Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

(43 comments)

I'm not rewatching that right now to write up the State of Play.

In and of itself, as a story element, it was justified. There was never anything that could plausibly keep Sansa safe from it, any more than there was anything that could have saved Ned from Joffrey. Given who Ramsey is, there was no other way for it to be played.

Except, of course, that this is a lie. There were an infinity of ways for that to be played. And they chose to do it this way. They chose specific alterations to the books that made this inevitable, and so it happened.

Yes, those decisions, as we've discussed in previous reviews, are a dramatically intelligent way to handle the particular relationship of plot threads that the show had. And it is of course not the end of Sansa's story. I have little doubt that five weeks from now Sansa will be in a very different place. Honestly, I suspect that in one week Sansa will be in a very different place. With reasonable fealty to the tone of the books and a little help from Brienne they could have Ramsey dead by the end of the next episode.

In that regard, at least, I disagree with a lot of the instant reaction I'm seeing. I don't think this undoes Sansa's growth. I don't think it undermines her as a character. I expect her to react and react strongly next episode.

Nevertheless, Benioff and Weiss decided to leave their audience on that note for a week. They decided that image was where to end, and what to make people linger on. Inasmuch as Game of Thrones is a ten week long event, the brutal rape of Sansa Stark is 10% of it.

And if you want to argue that it's not rape, fuck off. We're not even doing that.

It seems perversely necessary at this point to say that it was a very tasteful rape of Sansa Stark. I mean, especially for HBO. So, you know, it's just close-ups of the traumatized faces of Sophie Turner and Alfie Allen. And hey, they kill it. Great work, guys. Everyone did great, really. It's a fantastically upsetting scene. Benioff and Weiss must have been so happy when the edit came in.

And hey, that's the Mad Men finale counterprogrammed. Way to seize control of the headlines. A real fucking coup, that one. Congratulations, Benioff and Weiss. So very clever of you. You figured out how to rape Sansa Stark perfectly. It's a triumph of... whatever the fuck it is.

At last, the justification for Theon's Season Three plot? The perfect scene for the Buzzfeed era of media criticism, ready-made for every clickbaity slide-show of the most horrific moments in television? A horribly successful attempt to outdo the Red Wedding for the most shocking cliffhanger of the season? A petulant response to the outcry over Jaime raping Cersei last season - "shut up SJWs, this is what a rape scene looks like"?

I don't know. Ultimately, I just don't. I don't know why you'd do that scene in 2015. I don't know why you'd think that was something the world needed. That the aesthetics of rape culture needed to be pushed that little bit more. That "the most awful rape scene ever" was a record worth going for.

Am I surprised? No, of course I'm not. Why would I be surprised that Game of Thrones did this scene. It's the most Game of Thrones scene ever to Game of Thrones. Like I said: inevitable, really. The natural consequence of all that came before.

Hell, let's just nominate it for a fucking Hugo and call it a day.

Comments

Justin Cawthorne 2 years, 6 months ago

I haven't seen the episode yet, but I'm interested in the dichotomy presented by scenes like this: how do you properly represent the awfulness of rape within the confines of a TV show, being something which you want people to choose to watch.
I have the same internal discussion about violence as well. To me the worst representation of violence is the one that doesn't depict the consequences (that it's painful, bloody, diminishing) and yet it's the bloodiest, most brutal depictions of violence that seem to prove the most controversial. Which, itself, is a reminder that many people seek escapism from their entertainment, not a reminder of the realities of life ... and yet, what value does entertainment provide if it fails to reflect our lives.
Which brings me back to: surely the most appropriate way to depict rape onscreen is in the most upsetting way possible?

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

Self-evidently.

But that doesn't really answer "why depict this particular rape on screen?" Or "is this a good idea?"

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Chris Bradshaw 2 years, 6 months ago

It was pointless. It felt like they got wind that they tried to hard to make Ramsey unlikable he became a cartoon villain, so they added rape to get us to take him seriously. But it was just upsetting.

