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?



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


“The Hook-Up Culture Exists Only Because This Generation Has Never Properly Fallen In Love,” Or Vice Versa?

Ya know, we live in a very complicated world, and making sense of that world is very difficult. In the face of all the confusion, I am glad to see people trying to figure it all out: forming arguments, making statements, taking sides, shying away from the epidemic of agnosticism that is so pervasive in our society. But sometimes, an article (or book or movie) arrives on the scene bearing some bold explanation of the universe that is just, well, not right.

I keep seeing this article on my facebook news feed. In it the author sheds light on the superficial nature of dating in modern times, and aptly points out that many of those couples who claim to be “dating” are, in fact, glorified sex partners.


“Intimacy isn’t sex. You can have sex without it being intimate. Believe me, I’ve done it plenty of times. Most of us call it “f*cking.” And that’s what most relationships end up being: two f*ck buddies who believe it’s wrong to want to only have sex with each other so they give themselves a nice, neat label. “We’re boyfriend and girlfriend, so it’s okay for us to be f*cking on the regular.” The problem is, because you won’t admit that you simply want to be together because you like the sex and each other’s company enough to continue having sex, you have to do all those other things included in the boyfriend/girlfriend package.”

Well said, author. A little crude (and talk about “humble bragging”), but I agree.

He then goes on to explain that true love does not exist in these sorts of relationships.

“You guys may very well be friends, but you’re not lovers… only friends with benefits. Lovers actually love each other.”

I agree, once again.

 “It’s the intimacy we are truly after and it’s the one thing almost always missing from a relationship,” he says, and then goes on to argue that true intimacy requires honesty, and vulnerability.

Couldn’t agree more.

Where our opinions diverge, however, is in the author’s conclusion, which is explicitly stated in the article’s title; “The Hook-Up Culture Only Exists Because This Generation Has Never Properly Fallen In Love.”

I disagree. I’m afraid the exact opposite is a lot closer to reality:

This generation has never properly fallen in love because the hook-up culture exists.

The author’s proposed antidote to the world of hooking up is to fall in love. How? By tearing down the façade, revealing your true self to those you date, and thereby allowing yourself to fall in love. By discovering true intimacy, he proposes, this generation will stop settling for the mediocre, and turn away from the culture of hooking up.

Hey, all this may be true to some extent. Experiencing true intimacy may discourage you from settling for a “good romp.” But the more important question that the author never addresses is why our generation is so bad at true intimacy. Why does our generation find it so hard to reveal our true selves? Why does this generation find it so difficult to properly fall in love?

Well, among other reasons, because of the very “hook-up culture” for which he blames the lack of intimacy.


Because the “hook-up culture” is inherently self-serving, and therefore utterly opposed to true love, which is inherently self-sacrificing.

A “hook-up culture” is ordered toward the satisfaction of our own desires. In it, social interaction is turned inward on the self. It is a culture that trains us to pursue interaction solely to satisfy our sexual, and social desires, and then leave once the cost of doing so outweighs the benefit. In it, we regard dating as a wholly self-serving, me-centered practice. And as a result, dating becomes an effort to maximize pleasure and minimize obligation.


Love, on the other hand, is inherently self-sacrificing. Love is about giving. Love, by definition, is wanting happiness for the beloved.

True love is not about the self, which is why the author has reversed the reality of the situation.

Today’s hook-up culture is not simply a symptom of a general lack of true intimacy, it is the cause.

It is no wonder that those who have only known dating as the pursuit of personal satisfaction have never fallen in love. Why would this surprise us? After all, love requires the selflessness that is missing from a culture of hooking up. Though I admire the author for encouraging the pursuit of true love, as long as the satisfaction of our own desires, the hallmark of a hook-up culture, is our top priority, finding true love is impossible.