Warning: SPOILERS for Game of Thrones season 6 ahead
Game of Thrones is without a doubt one of the most popular television series in the world, and everything involved in the production happens under intense scrutiny. That's true for when the series is filming and fans are trying to get a peek at what's happening on location, and true still when the episodes air and they're picked apart and examined. Sometimes it's simply to compare and contrast the TV show with what happened in the source novels, and other times it's to discuss its themes and developments.
Nowhere does that happen more than when discussing the depiction of sex and violence in Game in Thrones. Being on a premium cable network like HBO, the series has more liberty in how graphic these depictions can be. While on the one hand, Game of Thrones can titillate audiences with its "sexposition", it can just as easily disturb or even alienate viewers with sexual violence. For the most part, the series walks that fine line between what's gratuitous and what serves the plot, but even still, Game of Thrones is no stranger to criticism for its depictions of sexual violence - and in particular how its used against its women characters.
Recently at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Sky's (the channel that airs Game of Thrones in the U.K.) content director, Gary Davey was asked to respond to the criticism the series have received - and specifically the anger over Sansa Stark's in season 5 - to which he said (via The Guardian):
"I think that is nonsense. I think that is there is an awful lot of violence to men. For anyone who has watched the show, it can be a very violent show. I don’t think the violence to women is particularly highlighted, it’s just part of the story. The rape happens, it’s part of the story, it was in the book."
Technically, the scene as it happens in the book is different than what happened on the show - most obviously in that it wasn't Sansa whom Ramsay rapes and abuses in the novels but another character since cut from the show. But nitpicking aside, Davey's response isn't likely to appease anyone who's been critical of the series. Frankly, being dismissive and using the example that "there is an awful lot of violence to men" too, misses the point of those criticisms. The fact is that the violence to women - which is more often than not sexual in nature - is highlighted differently than the violence done to men, and ignoring that fact is what's nonsense.
Murder and rape and countless other horrible acts are an intrinsic part of the world Game of Thrones has built; it's a reality of a world where those with power abuse those without. But for many who've complained of the sexual violence used against women characters on the show, the issue stems from its purpose in the narrative rather than its inclusion at all. For example, in the first season when Daenerys and Khal Drogo consummate their marriage, the scene as it was depicted on the show appeared far less consensual than readers had interpreted in the novel. The same could be said of the scene in where Jaime and Cersei have sex in the Sept of Baelor. Something is always lost in adaptation, but when it's the nuance and sensitivity needed in depicting a complex scene between characters, then that's a valid criticism to level at a show.
It's a shame the scene of Sansa's rape on her wedding night is the one that became the tipping point for many viewers because (in this writer's opinion) it wasn't a gratuitous scene. Rather, it was not only the expected behavior seeing as consummation and eventually an heir would be needed, but for the progression of Sansa's character, having her brought so low was a necessary stop on the journey she continued well into season 6 - one that ended with her achieving revenge by killing Ramsay.
But Game of Thrones doesn't exist in a vacuum, and even when great care is given to a sensitive scene it can still become just another in a long list of scenes depicting sexual violence - on the series itself and on television in general.
Game of Thrones will return for its seventh season in the summer of 2017 on HBO.
Source: The Guardian