Episode six of season five of Game of Thrones divided critics and audiences alike. The season has just passed its half way mark and in the show, Sansa has taken the place of Jeyne Poole, the unfortunate woman who is wed to Ramsay Snow. Following a controversial rape scene conducted by the character of Ramsay with Sansa as his victim, a scene that was not included in the novels of which the series is based, two of our writers discuss the backlash it has received.
Criticism of Game of Thrones broke out anew following the sixth episode of season five, with Sansa’s marriage to Ramsay Bolton culminating in a particularly disturbing, and thankfully not that graphic, rape scene. The criticism of the scene has taken the form of two specific points: that the scene doesn’t fit with Sansa’s character arc and upward trajectory, which is wrong; and that the rape is included merely for shock value, belittling the seriousness of the issue by making it something to be used for entertainment value. This is less wrong and definitely a grey area or matter of opinion.
The idea that Ramsay raping Sansa doesn’t fit with her story is wrong for two reasons. First, while Sansa is definitely on an ascendant character arc, headed hopefully for the top league of Game of Thrones players (i.e. Varys, Littlefinger, Olenna Tyrell, and Twyin – though not Tywin so much anymore), she is by no means there yet. Sansa is not a strong character, a confident character, or a wilful character. Not yet. She is still learning; still trying to become comfortable with the person she is about to transform into. The scene with Myranda in the bath exemplifies this. Yes, Sansa dominated that conversation, dismissing Myranda with glorious disdain, but afterwards she was visibly shaken. She isn’t used to acting like that, and if it’s difficult with someone as unimportant as Myranda, she is certainly not yet ready to resist Ramsay.
Second, this particular vein of criticism follows to a rather awful conclusion: that the rape somehow negates Sansa’s progress. It’s an outdated form of thinking that Sansa being raped somehow proves she isn’t going to become strong. No. Just, no. Sansa being raped is not about destroying her progress or her character, it’s about providing a catalyst for her to change further and faster, and it’s about once more driving home the point that Ramsay is a vile human being. This is so that we, the audience, hate him, so that Sansa hates him, and so that Theon hates him.
Arguing against the criticism that the rape is only included in the show for shock value is, more difficult. Yes the rape is used as shock value, and yes the rape is used for entertainment purposes. Game of Thrones is a TV show, everything in it is there to entertain. That does not mean, and this cannot be stressed enough, that the rape itself is meant to entertain the audience. Rather, it sets up entertainment to come through catharsis. Happy endings are what everyone wants, what everyone is ultimately entertained by, and you can’t have a happy ending if everything is glorious all the way through. Bad things have to happen, and good has to overcome those things for the happy ending, the catharsis, to exist. And the worse things are in the middle: the stronger the catharsis, the happier the ending. The rape is meant to be offensive, horrific, and hard to watch.
What is important to remember, more important than whether or not the scene should be included or whether or not you find it offensive, is that rapes happen. A lot. And they are always going to be worse than whatever is shown in a TV show, because there are real, actual people involved, and because rape is one of the most damaging experiences someone can go through – something that entirely strips them of their strength and their confidence and their happiness. Not showing rape on TV may spare some viewers from a squeamish desire to not see it, to not have to think about it (even though it is a very real thing). But showing it, and showing it not as something that hollows out and destroys a character, but as something they overcome, as something that makes them strong, that is important.
By Matt Clarson
With season five past the half way mark, it is already safe to say that this season has been a slight let down so far. I cannot say this without expressing my respect for the show’s writers as they have in the past put together wonderfully interwoven story lines and twists that have created the show we all love. This includes an honourable amount from the original books. This being said, I have every faith that the season will pick up, but it has seemed be almost lacking in some places. This is from the point of view of a fan of the books too. Maybe too much is changing from the books and maybe too much is being missed out which, arguably, is necessary. However, the terrible scene following the wedding night of Ramsay and Sansa was, in one word, unnecessary.
To start off with, let us compare the book to the TV show. In the books Sansa is still at the Vale with Lord Petyr Baelish and are very long chapters which I silently sighed at. Meanwhile, Jeyne Poole, a friend of Sansa’s from Winterfell, is playing the part of a fake ‘Arya Stark’ as Ramsay’s future wife. So with the same intent of a Bolton-Stark ruled north, the idea is similar with two very different characters. Season Five has seen the replacement of many other characters from the book, with Jorah Mormont and Tyrion Lannister joining up sooner than expected. However, the change in Ramsay’s wife is the most significant.
So I ask, what did it bring to the show? We all know too well that characters are raised and dropped quicker than a sack of bricks, such as the fate of Robb Stark at the Red Wedding. This arguably brought nothing to the show or to the characters. Articles have been written highlighting how we already know Ramsay is a monster (just look at Theon). So why was this necessary? Since the death of Lysa Arryn, Sansa, under the mentor of Petyr Baelish, has grown so much as a character. She is no longer the innocent, annoying, getting-Ned-killed character that she was. Now, it seems that Sansa has just become another pet of Ramsey Bolton’s who seems to be the new star of Game of Thrones. This scene, plus the revelation of what’s happening at Winterfell to Cersei Lannister from Petyr Baelish, puts Sansa back in this vulnerable position again which we know her for and utterly shames new-Sansa.
Like I’ve said, it’s nothing new having shocks in Game of Thrones, but this was on the next level. The death of Nedd Stark brought about the War of the Five Kings, an epic storyline spanning two seasons. The Red Wedding moved Game of Thrones forwards, bringing about deeper manipulative storylines involving the Tyrells and eventually introduces Dorne. The mutilation of Prince Oberyn Martell by Gregor ‘the Mountain’ Clegane starts even more issues between the Lannisters and Dorne with consequences now seen in Season Five. Most importantly however, these are shocks that George RR Martin included in his books that fit the storyline. This act of violation on Sansa Stark is a new shock, incomparable to any other scene from the show and utterly pointless.
So, despite the shock that this scene has caused Game of Thrones fans, there are still ways the show could claw back the small amount of respect that was lost. One, it is rising to the hopefully destructive downfall of the Bolton’s by Stannis, making his potential victory that much sweeter. Two, new-Sansa will find a way, using her new-found look on the world, to manipulate the situation to her advantage. Three, the impossible-to-read Petyr Baelish actually cares for Sansa and his betrayal of her is actually another move to make themselves, as a couple, even more powerful in the constant game of thrones.
By Owen Middleton