Otherwise good episode but :(

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arcbeatle 2 years, 6 months ago

I'll be blunt: I don't think I want to watch this show anymore. I don't know if I'll someday catch up, but I'm done for now.

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You Know Who... 2 years, 6 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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You Know Who... 2 years, 6 months ago

Glad to hear that GoT is the same shitty, shitty show it seemed to be in the first few episodes of the first season. I regret a fair bit of how I end up spending my time, but dropping this show? I wouldn't change a thing.

Oh, and a respectful disagreement with Justin Cawthorne: "To me the worst representation of violence is the one that doesn't depict the consequences...Which is a reminder that many people seek escapism from their entertainment, not a reminder of the realities of life ... and yet, what value does entertainment provide if it fails to reflect our lives."

I've heard this argument before (hell, I used to use it decades ago, when I was trying to justify my then-love for horror movies), but I don't think it really makes sense.
1. Escapism is underrated. Really. It only becomes a problem when it's undiluted with anything else.
2. This is a faux-medieval fantasy show (with dragons!) that revels in nastiness. Certainly, such things are...permissible? viable?...but come on, to argue it's anything other than escapism of one sort or another is just silly.
3. While I don't know you, I can, I think, say with some degree of certainty that you're not a child bride of Boko Haram, nor are you someone whose town just got taken over (again!) by Islamic State. What aspect of your life do "the bloodiest, most brutal depictions of violence" reflect, exactly?

Guh.

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Matt Marshall 2 years, 6 months ago

They did? Ugh. Of all the needless changes to make.

On a lighter note, Phil have you been watching Steven Universe? It seems exactly your sort of thing (at least the later episodes, the first dozen are a bit rubbish though it's not the end of the world as they're only 10 minute things)

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Justin Cawthorne 2 years, 6 months ago

Given the showrunners' tepid response to the discussion of the Jaime/Cersei rape scene last year, we probably shouldn't hold our breath for a meaningful answer to that question...

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Max Cola 2 years, 6 months ago

No way are the first dozen episodes rubbish! They're lighter and (seemingly) more disposable than what comes after, but that's a deliberate move -- there's a lot of hidden depth you only catch on a rewatch. And cmon, "Laser Light Cannon", rubbish?
Yes it's a wonderful show and everyone who reads this blog (and likes cartoons) would be really into it.

GoT stinks. I gave up on those books midway through DwD when I realized that GRRM can't plot to save his life. Though I was already getting sick of the way he uses rape and brutal violence as a punchline in every other scene. Like, alright, you established this is a grimdark universe, you don't need to have a guy who flays and rapes people and makes them eat their own fingers at the same time.

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Matt Marshall 2 years, 6 months ago

I'll give you Laser Light Cannon, which is great and really should have been the first episode. I have found a lot more in those episodes to like on further rewatches, but they gain a lot from the depth the show later gets, at the stage of first viewing the show needs the audience to trust it before it's built that level of trust up.

'Rubbish' is probably a bit strong, but I'm not sure I'd have carried on with it if not for pretty much everyone I know promising me it was worth it (and it totally was)

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Justin Cawthorne 2 years, 6 months ago

Yes, you're quite right about what you're saying there: I'm not a child bride of Boko Haram.

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Zoe Heriot 2 years, 6 months ago

Long time reader, second time commenter.

I sympathize with your sentiments wholeheartedly, Dr Sandifer.

Ever since Sansa's storyline overtook that of Jeyne Poole's from the books I knew what was coming. From certain comments some cast members made I gleaned that there was a horrible scene in this season, possibly concerning Sansa, and I realised what that must mean. Still I hoped that it would be at best implied what a fucking horrifying monster Ramsey was to his respective book and show wives.

But no, Benioff and Weiss (and Bryan Cogman) had to go the whole uncomfortable (to say the least) length. I prayed that the scene would end the moment Ramsey said 'Now you'll see her become a woman' with close-ups of Sophie's and Alfie's terrified faces. Nope, no such luck, no merciful fade to black and the following events of this awful wedding night left only to the viewers' imagination.

