The Fall, True Detective, Game of Thrones …. there seems to be a very fine line between telling a challenging, critically acclaimed story and serving up a steady diet of sexual violence against women these days. This week’s GOT crossed that line with the rape of Sansa Stark.
Sansa, whose father was unjustly executed, whose mother and older brother were horribly murdered, who believes her younger brothers to have been burned to death, who has been married off (by the man who engineered her family’s downfall) to a genuinely terrifying psychopath who castrated her turncoat foster brother for kicks and happens to be the son of the man who murdered her mother and brother… for the love of God.
There are times in every season of GOT when I question why it is I’m watching, but if the relentless, exhausting misery heaped upon Sansa Stark doesn’t eventually make me give up, there’s a decent chance the relentless, exhausting sexual degradation heaped upon almost all the female characters might.
As I’ve said before, there are plenty of strong, well-written female characters on GOT with plenty of intriguing, interesting stories, but the show’s insistence on using rape and sexual assault as a way to drag those women down or, even more insultingly, simply to kickstart character development for the men in the cast is beginning to look not only repetitive, but grossly offensive.
For instance, Daenerys, like Sansa, was married off for political gain and raped on her wedding night. The show then had her gradually charm her rapist husband, turning him into some sort of hunk of burning love and their relationship into a nausea-fest of celestial love talk. My sun, my moon, my stars – my foot through the television.
Cersei, meanwhile, was raped after her son’s death. The show used it to highlight the “complexity” of the relationship between her and brother Jaime, and the director told us it wasn’t a rape at all.
Even warrior Brienne, the most physically imposing female character in the cast and arguably the most capable of defending herself, had to be rescued from an attempted gang rape. Which then turned in to the start of a character development arc for her former prisoner, Ser Jaime.
I say again: enough, already.
It’s particularly galling that, in a season where Sansa finally seems to be taking agency after years of passiveness, and in a week where she gives us the glorious “I am Sansa Stark of Winterfell. This is my home and you can’t frighten me,” that that strength is immediately ripped from her along with her wedding gown. But it might be even more galling that, as speculation all over the internet suggests, it seems likely that Sansa is being sacrificed to service Theon’s character arc more than her own – another female character is raped so another male one can be redeemed?
You have got to be kidding me.
Yes, sexual violence happens in real life but, as has been said countless times by countless people, this isn’t real life – it’s a fantasy with dragons and zombies. Why not use some of that imagination to shape your characters and move your plot along some way that doesn’t revolve around the brutalisation of women, eh? I’m not saying rape shouldn’t ever be part of a story, but it’s become GOT’s go-to story choice and plenty of viewers, including me, are sick of seeing it presented to us as just another part of the entertainment.
Having said all that, however, it’s only fair to point out that “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” is, apart from those last few horrible minutes, a pretty enjoyable episode.
After weeks of none of them moving very fast, Jaime, Bronn and the utterly charmless Sand Snakes all suddenly arrive at the Water Gardens at the same time, cramping Myrcella and her boyfriend’s style no end. The subsequent fight is mildly entertaining, if somewhat truncated, and, while the Dorne story isn’t working quite as well as it could yet, I assume the next step will be Jaime and Bronn meeting the Prince which should liven things up a bit. Let’s just hope the hitherto quite pleasant Trystane doesn’t turn out to be another Joffrey though, because the idea of Myrcella following in Sansa’s footsteps…. Please NO.
Back in Kings Landing, meanwhile, the magnificent Lady Olenna is back to sort Cersei out, giving us an absolutely delicious scene where the two women trade a series of brilliant barbs. I absolutely love this story, even if Cersei is playing a very stupid, very dangerous game; the Queen Mother may be on top just now, but Olenna is going to have a marvellous time destroying her and I cannot wait to see it. Unless of course Baelish, who seems to be playing a game so deep it’s positively bottomless and who gets in a couple of brilliant barbs of his own (I particularly enjoyed “One’s choice of companion is a curious thing” – Heh) gets in first. He’s a terrible human being, after all, but he’s also the best player on the Board.
As Cersei skirmishes with the Tyrells, however, brother Tyrion earns a round of applause from me for pointing out that Daeneys’s claim to the throne is neither divine nor a necessarily good thing and, by way of buddy movie bonus, has a chat with taciturn “travelling companion” Ser Jorah which could be the start of a tentative bond between them. If you squint really hard. Of course, the bonding is likely to step up a gear now since they’ve just been kidnapped by slave traders; I’m actually quite pleased about that, to be honest, because a) some of the dialogue is genuinely funny and b) it means they’ll be sailing towards Daenerys again instead of walking – maybe they’ll make it there before season 6!
While Tyrion manages to wring a few laughs out of his plight, however, Arya’s story continues to both baffle and bore me. Her internship at the Black and White Spa for the Dead, with its full range of massages and beauty treatments for all corpse customers, moves into stage 2 and the Hall of Faces, but I. Don’t. Care. This storyline is tedium on a stick and the sooner Arya gets back out in the sunshine with Needle in her hand, the better. Her personality is far too fierce and fun to be greyed out like this; there’s a huge character spectrum between victim and faceless, humourless, mechanical assassin – maybe Arya and Sansa could meet somewhere in the middle.