Game of Thrones’ Rape Problem

Before we get started, this post will contain spoilers for Game of Thrones. Additionally the episode I’ll be discussing – “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” – as well as this article may be triggering for some individuals. Call our 24-hour sexual violence hotline for support at 1-800-752-0191.

With that out of the way let’s get started! I know I’m a little late to the party, but there are only so many hours in a week and any time I spend writing about Game of Thrones is time I don’t spend watching Game of Thrones, so you see my dilemma. By now I’m sure you’ve heard that the popular HBO drama has again landed itself in hot water after a disturbing depiction of rape. Full disclosure: I am personally a fan of the series, and it is important to mention that this piece reflects my feelings alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of HopeWorks.

This isn’t Game of Thrones’ first rodeo. Of the seven main point-of-view female characters – Catelyn Stark, Sansa Stark, Arya Stark, Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, Margaery Tyrell and Brienne of Tarth – three have been raped on screen. Now, Game of Thrones is meant to be a world far more dangerous than our own, and in the world we live in one in five women will be raped in their lifetime. With that in mind it almost seems odd to be calling out a show for not shying away from a real world issue. So why is everyone from bloggers to senators swearing off the show?

Simply put, their depictions of sexual violence are irresponsible.

Game of Thrones doesn’t include rape as a part of its universe to bring attention to the sheer number of women who experience it, or to discuss why rape is such a common crime of war. Game of Thrones uses rape as a plot device; a tool the show-runners keep in their box to make the audience feel disturbed. For instance, let’s talk about Cersei; Cersei’s rape scene is one of the most disturbing scenes in the series. The scene serves no narrative purpose, was not in the source material, and is never referenced again. There isn’t so much as a throwaway line about Cersei being a survivor or Jamie being a rapist because the dynamics of assault isn’t what the scene was about. Despite the fact that the scene was highly triggering for many people and the next day millions of people were discussing rape, almost none of that conversation had anything to do with the character that experienced the rape or the effects of assault on survivors. This continues a very real world narrative that the survivor experience isn’t important.

Cersei_201

Since I’m several layers into analysis and I haven’t even gotten into this week’s episode I’d like to take a moment to bring this discussion into reality. I want you to think about the last time you heard that someone was found not guilty of rape and then think about the community response to the verdict. Overwhelmingly what you find in those situations is people believe that “this person has not been found legally guilty of rape” means “a rape did not occur” when those are two inherently different statements, and this is a bias that is almost exclusively for rape victims. We all know that “this person has not been found legally guilty of theft” does not mean “a theft did not occur”; by extension we realize that there is still a victim who still has a voice. No matter what victims of other crimes do, their experience as a victim is still important to their community.

So what does this have to do with Game of Thrones? Well let’s go back to Cersei for a second. If the question is “how does rape affect survivors?” the show-runners answered “who cares?” The goal of the scene was to disturb the audience, once that was accomplished there was no reason to check in with the survivor ever again. This happened again with Sansa’s scene, as the audience was not presented with Sansa’s emotions as the rape occurred, but with Theon’s horror as he looked on. While it is too early at this point in the narrative to be sure, it seems that Sansa’s rape will ultimately be more important to Theon’s story than Sansa’s. Using rape in that way – as a device to emotionally raise the stakes for the audience and secondary characters – again disregards the voice of real life survivors. The reason these scenes must take place on screen is because it’s rare that they will ever effect the fictional survivor again, in short, they aren’t plot (if they were they could happen off screen and the audience could be presented with the changed character). This is a problem for a very simple reason: these scenes are triggering. Real life survivors of assault are also fans of this show and instead of the show-runners respecting survivors, their experiences, and potential triggers, rape just becomes a throwaway scene.

Sansa Stark Actress Wallpaper

Ultimately, Game of Thrones has come to rely on rape to heighten the emotional state of the show. Using rape for shock value undermines the pain real life survivors have experienced. We need to talk about sexual violence in our culture, and I’m a strong believer that popular culture is going to have a part to play in that discussion. However, those discussions still need to be survivor driven, treated with the gravity such a discussion deserves, and followed up with after-care; even something as simple as bookending the episode with trigger warnings and RAINN’s contact information could make a world of difference for survivors. We can – and should – demand better from our media. The people who write Game of Thrones need to do better; after all, Winter is Coming.

Written by Community Engagement Coordinator Dominic Goodall.
Questions? You can reach Dominic at dgoodall@wearehopeworks.org!

Disclaimer:

The views expressed in this article are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of HopeWorks of Howard County.

 

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