Rape on TV: has Game of Thrones gone too far?

18 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Game of Thrones, episode 6: bleak horror.

As Game of Thrones fans will know, weddings are far from happy occasions in George RR Martin’s Westeros. Death and betrayal loomed over every one we’ve seen so far, from the mass murder of the Stark clan in Season 3’s Red Wedding, to the treasonous (though justified) poisoning of the newly crowned King Joffrey at the Purple Wedding in Season 4. But the brutality Sansa Stark suffers at the hands of Ramsay Bolton is a horse of a different color. [Spoilers] Sansa Stark has tumbled helplessly from one torturer to the next for four seasons now, from Joffrey and Cersei’s abuse and humiliation, to her Aunt Lysa’s unhinged jealousy, to Ramsay Bolton’s gleeful sadism. But while on each occasion in the past it’s been plenty disturbing, tonight’s closing scene with Ramsay Bolton and Sansa was just flat-out disgusting. But even for Thrones, which has always pushed taste boundaries when it comes to nudity, violence and gore, Sunday night’s marriage and wedding night shocked audiences, and left many asking if the creators had taken things too far in Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.

Even if you’ve never read the books (myself included and that shouldn’t limit anyone’s enjoyment of the show) it’s hard not to know that what happens to Sansa in this episode doesn’t happen to Sansa in the books. Sansa Stark, who has had an unfortunate history of being betrothed to hideous young suitors, was raped by her new husband, Ramsay Bolton – who made his tortured leige, Sansa’s childhood friend Theon Greyjoy, watch. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons now seem a natural storyline fit for Game of Thrones’ walking misfortune magnet—which is the last thing Sansa deserves. Sansa’s ghastly wedding night was but one in a string of inevitabilities in the episode, as we also saw Jaime and Bronn and the Sand Snakes finally meet up, with not entirely satisfying results. We’ve seen enough disturbing nuptials to put romantics off for life: the Red Wedding, Sansa’s marriage to Tyrion, Joffrey’s fatal Purple Wedding, Daenerys’s marriage to Khal Drogo (though at least those two fell in love eventually).

In Sunday night’s episode, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” Sansa and Ramsay were finally wed, in keeping with Littlefinger and Roose Bolton’s political maneuverings. Elsewhere, Lady Olenna arrived in King’s Landing to rebuke Cersei’s power play, she thought, and Tyrion stumbled upon yet another unwitting escort to Meereen. (And it’s Mr.

Alyssa Rosenberg has a smart take on the scene, and the sensitivity of its filming, and how it leaves Sansa with a bit of dignity in how it is presented. She is humiliated and tortured by Ramsay (at one point, it’s even implied that she has been forced to copulate with a dog, although this isn’t directly shown). The family is famed for their claim — unique among everyone else in Westeros, including the Lannisters and the Starks — as a house that has never been conquered by another.

Meanwhile, Sansa Stark remains with Littlefinger, learning, observing and moving away from being a victim, and into something more complex. (Moving from a pawn to a player, to borrow Littlefinger’s own term). Martin’s books, the smaller empathy we feel for her does nothing to lesson the horrors of her marriage bed, where Ramsay uses Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) as a kind of sexual surrogate before raping his new wife himself. In a broader, more thematic sense, that refusal to yield runs through this week’s episode, which forgoes bigger set pieces to focus on a few individual characters as they struggle to remain stoic in the face of pressure, scrutiny, and trauma. As illustrated above, many fans are angry that, rather than continuing to allow Sansa to grow, the programme-makers have instead decided to switch her character with Jeyne’s, and again subject her to indignity and horrific violence. When it became clear that “Game of Thrones” was going to marry the real Sansa to Ramsay, I wrote that I wasn’t sure I could bear to watch this scene play out with a character we’d come to know so well; the heightened emotional pain might have simply been too much.

There was a brief moment during Miranda’s spite-bath when Sansa’s grit came out along with her natural hair (“this is my home and you can’t frighten me”) and it almost seemed like maybe things wouldn’t be as bad as we thought … but no. I worried that her quest to become one of the Faceless Men – to be no-one – might end with us losing the grit and defiance that is the essence of Arya. But after an initiation to this achingly atmospheric hall of disembodied faces, with its soaring columns and rows of flickering flames, it looked as though things may not be that simple.