This was so not necessary. I'll still be watching till the end of the series, because all in all it's a very good show. However, the experience will be soured by the awareness that this show could be so much more, but isn't exactly because of such creative decisions.

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Froborr 2 years, 6 months ago

I've been liveblogging the show a few months now, and I enjoyed the first dozen-ish episodes quite a bit, and for what they were: a fun romp that focused more on humor and character than plot. I've enjoyed the later more plot-y episodes too, but I'm glad that at least as far as I've gotten they haven't taken over the show.

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ScarvesandCelery 2 years, 6 months ago

I'm currently on episode 2 of season 5 of Game of Thrones, and have been getting increasingly impatient with the show since about season four. After hearing about this episode, I decided I'd rather spend four hours catching up with Steven Universe than watching the episodes I need to catch up with Game of Thrones.
I agree With Max Cola, the early episodes are lovely - I like that they meander around without any overt arc stuff, and just spend time getting to know the characters and setting out out the show's wonderfully camp aesthetic. "Laser Light Canon" is particularly wonderful. I know you're not big on Cartoons, Phil, but give this one a chance.

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Matt Marshall 2 years, 6 months ago

Oh goodness, a 4 hour catchup of SU would be what, 20ish episodes? Knowing what the latter third contains that must be a hell of a gauntlet!

My issue with the early eps is that I don't think they made enough of a case that the show was worth my time beyond 'it is competent enough', more like Laser Light Cannon would have helped it immensely. But as I said I'm glad I stuck with it, and on rewatches they're far far better (now that I actually know what type of show it was, I literally knew nothing going into it)

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Iain Coleman 2 years, 6 months ago

Nevertheless, Benioff and Weiss decided to leave their audience on that note for a week. They decided that image was where to end, and what to make people linger on. Inasmuch as Game of Thrones is a ten week long event, the brutal rape of Sansa Stark is 10% of it.

And all the children will think Doctor Who is drowning for a week.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

"This event takes a week of time within the story" and "this event is where the story lingers for a week" are, of course, distinct. I didn't think anyone who isn't Mary Whitehouse is likely to confuse them. :-P

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Alex Antonijevic 2 years, 6 months ago

Ramsay sure has stamina.

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Justin Cawthorne 2 years, 6 months ago

I'm now rethinking my first comment (up at the top here). This morning I was pondering where the line is drawn between an upsetting depiction of rape and a *gratuitously* upsetting depiction of rape. What is it that makes something that is already upsetting into something that is unnecessarily so?
Given my contention that entertainment provides its best value when it mirrors real life (see disclaimer below) I inevitably began to think about how we process terrible things in real life. The fact is that we don't often see these terrible things first-hand: we don't need to. We don't need to see, say, CCTV footage of someone being raped to know that it's terrible; we don't need to see photographs of dead bodies in Nepal to know that the earthquake was terrible. What we see is the impact that the terrible thing has had - that's often all we need to see (presumably because most of us have empathy).
So, I'm now considering the conclusion that a TV show (or any media) doesn't have to show a terrible thing in intimate detail in order for us to judge that it's terrible. Often just the impact and effect of that thing is sufficient.
So, there's my second bite of this cherry ... and I still haven't seen the episode in question.

(On the topic of entertainment and real life, I'm not suggesting that escapism is in any way invalid. I typically seek escapism from my entertainment because I don't usually want to be reminded how awful real life can be. However, even escapism needs to give us something we can relate to: hence the best value entertainment comes from art that, in some way, reflects our own lives)

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

You're making a lot of false equivalences here. Two that I'd point out.

1) You are assuming that people react to real things and fictional things in the same way, and thus what is or is not necessary to depict in terms of the earthquake in Nepal is the same as what would be necessary to depict in terms of a fictional disaster.

2) You are treating "know that it's terrible" and "be aesthetically and emotionally invested in it" as equivalent concepts.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 6 months ago

So... let's talk about something positive.

