Last Night's Episode of "Game of Thrones" Was More Proof of the Show’s Disturbingly Un-Feminist Path

Apparently developing female characters in ways that aren’t lazy and clichéd is just way too hard for the people working on this show.
Publish date:
May 18, 2015
rape, television, Game of Thrones

Note: Spoilers aplenty ahead.

Well, I saw this coming. The sixth episode of “Game of Thrones” fifth season, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” ended with a horrible rape scene that (SURPRISE) was not in the books.

This time, Ramsay Bolton raped his new wife Sansa Stark (who you know I love, sweet baby angel that she is), because he is literally the worst person and no one can tell me differently.

In case you missed it, after their haunting nighttime wedding, Ramsay brings Sansa into their new bedroom, where he orders her to disrobe after bullying her about her virgin status. She doesn’t do this fast enough, so he rips her clothes off, bends her over their bed, and takes her by force. Oh, and Theon Greyjoy—who is basically her adopted brother—is forced to watch the whole damn thing as he sobs in the corner, psychologically unable to do anything to stop it. While the scene was not graphic, it was disturbing, and you heard everything you didn’t see.

After the episode aired, people went to social media in outrage. I was among them. I was worried before this season even started that there was going to be more senseless rape, and I had a bad feeling in my gut that Sansa was going to be the target. Why? Well, because show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have a proven track record of inserting rape where it doesn’t belong in the storyline, in order to shock us and (I guess) justify female character development. (Because remember, women only become strong and cunning after being subjected to trauma, particularly when it is related to a man’s crotch.) And since this season promised to be female intensive, I knew it was lurking around the corner, just waiting to strike.

That, paired with all the interviews where Sophie Turner hinted at Sansa’s major character development during this season, had me convinced. It took six episodes, but I wasn’t wrong. And I hate it.

Like the Jaime and Cersei rape scene before it, it won’t take long before either the show runners, actors, or fans come rushing in to tell us all that this scene wasn’t rape and we shouldn’t be angry about it. Because, Sansa and Ramsay are married, right? And it’s their wedding night, right? And she should have known this was coming because she married a complete nutjob, right? What did she expect? What did we, as the audience, expect?

I, for one, expected these guys to learn a lesson from their previous mistakes. Namely that adding rape, which makes everyone very uncomfortable, for the sake of heightening drama isn’t a good idea.

If George R. R. Martin put it in the books? Fine. We’re all willing to grit our teeth and take the pain for loyalty to the source. But that’s not what this is. Audiences aren’t stupid. Trying to pass off marital rape as some sort of "rape lite" is not going to fly. It’s still messed up, it’s still really unpleasant to watch.

Most of all, it’s still rape--and it’s rape that doesn’t need to happen to develop solid female characters or to heighten drama. This show IS drama. In this episode alone, we get a taste of Cersei’s cruelty when she uses the Sparrows to land both Loras and Margaery in prison (or I guess holding?). We learn what’s really going on in the House of Black and White. We wonder what’s going to happen to Jorah Mormont now that he has greyscale.

In fact, I would posit that watching Sansa and Ramsay get married (especially after that creepy bath with Myranda) is enough drama to communicate how completely shit out of luck Sansa is. We know Ramsay’s crazy, and we know she’s been through a hell of a lot. We didn’t need to see their wedding night, because, well, we could probably imagine it. We knew there was no way Ramsay—who hunts people for fun—was going to be the type for rose petals and Barry White.

What we’re seeing in “Game of Thrones” is that the challenge of developing strong female characters in ways that aren’t lazy and clichéd is just way too hard for the people working on this show. Because it certainly isn’t too hard for Martin—he’s written plenty of amazing women who haven’t been through that particular trauma.

According to this very dark and disturbing world that the show has painted for us, women have to get raped, otherwise how can we know they’re jaded enough to play the game? Daenerys, Cersei, Sansa… how can we know they’ll be ready to rise to the top when their respective times come, unless we know that they’ve been adequately dehumanized?

Furthermore, let’s revisit Sansa’s history of trauma, shall we? Her betrothed has her father executed, and then tortures her with his head on a pike. Then, her brother and mother are murdered at a wedding. After that, she is forced to marry a man she doesn’t love. Then, she is separated from everything she knows after being wrongfully accused of poisoning the king—and is still on the run from his mother. After that, she gets to hang out with her pseudo-creepy-uncle who is a) obsessed with her dead mom and b) really wants to bone her. If that isn’t enough to motivate a strong woman to take what is rightfully hers and play the game, then I don’t know what is.

But, apparently it’s not enough. So now, Sansa is beaten, she is bent, and she is broken—all for what will probably be some kind of amazing comeback later on in this season or perhaps the next. I’m looking forward to whatever that is, but I don’t think we needed this episode to make that victory any sweeter. And from the looks of social media and the Internet at large, this amazing show is standing to lose even more fans thanks to something that didn’t need to happen.