Technically, at least, Ramsay’s rape of Sansa was handled with care — the camera panning away to Reek’s convulsions as he witnessed the act — and was more chilling as a result. (Hat tip to Alfie Allen, who gave a gut-wrenching performance.) A fair question: Did we need more evidence that Ramsay is terrible? But as scenes like this have continued to be a common occurrence through five seasons, it feels like some viewers may have reached a point of no return.

Thankfully, that dynamic was briefly reignited in the relationship between Tyrion and Ser Jorah, before it dissolved neatly into genuine emotion as Tyrion informed Jorah of his father’s death. But once the producers opted to bring Sansa into his orbit, as part of some broader plan for what’s going down in the North, it seemed inevitable that she would become another one of his victims. Other than a shot of Ramsay ripping Sansa’s dress open, we don’t see her body during the rape: just her face, and then Theon’s contracting in agony and fear and horrible sympathy.

Ramsay’s jealous plaything tries her hand at intimidating Sansa, telling her about all of Ramsay’s past lovers who he got bored of, including that one who ended up becoming dog dinner. As Ramsay prepared to consummate his marriage to Sansa with the brutality of which only he is capable, I was willing a distraught Theon – forced by Ramsay to watch – to stop Ramsay, but he did nothing. On the strength of his testimony, both Tyrell children are seized and imprisoned, with Margaery finally losing her cool and screaming through the halls as she is taken away. What she and Theon–and yes, there are two victims, though of very different crimes, in this scene–feel about what’s happening is what’s important.

A scene that felt excruciating at the time looks tame compared to what Sansa endured last night: “Leave her face; I like her pretty,” Joffrey had said, as he ordered Meryn Trant to strip Sansa naked and beat her in front of his entire court, supposed retribution for her brother Robb’s recent military win. She quickly knocks Myranda down a peg — “What was your name again?” — before exposing her obvious jealousy and pulling a “do you know who I am??” (The exact words were: “I’m Sansa Stark of Winterfell. And Sansa’s rape is a powerful, dreadful scene because it comes at an episode that is full of small kindnesses and emotional cruelties that cut deeper than knives or whips.

We wondered last week about how Sansa’s arrival would affect Reek, who had more or less embraced his debasement by Ramsay and accepted his new lot in the kennel of life. It’s no mistake that this episode begins with Arya Stark tenderly washing a body in the House of Black and White, and doesn’t quite end with the scene of Myranda (Charlotte Hope) washing Sansa’s hair with the same care, but with an added dose of malice. Luckily, their grandmother — Olenna “Queen of Thorns” Tyrell (Diana Rigg) — has returned to King’s Landing to try and smooth things out, and she’s an absolute, ruthless pro at playing the game. After the show cleaned him up, had him use his actual name, Theon, in the wedding and then forced him to witness Ramsay attack Sansa, it seems pretty clear that he will shed the shackles of Reekhood at some point. She unwittingly wore a necklace containing poison that Lady Olenna Tyrell slipped into Joffrey’s wine, making her, yet again, just a passive observer in her own affairs.

Notable is that Theon is able to refer to himself as Theon of House Greyjoy, the first official acknowledgment of his past, and perhaps a springboard into reclaiming his identity. I hated him,” Arya tells Jaqen (Tom Wlaschiha) about the Hound (Rory McCann) as she finds herself on the losing end, once again, in the Game of Faces. “A girl lies to me,” Jaqen says, slapping her less for the falsehood than for her inability to conceal her affection for the dead man, which is obvious to him, if not to Arya herself. “To the many-faced god. But even Olenna Tyrell might bow to the intricate, strategic web woven by Littlefinger, whose plan is even more far-reaching and complicated than it first appeared.

Let’s grade it on a curve: it was a technically complex piece of action, what with the five people wielding bullwhips and swords in tight spaces and all. Back in their quarters, you get the feeling things are going to bad — Ramsay is involved, so it almost goes without saying — but at first there’s hope that it will just be more of his uncomfortable line of questioning and will end there.