Coca-Cola, anyone?

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BatmanAoD 2 years, 6 months ago

I do not follow GoT in either format, let alone enjoy the episodes I end up watching because my girlfriend is a fan. Your statement that a brutal rape scene with insufficient redeeming qualities is "the most Game of Thrones scene ever to Game of Thrones" seems to indicate that you believe the show to be deeply problematic. Yet you're dedicating quite a bit of time to your GoT projects (the reviews and the "Rules of Thrones" posts). Is there something worthwhile here that I'm missing?

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elvwood 2 years, 6 months ago

Positive, eh? Coca-Cola? Well, Mark Thomas' Belching Out the Devil was a gripping read...

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phuzz 2 years, 6 months ago

Well, they willingness to kill off "hero" characters, and generally give the other characters a thoroughly unpleasant time is refreshing in a way, in the way it subverts ones expectations.
Also, the political background, and general world building are good, especially if you like your fiction to be meticulously thought out.
However, both plus points contribute to it's downsides. The complicated political systems and many characters bog the series down by the fourth/fifth book, and reading the parade of bloody awful miserableness that is life in Westeros can get a bit much at some points.
The TV show has made some attempts to fix the first problem, but life is still pretty shitty for characters in GoT and it's not always fun watching.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

Certainly I think the show's handling of rape and sexual assault blows. But that's not the only thing the show does.

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timber-munki 2 years, 6 months ago

I have to say bravo to all involved. My only criticism was that Pete's Lear jet didn't crash and burn in an awful ball of flames (I'd have had Peter on the plane on his own without Trudy & Tammy if that were to have happened) and I suppose Harry Crane could have suffocated in a mire of mediocrity but if it was perfect it would be boring.

The final scene had me thinking well played Mr Wiener, well played indeed,

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Daru 2 years, 6 months ago

Yep, I'm not really on board with the idea of rape as entertainment.

I still loved the episode though and am enjoying the season overall. Did not enjoy that scene though, even if it was filmed differently from scenes such as those with Jamie and Cersei.

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SochghajwI' 2 years, 6 months ago

My fiance watched the second half of the episode after a night shift, and had been planning to go to sleep afterwards. She found it sufficiently upsetting that she couldn't sleep. What we actually saw was a gratuitous shot of the flesh of Sansa's, er... upper back. This was the LEAST GoT scene in GoT. No titillation (compare most of season 1, especially Danaerys's experiences). No nudity (compare... well, most of the rest of the series). No ambiguity (compare Jaimie/Cersei, where the disconnect with what happened in the book allowed at least some debate on consent). No second layers of meaning (compare Littlefinger's lecture to his two whores on how to appear to be what you're not). Not even any swearing (compare Karl Tanner's re: Craster's wives).

It was meant to be a straight punch to the gut, and they achieved the effect by NOT doing the things the series has become known for.

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Alan 2 years, 6 months ago

I've just never gotten on board the GoT train. From the few episodes I've seen, Peter Dinklage was pretty much the only saving grace. Hopefully, when it's all done, someone will just edit out everything but his scenes and then I can watch and enjoy it.

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Matt Marshall 2 years, 6 months ago

No, the least GOT thing would be if Ramsey and Sansa had instead sat down to afternoon tea and Ramsey admitted that he just wants to be nice and was only pretending to be evil, and Theon was in on it the whole time and was only pretending to be tortured to make Roose happy. Then Ramsey and Sansa jump up and down on the mattress and make screaming sounds.

The thing is though, it doesn't take a particular amount of skill to make something shocking and upset people.

What IS more interesting is that Dany seems to be following the same sort of character path as Roose/Ramsey (crucifying people, having random people burnt alive as 'a warning', "oh hey I murdered your father and now I'm marrying you, ok") but the audience are 100% behind her as the hero figure.

