Sexual Assault in HBO’s Game of Thrones

Cersei Lannister
Cersei Lannister

Viewers were upset after the rape of Cersei Lannister by her brother and lover, Jaime Lannister, in the episode Breaker of Chains. The scene was so controversial that it hit the front pages of newspapers. Many comments on the internet defended the show, saying that rape happens as a part of the culture in Westeros. Other comments bashed the show, saying that the scene was unnecessary. It wasn’t even in the books. It was added to heighten the sexual appeal of the show.

It wasn’t the first time rape appeared on the show. In season one, Daenerys Targaryen experiences marital rape by Khal Drogo, Sansa is attacked by men in King’s Landing, and instances of rape, attempted rape, or other kinds of sexual abuse are often referred to throughout each season.

Daenerys Targaryen as a Dothraki
Daenerys Targaryen as a Dothraki

The controversy arose again after the premiere of Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken. At the close of the episode Sansa Stark is assaulted on her wedding night by her husband, Ramsay Bolton. In the scene, Ramsay rips open the back of her dress and forces Reek, a once brother figure to Sansa, to watch.

The big question in the media is “did we need to see these instances of sexual assault in order to have a deeper understanding of the show?” Truthfully, that’s the wrong question. We don’t need to see any scenes of violence. We don’t need to see guts spilling in horror movies, limps torn off in war movies, or people shot in action movies. Anything can be made implicit. The thing is, we want to see it. Violent scenes are included, not because that is how the world works, but because it heightens the drama of the show. Once we’ve become desensitized, scenes must become more graphic to have the same effect. The more we see rape on television, the more it becomes expected and normalized. Instead we should ask ourselves, “do these scenes perpetuate a culture that encourages violence against women?”

Sansa (right) sits next to Ramsay  (left)  in the episode "Kill the Boy"
Sansa (right) sits next to Ramsay (left) in the episode “Kill the Boy”

There is sexual violence in the world and many insist that this is a good enough reason for it to appear on film. This would imply that TV shows always relay to us what is really going on outside of our living room. Television is not about reality, it is about perception. While some scenes make us feel uncomfortable, there is a line directors don’t often cross. Certain things for this culture are too hard to watch. Rape portrayed on the screen is not one of those things. It has become normalized.

When a scene encourages male sexual aggression and violence against women, when rape is used as a dramatic plot device and plays upon society’s already misconstrued rape stereotypes or tropes, then perhaps it is time we re-evaluate what doesn’t surprise us in our shows. A psychotic man sexually assaulting his wife on their wedding night is not a trope and neither is incestual sexual assault. But the slow tearing of dresses, the strong masculine man overpowering the damsel-like female, the quick ending of the scene to heighten the drama and the sexual tension and to cut out the actual uncomfortable, unsexy parts are tropes. They are more than unnecessary. They are harmful.

According to an Entertainment Weekly article 1, Gwendoline Christie, the actress who plays Brienne of Tarth, has defended the scenes by saying, “A lot of this show is inspired by actual historical events, and that’s what’s occurring with the women. Women have been treated appalling in history…Yes, those scenes are difficult, and they should be difficult.” Other defenders of the show say that rape is an important and necessary occurrence because it defines certain characters, sets certain plots in motion, and reveals just how hard it is to survive in one piece when living as a woman in the world of Game of Thrones.

Brienne talking to Jaime during the episode "Oathkeeper"
Brienne talking to Jaime during the episode “Oathkeeper”

If one is ignorant to the treatment of women in history, then watching a Game of Thrones‘ rape scene isn’t going to change that. Violence against women is a problem and has always been a problem and, for many cultures, it is normal and expected. Therefore, these scenes are difficult, but not because our culture is uncomfortable admitting that rape happens, nor are we uncomfortable with violence, coercion, or brutality. These rapes scenes are difficult because violence is being sexualized and violent sexual assault is being normalized.

