have covered it and some are boycotting the series or refusing to promote it.
I ask the writers: is it really to the point where you’re completely out of ideas so you go with rape, are you that lazy? If the only way you can think of to show complexity in a character is through rape, not only is it not creative, it’s insulting.
Shame on you for trivializing rape.
You have interesting and engaging female characters with potential to do incredible things. You have been given a chance to draw from one of the most elaborate worlds full of magic, where the political canvas is just ripe for the picking, and manipulation and betrayal are the most prominent motivations from all sides. Instead, you choose to use the most clichéd trope of them all, and call it a “story.” Storytelling is not one shocking scene after another, adding unexpected twists and turns at the end of an episode. So I ask again: why add a rape scene with a female character who never had one? Why bring Sansa into the same situation she was in before, where she was at the mercy of a cruel man, used as political leverage by another, and dependent on yet another man to save her?
People may question why this is such a big deal since the scene was in the books, with a different character, Jeyne Poole, and was arguably more brutal than what was depicted on-screen. So if this scene is okay in the books with one character, why is it not okay in the show?
It’s a fair question--and I can’t say there is a simple answer. We know that brutality is something that is ongoing in the show; the feudalistic Westeros is not one where women hold much, if any, power. But that doesn’t stop women from being some of the stronger, more interesting characters in the books, nor should it stop them from being so in the show. It can be impossible to keep everything from a book intact when adapting it to a movie or TV show. Changes have to be made, but each change should serve a purpose, hopefully one that still keeps the general theme or plots aligned with the book. I think this is where the issue of this particular change lies: now Sansa has to overcome something unnecessary that she didn’t in the books. The issue is intention of journey versus extra, unnecessary plot. This rape adds nothing more to her ability to triumph over tragedy, she already demonstrated this, even against sexual assault, now it just holds her back from the character she was on her way to becoming.
It’s frustrating that the default for women going through tragedy is rape. The idea that the only way for women to truly suffer is by being raped, and it’s the only thing that can make their plots interesting, despite having a whole series and a made-up fantasy world as a source for other plots and situations where women can be hurt and prevail.
George R.R. Martin didn’t add rape to the main female characters who have now experienced it on the show. Instead, he allowed them to be in other situations to show how there can be a tragic complexity in many scenarios that these women (and girls) face, which are just as effective. Take Arya for example: she has been trying to get back to her family for most of the series, but different obstacles beyond her control have forced her farther and farther away from her goal. She has had to kill people, be a servant, be held captive by one of her sworn enemies, and now she must go through a psychological minefield of training to tell lies properly. We feel the same sense of agony and remorse for her and her unfortunate circumstances as we do for Sansa. While Sansa has little so far to go off of from the books, the question is, why did they have to choose rape? Why do the writers continue to choose this?
This changes Sansa’s whole character, and if it doesn’t, then something is more wrong with these writers than originally thought. Sansa’s journey is forever altered, and I really don’t understand why it was. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see, but now I am dreading what the rest of the season will bring us.
Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.