*Spoiler Alert: The following article may contain spoilers from the HBO series “Game of Thrones”*
If you are among the majority of the living, breathing universe, you’re more than likely well aware of the HBO phenomenon sweeping every social network feed: Game of Thrones. Ten months ago I had little knowledge of the fandom myself, but at the persistence of my boyfriend, I decided to give the show a shot. The binge began like they all do, slowly, and then obsessively. One episode turned into three turned into seven. It’s no secret the HBO series contains explicit violence, blood, and gore, especially against women. Unfortunately, as a society we’ve become used to such visuals displayed haphazardly upon our TV screens. I didn’t enjoy it, but I persisted for the sake of a great story unraveling before me. After devouring all three seasons in less than two weeks, I hungrily entered the world of the books for more detail and insight. What awaited me was something I didn’t expect at all: a vast deal more respect for women than the show allowed itself to possess.
My first shocking moment came about during Daenerys Targaryen’s wedding chapter. As a show viewer, I knew the brutality of the Dothraki horselords. They are “savages” who roam Essos, the far eastern continent in the Game of Thrones world. In the show, Daenerys reluctantly becomes traded property at her brother’s persuasion. Khal Drogo, her new husband, roughly enters her from behind as Daenerys cries openly, giving us a relatively graphic preview of the world’s brutality. When I stumbled upon the scene in the book, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Khal Drogo’s vicious exterior softens considerably when he finds himself alone with his new bride. He is gentle. The newlyweds must consummate the marriage, but she is merely thirteen and deathly afraid. Daenerys begins crying. Instead of forcing himself upon her, Drogo wipes her tears away. Silently the two undress one another, Daenerys admitting his touch to be “strangely tender.” Suddenly, she becomes reluctant and covers herself. Drogo stops and allows her to acclimate to him. He touches her with an intimacy the show completely glazes over with forceful violence. In the end, Daenerys willingly consents.
While George R.R. Martin allows the reader to discover depth to a previously shallow character, the HBO adaptation sacrifices Khal Drogo’s humanity for a little shock value. Why? Does a falsified rape scene draw in more viewers? Wouldn’t revealing a stoic, visually-savage character’s humanistic, compassionate side be more appealing? Apparently not. The logic ceases to flow when the viewer later witnesses Daenerys falling in love with her former rapist.
Progressing through the books, I discovered more instances of the show taking liberties with more violence towards women. HBO, not being mainstream cable, is allowed to take advantage of sex, nudity, and violence. Until I read the books, I didn’t realize the story wasn’t inherently misogynist. Scantily clad or naked women litter the scenes for no apparent reason other than to be visual stimulation for a male audience. The amount of rape scenes sprinkled into the series is overwhelming, especially when you realize that none of these graphic scenes are ever described in the books. Obviously the universe is a medieval fantasy, complete with all the makings of a patriarchal monarchy. The treatment of women in the books is apparent. It is no secret the world is very male-dominated, but the series is absolutely not male-dominated. There are equal male and female perspectives. Martin breaks the stereotypical female mold beautifully, and the show thrusts them explicitly back into place.
The show continues to show exceptional female characters, but what occurs are major female scene cuts or rewrites. The show also tends to glorify the masculine female characters and downplays the feminine characters, emphasizing the societal trope that masculinity is powerful, strong, and worthy, and femininity is frail, gentile, and weak. Arya Stark is a wonderful example of a masculine female character. She’s the atypical tomboy of the show: sword fighting, lacking manners, and pestering her older sister, Sansa. Sansa, however, is the picture-perfect lady. Groomed since birth to marry Prince Joffrey, she desires nothing less. When her dreams of becoming queen evolve into a literal nightmare, her written story of defiance is silenced and HBO-series-Sansa is shoved into the corner, emphasizing our trope. She’s Prince Joffrey’s punching bag. The show barely grazes the surface of her psychological abuse and personal defiances. Bravery cannot always consist of wielding a sword at one’s enemies. Silent suffering is sometimes the only means of survival. As if her abuse wasn’t enough of a struggle, the showrunners force her into an attempted rape scene that was never described and completely unrelated to Sansa’s character in the novel.
The show-runners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, know the exact marketing tactics to drawn in male viewers. Yes, men. Men and men alone. It becomes tedious being a female audience member watching members of your own sex being turned into props. Having read the books past the show’s final point, I can affirm there have been two definitive moments of consensual sex scenes turned into rape scenes. Background rape scenes and attempted or threatened rape scenes are countless. With an average of one in every six women having experienced attempted rape or actual rape (1), there’s always a chance of your audience containing victims. Is this the standard our television has become? Desensitizing massive amounts of people into accepting female violence as normal? Regrettably, it appears so.
However, Game of Thrones isn’t all violent misogyny. There are several female highlights I immensely enjoy about the show: Margaery Tyrell and Olenna Tyrell are given ample screen time versus their book counterparts. Their perspectives are not present in the books, nor is Cersei Lannister’s a main perspective until the fourth book. The series has centralized these characters and given them even more personality and dynamic as headstrong, vocal, and feminine characters. Happily, it is possible to make positive deviations from Martin’s written word, and as of right now, the positives outweigh the negatives. Of course my complaints do not end there, but I don’t want to include too many book spoilers at this point. Instead, I highly recommend any audience members that are bothered by the intensely graphic violence to submerge themselves in the book series. Martin paints gorgeous pictures, and, though he does appear to find death a fate for many lovable characters, he never vividly gives the perspective of a rape victim. It is discussed, occasionally used as a threat, but only by affirmatively evil characters. An author that requires vivid rape descriptions to “spice up” any novel must have a heart made out of stone.
1. “Who are the Victims? | RAINN | Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.”Who are the Victims? | RAINN | Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 July 2014. <https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims>