When Game of Thrones’s fifth season started, I knew that there’d be some things about it that I wouldn’t like. That’s true for any story—you have to take the good with the bad—and that’s been especially true for Game of Thrones. When Game of Thrones is good, it’s pretty decent, but when it’s bad, it’s fucking horrible. The unnecessary Jaime-Cersei rape scene comes to mind. But while I knew that the show would continue to have its faults, I didn’t think it would be this bad.
For those of you who don’t know what happened, Game of Thrones dug itself into yet another hole with the episode “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”. That episode’s ending scene is the worst thing ever. It’s so bad that I’m not even sure I can accurately represent my rage and disgust logically. Instead, I just want to scream and set things on fire. The hole the show just dug for itself is so deep, I’m not sure that it can climb back out again. I’m also not sure that I want it to. It deserves to rot down there.
In case you couldn’t tell, there’s a trigger warning for rape and abuse up ahead.
So for those of you who graciously missed what happened in “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”, Ramsay married Sansa and then raped her while forcing Theon to watch.
I’m not even sure where to begin. Should I start with the part that this rape was done to further Theon’s character arc, because the scene was clearly more concerned about him than it was about the person actually being raped? Of course, at the same time I’m kind of thankful for this—having the camera focus on Theon’s face was infinitely better than the possibility of the camera focusing on what Ramsay was doing to Sansa—but we were still treated to the sounds of Sansa moaning in pain.
Maybe I should start with the how this doesn’t happen to Sansa at all in the books, or how it’s simply yet another excuse to cut a female character down—a female character who has already been abused and traumatized by numerous people. Despite all that Sansa has overcome, Game of Thrones just shoved this at her too. Game of Thrones seems to have a habit of raping female characters for no other reason than to punish them or have no consequences whatsoever for the assailants. Drogo rapes Daenerys, only for her to turn around and fall madly in love with him and become a stronger person as a result. To be clear, she doesn’t become stronger because she survived rape; she becomes stronger because of her love for Drogo and the Dothraki. Despite what some people may think, this scene was also a rape scene in the books. It was a rape scene because Daenerys was thirteen at the time, and it was also a relationship she was sold into by her brother, who also sexually abused her. She had no choice in the matter, and she was incapable of giving consent. In Game of Thrones, she’s much older, and so the statutory at least wouldn’t have been a problem. The show had an opportunity to not include a rape scene because of this change in age, and yet it still made the conscious decision to have Drogo hold her down and force her multiple times on screen.
Then there was the Jaime-Cersei scene, which, though consensual in the books, was pointlessly a rape scene in the show. It completely invalidated their relationship to one another and disregarded what about Jaime and Cersei made them work as a couple in the first place, while also ruining their characters. Jaime is one of the few characters in the books to actively detest rape, due to all the times he had to listen to Aerys rape Rhaella and Robert rape Cersei. To have him, of all characters, rape someone was insulting. But it was also insulting because it used the rape as a punishment for Cersei. The reasons behind this change, I still don’t understand.
Now we have this newest rape scene, and somehow it seems even more pointless than all the others. I’d say the scenes with Daenerys and Cersei are even worse, since we actually saw what was happening during them, but it’s gotten to the point where it just becomes too much. This scene seems to have been the final straw for many people, and Game of Thrones has lost itself a good number of viewers judging from what other people are saying online. I even asked the other people on the review team if they wanted to quit and never talk about this show again. (We decided to at least finish reviewing this season.)
When Jaime raped Cersei, I was angry, and I questioned whether or not it was responsible to continue supporting this show. I ended up giving Game of Thrones another chance it didn’t deserve and hoped for the best. I did that because at the end of the day, I still wanted to watch it for the other storylines. But what other empowering storylines do we have for women right now? Something really bad is going to happen to Cersei soon, Margaery‘s in jail, Arya’s stuck cleaning dead bodies in the House of Black and White, and Ellaria’s been downgraded to a petty villain straight out of a Disney film. She even has an evil layer of evil. Where’s Asha Greyjoy attempting to take over the Iron Isles? Where’s Lady Stoneheart leading the Brotherhood without Banners? This Sansa-Theon-Ramsay plot is so bad that it’s overriding everything else.
On top of all that, it makes no damn sense—because honestly, what does
Littlefinger Fuckface even gain by marrying Sansa to Ramsay? He has spies everywhere; how the hell doesn’t he know what kind of person Ramsay is? Anyone in the North could tell him, and not asking some of the other lords what Ramsay’s like on the way there seems like a huge oversight on his part. Cersei even says in the first season that the North would never accept an outsider ruling them—so Fuckface has no hope of becoming Warden of the North, and in the end, he just gave up his most valuable bargaining chip.
But most importantly, the rape was simply gratuitous and used for shock value. Nothing more. Game of Thrones has always prided itself on surprising its audience with shocking twists. And while this scene was certainly shocking, it was not at all surprising. What did we learn because of this rape? That Ramsay’s a bad person? We already knew that. We already hated him. We watched him torture Theon, cut him, mutilate him, and traumatize him to the point that I don’t even want his character to be punished for murdering two little boys anymore. That Ramsay planned to rape Sansa isn’t a surprise, because we all knew it was going to happen. What would have been surprising was for the scene to not have happened. And I half expected Game of Thrones to go that route. It’s deviated so much from the original story already, why couldn’t it find a way to not continue victimizing another female character?
At this point, I think the only way Game of Thrones can redeem itself is by having Sansa and Theon murder Ramsay in his sleep. Though another good way Game of Thrones can do better would be by no longer depicting and normalizing violence against women as something that just happens, that we should accept as just happening. By not showing consequences to rapes, or by focusing on male character’s perspectives when female characters are violated, the show dehumanizes victims and takes away their chance for agency. As if victims are not important enough for their trials and hardships to be about themselves. And by only using rape for shock value and nothing more, Game of Thrones is taking a serious issue and trivializing it—something it could avoid doing, if these rapes had a purpose, like teaching us something more about rape culture.
But as I said during my True Blood reviews, female characters don’t need to be raped to show us how rape culture and misogyny affect us. At this point, there’s just no way to get around how pointless all the violence toward women is in Game of Thrones. Last year, during the Jaime-Cersei scene, Rin asked a very good question. Does Game of Thrones hate women? I think we know the answer to that now.