The fact that I’m writing here for MOMocrats should tell you I’m a feminist. With that in mind, I’d like to discuss why I think that rape scene on Game of Thrones was not gratuitous, why it was not anti-feminist, and why a lot of the collective outrage is completely misplaced. That being said, you shall be forewarned: HERE, THERE BE SPOILERS.

GRRM Quote

Why Such Outrage?

There are countless discussions taking place across the Internet where people are decrying the end scene in Game of Thrones Season 5 Episode 6 “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” for what some viewers say was a gratuitous and unnecessary rape that served only to show how the victim’s plight affected the third-party male witness. One of my favorite feminist geek blogs, The Mary Sue, even announced that they will no longer be promoting Game of Thrones in any way, shape, or form anymore – specifically because of this scene. (The vague details here serve as the last buffer before the serious spoilers start. So bail now if you haven’t already if you don’t want to be completely spoiled.)

Viewers complain that it was completely unnecessary for the scene to exist because Sansa Stark, the victim, has already been traumatized repeatedly, and Ramsay Snow Bolton has already been shown to be completely sadistic, so the rape served no purpose for the character development of either of them. Other viewers are upset because it was a different character who married and was raped by Ramsay in the books. Still others are upset because the rape itself occurred off-camera as the camera panned to show Theon’s sobbing reaction to being forced to witness the girl who was like a sister to him being victimized – thereby making Sansa’s trauma merely a backdrop for Theon’s male suffering.

Narrative Necessity?

I have read the books. I am watching the series. I am aware that they are completely different creatures at this point in time because of the merging and repurposing of characters and plot devices. I was not happy when I realized they had decided to swap Sansa in for the Bolton storyline that was supposed to, instead, feature her childhood friend Jeyne Poole. I wasn’t happy because I knew what happened to Jeyne Poole after she was married to Ramsay, and as soon as Littlefinger’s intent to marry Sansa to him was made clear, I knew this scene was going to exist. I had feared it would be much worse, because in the books, it was. For both Jeyne and Theon.

We can question whether or not the show runners should have given Sansa the Bolton storyline, but since they did, the wedding night scene was inevitable. Are we supposed to sweep it under the carpet, ignoring the fact that the sadistic bastard Ramsay most certainly assaulted his new bride after the wedding, and show the two of them just having an awkward breakfast together the next morning? Personally, I think this would have been a worse decision. And it would have been completely out of character for Ramsay to have actually kept his word to Littlefinger that he would never hurt Sansa. Whether or not the scene aired, the rape was inherent in the plot.

But She’s My Favorite Character!

Here’s where my problem lies with The Mary Sue’s decision to use this scene as where they drew the line on acceptable sexual violence on screen. We have seen many characters raped on Game of Thrones already. Daenerys Targaryen was raped by Khal Drogo on her wedding night in Season 1, and we saw that up close and personal with both actors completely naked. Then there was that horrible scene in the sept where the show runners didn’t intend to have Jaime rape Cersei, but they clearly need to learn more about what consent means. This latest scene with Sansa has been dubbed the third rape we’ve seen on the show…but it’s not. Not by a long shot. We’ve seen brothers of the Night’s Watch raping the women at Craster’s Keep after their mutiny. The Hound and Arya walked into an inn where a man was raping the innkeeper’s daughter in the background. And there have been other “background” scenes of raping and pillaging, including that Dothraki raid that led to Dany miscarrying as revenge of the magi.

Oh yeah, and Theon. Theon was raped, too. He repeatedly said no to those two women who were instructed to get him erect in the torture room right before he was castrated.

Rape shouldn’t suddenly be more abhorrent just because it happened to our beloved Sansa.

I’m also looking at everyone who complained that it was worse because it was “supposed” to happen to Jeyne instead. Rape is rape, and it doesn’t make it any better or worse based on which character it happened to.

It’s Not Really About Theon Here.

And then there are the folks who bemoan that we’re made to sympathize with Theon’s pain, not Sansa’s pain, because the camera was on him. It is a valid argument that fictional women are too often raped as a plot device to motivate a male character to action. Would these same people be happier if they’d kept the camera on Sansa and Ramsay so we had to stare in horror at the rape itself? That seems to me like it would have been more gratuitous, done more for the shock value. I think the cinematic decision they made was the most “tasteful” and “sensitive” they could have made for such a traumatic scene. Because yes, I’ll be a little hypocritical on my previous point here, I don’t want to watch Sansa writhing in pain under Ramsay’s body.

We Are SUPPOSED To Be Horrified.

Perhaps the most important argument I can make for inclusion of the rape scene is this: we are supposed to be horrified. We are supposed to be outraged. Rape is horrific. If anything, we needed this rape scene to horrify us because the show did such a terrible job in its previous depictions that it managed to romanticize rape in previous seasons. Dany, after all, eventually succumbed and fell in love with her husband, the man her brother sold her into marriage with. (Stockholm Syndrome, much?) And I don’t want to get into the unpleasant discussions that took place where fans argued as to whether or not Jaime raped Cersei. (She said no. Jaime ignored her. Case closed. Even though it wasn’t supposed to happen that way.) No one even recognized the fact that Theon was raped, perhaps because it was overshadowed by his, er, dismemberment. With Sansa, there is no question about it. No “blurred lines.”

So it makes sense that people are outraged. But they’re outraged for the wrong reasons.

“Pretty rape” was something viewers could apparently tolerate. “Gritty rape” was crossing the line?

Hell no. THIS is the conversation we need to be having. ALL rape should be outrageous and horrifying – not just in the entertainment we consume, but in real life. Because – let’s face it – this is a big problem in our society. Rape culture is real. In a world where politicians make distinctions between “legitimate rape” and – I don’t know, all those fake rapes out there? – we need THIS level of outrage on behalf of EVERY victim of sexual violence. It doesn’t matter whether they’re young or old, conventionally attractive or not, married or single, on a date or walking home at night, male or female, dressed up or dressed down – RAPE IS ALWAYS HORRIFIC.

Let’s use Game of Thrones to start a productive conversation about ending rape culture. Call out those politicians who try to say there is no such thing as marital rape. (If you’re upset it happened to Sansa, a fictional character, check your perspective!) Call out all of those misogynist politicians who demean rape victims as a talking point. Write blog posts where you rage about media depictions of rape that try to make it more “palatable” for viewers, thereby perpetuating rape culture. Don’t rage about Game of Thrones finally being honest about what’s happening.

(After I finished typing this up, I ended up reading another post that makes similar arguments to those I make here, which I also recommend: All (hopefully) of the bad arguments about rape on Game of Thrones debunked)

The author of this piece, Christina Gleason, blogs regularly at WELL, in THIS House.