Please note, this was written in response to a recent article posted on WIRED.com. I have included several links to this article, spaced out over my piece for the reader's convenience. All of the links below go to the same article.
As a fan of the HBO series since Episode 1, it has come as little surprise to me that Game of Thrones has taken some harsh criticism over the years. Along with other articles, I receive much of this criticism in my In-Box thanks to my general interest in the show. I read through most of it, and often as not I find myself agreeing with the points that are made, which takes nothing of my love away from the show. I came across one today that I can't dismiss, and yet I can't help but feeling that the example used to make the point is just...off.
In the WIRED.com article, author Laura Hudson makes not one but several points about the depiction of rape in our media culture and the great harm that it does. Let me be clear that I think they are all excellent points, culminating in a strong case that the pop-cultural depiction of rape is -- as a rule -- harmful, unnecessary, and far too frequent. I agree on all counts, and I would encourage anyone to read the full article. She concludes that "Rape Scenes Aren't Just Awful. They're Lazy Writing." (This being both the title and the point of her article)
It would be easy (read: lazy) to characterize my objection to this article as somehow condoning the vile act of rape, which I obviously do not. Still, the fact that I am a male responding critically to an anti-rape article written by a female can't be ignored. It produces a strong enough knee-jerk reaction that even I felt it when I sat down to write this, and I considered avoiding the topic. In reality the only thing I object to about the piece is the use of a recent scene from Game of Thrones to make the point. In fact, the arguments in the piece seem to be entirely disconnected from the scene in question. They tend to be much broader observations that the author is loosely trying to make relevant by referring to a recent example. When I read the article I couldn't help but feel that, while the observations themselves were insightful and valid points, they were being supported with just about the worst possible example, and I was compelled to get off the sidelines.
Top 10 Most Objectionable GoT Moments
Let me set the stage by relaying my personal top ten list, in no particular order, of things in Game of Thrones that have happened on screen over the last five years that I have found truly horrifying. (SPOILER ALERT: I hope it is obvious, but if you haven't seen the show, then this list will be full of spoilers. Since it is about Game of Thrones, much of the material is, uh, vivid.)
10. The subjugation of women, particularly in the form of prostitution, is pretty much everywhere. This isn't quite made out to be at the level of human trafficking in the show, but it is close. One character in particular, Littlefinger, came from nothing and has accumulated vast wealth and power from the many brothels he managed to acquire. At one point he had a notable prostitute in his "employ" killed, furthering his political aspirations while also sending a clear message of ownership to the rest of "his girls."
9. Littlefinger recruits men and women to prostitution unwillingly. Using bait and switch tactics and the promise of other kinds of paying work, Littlefinger acquires people and then corrupts them. One such unlucky "waiter" was shown being compromised on-screen, with the perpetrator not considering it for even a moment, flippantly saying, "Everyone in Littlefinger's employ is for sale," just before enjoying what I would argue was really the first rape in the show. This got little attention from anyone, and is not mentioned anywhere in the Laura Hudson piece. I find that notable since it was A) a Male-Male rape and B) not fully shown on camera, speaking directly to two of the points that she makes in the article. It was a short, minor, transitional scene that many fans of the show probably don't even remember, but it was there, and it received neither outrage nor any comment of intrigue.
8. The vivid decapitation of Ned Stark. Maybe this isn't the most controversial one on the list, but I must say it scarred me, and at the same time oddly it hooked me. At the time, Ned was THE main hero of the story, the moral center of the whole GoT universe. Everything was predictably tense but the way out was clear, and Ned took it, and the new king said OFF with his head anyway, and that was that. I watched it several times in slow motion, going frame by frame to be sure I really saw it. There was no question, that sword went clean through. It bummed me out, and then I got excited to see how good the show must be that it could confidently kill off its chief protagonist for a finale. This event also directly led to the possibility for:
7. Sansa Stark is forced to look her father in the eye, after his head has been removed. That's right, after her father had been decapitated, a cruel guard tricks her into walking out to a bridge and seeing this
6. Jaime Lannister's severed hand. Again, this isn't a scene over which I would expect to see picket signs, but it was definitely up there on the disturbing side. To put it in brief context, Jaime had just talked a group of men out of raping and killing a woman he was travelling with. For his troubles, however, they decided to teach him a lesson and cut off his hand. Bodily mutilation of that kind must be traumatic for any victim, but for Jaime's character who was a career swordsman, the loss of his sword-hand was especially painful. I am a long-time horror movie fan, but the moment is captured so realistically that it is hard for even me to watch.
