Sex, Violence, and Game of Thrones: Why Do We Draw the Line at Rape?

Two Sundays ago, Game of Thrones aired an episode titled “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.” In contrast to its title, however, it concluded with a scene that, even by HBO’s standards, pushed the limits of decency. The episode ended with the newly wed Sansa Stark being raped by her new husband, Ramsay Bolton, while his tortured lackey Theon Greyjoy was forced to watch.

Unsurprisingly, the scene drew a firestorm of criticism from commenters across the political spectrums. Their reasoning varied: Some took issue with the fact that the rape diverges from the book’s plotline, but most seemed to think that it was simply gratuitous. As Joanna Robinson of Vanity Fair wrote, “Edgy plots should always accomplish something above pure titillation or shock value, and what, exactly, was accomplished here?”

I’m inclined to agree. When it comes down to it, the scene did not feel like a carefully considered moment of character or plot development but rather the exploitation of a horrific act for the sake of views and ratings. It was less like a skillful treatment of rape and more like its pornification—the goal being an adrenaline rush of excitement about this ever-so-unpredictable show.

That said, I found it curious that the reaction to this particular scene was so strong, so pointed, and so angry, while many of the same Game of Thrones’ viewers are so passively accepting, even approving, of the other gratuitously sexual and violent parts of the show.

After all, what objection can be levied against the scene in question that cannot also be levied against any number of other moments in any number of other episodes? That rape is morally reprehensible? By that logic, the entire Game of Thrones series should have never been filmed. That the scene was unnecessary? But what of the countless other unwarranted sexually explicit moments in the show? Game of Thrones constantly uses sex and nudity to arouse and enthrall its viewers. Why are some incidents of sex and violence acceptable but this particular act of violent sex is not?

READ MORE…

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I wrote this article for Verily Magazine, where it was originally published.

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One comment

  1. Rape in television is nothing new, which is why I suspect it may not be the reason at all. Much like in Hitchcock’s Psycho, the act was actually never really displayed on film but it was given life by Alfie Allen’s expressions. The whole point of art is to trigger emotion and this episode did exactly do that.
    What makes the rape scene in GoT different is perhaps the long running time of the show and the talent that goes into playing and writing the characters. With the way Sansa has been portrayed it seemed only a matter of time she would fall victim of her own beauty (and the episode did derive a lot from fairytales).
    I do not quite understand what the problem would otherwise be. We do not know whether the scene was really there for the shock value and it might still serve a purpose in later episodes. Despite the brutality of the scene, it was extremely well acted and filmed so why should it have been left out?

    Like

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