You’ve really done it this time Game of Thrones….
*Season 5, episode 6 – ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’ spoilers*
Never a series to shy away from the offensive, taboo, gory, vile, or anything generally unpleasant, Game of Thrones has rocked a few boats in its time. In this weeks episode Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), and the incredibly unlikeable Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) were married, seemingly without the obligatory wedding drama that the show loves so much. But as it turned out, post-wedding Ramsay would head to Sansa’s chambers to “consummate” the marriage – against Sansa’s will, with Reek/Theon (Alfie Allen), the man she grew up alongside, watching on in horror.
This is of course not the first time that Game of Thrones has portrayed rape – Drogo forced himself upon Daenerys in season one, and Jamie upon Cersei last season (next to the body of their deceased, incestual son, nonetheless) – and each time it has been met with outrage, unsurprisingly. The show’s latest foray into this dark territory has perhaps brought the biggest backlash of all however, with high profile media outlets shunning the show, and debate sparking online. The question on everyone’s lips is “has Game if Thrones gone too far”?
Sansa has been through the mill as a character. As a young girl she’s been torn from her family, witnessed murder, and had many people try to do the same to her. Ramsay Bolton was certainly never going to be her knight in shining armour, but clearly few could have seen what happened coming. It’s been called “gratuitous” and “disgusting“, but is the criticism fair? Is there ever a way of portraying such a rightly sensitive subject matter delicately (particularly in such a warts and all type of show)?
I’d argue that the scene itself is actually shot and edited in a non-glamorising, non-gratuitous manner. It’s not making light of the issue at hand, i.e., there’s little room for doubt left as to what’s happening, and that it’s terrible – but we as an audience aren’t subjected to it visually (though the imagination doesn’t have to work too hard to fill in the blanks). What we do have to witness though is a close up of Theon, forced to watch the act, clearly suffering and yet seemingly unable to move to help Sansa. This in itself is what has riled some detractors: that the scene seems to put Theon’s suffering over that of Sansa’s.
There’s plenty that could be said about the closing of the scene, with the camera lingering on Theon. Because linger it certainly does, perhaps more so than was necessary. For me personally I spent the entirety of the scene willing Theon (who lets not forget is also a pretty despicable, yet broken man) on, hoping against hope that he would take action again his and Sansa’s tormentor….and yet there was nothing, beyond an internal torment for Theon, and for us as an audience. This bubbling rage from Theon, and Sansa’s plight have to come to something in the coming episodes for this to have been anymore than the show turning the screw on us. But without knowing what’s to come, it’s difficult to truly judge whether the show has gone too far – if it serves a real purpose in the development of the story, and Ramsay’s eventual downfall (surely?), does it make it all justifiable?
The necessity of the scene is open to interpretation. Clearly it was grim, disturbing, and yes, disgusting, but I almost feel as though in creating such a heinous villain in Ramsay Bolton, that the show runners painted themselves into a corner with how proceedings would unfold. Realistically, would it have been believable for Ramsay, cutter of manhoods, breaker of men to have been merciful, and to have graciously let Sansa be, as Tyrion did in her previous marriage? I think not. At this point he is the single most despicable character on Game of Thrones, and despicable characters do despicable things.
It’s a fine line that Game of Thrones is walking. Many will say that it’s stumbled off into unacceptable territory. But should art ever be censored and vilified for portraying such dark themes? I believe that suggestions of excessiveness are open to discussion. I certainly don’t agree however that the act was “glamourised” – it’s not a scene that anyone will have been taking enjoyment from, bar Sophie Turner herself, who reportedly “kinda loved” it, in the context of the story. It would seem she’s on her own…right or wrong, I’ll leave that up for you to decide.