There’s been a lot of talk about the rape scene from last week’s episode of Game of Thrones. And rightfully so. It’s pretty brutal. And it’s another in a long string of misfortunes to befall Sansa Stark. However, after listening to a lot of the criticism that’s been leveled against it, I have to say I’m a little confused. A lot of people are acting as if this was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back, and that the show had reached some point of no return, with even Senator Clair McCaskill weighing in on the discussion.
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)
While I can understand the gut reaction to the scene, I’m not sure why it would cause some fans to check out of the show. Many have said that the scene served no purpose, and only illustrated the massive pile of shit the show has continued to dump on Sansa’s head over the years. That’s possible, but very unlikely. Either way, I don’t think we’ll be able to say for sure until the show is over and done with. As a character, Sansa is much stronger now than she was at the start of the series, and as the show has deviated farther and farther from the books, we have no idea how this will affect her — not to mention characters like Littlefinger, Ramsay, and Theon — going forward.
Further, in the pantheon of gratuitous scenes the show has given us in its four and a half seasons, this is far from the worst. This is a show that very graphically portrays murder, incest, and rape on a fairly consistent basis. Remember Daenerys’ wedding night? Remember Jaime having sex with Cersei while their dead son laid two feet away in the middle of a church? There’s no set of circmstances in which rape isn’t a tough subject to discuss, but in this case, the show at least tried softening the blow by having the camera pan away once it became clear what was happening. That’s something viewers haven’t always been afforded.
As hard to digest as it was, what the episode showed us is very much within the parameters of the world the show has created. This is a brutal society, where people are constantly mistreated by those with more power than them. Whitewashing that sort of thing from this world would be dishonest from the point of the storytelling. It would also do a disservice to those who have actually had this happen to them. Rape is a real thing that really happens. It should make us uncomfortable. And we should find ways to deal with it that don’t include turning off the teleivision and saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.”
I’m in this spot where I simultaneously understand and don’t understand people’s aversion to fiction that portrays things like this. My wife and I once watched Match Point, a movie in which Jonathan Rhys Meyers cheats on his wife and then murders the woman he cheats with. My wife hated it, and I understood why. What I don’t understand is people who extoll a show for its realism and the complexity of its storytelling, then complain once it gets too real. This is something Game of Thrones has come under fire for before. In the past, several people have called the show — as well as George R.R. Martin — misogynistic for its portrayal of women. Do people really have that hard a time separating the artist from their work? Was Alex Haley called a racist? Was Schindler’s List called antisemitic? Sometimes, a story isn’t bad, it just addresses bad things.