Rape of Thrones: Sansa Stark (And The Audience) Deserved Better

(Spoilers ahead.)

Last night's episode of Game of Thrones, "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken," ended with one of the most disturbing scenes in the HBO series' history: on her wedding night, Sansa Stark was forcibly raped by her new husband Ramsay Bolton, while Theon Greyjoy/Reek was made to stand in the doorway and watch. This is the latest in a long line of rapes and rape threats that have popped up on the show, going all the way back to Dany and Khal Drogo in season one (which the show turned into a rape even though it was consensual in the books) and culminating with Jaime raping Cersei in the sept near the body of their recently-murdered son.

I understand that Westeros is a dangerous place, and sometimes an especially dangerous place for women, but if the showrunners weren't ashamed of themselves in regards to any of the previous rape controversies in the series, they certainly should be this time.

There were three characters in play during last night's scene in question:

  • Sansa, who has already suffered untold horrors by being physically and psychologically tortured by Joffrey, nearly being raped by the townspeople of King's Landing, and enduring the loss of her family members at the hands of her family's enemies.
  • Ramsay, who has already been very well established as the successor to Joffrey when it comes to the most sadistic son of a bitch in the Seven Kingdoms (torture, hunting humans for sport, the psychological breaking down and castrating of Theon, etc).
  • Theon, who, while admittedly being sort of a douche, has experienced torture and torment — mostly by Ramsay's hand — that is wildly unequal to his douchebaggery.

So after the rape scene, what did we learn? Absolutely nothing that we didn't already know. That's the mark of bad storytelling: when neither the plot nor the characters are furthered in any considerable way.

One of the only things I can possibly think of as an excuse for this scene (and it's not even a good excuse) would be that it adds fuel to the fire of Sansa's eventual revenge. I haven't read all of the books yet, so I don't even know if that happens or not. But did she really need to be raped for us to feel like we were on her side? The show has spent the past few episodes building up Sansa and giving her some agency alongside Littlefinger, only to rip it away again in last night's scene.

This is going to sound strange and I'm going to do my best to explain what I mean here, but I'm guessing it'll be easy to take this out of context and I encourage you all to bear with me and try to understand what I mean by this: if the showrunners chose to include this rape as fuel for the fire, show us Sansa's face while it's happening. I do NOT want to see the rape itself — hearing Sophie Turner's sounds off camera was bad enough — but show us how this is actually affecting Sansa, not how it's affecting Theon, who is just standing there in the corner of the room. Yes, it must have been awful for Theon to see that...but how much worse was it for Sansa herself?

If this is set-up for Theon to come out of his Reek shell and kill Ramsay, then using Sansa's rape as a catalyst is a disgusting and embarrassing storytelling tactic. Theon has already been tortured enough by Ramsay to earn a revenge payoff himself without that horrible extra scene thrown on top of everything else. If it's set-up for Sansa eventually killing Ramsay, then this sequence was poorly directed; by concentrating on Theon's reaction to the rape, the showrunners took away what little power Sansa had left in that scenario. I still like the show, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to watch when scenes like this are appearing with alarming frequency.

Sansa deserved better than that, and we deserved better storytelling than that.

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