What We Can Learn from Jeyne Poole, Theon Greyjoy, and Ramsay Bolton: Part 2

Massive trigger warnings for rape, bestiality, mutilation, and abuse up ahead.

I don’t think I will ever stop being amazed by how badly Game of Thrones handled its Sansa-Theon-Ramsay plotline. This storyline wasn’t a joy to read about in the book either, but it was something that had a lot of meaning and purpose, and Game of Thrones missed every single point the book made. One of the show’s more glaring problems is that it replaced Jeyne with Sansa.

Sansa Game of ThronesUnfortunately, this switch lead to a lot of arguments about which girl should have been abused—Jeyne or Sansa. On the one hand, Sansa’s already an abuse victim. But on the other hand, so is Jeyne. This conversation can be somewhat problematic, as it can imply that one girl deserved to be abused more than the other. Let me just say that neither Sansa from the show nor Jeyne from the books deserved what happened to them. Not in the slightest. But in terms of which girl should have been the victim if we absolutely had to have a victim, that would most definitely be Jeyne.

Due to Jeyne’s socioeconomic status and the role she was born into in society, A Dance with Dragons opens up a discussion about rape culture that it otherwise couldn’t have had. Jeyne needed to be the victim, because it forces us, the readers, to confront an uncomfortable truth about how we view victims of rape.

A Song of Ice and Fire has a lot of rape victims. Not only does rape appear in every book, but it is also the impetus that sets numerous events into motion. Daenerys is born because Aerys raped her mother. Rhaegar allegedly kidnapped and raped Lyanna. Aerys may have also raped Joanna Lannister. On top of all of that, we have what happened to both Cersei and Lysa and many, many others. I don’t believe that the books do the best job when it comes to talking about rape and rape culture. There are a lot of places the books fail—specifically when it comes to male rape, and how often female rape is used to set events into motion is certainly problematic in its own regard.

That said, ASoIaF does a much better job than so many other stories. It understands many of the subtleties that make up rape culture and in what instances people do or do not recognize rape as something that happened. For instance, not only is marital rape commonplace, it is also accepted by Westerosi society. When it comes to the victims, very few of them actually understand what happened. None of the Lannister children seem to be aware that they’re all victims of sexual abuse, and despite having experienced a bedding ceremony herself, Catelyn Stark doesn’t recognize that that whole tradition is based on rape. As for the perpetrators, we are presented with multiple rapists who don’t even realize that they’ve committed a sex crime—such as all three Lannister children, once again. For example, Tyrion doesn’t realize that having sex with someone who’s sleeping—even if he’s paying that person for sex—is rape. And on top of that, the world is filled with victim blaming, patriarchal standards that only enforce many of these problems.

Tyrion and ShaeOften, even in the real world, we are socially conditioned to view rapists as some monster hiding in an alleyway, instead of as people we know and trust. In reality, rapists are fellow human beings that we are close to. They are our brothers and our sisters, our neighbors and friends. Recognizing that would force us to admit that the people we love and hold dear have committed horrendous crimes. This is an ugly truth that we shy away from, but it is also something that ASoIaF forces us to confront.

Acknowledging who rapists are and how rape culture thrives is not easy to do, so we create a narrative of some monster lurking in an alley attacking “innocent good girls”. We say that if the rapist is a monster, then the victim is a paragon of sexual virtue. In the books, Ramsay is that monster in the alley, and Jeyne is his unsuspecting victim. Ramsay’s character is a nightmare come to life for the other characters, and he represents not only Theon’s and Jeyne’s fears, but the very worst of society. He’s so evil that it’s hard to believe anyone as bad as him can exist. And yet, through Ramsay’s treatment of Jeyne, we can see that rape culture is so prevalent that even when someone is a literal monster and conforms to our stereotyped views on what a rapist is, still no one will care if the victim isn’t the “right” kind of victim.

This is why Jeyne is important and irreplaceable to what the narrative tries to teach us. No one cares that Jeyne is being victimized, because in Westerosi society, she is not a highborn lady with lands to inherit. She is not the daughter of someone important. She is a means to an end, and since she is lower socially than everyone else, she is dehumanized in the worst way and people turn a blind eye to Ramsay’s doings. No one will stop Ramsay from attacking Jeyne, because Jeyne is not a Stark, and therefore she doesn’t matter.

jeyne-poole-compare-the-throne-770x470Through Theon, however, we can see that Jeyne does matter, and through her suffering, we can see why everyone else is so horrid. The people who can help her, and don’t, are complicit in her trauma. When I first read A Dance with Dragons, I was annoyed that we never see from Jeyne’s point of view, since she is also a victim. This is an annoyance that I realized was misplaced, because unlike the other rape victims in the story, the narrative didn’t want to focus on and explore the fact that Jeyne was raped. It wanted to explore the fact that a girl could be raped and no one would care, no matter how brutal the assault actually was. In order to do that, we needed Theon’s perspective, because it’s Theon who interacts with all the other high lords.

