Since the premiere of last night’s Game of Thrones episode “Unbowed Unbent Unbroken there has been a lot of talk about the events in the final few moments. Quite a few people online have decried the show proclaiming a boycott of the program as well as universally berating the show runners. While we certainly understand everyone’s opinion, I thought it might be useful to have a meaningful, unfettered conversation about the issue. Fortunately my fellow writer Christina Janke had the same feeling so we decided to transcribe our conversation about the events of the episode.
We hope that this conversation might calm some people down and allow a more intellectual discourse about the episode to take place. In no way are we advocating that anyone’s feelings or opinions are invalid in this conversation, we just felt a more moderate conversation might help. There is always a chance of triggers, so please take this as it is presented: a conversation of ideas between friends about subjects that can be difficult to discuss.
Of course to talk about this we will have to get into some heavy spoilers. If you’ve yet to watch the episode you may want to consider skipping this article. When you finish, let us know what you think in the comments below!
Christina Janke: Last night on The Game of Thrones: Loras and Margery are put into prison for lying to the Faith Militant, Jorah and Tyrion meet a couple pirates, Jaime and Bronn fight the Sand Snakes, and Sansa…gets married to Ramsay and sexually humiliated on her wedding night. Of all the atrocities that could have happened, that have happened, on this show, the atrocious act against poor Lady Sansa Stark is the worst, nay, the most despicable sight we’ve ever seen! Oh wait…no it’s not.
We’ve seen our starting hero (Ned Stark) get his head chopped off, which was then stuck to a spike and placed just so flies and crows can pick at it. We’ve seen men torn to ribbons by blades, mangled by wolves, and bodies crushed like watermelons. A pregnant woman was stabbed in the belly several times and Robb’s head was replaced by a direwolf’s! All were brutal, cruel and outrageous; however, the moment we lose our minds is over the rape of a main heroine.
I may sound a bit glib about the issue of rape…
Shaun Rosado: Just a little bit.
Christina Janke: Here’s the thing: rape is awful, yes, because we still see and hear about it happening everyday. When you live in a world such as in the kind Game of Thrones is set, women are no more than properties of men; it’s practically a regular Tuesday. Game of Thrones is also a saga of moral ambiguity. No one is wholly good, no one is wholly bad, except for exactly two a**holes: Joffrey and Ramsay. Because…y’know, perspective.
Shaun Rosado: Oh god, Joffrey and Ramsay can go burn in the Fiery Pits of Hodor.
Christina Janke: Right? Even Poppa Bolton knows when to reign it in a bit.
Shaun Rosado: He really really does. He looks around at all the flayed bodies and says “Hey kid, I’m all for redecorating, but how about a nice ficus?” I know it’s silly to claim “realism” in a show that has Dragons and Magic, but its true: the era that Game of Thrones depicts is that of a medieval setting. From what I’ve read wedding nights between two strangers like this is common. One person is afraid but knows what’s coming and the other takes what they want, regardless of that fear. It’s gross, it’s terrible, and it’s very likely what would have happened. Even the idea that Reek was made to watch isn’t terribly uncommon as witnesses are usually present to make certain that a marriage is consummated
Christina Janke: With the exception of sensual chick-lit, fantasy doesn’t really go into the matters of sex. It stays nice and comfy in the realms of honor, chivalry, heroism, adversity, and yadda-yadda-barf. Sex is great, sex is uncomfortable, sex is awkward, sex is disgusting, sex is terrible, and hardly anyone wants to talk about the bad stuff because it makes them uncomfortable. Lord forbid someone makes anyone uncomfortable.
Shaun Rosado: That’s very true. Is it barbaric by today’s standards? Absolutely. Is it something we could have glossed over? Perhaps. I mean, let me ask you this Christina. If they would have finished the episode on the wedding in the Godswood, would that have conveyed the terror of the wedding night to come?
Shaun Rosado: That’s what I’m thinking.
Christina Janke: We know Ramsay’s a bad guy. The creators and writers have gone through great lengths to convey this on the show. However, that’s just one aspect of his sadism because it was projected onto another man. Taking something away from a woman becomes much more personal even when you don’t do as much.
Shaun Rosado: Which is why I understand this upset a lot of people. Hell it upset me. You were here, I was very uncomfortable because the concept of rape unsettles me but I understood why they chose to include it. Also, I’d like to take a moment and applaud how they handled it. There was absolutely no on screen violent sex like last season with Jamie and Cersei or even Drogo and Dany in the first season. They panned away, cued the sound of tearing of cloth and faded to black on Reek. It was disturbing, no doubt, but it was effective and it could have been so much worse.
