Westeros is a rough world. HBO’s Game of Thrones is not shy about doing terrible and horrific things to their characters. However the moment that closed out “Unbowed, Unbent and Unbroken” is being called as a bridge too far by many Game of Thrones fans. While hyperbolic internet speak is unavoidable with a show this popular, the fans aren’t wrong. It was a horrendous act and was incredibly hard to watch with very little potential story value. There’s a chance that something “good” could come out of it. When you consider Game of Thrones track record with scenes such as these, hopes aren’t high.
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Spoilers for the books and Game of Thrones episode “Unbowed, Unbent and Unbroken” follows…
Before we delve deep into the final moments of “Unbowed, Unbent and Unbroken” there should be a slight disclaimer about the books. Someone, not Sansa, does get married to Ramsay and the wedding night also ends in a rape. As hard it might be to believe, in the books it is even more awful than the one that occurred on screen. All that being said, this article isn’t about the books. It’s about the show and Game of Thrones has a disturbing track record of sexual abuse towards its female characters. Furthermore Game of Thrones is not slavishly adherent to the books, they’ve already deviated in major ways from the source, they’re not required to comply.
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It Didn’t Need to be THIS Bad
It would be naive to think that something terrible wouldn’t happen in this storyline of Sansa marrying Ramsay. The Boltons are about the most despicable people in the show. They’re sadists, torturers, murderers and deviants. They are repugnant people but that’s the thing. We already knew that. Sansa already knew that, when Ramsay trotted Theon out like a pet in “Kill the Boy”. It’s not as if Game of Thrones needed more reasons for the audience (and Sansa) to hate Ramsay.
Sansa certainly didn’t need to be raped to hate Ramsay Bolton. The simple fact that Sansa has to marry this man whose father had a direct hand in killing her family is terrible enough. Sansa sleeping with Ramsay in any circumstances is disturbing, even if its “consensual.” So no, there really is no reason that this scene needed to happen. It’s even more disappointing when you consider the track record of Game of Thrones.
One, Two, Three Strikes! That’s Sexist!
This is not the first time a major female character has been raped in the course of the series. There was Daenerys on her wedding night to Khal Drogo all the way back in the first episode. Then, just last season Jaime raped Cersei in the Sept of Baelor. (If you want to be the type of person who puts an asterisk on the Jaime and Cersei scene, fine be that person. The director didn’t intend for that scene to come off as a rape. The intention becomes irrelevant because that’s how it appeared for the majority of the audience). In both cases, there was no ramifications for either act. Neither woman acted like they just had been raped or violated in any way. Dany even grew to love Khal Drogo.
Even if this silence from these women is an accurate depiction of the “time”, it doesn’t excuse Game of Thrones’ depiction of it’s universe. There are plenty of ways to show that women aren’t seen as powerful in this world without sexual violence. Game of Thrones has even done it in different areas of Cersei’s storyline. Margaery is constantly trying to maneuver herself to a position of power and has to take unconventional avenues because of her gender. There is a difference between a horrifying act that says something disturbing about the world and just cheap shock factor. The end of “Unbowed, Unbent and Unbroken” was just that cheap and unabashed shock factor.
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The Bright Side?
Now it’s been firmly established that there was no reason for what occurred to Sansa. Is there any bright side? There is a very slight chance. This season has been building to some kind of climax in Winterfell. There’s a sense that Sansa or the Stark loyalists in the North will rise up against House Bolton. This could still, and most likely will, happen. Even if Game of Thrones has treated sexual violence far too casually in the past there has been too much set up that an internal conflict inside Winterfell is approaching. Winter is coming, you might say if you want to be dorky and apparently, I do.
The fact that Game of Thrones felt the need to violate Sansa to drive her to take vengeance is another (repugnant) thing altogether. It just looks like this time, finally, there will be some sort of justice. Finally there’ll be a woman who won’t just be victimized and suffer in silence. A woman will finally take agency and have a direct hand in the retribution. That’s the hope anyway and if that dreary picture is the best case scenario that tells you all you need to know.
Game of Thrones airs at 9pm on HBO.
(Images courtesy of HBO)