Rape is rarely done well when it pertains to fiction. It is a byproduct of the rape culture in which we live, spun off into a yarn for one reason or another that inevitably leads to the only conclusion: the objectification and victim blaming of women. I guess she shouldn’t have been wearing that wedding gown.
If rape can be said to handled “well” in the media, it is done with regards to the plot. Its done correct when that act becomes a large part of the character’s plot, and the character can be shown to realistically deal with the years of pain and emotional trauma caused by the act. In Sansa’s case, then, her violation in last night’s episode does not make sense in regards to her overall arc as a character. Her being raped does not further her character or her story whatsoever. After last night’s feelings of disgust and anger faded, it was replaced with confusion. Why exactly was that raped depicted, and so resoundingly in the final scene of the episode?
Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman went so far as to explain that Littlefinger didn’t know the Boltons were like that, and that Sansa made a “choice.” They do not even view the scene as rape. Smacks of Jaime/Cersei last season when they defended the scene as consensual and never mentioned it again on screen.
Then they cut to Theon to show his pain as if that’s what we all cared about. They made the scene of a female’s rape and humiliation about a male character in order for a male character to find redemption.
It should be noted that rapes do occur in A Song of Ice and Fire. But for the most part, they take place off-screen (or off-page, as it were) and mostly occur during war. In fact, GRRM makes sure to note in many incidents that the rapist’s “blood” was up, making a special dispensation for something that has occurred in armed conflict in medieval times and our own. In this, ASoIaF is unique.
The series, however, is a different story. Rapes that occur in HBO’s Game of Thrones usually happen to unfortunate female characters who are not raped in the books. Meera Reed. Cersei. And Sansa, a scene so polarizing and graphic that emotions are rightly running high with both book lovers and show-watching “book burners.” They have changed so much from the books this season that the defense “its in the books” is completely inane. Its clear: From the start of the season, HBO decided Sansa was sent to Winterfell for this scene, and this scene only. To be raped.
Two grown men waited until their child actor was of age and then had the most sadistic character in the series rape her. Let that sink in. I’ll wait.
When rape is depicted in media it is usually a plot device to strengthen a woman’s character. This is a vile notion that is at the heart of patriarchal thought.
I can just imagine the gaggle of fedora-wearing neckbeards that HBO employs going through writing this scene:
“Hey, what if Sansa gets raped? It doesn’t happen in the books, so it’s shocking, and she’ll have to deal with it and become a deeper character and stuff! Everyone will be talking about it! We will win Twitter!!!”
It should be noted that in the books at this point Sansa is trying her best to be a surrogate mother for Robin at the Vale or dancing with Ser Harry Hardyng, coming into her own as a strong woman and as Alayne Stone, herself rather than the name she was born to as a Stark. She is maturing and gaining agency, and preparing to take her rightful place on the world stage as the daughter of Eddard Stark and Catelyn Tully. I suppose that that doesn’t make for good television, however. Guess that wasn’t “rapey” enough for HBO.
With Sansa having been raped (even though HBO and, absurdly, many fans denying or defending this) Game of Thrones has finally cast off any doubt in many minds on whether or not it is palatable any longer. The ending of Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken parallels many of the moments in the series about which we still talk. Ned losing his head, Barristan dying, Viserys being crowned, dragons being born. Unlike those episode ending scenes, however, last night’s leaves a foul taste in the mouth, plenty of questions, distaste, and a sad resignation that senseless rape on television is here to stay.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual or domestic abuse, here are two links that can help you on the journey to healing: