Warning: Spoilers up ahead!
Game of Thrones has never felt bleaker and with the shocking treatment of Cersei at the end of the fifth season, it became even more apparent that the show had descended into a helpless abyss of brutality and cruelty. So great was the misery throughout the season that, at times, we simply abandoned any final glimmers of hope that all would one day be well in Westeros.
From kings and queens, right down to the peasants and paupers, it's safe to say that most of the characters in GoT are victims. Yet, the finale of the most recent season confirmed that it is the women - who are routinely humiliated, raped, tortured or murdered - who arguably suffer the worst fates.
So it comes as no wonder that from its very beginnings, the show has been collecting criticism for its brutal treatment of women and portrayal of misogyny. And the most recent person to join in the debate has been Jack Gleeson, who played perhaps the most hated perpetrator of violence against women of all - Joffrey Baratheon.
Despite leaving the juggernaut show since his character's horrendous death, he has now spoken out about his opinions on the matter and how, at times, it was incredibly difficult to portray the woman-torturing Joffrey.
Speaking about the orgy of twisted brutality unleashed on the show's women, Gleeson says:
"Yeah, of course; it’s a tricky thing when you are representing misogyny in that way because I wouldn’t say the show never implicitly condones misogyny or any kind of violence towards women. But, perhaps, it’s still unfair or unjust to represent it even if the gloss on the representation is a negative one."
Naturally, addressing such a controversial topic, he treads carefully:
“Obviously as a 23-year-old man, I can never put myself into the mindset of a woman who has been sexually assaulted, but I think that sometimes you have to represent awful things happening onscreen even if they’re for entertainment because you have to expose the brutality of them, because the chances are you’re not going to see that anywhere."
Indeed, he understands that while such scenes engage with the audience's sense of empathy, what they see on-screen could be deemed as too traumatic and stressful to be appropriate.
For example, Joffrey's humiliation and abuse of Sansa Stark (played by Sophie Turner) is horrendous to watch. And even his death does not better her situation when the most recent season plunges the helpless girl into the monstrous clutches of the tyrannical Ramsey Bolton.
Her subsequent rape at the hands of the Ramsey is painful to watch, forcing many viewers to condemn the show and stop watching it altogether. Most recently, a U.S. senator openly spoke about the moment that made her abandon the show, suggesting that GoT had gone too far:
Also turning his attention to this very scene, Gleeson offers his view on the tough issue at hand:
“I think it’s always how you represent that kind of treatment: Are you in some way making it cool, or are you making it into an entertainment product, and is that wrong? Or are you doing it in order to expose the problem of sexual assault?"
Agreed, it is a topic that is deeply entrenched in a grey area. Of course, there are positive and negative effects of portraying such violence, but is there a definitive stance we should take?
"These scenes should be difficult"
By no means is Gleeson the first to fuel the debate and over the years, other GoT actors have responded to criticism of the show's misogyny at hand. For example, just like her fearless warrior Brienne of Tarth, actress Gwendoline Christie was not afraid to put up a fight in defending HBO's treatment of its female characters, saying:
“I’ve always been quite clear about my attitude toward gender equality and female empowerment. And a lot of this show is inspired by actual historical events, and that’s what’s occurring with the women. Women have been treated appalling in history. Men have too. Human beings have. What this show is doing is shining a light on women and has an exploration of female characters that has rarely been approached before—and I applaud that. Yes, those scenes are difficult, and they should be difficult. They should further illuminate human consciousness about how we interact as human beings.”
On the other hand though, Emilia Clarke, the wonder behind Daenerys, shares a slightly different opinion:
"I think the thing that’s important to remember is that sadly, first and foremost, it’s a story that we’re telling that is make-believe—that is based in a fantastical world. So, whilst there is a political commentary that people can take from the show because that is everyone’s right to do so, I think not taking it too seriously is kind of the key here. So yeah, that’s kind of what I think, basically.”
Well, there you have it - the Khaleesi has spoken. Yet, the debate rages on...