Violence is rife in Westeros, violence against men, women and children. Violence that, as you would expect from a medieval society where might is right, is cruel, bloody and shockingly brutal.
With deplorable acts including regicide and infanticide; characters have been poisoned, stabbed, burnt and bludgeoned. It makes for visceral and disturbing viewing and is currently the planet’s preeminent drama. Which just goes to show – as if there were any doubt – that human beings love death and bloodshed, we no longer have amphitheatres to observe the bodily destruction of others, we have HBO and Netflix.
Despite this morbid adoration of murder, death and suffering, there is one form of terror that ‘Game Of Thrones’ seems to delight in, that a large proportion of the viewing public do not. Rape.
The sexual assault or attempted sexual assault on women is growing, according to one tumblr user in their statistical investigation been 16 in the series so far (including the rape of Sansa Stark and the attempted assault on Gilly, in just the last two episodes).
The recent attacks on Sansa and Queen Cersi by her brother no less, have created uproar across the internet. Commentators saying the will no longer watch the show, while others defend the repeated assaults as being necessary to story.
Being necessary to the story and advancement of plot is an interesting argument. It is necessary to put characters through difficult experiences in order for conflict arise and without conflict there is no drama.
For sure we have seen Theon/Reek experience go through some horrendous ordeals, up to and including the aforementioned castration, though we hate the cowardly wretch we also sympathise with him, such is the level of his torment.
In comparison Sansa, Theon’s sister, has escaped physical duress but has lived through exquisite mental tests, until what has become the nightly rape at the hand of her psychotic new husband, Ramsay Bolton.
So what is the difference here?
Some commentators fear that Sansa’s rape is just another misogynistic instance of the ‘women in refrigerators’ theory, whereby the violations/murders of female characters is merely a plot device to move on the character arc of a male protagonist. Which by the way the rape scene was filmed, with its focus on Theon/Reek’s face as he viewed the molestation of his sister, is certainly possible. I don’t think that was the intention of the scene, probably more an attempt by the show to avoid accusations of titillation and use Theon/Reek as a proxy for the audience. Yes I think the acts against his sister will affect his characterisation but I think it’s far more about Sansa.
Sansa, has long been a pawn in the ‘Game of Thrones’, her youth, naivety and innocence have made her a pliable commodity in the schemes of the big players, she has been passed as a prize or gift more times than a present in a round of pass the parcel, but every infraction against her, every disappointment and betrayal makes her stronger and harder. I believe Sansa will soon arise as a powerful mover in her own right, finding the ability to express the strength she so clearly has.
However this does lead me to another question, why rape? Why is rape used so much, not just in ‘Game of Thrones’ but in so many films and TV shows?
I think the simple reason is that rape is seen as the most terrible thing a woman can experience. An act leaves the woman terrified not just during but after the act, but leaves permanent emotional and mental scars along with the physical injury.
But, in drama must it be used so frequently? Is there no other way we can show a female character “going through hell”, no other horror that can befall our heroines and why have we not seen a male character raped.
Maybe it is a fair depiction of the truth of the world, men do rape women. Not all men obviously, but it happens a lot and not just rape. A certain type of man will display his erect penis at any given moment if the mood takes him. This is a threat, a reminder of the shear physical force a man has over a woman.
‘Game of Thrones’ is a show about nasty people doing nasty things for power, it is full of thugs and bullies, taking what they want without a care but also it is a lazy show, it uses rape as short hand to “put women through hell” and also to show how evil a male character is. Though it is just as likely in such a world, a ‘good man’ might rape too.
It might be argued that the television version is remaining faithful to the books, but it departs from the text whenever it feels it necessary, and there is no reason why an adaptation cannot become more sophisticated that its source. Have you read Mario Puzzo’s ‘Godfather’? It’s just a pulp crime novel, yet Coppola turned it into something majestic.
I love ‘Game of Thrones’ but maybe it is time for it to step up a gear, be more imaginative in its horrors and more creative in its brutality and more sensitive to it’s audience.