Christina Janke: Like with Jeyne Poole. I hear awful, awful things.
Shaun Rosado: Exactly. She was a plaything (in the book) that Ramsay uses to excise all his most sadistic desires. It’s awful. I can’t even imagine the show runners finding an acceptable way to depict that.
Christina Janke: Oh! Oh! And Guess what? We actually still like Drogo and Jaime! What does that say about us? Huh???
Shaun Rosado: Well let’s look at that for a moment.
Christina Janke: Why do we like these rapists? It can’t be because they’re ruggedly handsome.
Shaun Rosado: And let’s be clear here, just because someone is married or even in love, it’s still rape if one of the two adults says “no”. I think in the case of Drogo and Daenerys, they were betrothed. She knew it was going to happen and even though she didn’t want it, she knew what she had to do. She was a girl who learned to become a woman by making sex a tool to tame her husband. Through that she came to control him, and yes, eventually love him. Drogo wasn’t just randomly taking women without consent. He was using an archaic mentality of claiming what was “his” and grew to love Dany. By today’s morality it’s repugnant, but it makes sense within the setting.
Christina Janke: But I’ve heard the argument that this could have been a case of Stockholm Syndrome.
Shaun Rosado: Well that’s true. It certainly could have been. As a woman, what do you think about that?
Christina Janke: It’s hard to say, I’ve never been in that situation. Considering her motives: she saw sticking with Drogo an obligation to her brother, to get back to Westeros, to reclaim what had belonged to her family. It was her duty to stick around. So…if she had to stay, she could at least make it bearable for herself.
Shaun Rosado: I think that’s fair. She made the best of a bad situation. The fact that he became gentle and loving afterwards is besides the point.
Christina Janke: She just got lucky, for a time.
Shaun Rosado: Yeah. What I think is great about Drogo and Daenerys though is how thoroughly she flipped the tables on him. She really made him her puppet in a short amount of time through the sheer force of willpower and cunning. That’s the thru-line to that moment. She turns a truly negative moment into something powerful. It’s part of the story that makes her into the Mother of Dragons. It’s not the moment that defines her, it’s simply a step to the larger picture.
Christina Janke: Oh the power of feminine wiles.
Shaun Rosado: That brings us to Jamie and Cersei though. That’s just a bag of crazed badgers that needs to get drowned, right?
Christina Janke: Totally but this one is just so intriguing because their relationship reminds me of what most of the Targeryeans did for hundreds of years. They’re stuck in a delusion of power that was never theirs. And, y’know, incest is gross.
Shaun Rosado: So gross! It gets worse though because in a moment of impotent rage he rapes his sister at the alter of their dead son and yet somehow we’re still rooting for him this season.
Christina Janke: I will admit, I did find that particular scene a little unnecessary.
Shaun Rosado: I agree.
Christina Janke: He couldn’t have been *that* desperate to forcefully bed his sister underneath their dead son’s corpse. After all, we all know who he really loves.
Shaun Rosado: *pauses* Wait, who does he really love?
Christina Janke: Brienne! I’m just saying.
Shaun Rosado: No way! He loves Cersei and all the crazy that comes therein.
Christina Janke: Didn’t you see that longing gaze he threw at Tarth when they passed it? C’mon!
Shaun Rosado: Ok ok, I’ll admit there’s a chance he may be in love with “She of the Tarth”.
Christina Janke: Here’s what I’ve been noticing throughout the whole story that is A Song of Ice and Fire: the men are constantly grasping for power where they can get it. There’s a serious superiority complex going on.
Shaun Rosado: I can’t argue with that.
Christina Janke: Jaime, for the longest time, lost his power. He was captured, lost his hand, and had a woman appointed bodyguard. You can’t tell me he’s ok. He’s been fighting a bruised ego since he got back and he needed to regain his “manly power”. When Cersei started rejecting him, that feeling of powerlessness continued to scratch at him. It got to the point where he *needed* to get some of that power back. Hell, he’s still trying to regain his manliness by learning how to fight with his non-fighting hand and save his daughter/niece, even if it meant starting another war.
Shaun Rosado: That makes sense in a primal sense I suppose. So what’s the benefit of putting Sansa through yet another horrible relationship?
