When I first realised that writers of Game of Thrones had decided to replace the character of Jeyne-Poole-Posing-As-Arya-Stark from ADWD with the real Sansa Stark for that storyline in season five, one of the first things I thought was ‘Thank god we’re not going to have to watch Sansa’s boring book-storyline’. Immediately after that I thought, ‘I wonder how they’re going to avoid the whole wedding-rape scene?’.
My guess was they were just going to [SPOILERS!] have the Wildlings (replaced by Brienne and Pod in the show) carry out the rescue before or during the wedding rather than after it and that would be that.
Only, they didn’t. They went ahead with the wedding night in full–albeit extremely toned down from the books, which I was grateful for.
But why am I actually glad they decided to do this?
Why is the title of this post not ‘Why it’s Justified that they Didn’t #SaveSansaStark’? other than the fact that I’ve already seen multiple good counter-arguments to those who thought including the scene was not justified. Mainly–this is Game of Thrones, and terrible horrible no good things have happened since Day #1. What makes this any different?
This post is here to explain why I think having Ramsay rape Sansa is not only a justified call, but a good one on the part of the writers, and my reasoning is thus:
If you’ve read my blog before you know I hate it when people are critcised for not making a statement that they could have made about something important–challenged a narrative or trope that begged challenging, etc. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think those who do challenge that narrative shouldn’t be praised where appropriate, and this scene subverts a particular narrative that I’ve wanted to see subverted for some time, that being:
The heroine’s virginity is a sign of her virtue, therefore so long as she is the virtuous heroine, her virginity will not be violated.
Indeed, some of the critics of the rape scene seem to think these terms apply: they’ve framed the scene as the writers punishing Sansa for being a strong female character. Besides the fact that I think Sansa is the weakest major female character on the show, how the hell do you come to a conclusion like that? Because she said she wasn’t afraid earlier in the episode, you think the rape was the show’s way of saying, ‘Yeah? Well you should be afraid, bitch!’ or something? Guys, Sansa knew at that point that she was going to be married off to Lord Psycho, she wasn’t saying that she wasn’t afraid he would rape her–she had to know he would by that point.
My point is, time and time again throughout the history of literature–even in the A Song of Ice and Fire books themselves, the author will only go so far as to allow their heroines to be threatened with rape. In my opinion–and I’m not a scholar or anything, I just know a few–it’s a mindset that harks back to medieval female hagiography: a female saint can have the most vicious tortures inflicted on them by their unwanted suitors, but they are never actually raped, because according to the prevailing thought of the time, female honour is tied up in their virginity, and a heroine must be seen as honourable.
I think that’s a mindset that has persisted to this day. Not in everything, obviously, it’s not like I think the show is the first to have their virgin heroine raped–that’s been done as far back as 1748 at least, with Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (though Clarissa died soon after, and that’s another trope), but it does present as a popular mindset. In ASOIAF, for instance, Apart from Danaerys in the very first book (and that didn’t happen the same as on the show–it was more statutory than forcible), I can’t think of any female POV characters who are raped during the course of books which are infamous for their sexual violence content.
Think of how many books, TV shows, movies you may have watched where the heroine was almost raped but saved by herself, others, or a Deus Ex Machina before it happened. Or more rarely where rape is part of their backstory, but they are safe from it during the story proper. I’m not saying that any one of these stories on their own promotes the idea of ‘The virtuous girl is always saved from rape’ just because they have their heroine’s threatened, but never actually raped. What I am saying is that Game of Thrones, by subverting that, is acknowledging that ‘virtue’ does not save you from sexual violence, and–and this is the important part–being a victim of sexual violence does not mean you are not virtuous!
The scene in Game of Thrones is particularly important because it happens to a main character, so the audience cannot be allowed to think that ‘it would never happen to someone I know’. Because, much as I disagree with the 1 in 5 statistic and those like it, it could always still happen.
And come on, critics; are you not the same people who are continually trying to advance the idea that all women all over the world live in constant fear of sexual violence? That one-in-five are raped? And now you’re mad a TV show set in a world far less safe for women than the one you live in had the gall to show that women are raped; yes, even the ones we like? Those of you who read the books were fine when it happened to Jeyne-Poole-Posing-As-Arya, but Sansa is too good for it?
As for those of you saying that it does nothing to ‘advance her character’, for one thing I don’t think rapists care that much about advancing their victims’ characters, and once Sansa agreed to marry Ramsay, then bar outside intervention the rape was what was going to happen. For another, it was the last scene of the most recent episode. Frankly, I think this is going to advance her character–first by bringing her closer to Theon in their shared abuse at the hands of the same man, secondly in making her realise that going along with Littlefinger was a bad plan, and getting her out of his poisonous influence.
So, yeah. Favourite episode of the season so far for me, though that was mostly due to the ‘The dwarf lives ’til we find a cock merchant’ line. I hope for a speedy rescue for Sansa and Theon, Margery and Loras, and Tyrion and Jorah alike!