by Ser Nigel Overstreet ( @N_Overstreet / email@example.com )
There is a shroud hanging over the television program Game of Thrones. It’s an elephant in the room the show won’t address, but we all know it’s there. Last season, on one of the most popular cable shows ever made, the audience watched a man rape a woman. And it was never brought up again.
Rape happens on TV, and it doesn’t always make for bad or insensitive television. One of the best episode of The Sopranos dealt with it bluntly and deftly. The most popular Law & Order spin-off deals exclusively with sexual assault. On TV, sexual assault is handled well and, more often, handled poorly. But rarely is it shown, not acknowledged and never brought up again. What is odd is that this sexual assault occurred before all our eyes and no one thought to ask “Why?”
People asked “why” in a broader sense; in relation to media and culture. There were no end of think pieces about the scene as represented by Hollywood’s blasé attitude towards sexual violence, rape culture and consent. Many people chalked up Jamie’s rape of Cersei to a problem with society. But society didn’t make that decision, the show did. Specifically, the director, the actors and the showrunners. This was an active choice made by real people, not a nebulous force. I say they made that decision because they were given a template of what that scene was about and ignored it. They were given specific words from an amazing writer which set the context of the scene and laid out why it occurred. They looked at this template and threw it in the trash. Then they filmed a rape scene.
The Jamie rape scene in the sept is a direct results of ignoring the books. Don’t take my word for it, take George R. R. Martin’s: http://grrm.livejournal.com/367116.html?thread=19030284
I think the “butterfly effect” that I have spoken of so often was at work here. In the novels, Jaime is not present at Joffrey’s death, and indeed, Cersei has been fearful that he is dead himself, that she has lost both the son and the father/ lover/ brother. And then suddenly Jaime is there before her. Maimed and changed, but Jaime nonetheless. Though the time and place is wildly inappropriate and Cersei is fearful of discovery, she is as hungry for him as he is for her.
The whole dynamic is different in the show, where Jaime has been back for weeks at the least, maybe longer, and he and Cersei have been in each other’s company on numerous occasions, often quarreling. The setting is the same, but neither character is in the same place as in the books.
Every media outlet in the world denounced this scene. Io9 had 3 articles about it*** and had plenty more from other Gawker media outlets.**** Huffington Post piled on without end.***** Salon was particularly vicious, writing 7 separate articles, an auspicious number in Westeros, about the rape scene and why it was not just bad, but wrong*.
This sort of thing is bound to happen when you move so far away from your source material. When characters have to be in certain scenes, but the show ignored what actions led them to that scene, nothing makes sense. It happened many times before. Whether its Catelyn releasing Jamie or Theon killing all the ravens at Winterfell or Robb marrying for “true love” rather than honor, the show ignores why a character would do a thing. And all of these made for bad TV, but media ignored it because we didn’t care. Until the rape.
Which is why it is so odd that every TV news outlet which condemned the show for the rape which resulted from not following the books, could not wait to heap praise on D&D this season for, you guessed it, not following the books.
Salon posted an article praising the show for not following the books.** io9 told book readers to “chill” and made a listicle of things they were glad weren’t in the show.******
HuffingtonPost knew something retched was coming and celebrated it.*******
Why would they do this? Were they hoping for another rape scene? If so, good news; they got one. And it’s going to make the Sept scene look like tea & lemon cakes with Septa Mordane.
We learned this season that Sansa will be taking the place of Jeyne Poole. In the novels, Jeyne Poole is sexually tortured and humiliated for Ramsey’s pleasure. She’s forced to be sexually assaulted by not just Ramsey, but Theon. Or Reek. Reek, Reek, it utilizes assonance with creep.
And now we’re supposed to watch Sansa endure that. Sansa. Who has already endured sexual assault by Joffrey. Who was threatened to be marched naked through the Red Keep and beaten if she didn’t marry Tyrion. Sansa, who endured so much degradation and humiliation before finally getting free of her captors and torturers, only to end up beholden to a sexually predatory older man. But, in the books, that is Sansa’s redemption. She escapes the role of victim and becomes her own person. She is a caretaker to the Lord Arryn, the only person Sweetrobin cares for. She has friends and a flirtation with the heir to the Vale over which she has all the power. Sansa even has a burgeoning control over Baelish. The only character since Cat who might. Sansa is, after all this time, Sansa again.
