Rape Doesn’t Make Female Characters More Interesting, Game Of Thrones

After a long love affair with the infamously incomplete series by George R.R. Martin, I was thrilled when HBO made their adaptation. I was also pleasantly surprised by how well they managed to portray the characters during the first and even second seasons, and I felt they were doing true justice to the story – even with some of the changes they made.

I’m afraid that optimism is long gone, and the most recent episode killed it stone dead.

One thing really stuck with me during season one, a little thorn under my tender fangirl skin that I managed to brush aside – Daenerys Targaryen’s rape by Khal Drogo.  It was a strange scene, made even stranger by the oddly tender moment of Drogo acknowledging that he understood the word ‘no’ (but still, clearly, not giving a shit). It was the start of a disturbing trend that I’m still struggling to understand. What did raping Danny accomplish, precisely? In what way did it further her character?

The answer is pretty simple — it didn’t. It also was not included in the books… at all.

Fast forward a few seasons to the rape scene between Jamie and Cersei Lannister literally on top of their dead son’s coffin. Again, this is not how events panned out in the books. It was clearly a move to humanize Cersei (as though we couldn’t have a female character in the story that we didn’t weaken and feel sorry for) and to re-demonize Jamie. Again, it was largely unnecessary, did little for the plot, and was pretty freaking disturbing. It turned Jamie into something he empathetically was not, and removed a sense of power from Cersei in the most unimaginative way possible.

(Spoilers below)

Which brings us to the most recent rape of Sansa Stark at the hands of the psychopath –Ramsay Bolton. That would make three rapes added to the show which were not included in the books, by the way. For reasons that will hopefully make themselves known in the near future, Sansa’s story has been blended with that of Jeyne Poole, whom was one of Sansa’s childhood friends and who had the great misfortune of marrying Ramsay in the books (posing as Arya Stark, by the way).

This sucks for a lot of reason (aside from the obvious rape part). Sansa as Alayne Stone never leaves the Vale in the books, and when her Aunt dies, she learns the intricacies and requirements of running a house-hold built on complex political games. She finds her own type of strength and power as she learns a lot from Littlefinger even as she discovers how to play his own creepy obsession with her against him. It’s what I always liked about her, how she becomes a sort of foil against Cersei –two women in similar circumstances who learn to cope and fight back in very different ways within the confines of their gender. In the books the idea was for Littlefinger to maneuver Sansa to rule not only the Vale through an eventual marriage, but also to retake Winterfell. But apparently, what could’ve been a complex and engaging plotline wasn’t shocking, violent, or interesting enough. And I use ‘interesting’ here as ironically as possible.

Instead Sansa is thrown to Ramsay Bolton like an afterthought. I wasn’t expecting rose petals and romantic candle-light for their wedding night, but I still found myself deeply disturbed and angry as I watched the train wreck unfold. What was the point? What had Sansa’s arc done to bring her basically back to square one, where she is helpless and broken at the hands of another Joffery? Why? Just why? What did this accomplish for how the viewer’s perceive Sansa, what did this do to propel the plot? Furthermore, it was just lazy and terribly, terribly cliché.

We get it. Ramsay Bolton is a sadistic freak and Theon is super sad all the time and his life sucks. Was it really necessary to reaffirm that for like, the fiftieth time?

Game of Thrones is known for its brutal violence. In cases like Ned’s beheading and The Red Wedding, such violence actually proved to be incredibly shocking and surprising (I mean for those who hadn’t read the books anyway, ha). There was nothing surprising about Sansa’s rape — nothing interesting, or clever, or necessary.

Consider, for instance, how different things may have been if Sansa had slept with Ramsay willingly (overlooking the whole convoluted and frankly stupid fact she was with Ramsay in the first place). If she had used all the awful things she’d experienced and seen and learned to turn the game on its head and to her advantage, think how that might have progressed her as a character. The writing has become lazy, boring, and uninspired. Watching Sansa’s rape scene was not entertaining (not that rape really ever is) and in the most menial and sad way, it was boring and incredibly predictable.

The issue isn’t with the idea of a rape scene in a story, it’s including a rape scene that serves absolutely no purpose.

In comparison, people have shoved Theon Greyjoy’s story arc to the forefront as if it absolves the gross mischaracterizations of these women. Firstly — Theon is defined, broken, unmade, and reborn through his terrible tortures. Secondly — it is not treated as something casual, a quick side-note in his life story. It becomes his entire story. Despite his betrayals it is almost impossible not to pity him, to feel for him, as he fights to cope with the trauma in every single (increasingly boring) episode. Jamie Lannister loses his hand and he’s been fighting the backlash ever since. Cersei is raped by the one person she probably even kind of loves and it’s no big deal. Game of Thrones dishes out cruelty and sexual assault on their female characters for nothing more than shock value and then pretty much walks away from it as though it never happened.

So, as a PSA to the writers of the show: you do not need to rape women to make them interesting, believable, or sympathetic characters.  TC mark

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