The sixth episode of season five of “Game of Thrones” aired on May 17, once again prompting controversy and invoking cries of rape. This is not the first and probably not the last time that the show’s producers will catch flak for their depictions of violence – sexual or otherwise – toward women, but it certainly seems to be the final straw for many fans, who will “quit” the show. Countless viewers have begun to boycott the HBO series, with several prominent personalities and groups amidst the dissenters, among them feminist Jessica Valenti, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and the popular online forum for nerd culture and entertainment The Mary Sue.
Senator McCaskill has led the charge, tweeting three days after the episode aired, “Ok, I’m done “Game of Thrones”…Gratuitous rape scene disgusting and unacceptable….” Others rallied behind the senator’s condemnation, and The Mary Sue released a statement explaining that it will not continue to promote “Game of Thrones” due to the excessive violence toward women.
The “graphic” scene that has the web and social justice warriors abuzz is tame by ‘“Game of Thrones”’ standards. Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), having just married young Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), has his way with his new wife. The scene takes place off-screen as the camera focuses on the distraught face of the wretched Reek, née Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), Sansa’s childhood friend, made to watch for Ramsay’s sadistic pleasure. The only hint the audience has to what may be occurring out of sight is Sansa’s distraught moans. The scene was taken seriously and handled with the appropriate gravity. One can hardly call it “gratuitous,” unless, of course, one is referring to the gratuitous amount of nostril flaring displayed by a weeping Theon.
To say that this is rape fails to take into account the historical setting of the show. As a period drama – fantasy or no – influenced by early medieval Europe, the depiction of women as property is entirely accurate. This situation cannot be viewed through a modern lens of morality, propriety, or a sense of justice. In the context of the show, once a woman is married she belongs to her husband and he may do with her as he pleases, including indulging his sexual whims. That doesn’t make it right, but it also doesn’t make it rape. Is it a deliberate act of dominance, of sadism? Yes, but if that constitutes rape then every consensual BDSM act in modern times could be considered rape, as well. If the classification of rape is based on the fact that Sansa is underage, that argument, too, holds no water when placed in a historical context.
Regardless of whether one sees the act as rape, it absolutely fits the story and the characters. Sansa was engaged to Ramsay, a man who has been established time and time again as a sadistic psychopath. To gloss over this scene or write it out would have been an unfaithful depiction of the characters and a cop-out on the storytellers’ parts. However, the qualms many liberals and feminists voice concerning this scene are proven to be biased and selective when viewed in the larger context of the show. Few have protested the ultra-violent acts of war and revenge depicted, let alone the incest, infanticide, castration and penectomy, torture and murder of prostitutes, immolation, the hunting humans for sport, the flaying of living people … the list goes on. No one batted a virtual eyelash when the Mountain literally crushed Oberyn Martell’s head like a melon with his bare hands. One cannot have her cake and eat it, too. If all the above-mentioned violence and injustices exist within a universe, there is bound to be sexual violence toward women, just as in real life.
Perhaps the most offensive argument progressives have against the show is the most popular. As Joanna Robinson wrote for Vanity Fair:
the last thing we needed was to have a powerful young woman brought low in order for a male character to find redemption.
This is delusion, though. Here the character of Sansa is being judged by feminists based on one single act, the events of her marriage, which is, itself an irony. Who is to say that this event weakened Sansa? One negative experience does not negate all of the growth and character-building Sansa has accumulated over the past four-and-a-half seasons, nor has she stopped growing. In fact, meaningful growth often stems directly from adverse experiences. She has hardly been “brought low.” The temptation to mark Sansa as a victim is absurd; Sansa is the ultimate survivor and she will continue to endure. Furthermore, it is inappropriate to cast judgments on a situation for which the outcome is unknown: the events can only serve to advance the development of the character, whether it is for better or worse yet remains to be seen.
What the lefties fail to understand is that “Game of Thrones” includes the plot points it does to emphasize broader narrative ideas, such as the stark realities of war. Sansa’s treatment in this scene is akin to the systematic destruction of the Stark clan that has been actively pursued by many since the beginning of the series. Just like her father’s beheading and her brother and mother’s deaths what happened to Sansa was horrible, and it was supposed to be. It seems that feminist and liberal selective outrage is out to stifle creative expression and denigrate historical realities in its attempt to continue social engineering. Considering the latest trend of their opposition to any event that conflicts with their ideologies and beliefs, this is hardly surprising.