Spoilers for the latest episode of Game of Thrones, just in case you need them.
I’ve not really said much about the HBO Game of Thrones so far for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve not read the books, which I don’t think is any kind of requirement for criticism so much as I think it speaks to my being a more casual fan. Second, those elements which I do find problematic are, largely, being critiqued by people far better at it than I am.
I’m not even sure I’m about to launch into a critique of GoT even now so much as I am this article Eric Deggans posted over at NPR. The title itself probably tells you most of what you need to know: “Do Critics Of Violence And Sex In HBO’s ‘Game Of Thrones’ Miss The Point?”
Also, this is your last spoiler warning.
It’s an especially messy op-ed piece not least of all because it conflates criticism of GoT’s growing-infamous tendency to have its female protagonists raped with a scene wherein a young girl is murdered by her father. Which, really, seem like incredibly different arguments to me.
Whether it’s too far to kill a child character more-or-less on camera (and / or arguing that it’s a step Stannis Baratheon would never take) is a very different thing than pointing out how often GoT goes to the Rape Well when they need Something Horrible to motivate their female protagonists. About the only thing they have in common is that they’re both criticisms of the show, and they both seem to be sticking points for an irrate fandom.
That’s not nearly enough for me to buy in that the same argument works for both situations. It’s a rhetorical tactic somewhere akin to adding anti-marriage amendments to a federal budget. I’m not letting you graft them together in an effort to strong arm my support.
So, the Baratheon child has nothing to do with this, okay? Leave the girl and her father in whatever horrific version of peace they can manage.
Now we’re left with just the one charge. And its defense, at least in the most recent case:
From my perspective, the journey of Sansa Stark’s character has been completely about seeing her romantic and unrealistic vision of her world hardened by adversity – including her father’s beheading, her own kidnapping, the murder of her mother and other family members, and her forced marriage to two different men, including the sadist who now tortures her regularly.
Is that the point I was supposed to be missing? Because I didn’t miss it. Not after the beheading, not during the murders or the kidnappings, not even with the forced marriages. It’s very hard to miss that point. It’s fairly obvious, honestly. I think, rather, that apologists and counter-arguments are more missing the point of the critics.
As Deggans’ own list shows us, Sansa’s journey thus far has been dour and horrific and traumatizing in all the ways this grimdark fantasy most enjoys, and no one screamed and hollered and said “but Sansa should live in a world of butterflies and pretty flowers!” This isn’t about life in this world being awful and ruinous for just about anyone who enters it. It’s about the fact that, for female characters, the writers seem to consistently shortcut everything by adding in rape scenes.
As I said above, I think others are in a better position and possessed of more eloquence than I in discussing a lot of the inherent sexism and triggering that rape scenes evoke. What I feel entirely qualified to say about such repetitive narrative shorthand, though, is this:
It. Is. Lazy.
This is a world with ice zombies and dragon queens. Where shadow babies murder wannabe kings and the seasons don’t play fair and predictable. I’m not asking for a utopia where only pleasant things happen. I’m asking that, if you’re going to go for this grimdark worldview, if you’re going to drag me through despair and horror, the least you can do is be more imaginative than “Our female character needs horrific hardship to overcome. I know: rape! Because that’s the thing about women, they get raped, right?”