The publication of the new behind-the-scenes “Game of Thrones” oral history “Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon” (now available for purchase) has brought a renewed focus on the show’s handling of sexual assault. “Thrones” was criticized throughout its eight-season run for the way it portrayed violence against its female characters, including frequent depictions of rape. Author George R.R. Martin reveals in the book he was not supportive of the decision to change Daenerys’s consensual wedding night love scene with Khal Drogo into an assault for the TV pilot.
“Why did the wedding scene change from the consensual seduction scene to the brutal rape of Emilia Clarke?” Martin asks author James Hibberd (via Insider). “We never discussed it. It made it worse, not better.”
In Martin’s “Game of Thrones” novel, Drogo attempts to ease Daenerys’s nerves before they have sex by wiping away her nervous tears and teaching her how to untie his braids. When Drogo tries to seduce Daenerys more explicitly, she gives him permission by saying “yes” when he asks if it’s ok to touch her. In the HBO series, the wedding night scene is an assault where Drogo strips Daenerys’ clothes off and bends her over onto her knees while she cries. The scene then cuts away, but the assault is clear.
While Martin says he was not aware the change was going to be made, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss defend the switch. As Benioff says in the book, “Here’s a girl who is absolutely terrified of this barbarian warlord she’s being married off to, it’s the last thing in the world she wants, yet somehow by the end of this wedding night she seems to be in a completely joyful sexual relationship with him. It didn’t entirely work for us.”
Weiss notes that while the first love scene between Daenerys and Drogo might be consensual in Martin’s books, later sex scenes in the novel between the characters are assaults. In a television show, that kind of storytelling whiplash just didn’t make sense for the showrunners. According to Weiss, Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke was on the same page as them and “mentioned the wedding night and issues she was having with it.”
“In the second episode she has to go back to the less consensual, rougher relationship,” Weiss added. “In the book that works, but we just didn’t have that amount of time and access to the character’s mind. It turns too quickly. It was something the actors themselves felt wasn’t gelling.”
“Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon” is now available for purchase.