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SochghajwI' 2 years, 6 months ago

What we got was least. What you describe would have been even less, yes, but they didn't do that./shrug/
"the audience are 100% behind her as the hero figure."
Really? My part of the audience has regarded her as a stone-cold psycho worse than Joffrey since the end of season one, and anyone trying to help her and anyone sympathising with her as obviously deluded, blinded by her looks and/or dragons. And that goes for characters AND viewers. If you think Dany is a hero, you need to think hard about why.

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Justin Cawthorne 2 years, 6 months ago

Yep, I'll totally own up to the first one there: result of essentially thinking out loud. On reflection it's patently obvious that fictional works need to pull very different strings in order to elicit the same reactions that real life events would. Probably in no small part because we know it's not real people involved.
The second point certainly isn't something I meant to suggest, but it helps illustrates the flaw in my (developing) argument ...

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Justin Cawthorne 2 years, 6 months ago

Game of Scones ...?

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Matt Marshall 2 years, 6 months ago

That's interesting, pretty much everyone I know seems to treat Dany as the de-facto hero, or at least not culpable for all the awful stuff she's done so far as she's not got a black hat on and is stroking her evil moustache. (I think she's totally going off the edge, I just find it interesting that she's treated as the heroic figure despite doing arguable similarly evil things as many of the outright villains do). How deliberate that is from both the showrunners and GRRM is up for debate as certainly in the books it looks like GRRM is still setting her up to be a heroic saviour character.

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

Well, for one thing, we assume she's not crucifying people and burning people alive because she's a sadist. She appears to be trying to save people from sadists and murderers, and while there's LOTS of room to debate whether she has the right to be there trying, I can't see what she does as coming from the same place as what Roose and Ramsay do.

She's also a young girl with a ton of power and responsibility thrust on her and a few advisors who aren't necessarily the most balanced of statesmen. She's doing her best and making a lot of mistakes. I think if this saga has any point of view, it's that people aren't just "heroes" and "villains." I can root for Dany without approving of every move she makes.

If you must have a "hero," who's it going to be? Jon, beheading men for disobeying orders? Tyrion, murdering his father and his lover? Arya, training to be an assassin? Jaime, 'nuff said? You can go to the secondary characters -- Brienne maybe, or Loras -- but most of the pure of deed are killed. That's kind of how it works here.

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

When Sansa was fiddling with her sleeve, I was hoping against hope that she was about to pull out a dagger and "become a woman" by thrusting it into Ramsay. Oh well.

I was expecting something awful anyway because of what I remembered from the book, of which I think this was a considerably toned-down version. If it was really necessary to do something like this to Sansa after changing so much (and it wasn't, but anyway), they really did handle it almost as tastefully as they could have.

I was still pretty upset, though some part of that was probably due to the inquest with Loras earlier on. That really turned my stomach to watch, and I've been trying to figure out why I reacted so viscerally to it. Part of it might have been that it was yet another huge change from the books (not that I wish Loras's fate from the books on him, but at least it was a more heroic situation), but I think part of it is this:

It's something that might conceivably happen to one of us in real life. Few of us are likely to be poisoned or murdered at our wedding feast, or have our eyes gouged out in a gladiatorial fight to the death, or burned alive by dragons, but to be imprisoned or put on trial for one's sexuality is exponentially more likely depending on where you live.

And that's probably why there's this chorus of "I'm quitting this show" from people who presumably were fine with men being burned alive or beheaded earlier this season: it's easier to relegate those things to "fantasy violence" whereas rape, even by one's new husband, is indubitably part of everyday violence.

I'm not quitting the show. I don't think this is being presented as "entertainment"; I think it's meant to be upsetting, like so many other scenes in this show, like so many other scenes in just about any drama on television, and that upsetting scenes and situations are a necessary part of drama, from Oedipus blinding himself to Atticus Finch shooting a dog, and if you don't want them to happen you should quit the show and stick to I Love Lucy. There's no shame in preferring light entertainment and comedy. I avoid shows like Bones and Gray's Anatomy for similar reasons.

But: I get why this would be a bridge too far. I wish they'd found a better way.

