By Ser Nigel Overstreet
It’s been a few days since I posted my episode recap in which I loudly, and proudly, proclaim how I and LORD ANGRY were right and every single mainstream news outlet was wrong.
Since then, they’ve all turned a corner on the television program Game of Thrones. The Mary Sue is completely done.
The very excellent ASOIAF University will no longer take show-only submissions due to “that Sansa scene.”
Most importantly, hordes of fans are turning on the show for good. Some may stop watching while many, I suspect, will only continue hate-watching.
Soon, we’ll all be Elvis
The good and dedicated people at Westeros.org stand by the decision and had a lively point-counterpoint with ANGRY GOT FAN, which you should go watch right now.
Most of these arguments, however, are about the ethics of the decision. That’s not really my bag.
I understand the many that have ethical objections, and they are well within their rights to air them loudly. Most of them have already done so, and done so with greater eloquence and passion than I can.
But I feel this is getting away from the true source of such decisions. It’s addressing a symptom and not the cause of this diseased show.
Namely that this is what happens when you divert so far from the source material. When you no longer care to tell the story which has been so captivating, you can no longer complain when the formerly captivated are now just plain appalled.
It’s become painfully obvious at this point that the best parts of the show have been from the books and the worst parts of the show have been what have not been in the books.
Not created by HBO
Created by HBO
I don’t believe art has to justify itself ethically. If someone wanted to make a short film about Sophie Turner getting graphically and explicitly raped, I would not think that film is wrong or should be banned.
I would, however, think that film would suck and would advise people not go see movies that suck.
Which is why it troubles me that, in all the argument about “that Sansa scene,” I’m hearing a lot of people talk about whether it is right to show rape in fiction; which isn’t my objection. Its ethics do not concern me. Its aesthetics do. The scene isn’t bad because it shows rape; the scene is bad because it sucks.
The manner in which it sucks is that it drastically changes the tone of Sansa’s arc, it regresses an otherwise engaging character and it banally aims for shock value to an already jaded audience, disengaging the audience from the scene.
It is in this vain that I’ve seen an equal number of ethical objections to the source material from people on both sides of the Sansa Scene debate. The objection is to Jeyne Poole.
She is raped in the books and, much like Sansa in the show, it is said that the purpose of her assault is to provide a redeeming arc for Theon.
Now, I might say that much of Jeyne’s assault is not shown and it is merely alluded to, which I find far less objectionable. It serves the story without traumatizing the audience. Or that her arc is a new one which is less objectionable than repurposing a redemption arc. But as to Jeyne existing to redeem Theon, this rings untrue, and I couldn’t quite figure out why.
Because Theon saved Jeyne all by his lonesomes right?
Then I realized the show had distorted my memory of the books. Theon doesn’t rescue Jeyne. He doesn’t make a decision to be redeemed. None of his actions are perpetrated by his decisions. His decisions are made for him. By women. By the washer women.
As seen in old timey paintings
Rowan, Holly, Squirrel, Willow Witch-eye, Frenya and Myrtle. They aren’t really washer women. They’re spear wives brought to Winterfell by Mance Rayder. They were given the task of rescuing Jayne, whom they believe to be Arya, by Melisandre.
Theon only agrees to help them because they offer him a quick death. They promise to kill him rather than fall into Ramsey’s hands.
A woman orders other women to rescue a girl. Theon is not involved, which is generally best for all plans.
In fact, Theon is asked by Jeyne to rescue her and he refuses. He, instead, advises her to submit and do whatever she can to please Ramsey. Jeyne clings to this advice as it’s the only advice given to her. It happens to be terrible advice, but its Theon, so what do you expect? He is Theon and there is no known cure.
For less than a cup of coffee a day, we can end Reek as we know it in our lifetime
Theon doesn’t even provide that much help in escaping the castle. His primary benefit is following Raven Bran around the castle to escape the Bolton soldiers.
The only active choice he makes is to try to kill himself and Jeyne by jumping off the castle wall. And he can’t even do that right.
Theon makes no active choices of his own. He is not an agent of the plot. All active choices are made by Melisandre, the spear wives and, to a lesser extent, Mance & Bran.
They are the ones who save Jeyne from the violence of Ramsey.
And not to forget, but in the books, Theon is also a victim of rape and sexual violence by Ramsey. The washer women rescue him from Ramsey as much as they rescue Jeyne. He’s not a hero, he’s a victim. A Prince brought low that needs rescuing. It’s a small point, but it shows that women do not serve the sole position of victim in the twisted minds of those who rape.
Which brings me to one of the best lines in the whole series. The spear wives kill a boat load of Boltons, and no one can figure out who or how. They question everyone; from Wyman Manderly to Theon himself. They spread chaos and confusion which leads to Frey fighting Manderly and Bolton dismissing both their armies from the castle. This may be the thing that brings about the downfall of the entire Bolton dynasty. It might be the only thing that saves Stannis. And no one thinks that might be them. In about 1.75 million words of all the books, these are probably my favorite:
Holly laughed “How could it be us? We’re women. Teats and cunnies. Here to be f*cked, not feared.”
That is what rescues Jeyne Poole. Not Theon, but the misogyny of the Boltons. People who view women as nothing to but victims and sexual objects are brought low by that very presumption.
It’s situational irony, Ethan Hawke.
In the show, Brienne will probably rescue Sansa, but it’s not the same. Brienne is an obvious bad-ass, having defeated Loras Tyrell and, in the show, Sandor Clegane. No one presumes she’s not a threat.
Having Brienne go in there, swords a blazing, changes the whole dynamic. Sansa is, once again, rescued without making any active choices. She’s rescued by a traditional fantasy hero, albeit one of a different gender.
And Theon will probably do far more to help. As will Podrick Payne.
The show took Martin turning a traditional medieval fantasy trope on its head and flipped it again. Now it’s just a regular medieval fantasy trope.
Which we’re seeing a lot of. D&D are clearly enamored with their own writing. As the show become more successful, they seem to have come to the conclusion that success is because of their brilliant restructuring of the story, and not because it’s underlying premise is so engaging.
But when they re-structure the show, they have re-structed it into a very easy to follow formula. Which is the opposite of what makes A Song of Ice & fire so compelling.
Stock Photo of David Benioff and Dan Weiss Interview
If you’ve read a lot of fantasy growing up, you got familiar with how most of the stories go. Which is why Ice & Fire is so compelling to some of us. It changes and delves into the surrounding themes of our favorite genre. But the show just follows the same old wrote of traditional fantasy. Which is why the show is now making so many mistakes that people find ethically objectionable. It derives from having seen the same things, like casual rape, in show after show and book after book. It’s a tone deaf to the type of audience which watches your show.
All the ethical failures of the show derive from its aesthetic choice to not follow the books.
The show doesn’t suck because it’s wrong. It’s wrong because it sucks.
That’s why characters like the Washer Women are so important. And why omitting them is such a disaster.
If we’d like to avoid more scenes like “that Sansa scene,” we’ve got to demand a more stringent dedication to the source material. Because who the show omits next, might determine who they rape next.