It’s a Stark reality: Outrage over Sansa ‘rape’ scene misses the point

20 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

George RR Martin defends controversial Game of Thrones Sansa Stark scene.

Author George RR Martin took to his blog to defend the show yesterday (May 18) morning, as many viewers of the hit were offended by the scene in which Sansa Stark was raped on her wedding night by her new husband Ramsay Bolton – which did not happen that way in the books. “There have been differences between the novels and the television show since the first episode of season one,” he wrote. “And for just as long, I have been talking about the butterfly effect.Last night’s episode of Game of Thrones ended on a sour note: Sansa Stark married the cruel and malicious Ramsay Bolton — an arrangement orchestrated by Petyr Baelish. If that weren’t disheartening enough, the final scene of the episode depicted the couple’s wedding night, which ended with Ramsay raping Sansa while a tearful Theon Greyjoy watched in horror.

Entertainment website The Mary Sue posted yesterday morning that it will no longer promote the adapted HBO fantasy-drama after deciding that it is too sexually violent to cover. “David Benioff, Dan Weiss, Bryan Cogman and HBO are trying to make the best television series that they can,” Martin went on. “And over here I am trying to write the best novels that I can.” The blog post continues, “And yes, more and more, they differ. The event was the latest in a long string of indignities that have befallen Sansa Stark: her parents were murdered, she was wed to Tyrion Lannister after her engagement to King Joffrey was broken (which followed a series of public humiliations at the hand of her betrothed), she was forced to flee King’s Landing after she and Tyrion were accused of murdering Joffrey at his wedding to Margaery Tyrell, and she had to deal with the somewhat aggressive affections from Petyr Baelish, who was acting on his longstanding love for Sansa’s deceased mother.

But last night’s rape was particularly troubling, as it was the first of the show’s many acts of sexual violence that was actually perpetrated against Sansa Stark — even though she was brutalised by the Kingsguard at Joffrey’s request. The sentiment I’ve read in multiple places after Sunday night’s show has been, understandably, “How could [executive producers/writers] David Benioff and DB Weiss do this to poor Sansa? While the rape blessedly took place off-screen, what made it even more questionable was that it was reflected in the face of Theon Greyjoy; as Sansa screams off-camera, we watched the emotional trauma of a man who was a witness to sexual violence, which one could argue belittled the actual victim of the violent act.

Why are we suddenly so outraged about the rape of Sansa Stark, when this show has served up a steady diet of sexual assault and violence against women since its first season began? The first act occurred in the pilot in a scene that is reminiscent of Sansa’s rape: Daenerys Targaryen, also placed into an arranged marriage (by her scheming brother, Viserys) when she was just 14 years old, weds the brutish Dothraki leader Khal Drogo. I recall hearing some (but not as much) grumbling when the wedding-night sex scene of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and the barbarian Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) — hesitating but ultimately consensual in the book — was turned into a rape in the show. And when Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) was seen as being assaulted by her brother, with whom she’s been in a relationship forever, in a controversial scene last season. This tricky notion of consent returned last season following King Joffrey’s death, when his parents Cersei and Jaime Lannister, who are bother and sister, have sex next to his corpse in his tomb.

But I’ve heard far less about the regular treatment of the female extras who largely play whores and war casualties; who are regularly treated as property and playthings by the men of Martin’s Seven Kingdoms. The scene is clearly a rape; Jaime forces his sister and lover to comply to his sexual desires despite the fact that she audibly pleads with him to stop. If Jeyne Poole suddenly appeared as an unknown character, and was summarily married to and tortured by Ramsay, how much would we have to say about it?

And the world about which Martin wrote — based, partly, upon actual history — is a dark place in which women are used and abused by men on a nauseatingly regular basis. And as pedantic as fans of the books (including myself) can be about some of the details, it’s inevitable that the process of adapting and compressing and reworking these stories for television will lead to changes — sometimes major changes. Cersei and Margaery scheme to get their ways and establish their power, whereas the Stark sisters play more passive roles in hiding their true identities and keeping a nearly impossible low profile.

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