This post is about Sunday's Game of Thrones episode: "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken," and so is clearly spoileriffic. There are also some spoilers for the books. You have been warned!
I don't think there was a single viewer of the latest episode of Game of Thrones who didn't spend the entire credits staring at their own shocked and appalled face in the reflection of their screen. "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" raised the gut-wrench bar for the famously disturbing show with yet another brutally violent wedding.
This time, Sansa got her third shot at marriage (if we include her prolonged and tortuous betrothal to Joffrey), and anyone looking for even a hint of a happy ending had those hopes dashed as she was wed to the truly psychotic Ramsey Bolton. You would think that it would be impossible to find a worse option than Joffrey for a husband, but apparently not in Westeros.
Fans of the show already know what happens next. In an incredibly sickening scene, Ramsey forces Theon/Reek to watch as he viciously rapes his new wife. As she screams, the camera pans to Theon/Reek's face, as he struggles to obey his orders to watch, with tears running down his cheeks. The scene was horrifying, nauseating, and almost unwatchable... but intentionally so, and George R. R. Martin is unapologetic about where it went.
In one of his blogs "Not A Blog," he talked about the fan outrage over such a huge departure from the books, reminding fans that the show isn't meant to be a direct interpretation of his series of novels.
"How many children did Scarlett O'Hara have? Three, in the novel. One, in the movie. None, in real life: she was a fictional character, she never existed. The show is the show, the books are the books; two different tellings of the same story.
There have been differences between the novels and the television show since the first episode of season one. And for just as long, I have been talking about the butterfly effect. Small changes lead to larger changes lead to huge changes. HBO is more than forty hours into the impossible and demanding task of adapting my lengthy (extremely) and complex (exceedingly) novels, with their layers of plots and subplots, their twists and contradictions and unreliable narrators, viewpoint shifts and ambiguities, and a cast of characters in the hundreds.
There has seldom been any TV series as faithful to its source material, by and large (if you doubt that, talk to the Harry Dresden fans, or readers of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, or the fans of the original WALKING DEAD comic books)... but the longer the show goes on, the bigger the butterflies become. And now we have reached the point where the beat of butterfly wings is stirring up storms, like the one presently engulfing my email.
Sometimes butterflies grow into dragons."
In the same piece, he also references the network, writers and showrunners of the HBO series, reminding us that they are trying to create the best show that they possibly can.
While some people may believe that this latest huge change to the series was done simply to bump up the ratings (scandal, sex and violence tend to do that), showrunner David Benioff and writer-producer Bryan Cogman told Entertainment Weekly that they had a much more complicated reason for the new storyline.
DB: We really wanted Sansa to play a major part this season. If we were going to stay absolutely faithful to the book, it was going to be very hard to do that. There was as subplot we loved from the books, but it used a character that’s not in the show.
BC: You have this storyline with Ramsay. Do you have one of your leading ladies—who is an incredibly talented actor who we’ve followed for five years and viewers love and adore—do it? Or do you bring in a new character to do it? To me, the question answers itself: You use the character the audience is invested in.
While this is a very bold departure, [we liked] the power of bringing a Stark back to Winterfell and having her reunite with Theon under these circumstances.
The subplot which Benioff is referring to is one where Sansa's friend from happier days (Jeyne Poole) is married off to Bolton while pretending to be Arya Stark. Ramsey has even less mercy with her than he does with Sansa in the show, and there is a scene where Reek/Theon is ordered to do far more than just watch.
To me, it makes perfect sense to combine this story with Sansa's in order to give her a larger role in the season. In the same interview with EW, Cogman mentions Sansa's current position in the books, which have her essentially stuck in the Vale as Littlefinger's "daughter." As a huge fan of both Sansa and Littlefinger (especially with Sansa's character development in recent seasons, and her newfound strength), I'm happy to see them given more to do than sit in the Vale and deal with Robin.
It seems like Sophie Turner (who plays Sansa) is also pretty thrilled by the changes. She spoke with Entertainment Weekly about it in October, and admitted to being thoroughly excited about the controversial move from the books.
"When I read that scene, I kinda loved it. I love the way Ramsay had Theon watching. It was all so messed up. It’s also so daunting for me to do it. I’ve been making [producer Bryan Cogman] feel so bad for writing that scene: “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me!” But I secretly loved it."
Throughout the interview, she sounds like she just can't wait to get her teeth into some of the really complex and twisted elements of her new storyline, and who can blame her? As an actress, taking on bigger, more emotional scenes is a challenge and a joy; something she probably wouldn't have had if she spent the season drifting along behind Littlefinger and largely off-camera.
"I love the fact she’s back home reclaiming what’s hers. When I got the scripts, it was bit like, dude, I felt so bad for her. But I also felt excited because it was so sick, and being reunited with Theon too, and seeing how their relationship plays out. Theon’s a member of the Stark clan but she thinks he totally betrayed and killed her brothers. It’s a messed-up relationship between them.
I think it’s going to be the most challenging season for me so far just because it’s so emotional for her. It’s not just crying all the time, like seasons 2 or 3, it’s super messed up."
Even for those viewers who hated the scene, it was amazing to see Turner rise to the challenge of it. Iwan Rheon (Ramsey Bolton) is proving his talents time and time again as the sadistic Bolton bastard, and as Alfie Allen struggles between Reek and Theon now that Sansa has returned, he is doing absolutely brilliant work.
This trio may not have come together in the books, but I am so thrilled to see such incredible acting as they work together with this new story.
That said, even Turner is happy that they didn't keep the entirety of the Poole/Bolton wedding scene in the show...
Have you read the book version?
No. Doesn’t Theon join in or something?
Yeah, like, thank God that didn’t happen!