HBO’s hit fantasy series Game of Thrones will be setting sail on its fifth season this Sunday, April 12. The anticipation is running high for this season, which promises more drama, gore, death, and of course nudity. We’ll finally get to see Dorne, and last season left a promising foundation for some desperately needed Stark vengeance and perhaps some more White Walker sightings.
I’m a really big fan of the series, like the kind of fan who has fan art framed in her apartment. (It’s tasteful, OK?!) It is one of the only shows I watch religiously, which is saying a lot for me because I have serious commitment issues when it comes to television. (Like Breaking Bad? Still haven’t finished it. Sorry, Walt.)
Except, to be honest, I’m not all that excited about this season. In fact, I’m kind of dreading it. It’s not because of how the story is going to depart from the books, or even who I’m worried is going to be mercilessly killed off. It’s because I’m really worried this season is going to make the same mistake as the last one, the same mistake that still runs the risk of turning me off from the entire series forever.
I’m worried that there’s going to be too much rape.
Now, let me be clear about something here. I’m talking about mindless, senseless, and fetishized rape. I’m not talking about rape that moves the story forward. I’m not even talking about that annoying kind of rape used as a device to “develop” female characters. (OK, maybe this a little bit too.)
I’m worried that, like last season, show-runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are going to insert rape where it isn’t in the books, and are going to use it as background visuals over and over again with less than a thought.
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t forgiven the show-runners for using rape as an escalation tool in Season 4. I haven’t forgiven them for insisting that (spoiler alert) Jaime should rape his sister in the same room as their dead son instead of having consensual incest-y sex (which trust me, is already freaky enough) like they do in the books. I haven’t forgiven them for filming minutes and minutes of rape in the background of every scene in Craster’s Keep, to serve as a persistent reminder that The Night’s Watch is comprised of “really, really bad guys,” for using ham-handed and offensive shooting scripts to communicate that these guys are soooo bad, they just rape and rape and rape.
Why? Because it’s lazy storytelling. It’s a hackneyed escalation tactic and a cheap thrill when murder and gore aren’t enough.
More importantly, I haven’t forgiven them because I’m a rape survivor. And as someone who’s been through the real deal, I have zero patience for testosterone-fueled, pornagraphic depictions of rape. If I wanted to be triggered out of my mind by needless, baseless depictions of nonconsensual sex, well… I’d watch porn. (No shade.)
“But the consent is implied in the crypt scene,” you say, waving your DVDs at me. Really? Is it? Is a woman saying “no,” over and over again “implied consent”? Moreover, did making it nonconsensual add anything to the plot? Nope.
“But the Night’s Watch is comprised of criminals. They really did rape Craster’s daughter-wives,” you say, waving your book at me. Sure, but was it necessary to have rape constantly occur in the background of dialogue between characters, over multiple revisits? Would we have not gotten the point if they hadn’t done that? Cue a resounding “Nope.”
The problem with these rape scenes is they aren’t there to show us how bad rape is. They don’t take the extra time to talk about the consequences of rape, the dirty aftermath. They just show rape for rape’s sake. They cheapen and sexualize the traumatic experiences of millions of women around the world and throughout history to entertain their audience’s most primal, sadistic instincts. It’s gross, and it’s enough to make me write off even the good work they’re doing with this series altogether.
The only thing that might annoy me more than GoT’s use of rape is the vast amount of excuses people make for it. “What did you expect from HBO?” one of my friends asked me. Oh, I don’t know, some cogent and finessed storytelling from the network that produced amazing shows like The Sopranos and The Wire?
“Well, that’s how the fantasy genre is,” another person told me. No it’s not! I love fantasy. I write fantasy. It’s not like when you decide you’re going to write fantasy, someone hands you a requirement list with some dragons, a plucky elf or five, and rape. There is no need for rape in fantasy, and there’s no special allowance for it either.
And it’s not like GoT is alone here. Fantasy and historical fiction are both rife with hi-octane, gross amounts of rape. Just see 300 (or its awful sequel), The History Channel’s Vikings, Showtime’s Spartacus, HBO’s Rome, Starz's Black Sails – the list goes on and on. But considering GoT is undoubtedly the most popular amongst these shows and movies, with brilliant writers, brilliant books behind it, and amazing actors, I expected a lot better.
Believe it or not, I’m perfectly ok with rape happening in TV shows and films. Rape is a real thing, and if we’re going to make art about things like murder and theft, we should absolutely make art about rape. I don’t want to be sheltered from it or pretend it doesn’t exist. What I do want, what I need, is for rape to be depicted respectfully. And all Benioff and Weiss have proven to me so far is that they have no interest in doing so.
So this Sunday, I’ll be gathered with my closest friends, making a delicious dinner and watching the premiere of the fifth season of my favorite TV show in the whole world.
I really hope it won’t be the last premiere I watch, but I’m pretty scared it might be.