Why U mad, tho? Another treatise on Sexual Violence in HBO’s Game of Thrones

It’s been a little over a year since Lucy (formerly Peachy) wrote her article discussing the now infamous incestuous rape scene in the third episode of Game of Thrones’ season four. History has a funny way of repeating itself, doesn’t it? If you’re a fan of GOT, be warned that there’ll be spoilers from here on in. Those of you not riding that particular roller coaster are still encouraged to read on, because what I have to say doesn’t only apply to the seven kingdoms. At the end of episode 6, Sansa Stark (played by Sophie Turner), was married to Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), in what she was made to believe to be a power move by a political puppet master Petyr Baelish, whose relationship with her revolves around her serving as both a political pawn and a romantic proxy for her dead mother, upon whom he long had designs. That disturbing little tidbit is not even what I want to talk about right now. What I do want to talk about is the general and critical reaction to the very final scene, in which she is raped off-screen by her new husband (long established as a sadist), with her former foster-brother watching on. I’m not here to have the “but was it rape?” argument, I’m here to have the “why does fictional rape garner the outrage non-fictional rape evades?” discussion. Some fucked up stuff happens on Game of Thrones. Some fucked up stuff happens in real life. In real life, though, we can cloak these things in an ambiguity and reason that’s difficult to foster when it’s presented to us by an omniscient narrative eye. So long as there’s room for doubt, you can rationalise it away or pretend it didn’t happen, at least “not like that”.  But when it’s right in front of you, like it was in this episode and in last year’s, there’s no “he said, she said”, no evidence to gather, no allegations to discount and no witnesses to find or discredit. You saw a fucked up thing happen. You are a witness. You can’t hide from it anymore, like you could when if happened to a friend of a friend’s cousin. You have to confront a very real and fucked up thing that happens to women and men all over the world under a range of fucked up circumstances, and it makes you uncomfortable. Which is fine, by the way, you should be uncomfortable. Only rapists are okay with rape (in addition to an alarming number of politicians, religious and academic institutions, etc.) But are you as upset by a 30 second headline on the six o’clock news about a real, violent, sexual crime perpetrated by and upon real, living people as you are by something simulated by actors in a safe and controlled environment? Are you going to jump online and write about how it should never have been allowed to happen? Are you going to demand that it never be allowed to happen again? What is arguing with a stranger going to achieve? Sex is still a pretty significantly taboo topic in contemporary society, especially when it comes to issues of consent. The way it’s dealt with on our tv and movie screens reminds me of repeats I’ve seen of shows from the ’60s where married adults slept in twin single beds. For centuries, polite society – historically, the part of society that makes and enforces the rules – refused to allow the open acknowledgement that consensual sex, within the boundaries of a loving relationship, was something that occurred in a fictional universe, let alone in a real one. Sure, we’ve moved on, sex is everywhere in contemporary media, for better and worse. There are dozens of crime shows that thrive on twistedly empowering narratives of rape – the perpetrator is convicted, or served poetic justice, the victim is avenged. Our fiction feeds us rhetoric about survival and the power of the system, when nothing is more systemic, on a global scale, than sexual abuse. In attempting to depict narratives of sexual violence that conform to resolution-driven, episodic formats, contemporary fiction is unknowingly and implicitly reinforcing the tendency to hide from the inconvenient truth of reality. There is nothing more damaging or pervasive than willful or enforced ignorance. You can’t hope to change or fix something you don’t know how to talk about. I am by no means advocating for more rape scenes on my television. What I would like though, is for the people watching and talking about them to think seriously about why it makes them feel the way they do without becoming the proverbial ostrich, blocking out the inconvenient or uncomfortable. Come on, other humans, do me this one solid.

Shon

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‘Game of Thrones’ Season 3 Episode 8 Review: “Second Sons”

Rating: 8/10

Spoiler-free summary: Season 3 picks up the pace with only two episodes left. Arya passes the Red Fork river, Yunkai prepares to defend itself, Gendry arrives at Dragonstone, Stannis releases his prisoner, Kings landing hosts a major wedding, Cersei threatens the Tyrell’s, Daenerys gains new allies and Sam encounters a being in the snow.

*Episode spoilers from here on*

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No Jon, no Robb, no Jaime? No skin-flaying or castration?

Second Sons flourished through exclusions, good and bad. Instead of countless parallel storylines, it focused mainly on Gendry’s arrival at Dragonstone, Dany’s negotiation with the Second Sons, and  Tyrion and Sansa’s marriage in Kings Landing. The episode was also bookended by brief scenes featuring Arya and the Hound, and Sam and Gilly.

It was a week of unlikely pairs; Tyrions awkward marriage to Sansa was trumped only by Melissandre’s leeching of poor Gendry. We also briefly visited Arya, a reluctant companion of the Hound, who plans on ransoming her at the Twins. There was something very gratifying about Arya FINALLY being caught up on things. As she sees it, her brother and mother are north, the Hound still works for Joffrey and her sister is betrothed to the King. Arya is that friend who only watched Season 1 and swore off the series when Ned Stark was beheaded. Ignorance aside, a rare smile means that for the time being the Hound is off her hitlist. (But seriously, is there a tally for the amount of times she’s heard the words, ‘i’m taking you back to your family?’)

