Game of Thrones is one of HBO’s most successful shows of the last few years, but it’s also one of the most controversial shows on television. The show gets attacked by critics for being “pornographic,” as well as wantonly or gratuitously violent. Even big fans of the show worry that author George R.R. Martin, the novelist on whose book series the Game of Thrones for TV is based, has taken the old fiction author’s adage of “kill your darlings” a little too far, as so many well-liked or interesting main characters are killed off, usually by some brutal method.
But perhaps the biggest criticisms of Game of Thrones come from feminists, who say that the violent and sexual treatment of (and sometimes crass talk by the men on the show about) women goes over the line of acceptability.
In Season 4 of Game of Thrones, for instance, Jaime Lannister has a sex scene with his twin sister, Cersei (they’ve been having mutually-desired sexual intercourse and creating children together for many years), in which it was possible for a lot of people to interpret the act as a rape (although that interpretation is controversial).
Last year’s Season 5 saw Sansa Stark unquestionably get raped by her new husband, Ramsay Bolton, whom she doesn’t love or even like (he’s one of the most evil characters in the story). Then there was also the burning alive, as a sacrifice to an unseen god, of Shireen Baratheon, a girl not even yet a teenager, and one of the show’s most sympathetic and beloved characters.
Those actions are just some of the brutal or sexually violent acts against females in the show that have feminists shouting “misogyny” and demanding that Game of Thrones‘ future seasons be more kind and respectful to the female characters.
“All I know is that I turn on the news, and it’s covering a boy drowning off the coast, or children being shown beheading videos. The horror of human nature is prevalent in our world, and I appreciate that some people want to turn on the telly for escapism — but if that’s what you want, don’t watch Game of Thrones. I choose fantasy to vent, to process complex political, sexual, and social politics at the safe distance of fiction. For me, that’s what art should be.”
Maisie Williams, the English actress who plays the 12-year-old Arya Stark on the show (in real life, Williams is 18), was quoted by Time magazine in July, 2015, as also hoping viewers’ and critics’ viewing of the show would become more sophisticated and encompassing.
“I feel like people are treated badly on it all the time — men, women, girls, boys… animals,” Williams was quoted by that magazine as saying.
Martin has explained to critics of the sex, violence, and treatment of women in the shows that besides being a fantasy story set in a land that never existed and featuring dragons, Game of Thrones is inspired by real human history, of which Martin is an avid researcher. The brutality and primitive conditions so often depicted in Game of Thrones were the norm throughout human history up until extremely recent times. And men didn’t have it very nice, either.
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