HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is no stranger to rape-based controversy. In the first season, the show changed the consensual consummation of Daenerys Targaryen’s marriage to Khal Drogo (RIP) to a sexual assault on their wedding night, prompting one writer to conclude, “‘Game of Thrones’ is a show for ‘Star Wars’ fans who thought Princess Leia should have been raped.” It simmered along in seasons 2 and 3 with the scenes involving Craster’s Keep, and came to head again with season 4’s “Breaker of Chains,” in which Jaime Lannister raped his sister and sometime incestuous lover Cersei near the corpse of their dead son — a scene made worse when it became clear the show had no plans to acknowledge that a rape had even occurred.
That brings us around to last nights “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” which climaxed with Sansa Stark’s forced marriage to Ramsay Bolton and his wedding-night rape of his new bride. The entire storyline is a major departure from George R.R. Martin’s books, where Ramsay’s cruelty was visited upon a young woman pretending to be Sansa’s sister, Arya, and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have cast it as a way to strengthen Sansa’s character overall. But the show has grown so reliant on rape or the threat of rape as a character-building exercise for its female protagonists that it’s lost much of its force. Worse, as staged by director Jeremy Podeswa, the emphasis in the scene is not on Sansa’s violation but on the trauma inflicted on Theon Greyjoy, whom Ramsay forces to watch as his surrogate sister is brutalized. We’ll see how it plays out, of course, but this is trending awfully close to what genre writers call “fridging,” where a woman’s agony is cast primarily as a motivating agent for more important male characters. Given that Ramsay’s father, Roose Bolton, murdered her mother and brother, it’s not as if she could hate his family any more.
As the Los Angeles times points out at its Hero Complex blog, fans are once again rising up against the show’s creative choices, and the feminist genre site The Mary Sue is taking matters a step further. Editor-in-chief Jill Pantozzi announced in a post today that they will no longer be covering “Game of Thrones” at all. “From this point forth,” she writes, “there will no longer be recaps, photo galleries, trailers, or otherwise promotional items about ‘Game of Thrones’ on The Mary Sue. The newsworthiness of other items will be discussed by the editorial team on a case by case basis.” Hear reasoning?
After the episode ended, I was gutted. I felt sick to my stomach. And then I was angry. My next thought was, “I’m going to have to spend part of the next six months explaining why this was a bad move over and over.” 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. Which, when you think about the last time we had this conversation, is going to make it all the worse…. There’s only so many times you can be disgusted with something you love before you literally can’t bring yourself to look at it anymore. That is where I currently find myself in relation to ‘Game of Thrones.’ The staff of The Mary Sue feels the same. You may feel differently.
In case it doesn’t go without saying, giving up “Game of Thrones” coverage, especially for a genre-focused site, is a big deal, one that, at least in terms of dollars and cents, will certainly hurt The Mary Sue more than it hurts HBO. Good for them for sticking by their guns. Benioff and Weiss have shown zero interest in responding to viewer or critical complaints thus far, but maybe a straight-up boycott will finally get the attention.