All the people that could help Jeyne are too busy with their own drama to pay much attention to the horrors going on. Lady Barbrey Dustin didn’t like Ned Stark, so she spends her days lamenting that she can’t find his bones to feed to her dogs. Meanwhile, Jeyne is trapped in a room down the hall being beaten. Her breasts are covered in bite marks, and no one helps her. The other lords, such as Wyman Manderly and Ser Hosteen, are fighting each other over their personal and familial honor, and Jeyne is in a room down the hall being given the option to have sex with a dog or to have her feet chopped off. And no one helps her.

When people do come to rescue Jeyne, they don’t do it because it’s the right thing to do. They’re there because they think she’s Arya Stark, a girl who is “important”. The only person who wants to help Jeyne for the sake of helping her is former rapist and child-murderer Theon Turncloak, who is just as abused as she is, and the only one with absolutely no political power to make a difference.

Theon Ramsay Game of ThronesThis is a point that Game of Thrones missed entirely. By replacing Jeyne with Sansa, a girl who “matters”, and neglecting Theon’s internal identity conflict, the rescue became about Theon regaining his masculinity after being completely emasculated seasons earlier. And the show wanted us to cheer him on for that reason. ASoIaF, on the other hand, didn’t care about Theon’s masculinity. Jeyne’s rescue by him wasn’t about that. It was about doing the right thing when no one else would and getting both her and himself as far away as possible, even if that meant death. Jeyne’s rescue by someone as horrible and socially ostracized as Theon and not by the supposedly honorable lords around her only goes to enforce this.

We learn a lot about rape culture through Jeyne’s treatment and how it perpetuates itself in our own society. We can also see how abysmal and bleak this situation can be for a victim and how those of us with the power to do something and don’t are just as complicit in the crime. It’s not something that we like to think about, but it’s a good lesson for the book to give us, and it’s one of the reasons these passages from A Dance with Dragons are so uncomfortable to read and yet so important at the same time. Like so many other things, Game of Thrones completely missed the point here as well. The show doesn’t talk about rape culture—it is rape culture, and it took all the good meanings and lessons from the books and twisted them into nothing more than shock value.

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7 thoughts on “What We Can Learn from Jeyne Poole, Theon Greyjoy, and Ramsay Bolton: Part 2

  1. I think you make a lot of good points. There is no doubt in my mind that books will always go deeper and trump their respective subsequent TV shows/movies. Always. TV shows will also have to cut away dialogue, characters, internal mind battles, etc. and as a consequence TV shows can never be as great as the books they are based on. Well, “Twilight” perhaps. Or “50 Shades”… Ah well. But as a person who haven’t read the books, let me tell you what I saw when I watched Theon and Sansa in the last 6 episodes of GoT. I saw a young woman who is being a raped and abused. I did not think of her as a highborn at all. None of the current residents of Winterfell treats her as anything but a breeding mashine. And Theon having been reduced to Reek and also daily suffering from regretting his past crimes/sins, sees a woman he knows he cares for. A person he grew up with. I don’t think he does what he does (pushing Myranda off the gangway) because Sansa is highborn and noble. I think he saves Sansa because he can’t stand the thought of her going through more abuse. Just as if she had been another woman, he’d cared for which in the books is this character Jeune whom I don’t know. So – to me at least – I see no real difference in Theon’s motifs, nor do I see Sansa’s rape as the catapult for his move. After all Theon just stood and watched her being raped and only cried, but never tried to stop it. Also, Sansa’s rape did not deminish her as a character. We see her actively try and get Theon to help her and we see her grap a corkscrew to try and escape on her own. She’s tried Theon, didn’t work and now she’s determined to help rescue herself. All in all, her rape happened to her but is not a means to the male characters’ growth. It’s more about Sansa and her staying strong and rightfully angry. I actually don’t really see how that is maintaining rape culture or a means to show Theon grow at all. No more so than what you have described in the books. I’m a foreigner so sorry in advance for poor wording and or grammatical errors.

    • Hey, thanks for commenting, and don’t worry, your English is fine.

      I see what you’re saying, but I had a much more negative reaction to Sansa being there instead of Jeyne. While I will agree that she wasn’t diminished as a character, looking to her escape attempts is part of the problem. Sansa tries to escape, while Jeyne doesn’t, which I think is also a big difference in how we view victims. Because Sansa made active attempts to get away, we’re more likely to view that as character growth, since she’s trying to overcome something. In actually, her attempts should have nothing to do with it or how we view her. Rape is rape, regardless of the victim’s actions.

      When it comes to the television show, it had a lot more problems than what I mentioned in the post as well. Myranda’s character, in particular, is highly problematic. Like Sansa, she’s another rape and abuse victim. Ramsay rapes her in one episode, and she’s pretty much all but told that if she bores him he’ll brutally murder her. The story then pits both Myranda and Sansa against each other, and Sansa’s defining moment of strength comes when she stands up to another abuse victim instead of to Ramsay, which I think also goes to show just how messed up the show really is. Myranda’s character tells me that the show most definitely didn’t understand the subject matter at all, and what Sansa does is something that Jeyne never would have been able to do.

