In Defense Of That ‘Game Of Thrones’ Rape Scene That Everyone Is Talking About

By now you’ve no doubt heard that Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones contained a rather disturbing rape scene, so needless to say, this article will contain spoilers, both for the HBO TV series and for the original books that serve as the source material for the series.

The reaction to Sansa Stark’s rape has been largely one of shock and disgust, especially in light of the fact that nothing of the sort happens in the original books. Even a politician has weighed in.

Yes, Sansa’s rape scene was difficult to watch. That’s true of much of Game of Thrones. But considering the realities of translating the books to the small screen, calling it gratuitous and unacceptable may not be the right way to look at it.

Yes, The Writers Have Gone Off-Script This Season — So What?

Since the first episode of Game of Thrones aired back in back in 2011, the show’s writers have taken liberties with the source material — in this case, George R.R. Martin’s sprawling book series, A Song of Ice and Fire. However, this season, moreso than previous seasons, has departed from the books. Sansa’s story arc is Exhibit A (Tyrion’s is Exhibit B).

It can be jarring and upsetting to purists who have read the books, but it’s also necessary for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, the written word and the screen are two completely different media — what “works” on ink and paper doesn’t necessarily “work” on the screen. Consider Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies, widely considered three of the best movies ever made, based on three of the best books ever written. But there are huge differences between the two, and they’re best considered as completely separate works. To evaluate the movies in light of the books is to compare apples to oranges. If Jackson had stayed completely faithful to the books, each movie would be nine hours long and unrelentingly boring. The same is true for A Song of Ice and Fire — in compressing Martin’s unbelievably vast and dense books — literally thousands of pages of source material — for the small screen, liberties had to be taken.

For another, Game of Thrones producers are quickly running out of source material. The original series still has two books to go, and considering Martin’s age and the glacial pace at which he writes, it’s almost a certainty that the producers will have to write their own stories for the final few seasons of the show — stories that may wind up bearing little resemblance to what ultimately happens in the books.

Whatever Violence You See On The HBO Series, It’s Worse In The Books

No, Sansa Stark does not marry Ramsay Bolton and get raped by him in the books. But don’t take that to mean that the books eschew rape — the pages are filled with rapes (and other violence), and children are not spared. If anything, the HBO series glosses over a lot of that violence.

Consider an early scene from way back in Season One: Daenerys Targaryen’s wedding night with Khal Drogo. Her brother, Viserys, had essentially sold her to the Dothraki chief in exchange for an army.

“We go home with an army. With Khal Drogo’s army. I would let his whole tribe f**k you — all forty thousand men — and their horses too if that’s what it took.”

What the HBO series conveniently glosses over in that scene is the fact that in the books, Daenerys is a girl of about 13.

Elsewhere in the books, Arya Stark endures a horrific beating at the hands of one of her captors, a scene left entirely out of the HBO series.

The bottom line is that depravity, violence, torture, and rape permeate the pages of the source material — as violent and disturbing as the TV series can be, it cuts out or glosses over much of it.

Seen through this light, Sansa’s rape, though off-script, is not out of line considering the tone of the books.

Sansa Probably Has A Plan

Though what happened to Sansa Sunday night was undeniably an act of rape, it was less forced and more coerced. It’s a fine distinction to draw, but it fits with Sansa’s character arc: despite the horror of it all, Sansa accepted her fate and willingly did what she felt she had to do.

The image of a resolute and brave woman facing indescribable horror with dignity stands in sharp contrast to the simpering victim that was Sansa Stark in the early seasons. More importantly, however, Sansa is playing a part — a part whose details the viewers don’t fully know — in recovering her homeland. Slate writer Laura Bradley puts it as follows.

“Sansa is actively shaping her own future: She refused Brienne’s rescue, and refused to leave Winterfell or abandon her dismal nuptial plans after Myranda tried to scare her off… Hopefully, within a few episodes, we’ll see Sansa’s plan in action—ideally it will involve Sansa taking down the wretched family that took her home, starting with Ramsay. Sansa’s rape was, indeed, as predictable as it was painful. But it’s also a pain Sansa must have predicted would happen, and one that she knew she could withstand, in service of her larger goal.”

Yes, Sansa’s rape scene was disgusting. Yes, it was a departure from the books. But it may yet prove to a defining moment in the character arc of an under-appreciated female character whose final outcome may surprise us all.

[Image courtesy of: HBO / Game of Thrones]