Why oh why, Game of Thrones? We put up with your violence, we put up with you killing and torturing characters we love. We put up with a lot from you. Why couldn’t you just try a little harder to be more worthy of our attention, our love, and our money? Why did you do it?
There are been a lot of reviews, podcasts, tweets and other conversations about what happened this week in S5E06, Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken. Some people and websites are even choosing this as their time to step away from the conversation. While I respect that choice and think that it’s a good way to protest against the lazy storytelling and sexual violence in the show, I’m going to keep watching. For me, a lot of the fun I get out of GoT is the conversation surrounding the show and the books. I listen to podcasts, read reviews, and talk about it with my friends and family members. Week to week I am enriched by the fan community around the show.
Even when Especially when I don’t agree with choices the show makes, I can take comfort in the thoughts and opinions of others. They can often put it in a larger context and help me understand it in terms of the whole show, our current society, and history.
I think that conversations is vital with a show like Game of Thrones. This is a show that puts on displays of extreme violence, sexual violence, and emotional violence. It isn’t always a fun show to watch. Often, it’s upsetting. Sometimes I think the show goes too far, not because I’m morally against depictions of violence, but because I feel that if you’re going to show it, it needs to move the story forward. If you’re going to put something terrible on screen for entertainment, it needs to serve a storytelling purpose. I don’t think this week’s episode did that, and that’s why I’m disappointed. This was a choice they made, completely separate from the book. They decided to add the rape of a young girl into a story that didn’t need it. As other people have already discussed, Sansa already has reasons to want revenge. We already know Ramsey is the worst person in Westeros. Theon also knows both these things. Maybe they’ll surprise us all and this will have turned out to matter, but I can’t think of a way the show could go that they couldn’t have done without this scene.
I hope we’re coming to a tipping point with displays of sexual violence in entertainment. I hope that someday soon this will be rare. I think we’re getting there, and I think that talking about it and writing about it is an important step towards getting there. We want better stories, and there are two ways we can get them. We can write them ourselves, and we can ask for more from creators of our entertainment.
Sidenote: What is with all of the people saying this was “how it was back then” as if that is some defense? First, this is a fantasy television show from the imagination of G R R Martin, not history. Second, as the folks over at Storywonk like to say, reality is no defense for fiction. Unless you are writing a non-fiction account of a historical event, you can always change things, make them more interesting and better.
I love Game of Thrones. I’ve loved the books for years, and I’ve spent many, many hours watching and thinking about the show. I think it’s a magnificent piece of fantasy entertainment, and I’m so happy that it’s on television with such a big budget and wide audience. But for all of that, I also think it is deeply flawed. The book has plenty of problems, but the show seems to be creating new problems. Be better, Game of Thrones. Find new ways to surprise and shock us that don’t involve sexual violence. Give us more rich, interesting characters of both genders. Give us more POC, and more LGBT representation. Prove to us that you’re worth all of this time and money. Many people think the books changed the landscape of fantasy fiction, and I’d like to see the show do the same.