SPOILER ALERT: Game of Thrones through S05E06, ASOIAF through ADWD
TRIGGER WARNING: Rape, Rape culture, Patriarchy, Sexual objectification, Discussions which are callously indifferent to such
There’s been a lot of discussion going on in the feminist blogosphere about the rape of Sansa Stark in season five, episode six of Game of Thrones. I feel the need to contribute something here even if I’m not particularly qualified to do so; it’s interesting to me how much disagreement there seems to be over this and that I find myself agreeing to some extent with both sides of a heated controversy.
[Let me (Mitchell) state for the record that I’m actually a bit behind in my watching of the show, and have actually yet to see the episode in question. I’m at least passingly familiar with what’s been going on this season (Loten’s seen them at least and has been keeping me informed), but for a variety of reasons my enthusiasm for the show has been flagging for a while. That said, I do think this needs to be discussed, and I do still plan to watch them eventually when I find the time and energy.]
First off, here are links to various perspectives on this, all of which I found interesting and well worth reading even if I’m not sure who or what to agree with when they disagree.
Jill Pantozzi at The Mary Sue:
Sen. Claire McCaskill quoted at Talking Points Memo:
Caroline Siede writing for BoingBoing offers some useful context around the show’s contradictory depictions of sex and female nudity:
Interview with Sophie Turner (the actor who plays Sansa):
Before anything else I’d like to say that I am absolutely disgusted that somebody (director Alex Graves) described this planned plot/character arc to Turner as “you’re going to get a love interest this season!” Irrespective of anything else, I find that incredibly disgusting and creepy (especially to say to someone like Turner who is, we must remember, a young woman), and indicative of the level of thought we’re likely working with here from the people planning this show. (See also Siede’s article at BoingBoing revealing that the show intentionally and actively attempts to appeal to the “pervert audience”.)
So while I think that there’s a lot of interesting analysis going on and good points being made by people like Marcotte and Fincke (linked above) in defence of the show, taking the show as a depiction of the horrors of rape culture, I think it’s a bit disingenuous to look at this situation from a 100% Death of the Author perspective. I’m not sure precisely how to explain what I’m trying to get at here – “intentions are not magic” is usually taken as an argument against good intentions being exculpatory and an encouragement to look only at outcomes, but here what we have is a case where bad intentions are very likely and analysis of the outcome (Death of the Author) ends up being more charitable. I think perhaps too charitable, especially given that many viewers are unfortunately not going to go to that level of analysis. I think a lot of what, e.g., Fincke is saying makes sense but doesn’t justify the creators’ decisions unless you look at the work in a vacuum and ignore what those creators have actually said about it. Which maybe needs to be done (Death of the Author and all) but isn’t and can’t be the only way we can look at it.
I think, if anything, my biggest objection to the Sansa thing is that they completely interrupted her arc (which had nothing to do with rape, and actually seemed like it was leading to a place where she’d gain a lot of agency even if it did involve Littlefinger) to put her in the place of another character. They basically raped the character on a meta level in addition to the literal sense. Weirdly I don’t think I’d have objected to a rape in her storyline if it happened differently (I was entirely prepared for a lot of Littlefinger sleaziness, for example, in the books). I think I might even be willing to concede that whatever happened on the show is the most likely/realistic outcome if Sansa ended up with Ramsay, but there is still the uncomfortable fact that the show runners decided to put her there without much if anything of a good reason.
It’s also worth pointing out that Game of Thrones isn’t a documentary. It’s not a factual program designed to educate people. It’s an entertainment show on HBO. They aren’t trying to teach anyone anything. They could be, and maybe they should be (and there’s a sense in which any work of literature is social commentary), but they don’t seem to be approaching the task with the level of responsibility that ought to require. There was an interesting point made at Ophelia Benson’s blog recently about the power and influence narrative can have over our thinking (well worth reading: one two).
Also, in defending the role of rape in the show, Fincke hasn’t mentioned at all the unnecessary scene at Craster’s, with women being raped as background landscape. It’s difficult to accept any kind of informed and well-thought-out decision making from a show that does that. There are a lot of good, valid arguments on both sides – more than we thought at first. But based on the show’s past record and the constant creation of excuses to include sex and nudity for no reason in scenes where it doesn’t need to be there, it’s hard to defend giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Clearly we’re a bit ambivalent on this; I think on some level we accept that there are ways of viewing/interpreting the show in which this isn’t a horrible betrayal by the show creators, but we also think that’s too charitable an interpretation to have any real credibility given their actual comments and track record. I think there’s room to remain a fan of the show and continue taking it seriously (we all know how to be a fan of problematic things ), but also to point out bad decision-making where it occurs and where it is genuinely offensive, infuriating and downright insulting.
Please leave us your thoughts and link any other interesting takes on this you’ve found.