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SochghajwI' 2 years, 6 months ago

"pretty much everyone I know seems to treat Dany as the de-facto hero"

This seems a perverse selection for anyone who has watched past episode five of season one. I'd be prepared to be folding money that they would not do that if the character said and did exactly the same things but looked like Walda Frey (Roose Bolton's fat wife).

"I can't see what she does as coming from the same place as what Roose and Ramsay do"

True enough. She does it because she's queen, and torturing, burning and beheading people is what queens like her are supposed to do, and she's entirely obsessed with being queen to the exclusion of all else. Ramsay does it because it's fun. Which of them is worse? You know where you stand with Ramsay.

And if you must have a "hero", what's wrong with Bran Stark? Anyone remember him?

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

if the character said and did exactly the same things but looked like Walda Frey (Roose Bolton's fat wife)

Walda's adorable, but in any case, there are plenty of Dany-haters out there, even if Matt doesn't happen to know many of them.

She does it because she's queen, and torturing, burning and beheading people is what queens like her are supposed to do, and she's entirely obsessed with being queen to the exclusion of all else.

Are we watching the same show? It doesn't sound like we are.

Ramsay does it because it's fun. Which of them is worse? You know where you stand with Ramsay.

Ramsay's worse. "Knowing where I stand" with someone doesn't make them morally superior.

And if you must have a "hero", what's wrong with Bran Stark? Anyone remember him?

I don't need a "hero." But sure, he's on the short list of people who has mainly killed (by proxy, through Hodor) to survive.

My point, however, is that if you do need a hero, and your definition of "hero" is "morally spotless," you're watching the wrong show. I'm not saying I agree with that theme -- that survival and moral rectitude are incompatible -- but it's what the show's been about from the very beginning, at least as early as Ned's beheading. "Kill the boy" is only the most recent reiteration of it. When Bran "kills the boy," no doubt he'll have to make some tough choices too.

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SochghajwI' 2 years, 6 months ago

"Walda's adorable"

As a character, sure. But if they'd cast that actress as Dany, she (Dany) would be more hated than Joffrey and Ramsey put together.

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Cleofis 2 years, 6 months ago

http://www.rawstory.com/2015/05/all-hopefully-of-the-bad-arguments-about-rape-on-game-of-thrones-debunked/

Now, I don't actually follow GoT at all (never seen the show nor read the books, at least not yet) but I'd be legitimately interested to see what folks make of this. Personally, I'm more inclined on a knee-jerk level to side with Phil, but I feel Marcotte might be on to something here?

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

I think Marcotte is answering the wrong question. Or, at least, is pointedly avoiding the important question: OK, but why? Why do this? What is the actual point of this scene?

She hints at it with the first defense, where she points out that the scene accomplishes a significant shift in Theon and Sansa's relationship, and that not every scene has to be about revealing new information.

But she doesn't actually answer why yet another brutal rape scene is the best way to tackle this. Why an already tired and overused trope that people have made compelling arguments is genuinely damaging and harmful needed to be wheeled out for this, especially by a show that has, to say the least, a reputation for being tasteless in this regard?

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encyclops 2 years, 6 months ago

She does more than hint at it:

The rape was justified from a plot perspective, a thematic perspective, and a character perspective. Thematically, it’s important to understand the ugly consequences of a patriarchal society that treats women like pawns in the political games that men play to control power and wealth. Plot-wise, the rape was a straight up linchpin. The entire question of whether the Boltons control the North depends on how well they establish political legitimacy. Nothing matters more for that purpose than containing, ideally through marriage, the person who has the greatest historical claim to Winterfell, which happens to be Sansa Stark. And once that’s true, then the rape is just part of it. And again, it matters for character: For Ramsay, Sansa, and Theon to maintain consistent characterization, there is literally no other way this could have gone down.

You don't have to agree, and I'm not saying I do (or don't), but she isn't avoiding the question. She explicitly gives her answer.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 6 months ago

In Aristotlean terms, she explains what makes the scene likely, but not what makes it necessary.

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