Does she truly want to be no one?” But if the capacity for affection that Arya has not been able to shed means that “A girl is not ready to become no one. Male dwarf genitalia is, apparently, considered to have valuable magical properties in Essos, but only if you can prove to a merchant that it comes from a real dwarf.

Littlefinger soothes Cersei outrage with a simple promise: Let Stannis Baratheon and Roose Bolton slaughter each other in the oncoming battle of ice, and he will send his Vale knights in to clean up the mess so no Lannister men are harmed. But femininity has never precluded agency in Westeros. (See: Margaery Tyrell and Daenerys Targaryen.) When will she shed her “bystander to tragedy” designation and rip the Boltons a new one?

But my father never gave up on me,” she tells a terminally ill girl, building the foundation for the lie out of the embers of her closeness with her long-dead father (Sean Bean)., gone these many seasons. “He loved me. It’s a bold endgame, and — presuming Littlefinger had a hand in his employee Olyvar’s damning testimony of the Tyrell family — an extremely complicated one. Happily, after watching her administer her first in-temple death sentence, Jaqen H’ghar deems Arya ready to take on her first disguise—probably the old woman Arya seemed taken by in the sanctum.

This week the whirlwind of sanctimony and recrimination Cersei unleashed in elevating the High Sparrow sucked none other than Queen Margaery into its vortex. There’s been much talk of his former ward, Sansa Stark, going “dark” this season — and after last week’s unfortunate trip to Winterfell’s dog pound, it seemed like Ramsay’s former flame Myranda was only there to rattle Sansa’s cage.

You’d think this would be a delightful turn of events for Cersei, but she seemed shocked by the outcome — I think she’s starting to sense that things are getting out of hand. The raging Sand Snakes, dead-set on starting a war with the Lannisters to exact revenge for their dead father, Oberyn, clash with the sneaks in a battle that, ultimately, feels a little disappointing. Cersei’s drawing attention to Lady Olenna’s “veiled threats” was met with the retort, “What veil?” Olenna’s tongue was sharper than ever, and beginning to draw blood. Her experiences have given her confidence; where once she was content to marry Joffrey and become a Lannister, Sansa is now hellbent on retaining her identity as a Northerner.

Myranda is sent scuttling off after her scare tactics don’t work, and later, when Sansa is dressing for her wedding, she is similarly cold to Reek, who has come dressed as Theon Greyjoy. How do they put it in the Watch? ‘We shall never see his like again.’” When Tyrion realizes he’s inadvertently become the first person to let Jorah know his father is dead, he could be cruel. Though he’s been tasked with giving her away, Sansa refuses to link arms with him, something which sets him off into a twitching mess as he worries what Ramsay will do to him. Instead, he tells Jorah what he wants to know, stripping out the details that might cause Jorah even more pain. “I only know what I heard,” Tyrion explains. “He was leading an expedition beyond the wall. She is great at doing that thing where she’s obviously lying and taking delight in lying straight to someone’s face and they know she’s lying right to their face but can’t do anything about it.

Tyrion and Jorah encounter Agbaje as Malko, a cutthroat slaver who almost chops off Tyrion’s “dwarf cock” to sell it to someone whose job description is literally “cock merchant.” (“A dwarf’s cock has magic powers”; the more you know!) Tyrion manages to talk his way out of his dismemberment by pointing out that a merchant would have no way of knowing whether the penis actually came from a dwarf. “It will be a dwarf-sized cock,” one of Malko’s lackeys tries. “Guess again,” Tyrion snarls. There were lots of funny lines surrounding the slavers’ plans for the imp, but this being a family publication, I can’t really mention any of them. And there’s quiet dignity even in the middle of the farce that is Sansa’s wedding. “Theon, of house Greyjoy,” Theon announces himself when he’s asked who gives Sansa in marriage. “Who was…who was her father’s ward.” That quiet admission of who he is, and by extension, what he did in conquering Winterfell, is a far more meaningful apology than the one Ramsay wrested from him last episode, using the words as a weapon against Sansa even as he dressed the scene up as a gross parody of reconciliation. She is not happy to be back in the capital for both the surroundings (“you can smell the s— from five miles away”) and the circumstances (her grandson’s ridiculous detainment).