Jaime (right) embraces Cersei (left) during the first season
Jaime (right) embraces Cersei (left) during the first season

We are not being shown rape, but rather, the non-consensual control of women, which is at the core of patriarchal fantasies. In the middle of Cersei’s assault, when we begin to see Cersei’s realization and distress, the scene cuts to a different place and we don’t see Cersei for the rest of the episode. The next time we see Cersei is in the following episode, Oathkeeper. Jaime talks to her as if there is nothing wrong and even greets her by saying “You sent for me, Your Grace” in a way that seems sarcastic. This is the same episode where Jaime gives Brienne his sword which she names Oathkeeper in a very emotionally, arguably romantic scene. This is all very touching, except for the fact that in the previous episode, Jaime forced himself on his sister who blatantly told him “no.” Jaime’s attack on Cersei goes unmentioned. No characters were altered, no lives changed or relationships defined. It never even phases Cersei afterwards that her brother/lover continued to have sex with her without her consent. Male aggression often goes without consequences.

As most of us remember, the Ramsay and Sansa scene ends the show quite dramatically. After her clothes are ripped off, the focus is shifted towards Reek’s horrified face. The gut-wrenching pain of Sansa is meant to be implied, while the scene is long enough to only show sexual male dominance over a female in distress. In the next episode, “The Gift” we see Sansa with bruises on her arms, begging Reek to help her. Sansa talks quite boldly to Ramsay in the same episode about his claim to the throne, since he is a bastard and his father’s wife is pregnant. Ramsay then shows her the flayed body of a woman who tried to help her. In Sansa and Ramsay’s relationship, sex and violence, for lack of a better phrase, go hand in hand.

Perhaps Sansa’s rape scene wasn’t too difficult since Sophie Turner’s Instagram blew up with comments along the lines of, and often more graphic than, “I’ll hit it way better than Ramsay did lol.” and “Sophie said she liked the scene….So….Sophie I’m coming to London in a week.” Aside from the issue of online harassment of women, such comments suggest that the scene in Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken doesn’t reveal the “appalling” treatment of women throughout history and neither does the scene with Cersei in Breaker of Chains. Instead, the scenes perpetuate a culture of male aggression, sexual assault, and online sexual harassment.

Sansa and Ramsay on their wedding night
Sansa and Ramsay on their wedding night

What reveals the appalling treatment of women, however, is the moment in The Gift when Sansa, panicked and sickly looking, begs Reek for help. Both this scene and the rape scene last for roughly two minutes. Yet, one is dramatic and sexual while the other is emotionally wrought. Only one shows the non-sexualized mental and emotional state of Sansa, but the assault is given as much screen time as her suffering. In the case of Cersei and Jaime, viewers may have enjoyed watching the very attractive Nikolaj Coster-Waldau rip off equally attractive Lena Heady’s clothes. And at first, the scene doesn’t seem like rape. But one must give pause, and realize she said no. When violence is filmed as something sexy and sex and violence become confused in entertainment, than that depiction perpetuates rape culture. In a country where one in six women are sexually assaulted 2, it is time to stop sexualizing and dramatizing violence against women on television.

Works Cited

  1. Hibberd, James. “‘Game of Thrones’ Star Defends the Show’s Female Violence Scenes.” Entertainment Weekly’s EW.com. 16 June 2015. Web. 23 June 2015. <http://www.ew.com/article/2015/06/16/game-thrones-violence-women-defends>
  2. “Who Are the Victims? | RAINN | Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.” Who Are the Victims? | RAINN | Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Web. 23 June 2015.

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54 Comments

  1. Aaron Hatch

    It is annoying to see the majority of female characters in film and TV, are raped, or threatened to be raped. Rape is a big problem all around the world, but our shows and movies don’t need to constantly remind us. A female character do not need to be assaulted, in order to be interesting to the viewer. Fantastic article!

    • I agree with Aaron, it is offensive. But in reality that is what it might have been like back than. I don’t think it needs to be brought to the extent it is though.