      When it comes to Jeyne, we weren’t supposed to see her character development. We were supposed to see how the high lords around her react and be disgusted that they don’t care. In the show, none of those same high lords are present—it’s only Roose and Walda—so right there, the show also failed. Through Theon and Jeyne, we had a storyline sympathetic to abuse victims by vilifying everyone else. Through Theon and Sansa, we have a story that focuses not just on Ramsay being a horrible person, but on another abuse victim being a horrible person.

      I suppose they still could have replaced Jeyne with Sansa for the show and still captured the point in those chapters, but they didn’t.

      • I don’t think that trying to get away from a rapist makes your a more worthy or a less worthy victim than a person, who doesn’t. But would it have been better in your view had Sansa remained passive and can you explain to me why you think so? Set the books aside. What would be the point? I guess I really just don’t quite get what it is you’re objecting against. Yes, I realize that the books went another way but I don’t understand how any of the shown reactions are bad or wrong or misunderstood. All I understand is that the series differs from the books. Also, I have to say that through the show’sTheon and Sansa’s storylines, I get the same sense: that everyone but them inside Winterfell are vilifyed. That, however doesn’t make me more sympathetic to these two abuse victims. The fact that they are surrounded by careless and heartless people doesn’t make what they are going through more evil or heartless. I mean, how can you not pity them as a viewer? I guess I just don’t quite understand the point you’re making. It’s Ok, if you don’t want to waste more time on me. I’ve never claimed to be the sharpest tool. All I can say, is that I have many and very strong feelings for these two characters and that April 2016 is a long, long time to wait. 🙂

        • I don’t think we should tell rape victims one way or another what they should and should not be doing. What I was trying to say is that as a society, we tend to sympathize more with victims who aren’t passive and we victim blame the ones who are. I.e., “you didn’t do enough to get away so it’s your fault it happened”. This is something that the show really has an issue with, which is what I’m trying to say. Jeyne is the “wrong” kind of victim, because she’s lower socially and cannot fight back. If she tried what Sansa did, Ramsay would cut her feet off. Meanwhile, Sansa is the “right” kind of victim in society’s viewpoint, because she actively attempts to get away, and she’s noble and virginal. The show took everything about Jeyne’s character that was important and replaced those elements with a different kind of story.

          To be clear, I don’t think it’s a problem that the show is different from the books. It’s how they’re different from each other. The problem with putting Sansa into Jeyne’s place goes much further beyond erasing Jeyne’s character. With a better writing team, I totally think that Game of Thrones could have done a decent job with Sansa, but GoT has proved time and time again that it doesn’t know what it’s doing. The inclusion of Myranda’s character as a foil to Sansa and even the reason why Sansa’s there to begin with make no sense whatsoever. This is another problem. It’s like Game of Thrones was going through the motions and just getting this storyline done and over with without thinking through why the books had this storyline in the first place.

          And in the process of doing that, it went about it in the worst way possible. As I said, Sansa’s moment of triumph comes when she stands up to another abuse victim, and even during her rape, the show took the time to point out what a great person fan favorite Tyrion was. It was kind of like, “hey this horrible thing is going to happen, so just remember that this other character we like is awesome and had Sansa been with him a rape wouldn’t be occurring right now.” In other words, the rape could also be seen as Sansa being punished for rejecting Tyrion instead of as Sansa being a victim of circumstances, which is another reason why Jeyne is so important. And then in the end, it’s only for Sansa to pull through and find her inner strength. GoT is following along with a “rape is empowering” narrative through Sansa’s actions. This is why the show is rape culture. It’s attempting to tell us something that’s not true at all about rape, while also telling us that victims are not allowed to be passive in the process. All these changes are subtle, but they still enforce harmful misogynistic views steeped in rape culture.

          “The fact that they are surrounded by careless and heartless people doesn’t make what they are going through more evil or heartless. I mean, how can you not pity them as a viewer?”

          I did find them pitiful. But the point wasn’t the pity them. It was to vilify society through the use of the other high lords. Ramsay and Roose cannot fill that role because we already see them as evil. That’s not true for the other high lords who were there in the books. Until these chapters, we more or less trusted that they were good guys.

          I hope that clears up what I was trying to say. I have really strong feelings about Theon and Sansa as well—they’re two of my favorite characters—and as an abuse victim, I really just found how GoT handled all of this insulting and damaging. That’s just my take on it, though. 🙂

          2016 is a long time off still. I’m probably still going to watch the show. I just don’t know what it’s doing, and I hate that it’s taking all the good lessons from the book and changing them.

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  4. Very well written. The Roman’s were horrified when someone of significant social status was treated poorly,but couldn’t give a hoot about lower class people or slaves being treated monstrously. So called good people do and/or allow all manner of evil things to be done.Those we consider wicked have been known to perform acts of selfless surprising kindness and have shown uncommon valour. An ugly truth,but a truth all the same.

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