So, the time has come around once more when Game of Thrones the TV show has ‘added’ a rape scene that didn’t exist in the books, and once more the internet is on fire. This time, more than anything, because it’s for TV’s beloved younger sister, Sansa Stark.
I’ve been pretty vocal on here before about what I think of the show’s propensity to “translate” consensual sex in the books into rape on screen. Once again, the show seems to jump straight to rape, but I do think that there are some elements of the particular colour of the how could they do this to Sansa? strand of outrage that I find troubling as well.
As I’ve said at length before, the Jamie/Cersei inserted rape was horrifying more than anything because it replaced consensual menstrual sex with rape. Similarly, the Dænerys/Khal Drogo wedding night sex which, in the books, offered not just an interesting subversion of the ingenue prisoner princess married against her will to older warrior scene but also a nuancing of stereotypical masculinity in which the Khal Drogo of the books is sensitive and waits for explicit consent, is then replaced in the TV show with Emilia Clark bent over on her hands and knees sobbing into the camera. It seems that in difficult and nuanced sexual situations, the producers seem disturbingly inclined to jump straight to rape.
So then we come to Sansa’s scene. Now, as you will know if you’ve read the books, the show’s writers have conflated Sansa with Jeyne Poole, who suffers a wedding night rape with an audience at the hands of Ramsey Bolton in the books. There is at least some narrative strain in the books in which this happens. It’s a little disappointing that, when Sansa in the books receives an apprenticeship in scheming under Littlefinger and rules from the Aeyrie that a storyline in which Sansa is given a little more autonomy wasn’t chosen, but decisions like that are made when bringing together many strands of a complex story. More worrying than this single instance is the pattern.
And I, like many internet commentators, was disappointed that it seemed like Sansa’s rape was more about Theon and Theon’s suffering than it was about her and hers. It puts the rape of a main character into the background the same way that women are casually raped in the background of several Game of Thrones war scenes. It’s not edgy, it’s crass and upsetting. Since they had decided to run that scene and that storyline, they might have done it justice. I, and many others, feel they did not.
That said, I also feel that the strength of the internet outrage is somewhat tinted with a strain of ‘Sansa doesn’t deserve this’, as though any woman would deserve to be rape, and as though the scene would be less horrifying if it happened to a character we didn’t like. And it got me thinking of how a lot of the outrage about Cersei’s rape centred not on the fact that she did not deserve to be raped (which she most certainly did not) but that we had begun to think Jamie was a “good guy” and this upset our understanding of his character. Sansa is a pure, innocent virgin, and has spent much of the narrative in a victim role. She is pretty. She is feminine. She is kind. We care about her, and we as citizens of the internet are outraged about her rape. Cersei is a self-interested bitch who murdered her husband and had sex with her own brother. Critique of her rape was dominated by the complaint that it was out of character for the man who had raped her.
I’m not trying to diminish the horror and potential gratuitousness of Sansa’s rape here, only to suggest that the horror does not lie in the fact that one particular woman does not deserve to be raped, but rather that no one does, and to use the rape of women as a plot device, a simplification, a dramatisation or a “turn-on” is always going to be disgusting.