If this is spoilers for you by now, you’re probably in the ridiculously creepy hall of dead faces
TV audiences were yet again privy to just how horrifying Westeros can be. Sunday’s episode saw the brutal end to Sansa Stark’s virginity at the malicious hands of her new husband; the insane Ramsay Bolton. While Theon/Reek watched in abject horror. It was nightmarish.
Leave it to the folks behind Game of Thrones to usurp the Twitter-verse on the eve of Sterling Cooper & Partners’ departure from the small screen.
The question on everyone’s mind was whether the GoT creators really had to write in such a grotesquery following so many preceding it. Vanity Fair penned a compelling argument that declared the scene was simply too much, an unnecessary horror that stripped Sansa of all the power she’d been gaining. The article reminded readers how the rape scene arrived on the coattails of Sansa telling Myranda that she wouldn’t be cowed, so from a writing standpoint it’s pretty straightforward, chilling shock.
I have to agree with Vanity Fair to some degree. After a while, the terrible stuff in Game of Thrones is to be expected but whether it’s furthering the narrative or necessary for compelling television is subject to inquiry. Sure, a ton of real bad stuff happens in the novels, and the world of Westeros is stupid harsh, but at one point it’s simply too much, even with the it-happened-in-the-book defence that Vanity Fair vanquishes.
In fact, think about what the show would be without any of the sex or violence shown explicitly. I know what you’re thinking, Game of Thrones is defined by its themes of violence and sexuality, but take it all away and you’ve got Dungeons and Dragons or anything else enjoyed by gaming enthusiasts in a basement somewhere. Does high fantasy need metric tons of sex and violence to be compelling? Game of Thrones proves that in this day and age you need that R-rated disguise to successfully sell swords and dragons (although old school D&D books had lots of objectification).
Before I go any further, let me admit that I love GoT. It’s a fantastically enjoyable show. It’s not awash in subtle brilliance, often having to rely on deeply disturbing images and ideas to pump out more seasons, but it’s exciting and compelling, and often has me sitting on the edge of my potato chip dust-laden couch cushions.
But for every sexual assault scene, or for every head explosion scene for that matter it becomes clear that the show’s becoming a race to compete with audience shock levels. And in the case of Sansa and Ramsay’s twisted marriage consummation, the imagery’s not even being used justifiably.
The Vanity Fair piece asks its readers why the scene – clearly most scarring for Sansa – became about a possible redemption for Theon. The casual viewer would probably just say that not even HBO would show such a Sansa scene explicitly, maybe defending the decision because of the human imagination’s ability to envision far worse than what could be shown. But by training the camera on Reek’s sobbing mug you’re instantly drawn to the idea that this’ll be what frees the poor bastard. Based on cinematography alone, the scene’s totally about his relationship to Ramsay. And the newly Bolton’d boy definitely doesn’t need any more atrocity notches to convince us he has to get the moon door.
What may have been a stronger move than remove the rape scene altogether would have been to show the nightmare taking place. This is not to say it would be in any way enjoyable, but at least focusing in on Sansa would make the scene about her pain, and betrayal by Littlefinger (and the rest of Westeros, for that matter). We’d remember her expression, it would stick with us. She’s the most important character in that scene, and not showing the scene makes it a mechanism for something else, rather than the horror it singularly represents.
And I know what I said, that Game of Thrones may be too horrifying for its own good. If it’s going to go to these places, however, may as well make justifiable decisions that really resonate, not just for the shock value or to set up some dude’s gruesome death. Give Sansa her spotlight, even if it’s the least pleasant one imaginable. It better be her slicing off Ramsay’s dick in the end, she deserves her revenge.