  2. It is true that the scenes in question leave an aftertaste of outrage and bitterness towards the showrunners for their portrayal of violence against women. However, in my opinion, to say that these scenes perpetuate online sexual harrassment and rape culture is going too far. Ramsay has been shown to be a brutal man from his very first appearance on the show. We cannot expect a strategic marriage with Sansa to change him. The scene with Jaime and Cersei is admittedly, more difficult to defend. However if people’s reactions to these depictions are seen as dangerous, negative and misogynistic, it is a deplorable flaw in the mindsets of the persons making such comments rather than a deliberate attempt on the part of the makers to “perpetuate patriarchy”. Moreover, the development on the show of strong, powerful women characters like Daenerys, Arya and Brienne who are fearless and undefeated in their dealings with men, say otherwise about the makers’ intent.

    • HeatherDeBel

      I agree with much of what you say. The female characters are very complex and I applaud GoT for everything they have accomplished. I also agree that nothing will or should change Ramsay, he is a brutal character and I’m not surprised that such a character would be sexually abusive to women. I don’t think it is the characters who are faulty, I think they are all fantastically drawn out, and I’m sure the makers’ intentions was nothing short of good. However, I don’t think it’s too far to say that poorly done rape scenes perpetuate rape culture and a culture which has such a high rate of sexual abuse. I think there are other ways to capture this kind of violence in a way that isn’t sexualized, I just think GoT fell short in accomplishing this. I appreciate your comment though, you bring up valid points.

  3. A story can only have so much unpleasantness before you start to think “this is just depressing”. GOT goes quite close to this but leaves just enough hope & innocence alive to keep you watching.

  4. molizser
    1

    I’m not offended by Sansa’s rape because it’s a work of fiction. I just find the whole thing depressing. She was a virgin and has been a victim throughout the entire series manipulated at every turn and whenever offered even the illusion of agency is once more exploited.

    I find that depressing, and in terms of story it is ultimtely nihilistic because GoT has no story. It’s just a world of brutal monsters in a primitive dysfunctional society that seems to revel in its own unpleasantness.

    The rape of real people offends and upsets me because rape is vile, and rape is vile because it is one of the most brutal ways to dominate another human being without consent, and to take away their agency.

  5. People complain loudly about TV shows because they can easily measure the results of their complaints for themselves, and if they succeed in getting a change, people have a quick, clear victory to hold on to. With the actual crime of rape, such a victory seems distant, perhaps impossible to achieve.

  6. CriticalOtaku

    Interesting article. Game of Thrones is certainly not a perfect show considering the amount of sexposition and graphic violence used either for titillating the audience or for the sake of shock factor (neither of which entail quality drama). Season 5 thus far may be the weakest as well because of how much the showrunners rely on having the characters undergo horrible things without these events impacting the plot or character development in any significant manner. And the vast amounts of pointless nudity in prior seasons drags down the integrity of the show too. Hopefully the showrunners can take a hint from the vast amount of backlash they’ve received, and actually do something different and meaningful in the next season.

  7. I think the thing about the GOT scene is that very bad things happen to nearly all of the good characters and I was hoping Sansa would manage to get out without too much bad happening to her.

  8. john garnett
    0

    I don’t know where Game of Thrones is going with the Sansa plot line, but it’s the first time the series has departed markedly from the books, which I think is a mistake. If there’s one thing George. R. Martin loves to do, apart from killing primary characters suddenly, it’s to develop the stories of his characters gradually. If he’s got Sansa incognito in the Eyrie, he’s probably got a reason for it.

    • GRRM is never formally consulted on plot variations, except that to date he has written one episode per season so obviously had input to those episodes.

      He is consistent in his view that the books and TV show are different versions of the same story and leaves it up to B&B to have final say on how the story is told on TV.

    • GRRM’s main character deaths are rarely sudden. They are carefully developed and if you go back and follow the character’s path, the signs are there.

  9. chantle
    0

    Hugely culturally influential shows like Game of Thrones do have a particular responsibility. It’s not at all trivial to be concerned about brutal rapes being inserted esp when they are not in the books.

    • Gibbons
      0

      That rape is in the books, in fact it is worse (though I should point out like most sexism violence in the books it happens “off camera” and is not graphically described.

