HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones caused an uproar last week with a scene which wasn’t in the books, and one episode later, it still seems to have the internet divided.
(Warning: Spoilers up to episode 7 The Gift follow. Also, all views contained within are mine and not representative of any other Geek Crusade writers/the site as a whole. Just in case you wanna yell at someone.)
Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), once bethrothed to Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) and then married to Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), found herself saying her vows with the next person the viewers can’t wait to send their regards to, the recently unbastardised Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon).
What happened after, when Ramsay forced himself on Sansa while making Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) watch, led to an outcry on the interwebs.
Many (including US senator Claire McCaskill) said they would stop watching the show because of that scene, so they wouldn’t have stuck around to see that things haven’t got better this week.
Ok, I'm done Game of Thrones.Water Garden, stupid.Gratuitous rape scene disgusting and unacceptable.It was a rocky ride that just ended.
— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) May 19, 2015
Sansa has been confined to her room, abused and bruised, her only “friend” in Winterfell flayed after Theon once again failed to be a decent human being (why is anyone surprised, though).
Her situation is clearly horrific, and anyone who says otherwise has issues (and needs help).
But this is where I start to disagree with some of what’s being said online. Some publications such as The Mary Sue, which decided that it would not be “actively promoting” Game of Thrones after that scene last week. (As opposed to inactively promoting?)
First of all, let’s just look at the scene alone. There’s no nudity in the scene, but we know Sansa is in pain. The close ups of her face and Theon’s clearly convey the message that the show wanted to deliver, without being overly sexualised. I think that hardly qualifies as “gratuitous”.
For comparison, recall Daenerys Targaryen’s (Emilia Clarke) wedding night with future Aquaman Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), full frontal nudity and all.
Of course, one could argue Emilia Clarke was a lot older than Sophie Turner is now. However, there was this episode’s prison scene in Dorne with Bronn and Tyene Sand, played by Rosabell Laurenti Sellers, who is 19 like future Jean Grey (and that was a pointless sexualised scene *cue Jessica Henwick’s Nymeria Sand rolling her eyes*).
If we’re looking past non-wedding night sexual abuse, there’s that scene where Ros (Esmé Bianco) is forced to beat another prostitute on Joffrey’s orders, or the Night’s Watch mutineers abusing Craster’s wives
And for violence against women, the examples are many – Ros’ death at hands of Joffrey and a pregnant Talisa Stark (Oona Chaplin) stabbed repeatedly in her stomach at the Red Wedding are some of the more horrific ones that come to mind.
Why then, among all the scenes I’ve listed above, has Sansa’s been the one to generate so much outrage that it made George RR Martin feel he had to issue a response on Livejournal?
While Sansa hasn’t had such a fate in the books, it did befall a character named Jeyne Poole, who was wed to Ramsay under the guise of Arya Stark. So the moment the show’s producers decided that Sansa would be going to Winterfell and marrying Ramsay, it seemed predictable that she would follow Jeyne’s storyline.
I can understand people getting upset about the books not staying to source material (though we were warned about it), but to get upset about such scenes being in a medieval fantasy show in the first place?
Some people argue that the scene does nothing to show that Ramsay is evil incarnate, or that Sansa is in trouble. I agree.
But, to me, the scene wasn’t pointless, and it wasn’t supposed to be all about Ramsay or Sansa. The major development belonged to the character the episode ended with – Theon Greyjoy, forced to tears as he perhaps considers what he has become (albeit all for naught at the moment as the next episode proved).
If anything, such scenes are conversation starters. Let’s not pretend we live in a perfectly civilised world where none of this happens.
In Singapore, for example, marital rape isn’t considered an offence unless under certain conditions, such as divorce proceedings having started or the couple agreeing to separation and living apart. And that’s after the law was amended from a previous one where there weren’t these exceptions.
And in Britain, fewer than half of the top universities recorded sexual violence against their students, meaning that many victims don’t get a proper investigation and the figures released to the public are sorely inaccurate.
Also, if we’re going to demand that shows sanitise themselves, should we be telling Game of Thrones to stop with the beheading because it offends some of us?
I’ll tell you what offends me, that real people in the real world are executed (and sometimes unjustly) in this day and age by beheading. I’m not just talking about ISIS, by the way. Saudi Arabia’s looking for prospective Ilyn Payne wannabes.
The Sansa scene in Game of Thrones serves as a reminder of how uncomfortable we feel when faced with such situations. We’re meant to see the scene through Theon’s eyes, himself a victim of Sansa’s abuser.
We’re meant to feel uncomfortable. We’re meant to feel helpless. We’re meant to sympathise with Sansa and wish we could jump into the TV screen and throttle Ramsay or stab him with the nearest pointy object (I have to give credit to how good an actor Iwan Rheon is to make me want to do that).
We’re meant to hope against all odds that Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) bursts through the door in Chrome Trooper garb and cleaves Ramsay in half.
Instead of trying to demand that fictional shows not use such plots, we should be channelling that rage and demanding that more be done for victims of sexual abuse, male and female alike, in our societies, whether in the form of legislature or otherwise.
The media’s attention span is severely short in this day and age, and when pop culture offers an opportunity for such conversations to be raised among a wider audience, we should do more than “this is offensive, get it off my screen”.
It’s not as if such incidents in real life will go away once they’re out of our TV shows. They won’t. It’s not out of sight, out of mind.
Let’s be honest, Ramsay will get his just deserts, sooner or later, and justice will be served, and the interwebs will rejoice. After all, there is a precedent.
Those who didn’t read the books may have thought Game of Thrones’ most-hated character for three seasons running, Joffrey, “had to survive”. But like Tyrion reminds us: “He ain’t in the credits for season five.”
Numerous victims of sexual abuse in the real world may not, and as things stand, will not, be as fortunate to get justice for themselves.
And if that’s not enough to get my point across… we live in a world where Fifty Shades of Grey is a best-selling book and movie series. At least Game of Thrones is set in Westeros and in a different time period.