It has been almost a week since the Game of Thrones episode “Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken” aired and the internet has definitively exploded about it. Well, the part of the internet that is inhabited by non-misogynists anyway. I am bringing it back to the surface as a new episode is about to air.
It is not news at this point for me to mention that Sansa Stark was brutally raped on her wedding night by her new husband, Ramsay Bolton, with Theon Greyjoy “forced” to watch. It is also not news to say that I am deeply upset about the unnecessary scene, as many other people (not just women, mind you) are. The pop culture site The Mary Sue has decided to stop covering GoT citing the frustration with the continued exploitation of this character. Both Jill Pantozzi (The Mary Sue) and Melissa Leon have discussed in detail the reasons why this scene/action was completely unnecessary as a plot development.
We already know Ramsay is a sadistic, rapist, murderous monster from previous episodes and Sansa has already been made into a victim from Joffery and endured other threats of rape as well as a creepy uncle (Littlefinger) passively insinuating he wants to molest her. We also already know that Theon is broken and is having his loyalty torn with the presence of Sansa. This scene did no service to anyone involved. What the showrunners had here was an opportunity to surprise the audience with Sansa shivving Ramsay, or Theon intervening, or Brienne breaking in (or better, stopping the wedding) because Sansa had lit a candle in the window. Or something even more creative and inventive that doesn’t further destroy this character or DOES NOT INCLUDE ANOTHER FUCKING RAPE SCENE!!!!!!
Really, the showrunners could have done so much more.
When I impulsively posted my frustration to Twitter after watching the episode with a simple recognition of the #rapeculture and #misogyny in this episode, I received my very first trolling response with “Its worse in the book, so be cool” from some random guy. I am relatively new to Twitter, boasting a total of 18 followers, so I was really just posting it to express solidarity with other feminists. Since it was my first time with a real (supposed) anti-feminist responding to me, I responded with a tad of education and left it there since I can’t figure out how to explain rape culture, the progression of Sansa’s character, the choice of show runners to create this scene, the over-reliance of writers or show-runners to use the brutal rape of women by men as a way to create more intensity or simple fact that the show and books are on different paths anyway, so there is no reason to include this (Sansa is not Jeyne)… in 140 characters.
No, rape is not something to “be cool” about just because in this instance it was worse somewhere else. Yes, it is fiction, but the reality about TV is that it can influence real life and people’s minds. When one of the main plot devices is rape, you are normalizing the idea of rape. They had the opportunity to make better TV and they failed.
(They also made it impossible for me to enjoy the Game of Throne Musical, for which I am very, very, very disappointed.)
My prediction is that they will be using this scene to propel Sansa forward somehow and that they expect people will get back on board because she eventually manages to take back Winterfell. Theon will eventually confess that her little brothers are still alive and she will eventually outsmart Littlefinger as well. But it doesn’t really matter at this juncture. The point is that GoT refuses to stop using rape as a plot device, even though they have the creative freedom to do so. They also keep showing full frontal nudity of women, but only rarely of men, even though they are cable and can do so.
Another issue I take here is the idea that this rape is depicted as how Sansa “loses her virginity”. Rape is not sex; it is sexual violence, period. In my opinion, you are no longer a virgin when you choose to have sex, not when your hymen is broken, (you can do that without sex being involved). Let us be very clear about this in case people don’t get it, rape is not sex .
Fans are not simply in an uproar about a single scene, they have ultimately hit a breaking point after enduring so much of this bullshit.
What I hope is that the showrunners will take all of this into account for the next seasons, and for any future projects they work on. I hope writers will take this into account for future episodes they write for. I hope that many other people at HBO and in the entirety of television are paying attention and wake up to learn that female characters can be rich, full of drama, and seriously complicated WITHOUT being raped. I hope that producers, writers and directors will take initiative to become more educated in the real effects of the continued use of rape on television. I hope that they will also diversify their ranks with more women.
The question on some minds may be whether or not this outrage significantly affects viewership, but I don’t think that matters so much right now. GoT isn’t going anywhere until the story is finished, that is pretty much a fact. But I do think it will help if people keep taking apart the misogyny on GoT in every damn episode until David Benioff and D.B. Weiss start to get a clue. We can be even more relentless than rape on the show.
For now, I might start using Gay of Thrones to screen the episodes BEFORE I watch them.