      The only difference is that it happens to Sansa rather than a minor character because the TV show has cut out large sections of sub,-plot.

  10. There have been rape scenes in family friendly Eastenders – before the watershed. Isn’t that more concerning than a TV series set in a world of brutality and with adult themes?

    • HeatherDeBel

      GoT is just getting more heat because it’s more popular. I’ve never seen Eastenders but I’m sure there is something to be said about it. These poorly shot rape scenes aren’t ok because there is violence everywhere in the show and because it is a show for adults. The scenes aren’t acceptable or unacceptable because of the context of the show. What deems them acceptable or unacceptable is how they are portrayed.

  11. BodyAndMe
    0

    I find it strange that we get so much entertainment out of watching depictions of every kind of abuse one human being can cause another, from emotional bullying and oppression to murder, mass murder, torture, physical oppression, humiliation, inducing terror, stalking, etc., Indeed this is the basis of 90% of our entertainment, from the cartoon fiction city-destroying comic-book films, through the much loved emotional abuse-porn of the literati to the humiliation of reality T.V. Then when we see rape, in a fiction, it suddenly becomes unacceptable and degrading.

    Isn’t this kind of entertainment largely about preparing for and dealing with fears? So should we just ignore one area of physical abuse and pretend it does not exist, because some find the thought too uncomfortable?

    Though the discussion of the treatment of a book’s translation to T.V. is perfectly valid, the depiction of something we know really happens and would obviously happen in many situations is not in itself an objectionable thing, as long as no one was harmed in the process of course…

    • HeatherDeBel

      You’re right in that all instances of violence on film or literature or other forms of television should be re-examined and they are, for example, many people have written great articles about how television perpetuates our belief that torture works to get information out of people, yet it has been proven that this never works.

      Rape scenes are never shot to prepare us for and to help us deal with our fear of rape. They are shot to add drama and sex into shows because that is what sells. Also, no one is asking film makers to ignore rape and pretend it doesn’t exist. We are asking them to stop sexualizing rape and turning it into a stereotype. And it’s not because rape scenes are too uncomfortable. Comments on social media (i.e. Sofie’s INSTA) show that people enjoy rape scenes. We are asking them to change the way they think about rape scenes because currently they are inaccurate, harmful, stereotypical and they perpetuate tropes.

  12. clockwork
    0

    Where was the discussion when Theon had his manhood removed?C’mon.

    • HeatherDeBel

      Good point, there are instances of sexual abuse towards males in this show (not to mention a ridiculous amount of physical abuse) and the fact that it isn’t mentioned much shows how much more reluctant we are to talk about male sexual abuse!

      However, Theon’s maiming was mostly implicit and not sexualized. It was implied when Ramsay was chewing on a phallic shaped meal and when the Greyjoys got the box in the mail. Couldn’t the abuse of women be somehow implied as well? No one wants to see the removal of one’s “manhood” and no one should want to watch rape either.

      But I’m also thinking of the scene with Gentry and Melisandre, when she seduces the boy and then leeches him for blood. It is an example of male sexual abuse, but it was also very stereotypical, Gentry even suggests later in the episode that he wanted the sexual encounter. This is also harmful to how we think about male sexual abuse and also deserves attention.

      I suppose female sexual abuse gets more attention because according to RAINN, 90 percent of rape victims are female. That’s not to downplay sexual abuse towards males, but to point out that most sexual abuse in America is directed towards women.

    • RezzMan
      0

      The outrage is towards the depiction of rape–we are not living in a tortue culture that depicts careless and graphic torture imagery at ever turn. Torture is not a marker of a character. Twenty percent of men have not been tortured. Almost none have had their dicks chopped off–and when the do, it makes international news (John Wayne Bobbitt, right?) We do live in a rape culture, with rape and objectification permeating our entertainment and media. Rape has been the fate of most females on this show. Twenty percent of actual women have reported being raped, with one in four having been assaulted, and they are triggered by these types of scenes in shows. It’s the perpetuation of this, the regularity and that lack of responsibility on following up with it and acknowledging what has been done that people are upset about. Not the actual scene itself, but everything that surrounds it. I mean, the scene was graphic as hell, but done relatively respectfully in terms of a rape scene. But it was ultimately an unnecessary development for the character, clearly done for shock value and for ratings, and put a bad taste in my mouth.

