*TW: Extended discussion of rape within the ‘Game of Thrones’ universe*
In my first year at university, my lecturer decided to screen the 1971 film Straw Dogs as part of a module on violence in cinema. Before we watched it, he asked that the boys sit to one side of the lecture theatre, and the girls to the other. It was a weird request, one that gave us an idea about the nature of the film we were about to see and the attitudes toward it – particularly the rape of one of the main characters, Amy. The film itself is relatively tame, especially in comparison to far more violent and disturbing films audiences are watching today. Whilst there are tiny moments of Tarantino-esque brutality (Sam Peckinpah was a huge influence on Tarantino), it was the rape scene which really hammered home the point I believe our lecturer was trying to make. Amy (Susan George) spends a lot of the film walking around in very little clothing, with no bra underneath and later in the film is raped by one of the intruders in a scene that *could* be perceived as Amy initially enjoying the act, but becoming horrified as she realises what is actually happening to her.
Now, before you ask me what this has to do with Game of Thrones, the reaction to this scene from other students was entirely mixed. As in, most of the boys in the lecture theatre believed that (at some point) Amy had either wanted the rape to happen, or that she in some way deserved it because of her ‘promiscuous’ behaviour earlier in the film. The girls, on the other hand, largely believed that the scene was completely against Amy’s will and she had, in no way, warranted such a violent and heinous act to be done to her. ‘Game of Thrones’ is almost doing what ‘Straw Dogs’ did to audiences on the subject of rape, with many viewers taking very objective stances on whether or not ‘Game of Thrones’ has gone too far this time.
So far The Mary Sue , The Guardian , Jezabel and even IGN have all questioned whether ‘Game of Thrones’ has gone too far, with The Mary Sue even stating that they will no longer be supporting the show on their site. It’s not just the events of the most recent episode, ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’, but the series has a long history of depicting sexual violence against women – and not always aligning us with the victim.
What it really comes down to in Game of Thrones is this. When a prominent character in GOT gets injured/dies (Ned Stark, Tywin Lannister, Robb Stark etc) it’s super important because killing or injuring their character had a huge effect on the narrative and consequently, the other characters storylines. However, when Daenerys, Cersei and Sansa are raped it has little to no effect on the overall narrative of GoT or the women themselves. We’ve established that rape very much exists in this war torn world, it is as prevalent as armies being slaughtered, kings being poisoned and characters we love getting ripped from the inside out. It’s just, the violence always plays a small part in the bigger narrative. Yes, the Red Wedding was as grotesque as you can get, but it was incredibly important that Robb Stark died as it allowed the Greyjoy’s to take the North and further progress the battle for Westeros. When Cersei was raped, in contrast, the characters picked up the following week as if it had never happened. Neither Jaime nor Cersei behaved differently from how they had done previously, and it did absolutely nothing to advance the plot. In fact, Jaime’s character arc is in complete contradiction to this act; Jaime is supposed to be on a journey of self redemption and detachment from his sister. Instead he wields power over her unlike we have ever seen in either of their characters before. At best it’s inconsistency. At worst, it’s using rape as a throw-away plot device for when things get a bit too boring, or we haven’t seen women in enough pain.
Benioff (one half the writing team behind GoT) has recently stated the reasoning for merging the storyline of Jeyne Poole and that of Sansa Stark.
“We really wanted Sansa to play a major part this season. If we were going to stay absolutely faithful to the book, it was going to be very hard to do that. There was a subplot we loved from the books, but it used a character that’s not in the show”. EW
Basically, they really didn’t care about Sansa’s own growth or character development – she’s a woman so she’ll fit into this storyline. The only prerequisite for being partaking in a rape storyline is that the victim owns a vagina. It’s also important to remember that in the books both the Cersei/Jaime and Daenerys/Drogo scenes were depicted as conseual sex. There’s nothing wrong with deviating from the source material, but why would the writers purposefully choose to turn consensual sex into rape when it furthers no plot or narrative?
Consequently, we’ve got a lot of people enraged at the fact that women are being treated as, well, women or animated sex dolls for no real reason and we’ve also got a lot of people who believe that rape is just part and parcel of that world.
Going back to Straw Dogs or any of the multitude of films which attempt to visualize rape onscreen, we have to remember that all media is constructed to make the audience feel a certain way. I am not saying that rape shouldn’t be part of a narrative; one of my friends pointed out that rape does happen all around us and we can’t shy away from that. It’s just that there are ways of showing or implying rape which don’t glamorise or glorify it – or worse, allow us to identify with the rapist. Sadly, with both Daenerys and Cersei’s cases the context that follows ensures that we don’t harbor any ill-feelings towards the rapist, as they are prominent hero characters within the story. Daenerys falls in love with Drogo (makes sense in the book, as they have consensual sex) which tells the audience that all is forgiven, and Drogo was just doing what a man is supposed to do on his wedding night. Cersei’s rapist, as discussed earlier, is Jaime – already on a redemption arc which has seen him adored by fans for his 180 degree turnaround. We excuse Jaime for his actions because well… Cersei’s a bitch right? It’s a Straw Dogs situation all over again. The message from Peckinpah was loud and clear, as is from Benioff and Weiss: rape happens, get over it.
Again, let me re-iterate that I am not at all saying that rape shouldn’t be seen or discussed on-screen. However, if the creators of the show are sending the message that rape is justified in some way, or it’s a one off or even that it’s mildly acceptable under the circumstance – then we have to question why that message is the one which the show’s creators decided to pick up on. Instead of viewing rape as the disgusting manipulative act it is, and triumphing survivors – the audience instead ascertain that, well the situation called for it and there’s not much else to it.
Supporting and representing rape survivors is incredibly important – their stories deserve to be told. But victim blaming and genuine empathy for the rapists? I don’t think so.