Game of Thrones S05E06: Link Roundup & Some Thoughts

20 May

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.

Rebecca Watson:

Melissa McEwan:

Jill Pantozzi at The Mary Sue:

Sen. Claire McCaskill quoted at Talking Points Memo:

Amanda Marcotte:

Daniel Fincke:

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.


Posted by on May 20, 2015 in loten, mitchell


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

5 responses to “Game of Thrones S05E06: Link Roundup & Some Thoughts

  1. sellmaeth

    May 20, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    Every time I read an article like this I feel justified in my decision to not watch the series. To be honest, I also didn’t read the books, I had enough after Daenerys’ rape and never looked at any of the sequels.
    And my problem with the author here is that I don’t think Martin wanted to show how bad rape culture is. He used the rape as background decoration.
    This seems to be even worse in the series, but I think it was there in the books already. The Daenerys rape scene wasn’t written in a way that emphasized how horrible child rape is. If it had been, I might have continued reading. The whole thing looked like “Child rape is okay if you don’t use violence.” Which is horribly messed up.

    • mcbender

      May 22, 2015 at 9:40 pm

      I can’t in good conscience recommend the series at this point either (and really, I don’t think I could have for some time). I’m less certain about the books, but if the Daenerys scene put you off them then you’re right not to continue, because it does get much worse.

      Regarding Martin and rape as set-dressing: yeah, it’s definitely there, and I do have to wonder about a mind that comes up with so many places to put it in (see, e.g. ). I certainly don’t plan to die on a hill defending it. I’ve seen Martin make enough feminist statements outside the books and appreciate enough other things in them that I don’t want to condemn them completely, and the world of the books has always read to me as deliberately dystopian and awful (I often interpret the books as a sort of Take That to fantasy tropes – “You want feudalism? You want patriarchy? With knights and ladies and wars and shit? Here you go. This is what it looks like. Still want this in your escapism?”), but they’re definitely full of incredibly problematic things and if nothing else I certainly wouldn’t recommend them to anyone with triggers of any kind.

  2. Derived Absurdity

    May 21, 2015 at 12:11 am

    My opinion on ASOIAF/GOT (yes, both the show and the books) is roughly the same as my opinion on Harry Potter – namely that they have no artistic merit and are pretty much completely worthless, and furthermore that they have not earned one single iota of trust or goodwill from me or anyone else, much less the benefit of the doubt. The show has fucked up so consistently and so incessantly, has ruined so many characters and plotlines, has demonstrated so many times how fundamentally simplistic and immature it is, that I really don’t know how intelligent people can still stand to watch it. It’s torture. There are so many more shows out there right now that are far more intelligent, far more mature, far more thoughtful, and far more complex than GOT. The same is true with the books, too.

    Really, how can anyone pretend that the show knows what it’s doing, or that it gives a fuck at all about characterization and thematic coherency, after the travesty of Shae’s storyline last season? Or Catelyn’s the season before? Those first two articles on-point. I really don’t see how this latest fuck-up (in a long stream of fuck-ups) can be defended. That second Amanda Marcotte article… wow. I’m sorry, but that was some powerful stupid. Those were some truly terrible rebuttals. I clicked on the Daniel Fincke article, but it’s really long and if it’s just going to echo essentially what Marcotte said, I’m not really interested in reading it, tbh. Does it say anything interesting?

    You make some good points here as well. The only thing I would disagree with you on is your ambivalence, as obviously I’m not ambivalent about it at all. 🙂 There might be good, well thought-out arguments on the other side, but I haven’t seen any.

    As for interesting takes, I think Abigail Nussbaum had a very interesting and thoughtful take (as she always does) on the controversy last season, which you might have already read. It might tie a bit into what’s going on now. It’s not really an attack on the show, nor is it a defense, more just an interesting perspective.

    • mcbender

      May 22, 2015 at 9:55 pm

      Thanks for linking the Nussbaum article; that was well worth reading, and I think I agree with her. (I’ve certainly had a lot of cause to rethink my initial reaction to the Jaime scene after reading survivors’ interpretation of the book scene, among other things.)

      And you have a very good point that the show has had precious little goodwill left to lose after its take on Shae; that was bad enough in the books, when she was characterised as little more than a misogynistic stereotype, but making her into an actual character in the show and then derailing it completely for an entire season in order to put things back on rails really was abhorrent. (I remember well my bafflement as season four got closer and closer, wondering how they were going to change the plot to account for the new Shae because I couldn’t imagine her acting the way the book character did. Nor could I imagine show!Tyrion murdering her, for that matter; I think I’d honestly been expecting them to change it and have Tywin kill her somehow to give Tyrion further motivation toward that murder…) I’m not sure why I keep on with it, in light of these things. Probably some combination of completionism and wishful thinking…

      I haven’t the slightest clue what Marcotte was thinking; her interpretation honestly does baffle me. I find her an interesting writer because I often agree with her and think she gets a lot of things on-point, but then when I disagree with her it’s usually because she’s said something I find utterly appalling. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground…

      For what it’s worth, I thought Fincke’s article was rather thoughtful and wasn’t as infuriating (though it is definitely toeing the line of mansplaining), but he’s a writer even I find long-winded at times, and I also find him very difficult to summarise. He also makes a point to take charitable reading to its absolute extreme as a rule, which I find an interesting approach (and I can appreciate his arguments in favour of doing so, which he’s written on in the past), but often also very frustrating. However, the article was long enough I’m not particularly keen to reread it myself, so I don’t want to comment on whether or not it would be worthwhile for you to do so.

  3. mcbender

    May 22, 2015 at 9:55 pm


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