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Game of Thrones’ Rape Problem
Before we get started, this post will contain spoilers forÂ Game of Thrones. Additionally the episode I’ll be discussing â€“ â€œUnbowed, Unbent, Unbrokenâ€ â€“ as well as thisÂ articleÂ 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 letâ€™s get started! I know Iâ€™m a little late to the party, but there are only so many hours in a week and any time I spend writing aboutÂ Game of ThronesÂ is time I donâ€™t spend watchingÂ Game of Thrones, so you see my dilemma. By now Iâ€™m sure youâ€™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 isnâ€™tÂ Game of Thronesâ€™ first rodeo. Of the seven main point-of-view female characters â€“ Catelyn Stark, Sansa Stark, Arya Stark, Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, Margaery Tyrell and Brienne of Tarth â€“ three have been raped on screen. Now,Â Game of ThronesÂ is meant to be a world far more dangerous than our own, and in the world we live in one in fiveÂ 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 ThronesÂ doesnâ€™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.Â Game of ThronesÂ uses rape as a plot device; a tool the show-runners keep in their box to make the audience feel disturbed. For instance, letâ€™s talk about Cersei; Cerseiâ€™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 isnâ€™t so much as a throwaway line about Cersei being a survivor or Jamie being a rapist because the dynamics of assault isnâ€™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 isnâ€™t important.
Since Iâ€™m several layers into analysis and I havenâ€™t even gotten into this weekâ€™s episode Iâ€™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 â€œthis person has not been found legally guilty of rapeâ€ means â€œa rape did not occurâ€ when those are two inherently different statements, and this is a bias that is almost exclusively for rape victims. We all know that â€œthis person has not been found legally guilty of theftâ€ does not mean â€œa theft did not occurâ€; 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 withÂ Game ofÂ Thrones? Well letâ€™s go back to Cersei for a second. If the question is â€œhow does rape affect survivors?â€ the show-runners answered â€œwho cares?â€ 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 Sansaâ€™s scene, as the audience was not presented with Sansaâ€™s emotions as the rape occurred, but with Theonâ€™s horror as he looked on. While it is too early at this point in the narrative to be sure, it seems that Sansaâ€™s rape will ultimately be more important to Theonâ€™s story than Sansaâ€™s. Using rape in that way â€“ as a device to emotionally raise the stakes for the audience and secondary characters â€“ again disregards the voice of real life survivors. The reason these scenes must take place on screen is because itâ€™s rare that they will ever effect the fictional survivor again, in short, they arenâ€™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.
Ultimately,Â Game of ThronesÂ 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 Iâ€™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 RAINNâ€™s contact information could make a world of difference for survivors. We can â€“ and should â€“ demand better from our media. The people who writeÂ Game of ThronesÂ need to do better; after all, Winter is Coming.
Written by Community Engagement Coordinator Dominic Goodall.
Questions? You can reach Dominic at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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.