It is definitely noteworthy that this was a punishment of sorts that was doled out in return for Jaime using his wits to save a woman from being raped and murdered. Jaime is also the character who then commits the hotly contested rape in Season 5.
5. The remains of a surrendering army that was promised mercy but flayed alive instead. This one kind of speaks for itself.
4. The...other stuff...Ramsay Snow did to Theon Greyjoy. Especially terrifying, this went on for several episodes, and we still see the aftermath of it all in Theon Greyjoy's recurring character, who now calls himself Reek at the insistence of Ramsay. Among the brutalities we know Ramsay inflicted on Theon were restraining him bodily to a device mimicking crucifixion without allowing the victim to die, partial flaying, other forms of physical and psychological torture, complete castration/removal of genitalia, and eventually full brainwashing.
3. Sacrifice by burning alive. There isn't much more to say about this. It is implied to be a somewhat common practice among one particular religious faction in Westeros. One particular scene shows a sort of combination sacrifice and political execution. I can still hear their screams...
2. Red Viper: Head Explody. O.M.G. Who could forget this one? I'll spare you the imagery. Wait, no I won't! That's the whole point of the series!
1. Incest. Even in the GoT world, it is at least implied that incest is considered pretty foul by most, yet there is a notable couple that has been engaging in an incestuous relationship since literally the very first episode. An intimate moment between the couple was shown on-screen in Episode 1 and has been a theme ever since. The couple are fraternal twins, but have produced three children of their own. It is of course, Jaime and Cersei Lannister, the pair involved in the now controversial rape scene.
Bonus: The Red Wedding. Honorable mention: The Purple Wedding. If you don't know, Google it.
None of these things detract from the validity of Laura Hudson's points, and yet when looked at all together, it does ring of the hypocritical to suddenly scream foul so late in the game. After so many horrors have transpired with dogged regularity in the series, how can we start drawing lines now? I don't question that rape is awful, but if we suggest it should be left out of the series for that reason, then surely so must pretty much every major event in the show.
But wait, that isn't the argument here, is it? Ms. Hudson has specifically made the case that rape scenes should be eliminated from the story-line because they aren't just awful, "they're lazy writing." As a dedicated T.V. viewer I have seen what lazy writing looks like, and Game of Thrones ain't it. For the sake of anyone who has forgotten I will remind you that I agree with all of the actual points from the WIRED.com article, but I contend that Ms. Hudson has unwittingly stumbled on to one of the few exceptions to the rule she is outlining.
In a fictional world in which all of the above-mentioned things are a part of day-to-day life, it would be strange to the point of unbelievable if rape were not also a part of that world. The show depicts a violent and savage place, and it usually deals with themes of oppression, brutality, isolation, and generally feeling powerless. I hadn't thought about it until reading the Hudson piece, but I am now duly impressed that the series has been able to explore those themes for so many years without including rape in the story.
Added to that, the way in which this particular scene was written does not at all strike me as lazy. The perpetrator had previously lost his hand for stopping an earlier rape from happening. The perpetrator and the victim have been engaged in a decades-long incestuous affair that has produced three children, who have been and are currently posing as heirs to the throne. Introducing rape into the series with two such nuanced main characters who have an existing and complicated relationship is a bold writing choice any way you slice it. There is nothing lazy about it.
Now, as is stated in the article, "Rape is Rape," and I couldn't agree more. It is disgusting, villainous, and horrifying by its nature, and the rape depicted in the scene in question is not any less so. So call it what it is. Call it a disturbing and horrifying scene, call it brutal, call it hard to watch, but do not call it lazy writing. In one man's opinion, that is a lazy assessment.
Don't let me get the last word. What do you think?
Sorry for the pictures. This is my first ever article for MoviePilot. Next time I will try to play with the image sizes so they don't all come out as full-page monsters, but I wanted to get this up and be done with it.