Christina Janke: The Stark name has been dragged through the bloody mud, through a special kind of hell we can’t possibly imagine. Know why? Because the Starks were the last great family ruled by honor. They’re everything we want to be and more. But the world is cruel and full of darkness just aching to corrupt that purity. To adapt and succeed in a changing and violent world, our heroes must descend into hell to reemerge as something much stronger. And wiser.
Sansa, the last known Stark, is that hero. Yes, a lot of terrible things have happened to her already, but none of the atrocities are as personal as when something from her own self is taken away. I can see this as being the very last straw. What was meant to break her, is only making her more resolute to frak this guy up!
Shaun Rosado: That’s what I’m thinking! It’s a classic storyteller trope. The destruction of the safe and the serene in order to give way to the hero within. I doubt we’ll see Sansa in full armor, but I can definitely see her take her place in the North, almost an echo of Daenerys in the east.
Christina Janke: And no one should say that her awful wedding night doesn’t advance the story. It was literally the last scene of the episode, we don’t know what will happen next. But there are hints.
Shaun Rosado: There are indeed
Christina Janke: What are your thoughts?
Shaun Rosado: Actually brings me to something I wanted to talk about for a moment. There’s a show on Starz called ‘Outlander’ about a woman displaced in time a few hundred years in the past and I want to talk about a similar event going on in their storyline.
Obviously we’re going to get into spoiler territory for the show so you’ve been warned.
In the most recent episode the male lead Jamie, has basically given himself up to a sadistic villain named Black Jack. Think of Ramsay but with two extra decades of sadism tacked on for good measure.
Christina Janke: Yikes!
Shaun Rosado: Precisely. Jamie has been protecting the main character, Claire from Jack for quite some time and Jack hates him for it. He decides the best way to destroy their bond is to completely break down Jamie through rape and other horrific acts. During the episode he uses all manner of torture to humiliate Jamie to the point of breaking with worse teased in next week’s finale.
Since Jamie has been protecting for Claire, he has fallen in love with her. He protects her and is clearly a heterosexual male. So Jack rapes Jamie and forces the man to feel arousal at the act. Once he has “physical proof” of Jamie’s enjoyment he then tortures him for enjoying the sodomy. It’s a difficult scene. When asked about why she included it in the book the author said exactly what we did: for endings to feel earned, you have to put your characters through hell sometimes.
Christina Janke: Yeah…okay I see where you could be going with this.
Shaun Rosado: Yet to save Jamie at the final hour before Jack can do all of these horrible things to him would be a “cop out”. Fans of the book and the show know this is coming. They know the rape is absolutely on its way and yet I’ve heard nary a peep about it. So my question is: can we call foul on a moment when we haven’t seen the entire picture yet? Why do we jump on Game of Thrones but let Outlander continue on without complaint?
Christina Janke: Because Game of Thrones is the bigger fish.
Shaun Rosado: Well yeah, obviously, but feminism isn’t about the bigger fish. It’s about equality. If this scene can be accepted as pivotal to the plot, don’t we at least owe it to the Game of Thrones writers to see this storyline to conclusion? Couldn’t this, as you said earlier, be the first half a moment? Couldn’t the start of next week be the murder of Ramsay or the start of Sansa as the Conquering Queen?
Christina Janke: Or Reek regaining some of his agency back, killing his sadistic master?
Shaun Rosado: Yes! Stab Ramsay in the back of the head with a knife or something. We honestly don’t know at this point.
Christina Janke: And now that the creators know the ending, I can see why they’re changing elements of the story. Maybe here they’re speeding up Sansa’s (and Littlefinger’s) endgame.
Shaun Rosado: That’s what I’m hoping. I really am.
Christina Janke: I think, because rape is still so prevalent today, it’s a sore subject to talk about. But! We’re talking about it. We’re really talking about how awful it is. The people who are so outraged by Sansa’s rape are missing the larger picture: every time Game of Thrones has shown varying levels of indignity and personal terror the victims have to go through, before, during and after the fact. Rape is not okay, and we need to acknowledge that to change our way of thinking as a people. Sometimes we need to face the hard truths to change for the better.
Shaun Rosado: Absolutely.Rape is a terrifying and brutal act that no one should endure. At no point should someone construe our breakdown of a narrative construct as an endorsement of such an awful act.
Christina Janke: And don’t worry, people, every one will get theirs. Karma tends to act like a superior bitch in this world.
Shaun Rosado: Oh they definitely will. In fact, for that reason alone Game of Thrones will have me until the end. I wanna see all of those jerks get their in karmic desserts. Then the world will be ruled by a Sanasa/Dany Duology of Awesome.