General SPOILER ALERT for all things GoT!
“After the episode ended, I was gutted. I felt sick to my stomach. And then I was angry,” wrote Jill Pantozzi, the online publication’s editor in chief. “Not only will there be those who hand-wave the scene simply on the basis of artistic integrity, there will be those who still don’t consider it rape.”
The fantasy saga, which follows the rise and fall of families in the fictional Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, is one of the most-watched shows on television. But some viewers are so upset with Sunday’s episode they say they’ll never watch again.
No, it was rape all right. It was rape, and we were meant to interpret it as rape.
Just as was the “fuck them ‘til they’re dead” scene from Craster’s House, although I don’t recall as much outrage when that happened. Of course, Craster’s daughters aren’t Sansa Stark any more than Canada’s missing and murdered aboriginal women are Jane Creba.
Game of Thrones has never shied away from brutality — rape, child abuse and murder, dismemberment, on and on it goes. It’s part of the show’s appeal (in the way horror films and car accidents appeal), which the showrunners no doubt capitalize on.
At the same time, there has never been any question about what kind of story they’re trying to tell or the nature of the world it’s grounded in. Westeros is an unjust, harsh, violent place where no one is safe and the weak are especially vulnerable.
Ros was always at risk in a way Cersei never was. Robert’s bastards andCraster’s daughters never had any filter between them and the brutality of the world. Remember Mycah? There was never going to be a trial, or justice, for him.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the rich and powerful are invulnerable. Yes, they’re at the mercy of court intrigue and plots from other houses, but those are all upper-class threats to worry about. They need never worry about ending up as Ros did, a trophy bolted to a wall.
People were sad about what happened to Ros, they were horrified at the baby slaughter and the Red Wedding, but they’ve gotten mad over the rape of Sansa. Mad to the point of walking away from a show that’s already been filled with rape and violent abuse of power from the very first episode.
To choose now to walk away — when it’s the nobleman’s daughter who is abused rather than a whore, a peasant or the child of incest — is an interesting statement, to say the least.
Except we know to expect horrible things to happen even to nobles in Westeros. In fact, that’s a motif that runs through the show. Jamie Lannister always had his family name, his gold and his highly-trained skill to defend him, until he ran into Locke. Brienne was lucky that Jamie saved her from rape, as Sansa was lucky the Hound saved her the first time. If they’d been on their own, their noble stock wouldn’t have mattered.
One of the very first characters to die on the show — Ser Waymar Royce — was a nobleman. The big hero of Season I, Ned Stark, lost his head when it was a bad play for all concerned. He has not been avenged; the death of the people who wronged him, where it’s come, has come for completely unrelated reasons.
I don’t feel any worse about the rape of Sansa than I do about any of the other atrocities that have happened on the show. Yes, she’s a major character, but even the lesser characters have been relatively well-developed and are no less deserving of our empathy.
Which is why I think there’s a lesson in this we should absorb and think about in the context of our own world.