  13. To sexualise Sansa’s assault is a provocation. I think that the creative justification is to create this conflict of emotion that greater adds to the horror of the moment. GOT is deeply character based, and rape as a tool for character building is tragic, horrible, but cannot by shied away from. If one is to simply infer rape, and not depict it, you are not accurately reflecting the horror they are going through. That said, I believe you are correct in that a poorly conveyed rape scene, aka the Jaime one, is potentially damaging.

    I agree that Jaime suffering no repercussions for his actions is abhorrent, though I like to think of it as a reflection of that character. I sometimes have to remind some of my fellow viewers when they cheer on Jaime, (who couldn’t?) that he pushed Bran from a window, raped his own sister and broke Ned Starks leg.

    Jaime is a character so terribly charismatic, you are willing to look past these. One can infer this is what Cersei is doing. It could mean this is how it has been happening their entire lives.

    TL;DR: Loved the article.

  14. Same with “50 Shades Of Grey” – people often enjoy thinking about something without actually wanting to do it.

    • AnneEgg
      0

      The difference is that in GoT the rape is not something that would be considered normal or acceptable behaviour and works well as a plot device. The brutality of characters and GoT’s writing and plot make it acceptable.

      50 Shades on the other hand is a badly written book which is basically fan fiction of Twilight. Furthermore, it seems to portray BDSM practices in a negative way and glorify abuse.

  15. The fact of the matter is rape is real for both men and women, it just so happens that women are the most vilified and worst affected.

  16. The Showtime series The Borgias had a far more violent and disturbing marital night rape scene (Season 1, Episode 4).

  17. DClarke

    Absolutely fantastic! I think that you have definitely hit on a very important aspect of our culture. What I particularly liked is when you talked about twitter. The immediacy we have through social media to contact or at the very least communicate with stars/celebrities can show just how deep some of these tropes go. I think this is a timely and well written piece

  18. “Sansa talks quite boldly to Ramsay in the same episode about his claim to the throne,”

    You mean his claim to House Bolton; the Boltons are nobles (albeit current Lords Paramount of the North), not royals.

    I can’t fathom why they changed the consensual sex scene that took place in the same setting between Jaime and Cersei in the book. And I’m not sure what to think about Sansa being given the “married to Ramsay” plotline (in the book, it’s her friend Jeyne Poole who’s in that situation) after spending so much time in King’s Landing under similar circumstances, instead of her plotline from the books learning skullduggery under Littlefinger in the Vale.

  19. Dany and Khal Drogo’s first sexual encounter was also more consensual in the book.

  20. Amanda Dominguez-Chio

    In Season 4, I hated that Jaime raped Cersei. We spent the majority of season 3 watching his character evolve and that scene completely contradicted everything we just learned about him.

  21. It is brutal to see rape scenes portrayed as sexual occurrences. Sex could, at its best, be a mutual expression of intimacy, curiosity, compassion, and so much more. To cast rape scenes in a mold lined with sex appeal is harmful. The audience of this show may be adults, but who suggested that adults aren’t impressionable? Thanks for the article HeatherDeBel

  22. Alejandra Lima
    0

    Walter rapes Skyler on the kitchen counter (shown) in a television show set in the present day and no one says a word. Ramsey rapes Sansa (not shown) in a fantasy television show set somewhere in a brutal fictional past and everyone loses their minds!

  23. When people complain about rape scenes the one thing that does get to me is the grievances they have with it being disgusting, upsetting, distasteful etc. Isn’t it a good thing we feel this way about rape scenes? It would be much worse if we were to have a joyous reaction.
    That’s not to say the scenes themselves shouldn’t be worth while. The Jaime and Cersei scene, for example, I feel was executed poorly and there was next to no character development for either after the event.
    Also, a really intelligent and wonderfully objective article. A very good read.