But in the show, she’s still a victim. Again. Why? According to D&D, why not? They needed a sexual assault victim and Sansa was a girl who was close by. Never mind that none of her story makes sense. Littlefinger giving up Sweetrobin to Lord Royce, exactly what he wanted, makes no sense. Outing Sansa, who is wanted for regicide, makes no sense. Falling in with the Boltons? Betting on Stannis? Returning to King’s Landing after announcing to the world he has the Kingslayer Sansa Stark?
All of this is a failure to match character motivations to plot. Which is where the show went wrong in the Sept. And now it’s going wrong again. Only this time it’s worse. This time, it’s a teenage girl. This time, it’s not ambiguous rape, it’s straight up torture rape. It’s skywriting rape. It’s a rape scene that can be seen from space. It’s big, neon letters with cheerleaders screaming “Give me an R. Give me an A.”
The argument has been made that Sansa has “agency” because she choose to go with Littlefinger and chose to marry Ramsey. What a coincidence that she just so happened to agree to do whatever the closest male character wanted her to do. The trouble is agency, is a characteristic of plot, not of character. Unlike the books, show Sansa is not advancing her own plot, she’s advancing someone else’s. Namely Bolton’s and Theon’s. She exists to be raped by Ramsey and saved by Theon. Her character serves no plot of her own. Having her consent to her own kidnapping and rape does not make her a stronger character. It further identifies her as a victim. So much so, that now the show has decided that “victim” is Sansa’s defining characteristic. Even more so when millions of people watch her be tortured and raped.
But I won’t be one of them. I’m of the Antonin Artaud school of theatre. I believe if art makes you uncomfortable, that is a good thing. I believe art should shock and force people to face and endure trauma. I lean into Requiem For a Dream. I live for TV or film to make me cry or cheer or cringe or become nauseated. In art, I believe any experience, even a negative one, is greater than no experience. But I won’t watch this episode. Sofia Turner will probably be naked. She will probably be crying. She will probably be beaten. And I just can’t. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’m not that strong a person.
Do you know how much effort it takes to make me not want to see a hot, British redhead naked? It’s a lot. But congratulations, D&D, you did it. If this was some long, elaborate performance art project to discredit my Artaud thesis, well done. You win.
But if I’m unwilling to watch it, can you imagine the reaction of the media types who praised the show’s departure from the books a few short weeks ago? Much less the show-only fans? There will be think pieces upon think pieces about “that Sansa scene.” Some outlets may boycott the show. I predict it will be a turning point in how media reports on the show. This will be Game of Thrones jumping of the shark. You know, if The Fonz forced Richie Cunningham to violate the shark with one of the skis while Joanie watched.
A lot of people are going to abandon the show. But when they do, we, the book readers, we watchers on the wall, have a responsibility. We have to make sure they don’t abandon the books as well.
For every article denouncing “that Sansa scene,” we need to link the same article that outlet put out about how the show shouldn’t follow the books and point out “You did this. You asked for this. You can fix this.” For every think-piece about how “that Sansa scene” is indicative of our culture, point out that it’s not indicative of the books, it’s indicative of their culture. A culture of praising the newest “hot show” without thinking that praise through. Point out that if Game of Thrones has a rape problem, it’s a problem they helped exacerbate. And it’s a problem they can fix.
Tell Salon or HuffPo or io9 that, to stop Game of Thrones from showing rape, they need to stop praising Game of Thrones for being different from books that don’t show rape. D&D’s past behavior shows no indication that their future behavior will change. So they must stop praising their future behavior.
Media cannot simultaneously praise D&D for being different from the books and condemn them for scenes deviating from the books. They can’t write articles condemning rape and praise them for being different from the non-rape material. We must hold media, even entertainment media, accountable for being intellectually consistent.
Or all their “rape problem” articles are just words. And words are wind. Then it won’t just be D&D’s problem when there is an even worse scene in Season 6. It will be theirs.