Why Does Game of Thrones Keep Using Rape to Fill Empty Space?
In the past two weeks, websites devoted to television and movies have bemoaned the recent rape scenes on HBO’s smash hit Game of Thrones. In episode three of this season (and here is your requisite spoiler alert) Jaime, the son of the powerful Lannister house, currently ruling in the capital, rapes his sister/lover (and Queen Regent) Cersei as she stands over the dead body of her son, mourning his death. In another scene, mutineers in the middle of the wilderness turn a camp of already sexually abused women into their sexual slaves.
These rape scenes were an HBO creation. Game of Thrones, based on a fantasy book series by author George RR Martin, is certainly brutal, but these rapes were never depicted in the books. In addition, these assaults haven’t added anything to the direction of the characters, leaving many fans understandably confused. Why would the showrunners turn the spoiled and lovelorn Jaime (seemingly going through a bit of a moral renaissance) into a rapist? Why use a naked woman’s bouncing breasts as background in a scene to depict the ‘awfulness’ of the mutineers in Craster’s Keep, when we already know they’re villains?
Even more disturbing is the droves of internet minions who have come out to defend these scenes ad nauseam. When fans of the show came out to complain about superfluous rape scenes (and honestly does any show need those?), the zero sum defense league rears their ugly head.
Pointing out that the show has plenty of dark moments, which is absolutely accurate, numerous fans cautioned that we ought to calm our delicate sensibilities when we watch Game of Thrones. A quick sample of such generous advice follows:
“Perhaps if dear viewers are so sensitive to rape in any of its forms they should not be watching this program. Maybe it’s just me, but I would have thought all the squeamish viewers would have been weeded out by now, considering the incest and attempted murder, torture, sadism, beheadings, and various murders that have taken place.”
Another reader supplied, “It may be difficult to watch but it’s realistic. It’s got a rating for a reason; I really feel you are being over-sensitive.”
One of the things rape culture is notorious for is trivializing, sexualizing and normalizing rape. It is clear from such internet comments that that, much like the fantasy world created by George RR Martin, this issue also bleeds over into our world. RR Martin even went on record defending the rapes, calling it, “nor darker nor more depraved than our own world.” That is exactly what makes the ultimate defenders of these scenes so disturbing. We have normalized rape to a point where it can be shown as background noise, or easily forgotten, and defenders everywhere will rise up and tell us we are being ‘too sensitive’ if we find the scene pointless and upsetting.
But let’s also address the idea that these were at all realistic. The fact is they weren’t. In one scene, we see a woman brutally raped, sobbing as her brother/lover forces himself on her in the shadow of her dead son, and in the next episode they act as if nothing ever happened. Queen Cercei, nonplussed, bosses Jaime around as usual, and he takes it. Balance restored. Meaning that rape scene was an entire waste of time.
During the other scene in question, we have the very bad men who were once members of a brotherhood squirreled away in Craster’s Keep. As the candlelight flickers, they lift the skulls of their enemies up to their mouths, drinking wine from the jagged edges, the red liquid pouring down their chins. Women, bruised and passive, sit next to them. A basket, full of flesh, is presented. More skull cups appear, there is a battle over egos…tell me, do you need naked buttocks and bouncing breasts of women being raped in the background to know these are ‘the bad guys’?
The scene is written so sloppily it walks an almost impossible line of being entirely cartoonish (skull cups? baskets of slaughtered flesh?) while managing to simultaneously fail at showing how awful these men really are.
On a personal note, I am not entirely against using rape in media to depict a level of realistic brutality. However, if you actually want to properly depict the reality of rape, why were the women at Craster’s Keep little more than jiggling parts? Why wouldn’t we see these woman’s faces and feel their pain? In Cercei’s case, why wouldn’t we see the later effects of being raped by a man she loved and trusted?
Game of Thrones seems to be grasping this season, and filling the empty space with deviant behaviors meant to shock us into viewing. However, it’s a cheap and thoughtless trope that has many fans shaking their heads in disgust. As episodes roll out over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see if the show can turn it around, relying instead in the immersive characters and intricate lands created by George RR Martin, instead of shocking ploys that leave viewers disappointed.