  24. This article does an excellent job of cutting to the core of the issue. While I haven’t watched season 5 of Game of Thrones (largely in protest of the gratuitous sexual violence), generally speaking I think it’s helpful to consider what function a given rape scene is performing in the context of the narrative. What is the utility of the scene? Is it contributing in an essential way to the progression of the plot? Is it playing a role in character development? Or has it simply been inserted for shock value? It’s clear that Cersei’s rape scene is useless and unjustifiable. I’ve seen people argue that the inclusion of Sansa’s rape is justified because raping Sansa is in keeping with Ramsay’s character. Of course, the point here is that we already know that Ramsay is brutal and sadistic. Does the scene teach us anything new about the characters involved?

  25. Robbie Cochrane

    I really enjoyed this article, it really made me think about some testing scenes I have written as part of my scriptwriting. Personally though, respectfully, I have to disagree with some of what you are saying. I feel although your article is very thorough you haven’t acknowledged the different platforms for which rape scenes are delivered. A rape scene on a tea time British television slot, on one of the soaps for example, needs to be handled much more sensitively than that in a serial such as Game of Thrones. Likewise, whilst you have acknowledged Christie’s argument that a series such as Game of Thrones is belonging of an entirely different world to that where other rape scenes are explored, you haven’t denounced that point as unjust. ”When violence is filmed as something sexy and sex and violence become confused in entertainment, than that depiction perpetuates rape culture. In a country where one in six women are sexually assaulted 2, it is time to stop sexualizing and dramatizing violence against women on television.” I feel this seems a little bit more hung up on the gender of the victim as opposed to the act of rape being portrayed on television; as though there are subtextual insinutations that rape is only acceptable to be portrayed when it is a female victim. The difference with Game of Thrones for example, despite the argument that ‘this stuff happens in those times’, is that if you don’t like it, in America, you don’t have to pay for the channel to watch it!

  26. Morgan R. Muller

    Thank you so much for this awesome and well written article about a very important topic that needs to be addressed. I completely agree with the harmful affects normalizing and sexualizing rape on screen has on society and society’s perception of rape and rape culture.

  27. It sucks that a show would think of using rape to “heighten the appeal of the show.”

  28. Samuel23

    To say that it must be shown in order to attribute reality to the show is really stupid given that they didn’t have the same consideration regarding the dragons and zombie-like creatures. But ok, let’s say that the rape scenes are important to construct the atmosphere of violence. The important thing is not what is shown, but how it is shown. The camera seeks to empathize with the vision of the audience, so it’s angles and the construction of the on-screen cene should be focoused on the things that catch our attention the most. And they do not construct the rape as a cene of violence, the camera strives to capture the body that is being violated but not with eyes that construct an image that repel us, but seduce us. By preferring to focus on the look of pleasure on the violator’s face instead of the look of suffering on the victim’s eyes, the supposed imparciality of the camera is destroyed and it assumes the point of view of the dominator. That point of view dialogues directly with what we, as spectators, are looking for, and it reveals a worrying diagnosis.

  29. The idea of viewers being desensitized to sexual violence is an interesting one, especially with HBO shows that often use violence and sex both for plot and thematic exploration, but even more so with Game of Thrones. To my mind, GoT is a show that relies on shock value, and the structure of its seasons like “episode nine has a major character death” or “episode 10 uses magic” and the problem to my mind seems to be that they’re running out of characters to kill and so sexual violence becomes the way to shock viewers now that they’re running out of potential for character deaths.

  30. Rape shown in any medium is both unnecessary and triggering. If a woman being abused is suppose to be drama and add shock value then sadly the writers don’t know how to write. Abuse on screen and in reality is terrifying and seeing it over and over again does nothing but desensitize the viewer. But I don’t think that is the only factor. Most people from a young age are reliant of family and friends to help them form opinions and views towards certain things. We are very much influenced by society and the ones who are closest to us, so if someone you know jokes about harassment and abuse then you might not see it as something serious. It has become a part of our culture to deny someones experience with rape or even ignore making shows like this very disappointing.

