Sansa Stark: Bowed, Bent and Broken.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Warning: This post contains triggers of sexual assault and rape.
Spoilers to follow for “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” - Season 5 episode 6 of Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is a show that has pushed the boundaries plenty of times over the last five seasons and the grim conclusion to episode six is a boundary pushed too far.

The show has had a long standing women's problem - not in the sense that women are often portrayed as weak, pathetic Mary Sue's but rather as frequent victims of unnecessary male violence. At the very beginning of season one, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss transformed a consensual sex scene between Daenerys and Khal Drogo into rape. The same transformation was repeated in season four between Jaime and Cersei Lannister, when Cersei was raped by her own brother over the corpse of her son.

The end of season 5, episode 6 saw the rape of Sansa Stark at the hands of Ramsay Bolten; a voyueristic turn of events Theon Greyjoy became forced to watch. It saw the loss of Sansa's steady growth in power, confidence and dignity. The fate of women is no longer being shown through their own eyes. We must instead bear witness to Sansa's rape in the reflection of Theon's tears, the sounds of ripping cloth and the cries of pain. This trope did nothing for the development of Sansa's character but her whole storyline now becomes hinged on this moment. If she appears strong, it is because she is a survivor. If she appears weak, it is because she is a victim. If she appears evil, it is because the rape has transformed her, destroyed her purity and innocence. Sansa becomes an object assigned to a category, no longer in possession of her own agency. Rape is so oft used as a mechanism to put women in their place.

The rape scene was a gratuitous, vicious assault that never centred around Sansa in the 'experience'. Theon is instead inadvertently raped through the literal rape of another human being. It's his pain we see, not Sansa's. I'm not averse to sexual violence in the media but this scene was nothing more than a plot point for the development of a male character.

Three of the main female characters have now been raped and I'm steadily losing my faith in this show. Writers need to stop brutalising their female characters and making them victims of rape in order to call them 'strong'. Women are strong. Rape is not a plot device that should be used merely to shock. Audience members are not over-sensitive to be angered, horrified or feel contempt for a scene that violates the female body so pointlessly and horrifically.

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