Wednesday, May 20, 2015

On That Sansa Scene and Why I'm (probably) Done with Game of Thrones

It's been two days since I watched the most recent episode of Game of Thrones and I have read hours of articles and comments on *that* scene. I've decided I need to put my two cents in. That, and I haven't written anything on this blog for quite a while.

This will have a spoiler. It's a medium-sized one if you are not caught up and haven't read the books. If you aren't quite caught up but you have read the books and you know the character switch the show runners made, it's a very minor spoiler. You knew it was coming. And really, if you've been on the Internet, you probably know what happens. But spoiler is after the gifs.

Also, trigger warning.

Yep, Ramsay Bolton raped Sansa Stark. You can skip the next two paragraphs if you're caught up on both the books and the show.

Book version: Ramsay Bolton marries a girl named Jeyne Poole. She is posing as Arya Stark so he can cement his claim to the North. Everything we read about them is from the perspective of Theon Greyjoy, a despicable person who Ramsay has broken through horrifying torture and mutilation. In the book Ramsay marries Jeyne who he thinks is Arya (Theon knows who she really is) and on their wedding night forces Theon to take part, but I won't go into details. Suffice it to say Ramsay goes on to do horrible things to Jeyne (we're never really given details, but we know Ramsay is capable of the worst) and Theon watches over a number of weeks (?) as she deteriorates and is traumatized. Jeyne's story prompts Theon to overcome his fear of Ramsay, rescuing both Jeyne and himself. Which is also a turning point for Theon because he was always of the mind that the lower classes were beneath him and not worthy of his notice. Yes, the rape and torture of a young girl is solely used to move Theon's plot along and that trope is profoundly overused. However, Jeyne is a very minor character in the books and, as horrifying as her story is, it works in context of the story. It's not ideal and still very problematic, but it works.

Show version: Sansa Stark (a main character) has replaced Jeyne Poole (a very minor character). In both the books and the show, Sansa has gone through a horrifying amount of physical, mental, and emotional abuse, and had the threat of sexual abuse has been hanging over her head for far too long. In the books, she is safe posing as another man's illegitimate daughter and is learning how to play the political game. In the show, she marries Ramsay Bolton so he can cement his claim to the North. Her reason for agreeing to marry him is to get revenge on the Boltons for killing her family and hopefully become Wardeness of the North. In the show she has become pretty adept at politics and manipulating people and it has been awesome to see her grow from a victim to a real power player. On the night of the wedding, Sansa was clearly not wanting to consummate the marriage, but seemed prepared for what she needed to do in order to get what she wanted. However, at the last moment, Ramsay Bolton told Theon to stay in the room and watch. Sansa is clearly thrown and horrified and as Ramsay rapes Sansa, the camera closes in on Theon, a broken man, crying as he watches this girl he grew up with is raped.

Here's my beef: 

1. With that last shot of Theon, Sansa's story is not about her anymore, it is about Theon. Yes, this is what happened in the books, but Jeyne is a very minor character. Sansa is one of the biggest characters in the story. The writers of the show have taken away the agency and point of view she had as a major player and used it to shape a male character's story.

2. There was no reason for this scene other than shock value. We know Theon is broken. We know Ramsay is a monster. We know Sansa has experienced a ridiculous amount of trauma. We don't need this scene because it tells us nothing new.

3. Sansa had some power when the three of them entered the room, but none when the scene concluded. Her whole arc in the show has been how she slowly grows from a naive little girl into a powerful and savvy young woman. She isn't completely there yet, but she has progressed leaps and bounds. This scene stripped everything away from her for no reason.

Really, this scene could have played out in a number of different ways that would have shifted the power dynamic and made me hate it less. Here are just a few suggestions: 

1. Sansa orders Theon out, standing up to Ramsay. This would throw him since no one does that.
2. Ramsay doesn't order Theon to say at all. This would have avoided the unnecessary rape entirely.
3. Sansa finds the strength inside her to overcome the massively uncomfortable situation of Theon watching. This would have allowed her to keep the power she had when walking into the room.
4. Skip the wedding night scene all together. Again, WE DON'T NEED IT TO TELL THE STORY OR FOR CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT.
5. Sansa pulls a knife out of her dress and stabs Ramsay before rallying the Northers to take back her castle and position.

That last one is more wishful thinking, but it would make for excellent television.

Point being, there are ways to make that scene (if you REALLY insist on having it) less problematic and let Sansa keep the strength she's gained from going through all those other traumatic experiences she went through.

This is the third time the show has put in a rape scene where there wasn't one in the book. Drogo raping Dany on their wedding night destroys the character he's written as when he goes out of his way to make sure she is consenting in the book. Jaime raping Cersei after Joffrey dies destroys the character development and redemptive arc he goes through in the book. They have consensual sex and he realizes he doesn't want to be the man she wants anymore. He wants to be something better.

It's all for shock value. Yeah, a lot of things are, especially in this show, but I don't want to see the most powerful women in the series be raped when it adds nothing to the narrative. I don't want to see them be raped when it does, but it can happen when done very rarely and tactfully. These scenes have not been and I'm sick of it.

Yeah, Sansa could turn around, still get revenge on the Boltons and retake the North. If that happens, I may start watching again, depending on how the fallout of this episode is handled. But the show runners have given me no reason to hope for that. They're diverging from the books with this story, so I guess anything could happen, but that focus on Theon at the end really does make me think that they're using her rape as character development for him, and I can't handle that.

So I'm done. I'll keep reading the books because they are fantastic and not NEARLY as horrifying as the show (in my opinion), but I'm finished with the show.

On the plus side, I do prefer reading the story first, not watching, so this will take away the dilemma I was facing with the show out-stripping the final two books. So there's that, I guess.

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