Violence Against Women In ‘Game Of Thrones’ – Gratuitous Or Raising Awareness?


HBO’s ‘Game Of Thrones’ is arguably one of the most popular shows on TV. Based on the books by George R. R. Martin, the show has become a cult hit by fans worldwide and each episode becomes a memorable hashtag on twitter every week. Season 5 saw an intensified amount of attention on the show but not necessarily for the right reasons. In fact they have been downright controversial.

The show’s executive producers have had to take artistic license and condense some of the characters story lines as the book is so detailed and contains a lot more content than could be included in a single hour episode. But there have also been certainly licenses taken in terms of violent depictions toward some of the female characters in particular.

In Season 4 the characters Jaime and Cersei Lannister, who are brother and sister and who happen to be in an incestuous relationship, were in a scene which in the book was a consensual sex scene, but in the TV show it was changed to a rape scene. This angered a lot of fans because it seemed to be a blatant portrayal of excessive violence for no reason.

In season 5 there was another scene which deviated from the book a little, but also showed gratuitous sexual violence toward the character Sansa Stark. She gets married to Ramsey Bolton, a character renowned for his torturous violence toward his enemies, and he makes his servant Reek aka Theon Greyjoy watch as he sexually violates her on their wedding night.

After that episode, media website The Mary Sue wrote a scathing yet intelligent post about why they would no longer be watching or supporting the show on their site.

“Rape is not a necessary plot device. Really think about that before shouting “creative freedom” in our direction, please. The show has creators. They make the choices. They chose to use rape as a plot device. Again,” wrote Jill Pantozzi.


In the Season finale, there was a scene where Queen Cersei, fallen from grace and willing to pay penance for her crimes against the church is stripped naked and forced to walk through the city streets of Kings Landing while people spit on her, throw food at her and yell profanities. The scene was quite long and by the end it left you feeling uncomfortable and sad, despite Queen Cersei being one of the most disliked characters on the show.

It prompted a writer from another major Hollywood industry site, Indiewire, to write a post about about she will no longer be watching the show. Sarah Stewart speaks about the argument that the way the violence is portrayed is reflecting how women are treated in real life and have been throughout history.

“If the show actually gave a shit about the parallels between how women are abused on the show and how they’re abused in real life, they’d be working with female directors and talking about how to depict sexual violence without pornifying it,” she writes.

“Yes, it’s a patriarchal (fictional) world, but that doesn’t entitle you to luridly linger on every woman’s suffering. In fact, doing so makes the behind-the-scenes of your show also a patriarchy.”

One of the biggest problems she has is that in the finale, a parallel story showed female knight Brienne of Tarth finally getting the justice she’s been looking for for the past few seasons. She had been tracking down Stannis Baratheon who killed his own brother Renley, whom she served.

Stannis is spent after losing a huge battle near castle Winterfell, and Brienne finds him as she is walking through the battle field. And although we have seen excessive violence the entire season, including a horrific scene where Stannis burns his own daughter alive on a stake with his entire army watching, the Executive Producers chose NOT to show Brienne driving her sword into Stannis as he took his last breath.


“It would have been gratuitous. You really got a sense that Stannis had nothing else to live for. Brienne’s lifelong mission had come to an end. It’s a situation in which Stannis was ready to die and prepared to die,” said David Nutter, who directed the finale, to Variety.

She has a really good point.

It is an issue that has been talked about a lot in the media, but necessarily by Hollywood executives.

‘Hannibal’ executive producer Bryan Fuller recently spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the GOT gender violence issue and why he banned rape from his show.

“‘A character gets raped’ is a very easy story to pitch for a drama. And it comes with a stable of tropes that are infrequently elevated dramatically, or emotionally. It’s an incredibly personal and intimate betrayal of something that should be so positive and healthy. And it’s frequently so thinly explored because you don’t have the real estate in 42 minutes to dig deep into what it is to be a victim of rape,” he said.

“The reason the rape well is so frequently used is because it’s a horrible thing that is real and that it happens. But because it’s so over-exploited, it becomes callous. That’s something I can’t derive entertainment from as an audience memberMy role, as a showrunner, is to want to watch the show we’re creating. And if something feels exploitative or unnecessary, I’ll try to avoid it,” he continued.
Yet there are GOT cast members defending the story lines and scenes, including Sophie Turner who plays Sansa Stark. She said she “loved” the scene where Sansa was raped by Ramsey.

Fellow cast member Gwendoline Christie who plays Brienne of Tarth spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the rape issue after the Season 5 finale and gave a different perspective.

“I’ve always been quite clear about my attitude toward gender equality and female empowerment. And a lot of this show is inspired by actual historical events, and that’s what’s occurring with the women. Women have been treated appalling in history. Men have too. Human beings have. What this show is doing is shining a light on women and has an exploration of female characters that has rarely been approached before—and I applaud that,” she said.

Her view is that it is not exploitative if it is raising consciousness about something that is a pervasive yet largely misunderstood issue in the real world.

“Yes, those scenes are difficult, and they should be difficult. They should further illuminate human consciousness about how we interact as human beings,” she added.


She also points out that the scenes are not out of context and that the show is continuing which means we are yet to see how the plot plays out for some of the aforementioned characters.

GOT author who plays a pivotal role in the production of the series wrote about the controversy on his personal blog defending the exec’s decisions to portray violence.

“And then there’s the whole issue of sexual violence, which I’ve been criticized for as well. I’m writing about war, which what almost all epic fantasy is about. Rape, unfortunately, is still a part of war today. It’s not a strong testament to the human race, but I don’t think we should pretend it doesn’t exist. I want to portray struggle. Drama comes out of conflict. If you portray a utopia, then you probably wrote a pretty boring book,” he wrote.

Gwendoline Christie agrees with his statement.

“I truly believe this, I truly do. Because people ask me about this all the time. And what’s wonderful about ‘Game of Thrones’ is it’s a TV show, and in watching it, the show allows us to perhaps adapt our own personal attitudes and create a better reality,” she said.

So the question remains, is this increased and gratuitous portrayal of sexual violence toward the female characters on the show contextual or is it a shock tactic to draw in viewers by taking advantage of a serious issue that affects women all around the world today?

It is important to consider both sides of the argument, and at the end of the day open discussions are better than it being hidden behind closed doors and silenced mouths, as the issue of rape has been throughout history.

Depictions of rape and sexual violence are supposed to make us feel uncomfortable. We just hope the show can uphold its responsibility as a a beacon of cultural popularity and offer an insightful way to challenge society’s perceptions of an issue that is still very problematic and misunderstood.

Share with us your thoughts on this issue below.


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