  31. I think that Game of thrones is an intense program and yes, very dramatic. However, it is a historical-like series and it is portraying how women have been treated throughout history. Although some scenes are graphic and perhaps dangerous when the wrong person watches them, something bad happens to almost every character. However, rape on screen is an increasing issue and a terrifying one at that. To think that such scenes on this program could perhaps desensitise viewers’ perception of rape culture in today’s society is a worry that must be addressed.

  32. casswaslike

    With shows as popular as Game of Thrones, there is a sort of responsibility bestowed on the writers. They control and influence people’s perception of rape. Game of Thrones shows rape and violence against women so often and in such a way that women are disregarded in the abuse. It becomes commonplace for men to take sexual dominance over women. Rape should not be shown for dramatic effect unless it points to a problem. Game of Thrones lets rape exist without repercussions and while Christie may be right that we should portray aspects of history in television, we should use it towards a better culture even if it is just a story.

  33. I really liked your point about how the reaction of the characters to the rape is portrayed. This is especially interesting as these scenes, like you said, aren’t in the book, which makes the characters’ reactions even more unsettling. Great article

  34. diehlsam

    The way I look at it, the books are very gruesome and violent. Most of the time, the scenes we see in the show are nothing compared to how they happened in the book. A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t your typical happy-go-lucky series where good things happen and characters don’t die, but that’s what makes it memorable. I personally do not get bothered by the rape scenes. Obviously they are uncomfortable to watch, which is the case for most people, but I still do think they need to happen. In Martin’s world, it’s dark and medieval, and women in this time were not treated well. In my opinion, he’s trying to show that by including rape and violence in his books

  35. This article voices my thoughts on rape in Game of Thrones exactly. Thank you.

  36. dsubject

    “Good point, there are instances of sexual abuse towards males in this show (not to mention a ridiculous amount of physical abuse) and the fact that it isn’t mentioned much shows how much more reluctant we are to talk about male sexual abuse!

    However, Theon’s maiming was mostly implicit and not sexualized. It was implied when Ramsay was chewing on a phallic shaped meal and when the Greyjoys got the box in the mail. Couldn’t the abuse of women be somehow implied as well? No one wants to see the removal of one’s “manhood” and no one should want to watch rape either.

    But I’m also thinking of the scene with Gentry and Melisandre, when she seduces the boy and then leeches him for blood. It is an example of male sexual abuse, but it was also very stereotypical, Gentry even suggests later in the episode that he wanted the sexual encounter. This is also harmful to how we think about male sexual abuse and also deserves attention.

    I suppose female sexual abuse gets more attention because according to RAINN, 90 percent of rape victims are female. That’s not to downplay sexual abuse towards males, but to point out that most sexual abuse in America is directed towards women.”

    I came across this response and thought I’d say great answer – alongside of the problem of sexualization of violence against women, there are also the continuously reinforced stereotypes regarding sexual violence against men and boys. The concept of the “MILF” is hyper-sexualized – boys/men are expected to like the idea of being taken advantage of by an older woman, though in hindsight it is a form of sexual abuse.

    Sexual violence against women does happen, and I understand why television shows may feel they should depict it, in order to stay true to what we have to deal with in real life, however, there are ways to depict rape and sexual violence without sexualizing it. The way GOT depicts rape is highly sexualized and unnecessary. Just as you point out that Theon’s maiming was not sexualized, why must similar violence against women be shown as sexualized?

  37. This particular topic is always quite difficult personally because I am a fan of the show AND I’m a feminist. That being said, aside from the Cersei rape scene, I would have to respectfully disagree with your take on GoT’s use of rape scenes.