The scene isn’t exactly graphic, but it feels needlessly explicit — especially after the highly criticized incident last year between Jaime and Cersei. Not sure if this was the extent of it, but I appreciate that they called back to that subplot, since it was such a huge part of Arya’s life. • One subtle but consistent signal of the Lannisters’ fading power, post-Tywin, is the way people keep throwing the twin-cest stuff in their faces. “One’s choice of a companion is a curious thing,” Littlefinger told Cersei on Sunday. That said, she had it coming, making him travel 1,000 miles for what, like three minutes of conversation? • By the way, we agree that Littlefinger is blowing smoke at Cersei, right?

Their initial back and forth does not disappoint. “The famously tart-tongued Queen of Thorns,” Cersei greets her. “And famous tart, Queen Cersei,” Olenna replies. If only he could have arrived at Winterfell sooner; whether Petyr shows regret or not, if and when he and Sansa are reunited, it’ll be hard to take him seriously, knowing that he was willing for her to suffer this fate in service of his great game. Given their role in the murders of her mother and brother, Sansa didn’t need more reason to seek revenge on the Boltons, but her rape will likely redouble her desire for vengeance. Her smugness watching her daughter-in-law Queen Margaery’s (Natalie Dormer) growing horror is nauseating; Cersei is drunk on her sense of her own smartness, even though she has no idea of the consequences.

She then gives Cersei a version of “I knew Tywin Lannister and you’re no Tywin Lannister.” See, he wasn’t likable or trustworthy, but he understood how the world worked. The battle brewing up at Winterfell may be more violent, and depending on the outcome of Jon Snow’s mission north of the Wall, may end up changing Westeros’ society forever. But for now, we’ll have to settle for watching the Queen Mother’s ever-cool facade start to slip. (The tiny, frustrated sighs she emits during a conversation with Olenna—in which she calls Cersei a tart!—are satisfying beyond measure.) But in the end, we’re left with Sansa’s sobs. This might mean he’ll play a part in freeing the girl from her newest captors (a teaser for next week’s episode shows Sansa telling him, “My family still has friends in the North”). Jorah is also inspecting his greyscale-infected arm, but the less said about that the better. (I think that is legitimately his strategy right now.) They get some good backstory in — Tyrion explains to Jorah he’s on the run because he killed his father and speaking of fathers, yours was a good man. “Was,” as in, is no longer with us.

He decided to pledge loyalty to Daenerys after he saw her walk into a fire with three stone eggs and emerge alive with three baby dragons. “Have you ever heard a baby dragon singing?” Jorah asks Tyrion. Tyrion isn’t exactly convinced that simply having dragons will make her a good ruler of Westeros, especially since she’s never actually set foot in Westeros and the Targaryens have a history of insanity. And sizes up Tyrion, who is worthless, except for Tyrion’s favorite part of his own body. (From a dwarf, that’s a collector’s item, apparently.) Some quick bargaining by Tyrion saves his throat (and his appendage).

Eko say this sentence: “The dwarf lives until we find a c— merchant.” Tyrion also tells their new captors that despite his advanced age, Jorah is an all-time legendary fighter. Sure, some of his victories have come at jousts — “a fancy game for fancy lads,” Eko says — but Jorah impresses them enough with tales of his feats that he earns himself a trip to Slaver’s Bay to prove his worth with a sword. I wonder if that means he’ll have to engage in some combat later… Bronn and Jaime are approaching, with Bronn providing the travel soundtrack with his singing; he really loves music. She’s getting very good at cleaning dead bodies, but still doesn’t quite get the hang of abandoning her identity, which is a prerequisite for becoming a Faceless Man. Jaqen H’ghar interrogates her, which involves some serious slapping, which unfortunately is not even close to the worst abuse to befall a Stark girl this hour.

As Arya comforts a dying girl brought into the House, she does so by telling her a complete lie, fabricating a new life story for herself, saying that she, too, was once sick and dying. It’s like a cross between that room in the FBI building where they keep all the files in “The X-Files,” except filled with “Futurama” disembodied heads.

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