In the East, Daenerys met with the captains of the Second Sons, a group of sellswords hired by Yunkai to defend them. Inexplicably without her dragons (one does not simply have an infinite CGI budget) she met the vulgar Mero “The Titans Bastard”, some other dude, and the dreamy Daario Naharis. While the trio initially planned to reject Daenerys offer, infiltrate her camp and kill her, Daario decides he’d rather not. “I said, I am Daario Naharis. I always have a choice.” He kills the two captains and pledges the second sons to Daenerys.

(This guy is all hair, swag and cheekbones – Captain Jack Sparrow meets Orlando Bloom meets Jaqen H’ghar. I kinda want his babies.)

Meanwhile on Dragonstone,  Davos was released by Stannis after an admirable attempt to read the histories of Aegon the Conqueror  Visenya? Vhagar? Couldn’t Shirreen have given him a book about sheep?  Stannis missed his BFF, and hoped Davos would have a word with his GF about gutting his nephew (as his Wife stared at jars of dead babies. #complicatedhomelife). Melissandre’s alternative to sacrificing Gendry was seducing him, tying him to a bed, and letting a leech suck the blood from his manhood. So nice. I feel like Theon and Gendry could form a club. She then performed a ritual in which usurpers ‘Robb Stark’, ‘Balon Greyjoy’, and ‘Joffrey Baratheon’ were condemned. By now, we know that the Lord of Light can make bad things happen. He can have Balon and Joffrey for all anyone cares, but Robb?!

As a distraction from that thought, let’s talk about what everyone wants to talk about. Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding.
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It was full of awkwardness, tension and in many cases, hilarity. Married literally steps from where her father was beheaded, to the dwarf uncle of a boy-king who has made her life hell, Sansa was curiously resigned. And the sadistic cherry on top of it all was Joffrey giving her away. I know everyone loves to hate Sansa, but you have to feel sorry for her sometimes. Fantastically written and beautifully shot, the wedding scenes were a goldmine for amazing dialogue.

Olena Tyrell was great as she explained to Loras just how screwed up his family life will be when he marries Cersei. Hilarious. “And you will be the Kings stepfather and brother in-law.” And I know Cersei is a huge bitch, but man, is she good at it. From “if you ever call me sister again i’ll have you strangled in your sleep” to “nobody cares what your father once said” she gracefully performed a verbal smackdown on both Tyrell’s. To be honest, I was getting a bit sick of Margaery’s ‘let’s be sister’s’ routine anyway.

Back to the awkward union. Tyrion began gently, attempting to convince his bride that he understood how she felt and that he would always be kind to her. But he clearly lost his cool (probably around the same time Joffrey removed his stool) and opted for plan B, the one with lots of drinking. “I am the god of tits and wine” is definitely my favourite Tyrion line this season. Or is it? Threatening to geld the King in front of a room full of nobility might actually take the cake.

“Then you’ll be fucking your own bride with a wooden cock.”

DAMN. I liked how Tywin lazily swept in to save his son from being instantly executed, and how Tyrion casually turned the threat in to a drunken blunder. “I vomited on a girl once, in the middle of the act. Not proud of it.” Peter Dinklage’s line-delivery and mannerisms are Emmy-worthy. Equally brilliant was the scene Tyrion and Sansa shared as man and wife: “Astoundingly long…” “What?” “…neck. You have one.”

I could just write out quotes and nothing would be better. It really was great.

Sam the Slayer! In the north, our favourite screw-up showed some serious character development this week, summoning the courage to protect Gilly and her baby by shoving a dragon glass dagger in to a White Walkers’ back. (But not quite enough development to PICK UP THE WEAPON THAT JUST KILLED A MYTHICAL ICE DEMON CREATURE. Oh Sam. Baby steps.) The White Walkers have returned and look as amazing as ever, though the same cannot be said for some crummy CGI sword-shattering. Hmm. As a whole though, I enjoyed the action and plot development the final scene provided, and the wonderfully awkward interactions between Gilly and Sam.

‘Second Sons’ carries a lot of weight in its name, as what I think is this seasons best title yet. It refers most blatantly to the group of sellswords hired by Yunkai. However both Stannis and Tyrion are second sons, overlooked by their fathers and less loved by their peers than their older siblings, yet inevitably bound to ‘do their duty’. The Hound, too, is a second son, forever in the shadow of his older and crueller brother, Gregor Clegane. If we really want to stretch, Joffrey is a second son, and Sam Tarly is shunned by his father in favor of his younger brother. So many second sons!

We have to wait two weeks for the next episode, ‘The Rains of Castamere’, rumored to focus on Robb’s storyline as he reaches the Twins. We can always count on GoT to deliver in its final episodes. I’m certain the wait will be worth it.

Peachy x