Feminism · Writing

Game of Shock-and-Awe: Rape as an Unnecessary Literary Device in Game of Thrones

Trigger warning: Rape

Yesterday, I logged into Goodreads and was notified that George R.R. Martin had posted a notice on his blog explaining to his fans that the show and the book series are vastly different.

And yes, more and more, they differ. Two roads diverging in the dark of the woods, I suppose… but all of us are still intending that at the end we will arrive at the same place.” (x)

It was apparent that something had to have happened in the show that did not happen in the books. I shrugged off the little curiosity I had and continued about my Goodreads business. That is, until I opened an article detailing about the most recent development that Sansa was raped on her wedding night, the ending of the episode that did not occur in the book.

First, some notes on what I am about to say. I have read the first book; it has become a favorite of mine. I have started the second book but am finding this reading experience to be slower than the first. But I do plan on reading the series in its entirety. I have seen the show’s first season, and various clips of the succeeding seasons. I also hold an English degree; as part of my studies, I had to take various creative writing courses. And there was a constant in every one of these classes.

Whatever is written has to further the piece.

Every word has to contribute to the poem; every description has to further the plot or offer some kind of depth. Everything has to have a reason for the sake of the story. If not, the writer runs the risk of pausing the plot, interrupting the reading or viewing experience, to provide empty content.

To the audience, this divide from the books has significance – but what is that significance? The violence experienced by Daenerys, Cersei, and Sansa has only one meaning: to portray the characters of the men raping them.

While it may provide little depth to the rapist, this does not move the plot forward. Will some kind of focus be on Sansa’s experiences? I doubt it, considering the first two rapes were overlooked by the following episodes. If the show is consistent with its past treatment of rape, we are watching the continuation of a cycle of violence for the singular purpose of shock-and-awe.

To those who say that portraying rape in the Middle Ages is realistic: yes, it is realistic. Since the dawn of time, rape has been a factor of war and pillage. But for the storyteller, the presence of rape in their story must be more than a stance of power. It must set the scene for further meaning, which the writers did not do with Daenerys or Cersei.

As a writer, you have to make mistakes. In my own undergraduate studies, I tried to write a play in which one of the characters had been raped prior to the events of the piece. I did not know how to handle such serious material, which resulted in an offensive play. I threw away all physical copies and deleted all digital copies, but I made sure that the memory stayed with me. I have learned from my experience, as writers should. To write good stuff, you have to write the bad stuff first and learn from it.

This third instance of not-in-the-book rape shows that the writers are not learning. They are not growing as writers. They seem to be merely focused on ratings, which is disappointing to the audience. Will they learn from the past, or will they do what they have done before and glaze over it? Only time will tell. As for me, I’ll stick to the books.

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14 thoughts on “Game of Shock-and-Awe: Rape as an Unnecessary Literary Device in Game of Thrones

  1. Thanks for sharing. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one bothered by this. For instance (I haven’t gotten very far in the book) the scene where Jaime rapes Cersei, is that in the book? Did HBO make him a little more rapie?

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  2. What bothers me is that Sansa showed so much character growth, especially in the last few episodes of last season that it’s hard to see her returned to pretty much exact same helpless position she’d been in if she married Joffrey. It’s like she came full circle, but in a bad way.

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    1. The writers have so much room to experiment with this, including exploring how she will handle this. But I don’t think they would, given their track record.

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      1. I agree. It might be redeeming if this scene were the catalyst for her to become a strong, revenge seeking character, but I just don’t predict that’s how this will go.

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  3. How do you know the scene will have no meaning? How can you say that Dany’s rape had no meaning? It’s informed her stance on slavery which is revolutionary for Essos. The scene with Cercei and Jaime was pointless but that was not intended as a rape scene, it was received by the audience as a rape scene and was therefore a huge error on the director’s part. But you don’t know what is coming up after this latest scene because nobody does. People can surprise you.

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    1. The show glossed over Dany’s rape as it progressed the romance. And intention or no, when someone says “No” and it is ignored, that is rape, which is what happened to Cersei. I don’t know what’s to come, but I have seen the pattern of rape that is ignored or glossed over. With nothing explored in the episodes that followed, it portrays the shock and awe factor.

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  4. I’m fine with violence for shock&awe. It needs to have the right tone, though. Saw and Crank are ridiculously violent. They also don’t spare anyone, and don’t pretend it’s more than an exercise in style.

    GOT tries to be this character-driven drama, but most of the rape is there to tell you that it’s awful to be a woman in Westeros. We get that. You don’t have to beat the reader/viewer on the head with it. If rape scenes occur over and over and over in the story and the story lingers on them to let me watch, well, the point has already been made. There must be another reason why the story lingers – shock&awe or sexual appeal.

    The books get worse as they go on. The first is okay. Everything else is awful. Play Skyrim instead.

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    1. I’ve been wanting to play Skyrim for a while; it’s on my list of games to play soon. The scenes do occur over and over, but there’s hardly any depth; they’re just glossed over. That’s hardly the treatment that sounds fair for the plot lines of some of the main characters.

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      1. Do play Skyrim. It’s a great piece of storytelling. The main plot isn’t great, but the strength is in the little details scattered around. Most of the criticisms against it are because the character building is fairly simple, but I’ve always been a much more story-driven guy.

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