    What many people forget when first speaking of this particular subject is that first and foremost, GoT is not primarily a television show. It is a book series that does, in fact, contain much of the same violence portrayed. That being said, the use of rape the majority of the instances are not necessarily used as plot points or for shock value. Unfortunately, historically, women were and continue to be used as commodities or objects by men, particularly in power. The women in each scene are not happy about the act. They are in fact quite broken in many ways, especially the Ramsay/Sansa scene, of which left myself with an emptiness after viewing. By ignoring these acts that do happen, even today, that is how you silence the issue at hand. I should feel uncomfortable after watching the scene. To suggest that by playing it there is a “normalization” of rape culture is almost laughable. We currently live in a society that blames the victim of rape (both male and female) and that encourages them to stay silent. Rape will only be normalized when people STOP talking about it. SO, I’m sorry, but thank you George R.R. Martin and HBO. Thank you for accurately portraying both the act and the harmful effects it has on an individual in a realistic way.

    • HeatherDeBel

      There was nothing accurate about the rape scenes. They did nothing to bring awareness to the realities of sexual violence. Shows shouldn’t ignore rape. That’s not my point or my suggestion to fix the situation. My suggestion is to do a better job handling the scenes.

      And sure, Sansa was not happy. That’s why it was rape. But because the rape was so sexualized, her reaction, her sadness, her distress is sexualized too. It just continues the dominance Ramsey has over her outside of the bedroom. It doesn’t matter if a character is sad after her/his rape. That does not decide whether the scene was handled well or not.

      And it’s not laughable to say that such scenes normalize sexual violence. While YOU might have been left upset, many people were not. Rape scenes become more violent, more graphic, and more sexualized as time progresses. This is the process of normalization.

  38. Morgan R. Muller

    Thank you very much for writing this piece and bring this crucial issue into discussion. I watched the first two seasons of Game of Thrones and had to stop because I was disgusted by endless scenes featuring rape, assault, and violence against women. “The more we see rape on television, the more it becomes expected and normalized. Instead we should ask ourselves, “do these scenes perpetuate a culture that encourages violence against women?” The latter point that you made is extremely important. Thank you for posing this question and shedding light on a subject that is excused and ignored.

    Also, to the point you made about fans of the show excusing these horrific scenes of rape and sexual assault by saying it is a part of the culture/ society that the show is portraying and the idea that (as you said) “There is sexual violence in the world and many insist that this is a good enough reason for it to appear on film. This would imply that TV shows always relay to us what is really going on outside of our living room. Television is not about reality, it is about perception.” I completely agree–if TV shows relayed reality then why is it that there are so few male rape scenes shown on television? Male rape is a reality, but you rarely see it portrayed on TV shows…so why is it okay to watch countless scenes of female rape, sexual abuse, and violence?

    Great article and analysis. Thank you for writing this.

  39. The sexualization and dramatization of violence against woman is inappropriate entertainment. It makes these kind of actions seem common place and acceptable. We should be working to fight against the issue― not to promote it.

  40. This article was thoughtful and insightful on a topic that is really really heated. I think the GOT writers are using rape and sexual violence towards women as a way to gain viewers and increase shock value at this point – there’s much more of it in the show than the books and it seems to get more prevalent every season. I think this type of storyline needs to focus on the victim and how it affects them, and how they struggle to move past it and live their lives again. When it’s just used as a way to make things seem more ~intense~ it’s a complete disservice to all sexual assault victims/survivors out there, in my opinion.

  41. Emily Deibler

    Great article. GOT is definitely way behind its source material in regards to its depiction of female characters and the personal effects of intimate violence. Someone please save Sansa Stark.

  42. I think the most important part to remember about the inclusion of these sorts of assaults and instances of gender based violence is that their place can be a way to highlight the fundamental flaws that have always existed around them. In no way should it be used to incite some sort of advantage with a plot, but to exercise the reality of how society has and continues to treat victims of assault. It should be sensitivity before clicks and viewer numbers. If we could go without it entirely that would be much preferred.

  43. I think the most important part of this article is your focus on the aftermath! Because if the GoT writers want to write rape (which they clearly do), then they need to also be willing to write the emotional state of these assaulted characters afterwards. And they rarely do, which is the problem. The show struggles with this on the whole, I feel – there are a number of things done for shock value, but rarely is there a resounding resolution following.

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