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Posts tagged ‘Game of Thrones’

Backstreet’s Back ALL RIGHT (or someone else, spoilers duh)

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Game of Thrones is back! Jon Snow is back! Even Ned Stark is back (kinda). It is an exciting time to be tuned it to Westeros, because Game of Thrones is entering uncharted territory. That’s right, this season they are going off book, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Because, seriously, have you read the 5th book? I tried. I tried so hard. I got maybe a quarter of the way through (which, in my defense, is like 300 pages) and I just couldn’t do it anymore because NOTHING. IS. HAPPENING. Do I need 3 pages of Tyrion musing about turtles? No. And honestly, that is really all I remember from the 5th book because literally nothing else happens. And so it is with extreme excitement that I let this season take me beyond the books to heretofore unseen places and storylines, with nary a turtle in sight.

And I’m okay with the show runners doing whatever they want to this story, because it is going places and I am 110% here for it. A brief recap of where we left off last season:

In King’s Landing, Cersei gave a little too much power to a religious extremist group who imprisoned her, as well as Margaery and Loras Tyrell for the sins of incest, homosexuality, etc. Cersei confessed to her crimes so she could be released, but in exchange had to walk the streets of King’s Landing naked and shamed in front of all of the people she has ruled (who obviously hate her, for good reason because she’s a total bitch). As of the opening of season 6, the Tyrell’s are still held captive, refusing to confess.

In Dorne, Jamie travels to fetch his niece/daughter, Myrcella, and take her back to King’s Landing. Myrcella is very much in love with betrothed Dornish Prince, Tristane, and doesn’t want to leave. Ellaria Sand returns to Dorne, mourning Oberyn Martell, who got his skull crushed by the Mountain during a duel (it basically exploded, I’m still not over it). She is hell-bent on vengeance and seeks help from the Sand Snakes (a group of Oberyn’s bastard daughters, both by Ellaria Sand and other women), who are also interested in avenging their father. Oberyn’s brother, Prince Doran, wishes to maintain peace. So the sand ladies take things into their own hands (and whips), poisoning Myrcella just before she gets on the boat that is to take her and Tristane back to King’s Landing. Myrcella tells Jamie that she knows he’s her Uncle-Father, and she’s okay with it. But then she dies.

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Heyyy Uncle-Father

In Braavos, Arya is still training with Jaqen H’ghar and all the weirdos at the House of Black and White. She insists that she is “no one” when asked but she is still holding on to a part of Arya that she doesn’t want to let go. Jaqen obviously knows this. A man knows a lot of stuff. He knows that Arya assumes a disguise in order to murder one of the men on her hit list (Meryn Trant who, it turns out, was into molesting kids almost as much as he was in to cutting people’s heads off, so no one is even remotely sorry that he’s dead now). BUT, since Arya disobeyed orders and acted in her own interests, she’s blind now.

Across the sea, Tyrion emerges from his smuggling after killing his father with an arrow to the crotch. Varys came along too and tries convincing Tyrion to join the Targaryen cause. Ser Jorrah, who is depressed and in Daenerys’ exile, comes across Tyrion and kidnaps him to take him to Dani to try and win retribution (I guess?). On their way there, they are attacked by stone men who infect Ser Jorrah with greyscale (though he has revealed that to no one–and I can’t help noticing he’s still going around touching everyone he pleases!). Tyron meets Dani and joins her Queen’s Guard. Ser Jorrah enters the fighting pits to impress the queen because the dude just cannot take a hint. Then the Sons of the Harpy show up, trying to assassinate the queen. Jorrah saves her, and it looks like a pretty stick situation, until DROGON comes out of nowhere, obliterating Dani’s enemies as she mounts him and together they fly away into the sunset! BUT then she gets kidnapped by the Dothraki.

At Winterfell, Roose Bolton legitimizes his bastard, Ramsey, and arranges that he marry Sansa Stark. Sansa is brought down from the Vale by Littlefinger, who she trusts (girl, that’s a mistake), and he leaves her there with her future husband. Theon, of course, is there (or at least what’s left of him is there. That does not include his penis. That’s gone forever). Surprising no one, Ramsey brutally rapes and tortures his new bride, but Sansa and Theon manage to escape and run away.

Also at Winterfell, Brienne and Pod had reached out to Sansa pre Sansa getting married and offered their protection, which she denied (girl, that was a mistake). Stannis marches on Winterfell (girl, that was a mistake) and his army is completely obliterated. Brienne comes upon a dying Stannis and avenges the gay love of her life, Renly, by chopping off Stannis’ head. Everyone collectively breathes a sigh of relief because no one likes Stannis because he’s so boring plus he just burned his daughter alive.

Which leads me to: The Wall. Where all kinds of shit is going down. Like the White Walker army attacking and killing the crap out of the Wildlings. Stannis was at the Wall with the Red Woman, his family, and Ser Davos. Stannis’ daughter, Shireen, and Davos had formed a special friendship as she taught him how to read. This girl is like the sweetest little thing you ever could see. She also survived greyscale (so don’t give up hope, Ser Jorrah!). But perhaps greyscale would have been preferable to what did happen to her, which was death by fire. Melisandre saw Stannis’ victory at Winterfell in the flames but he needed to make a sacrifice of someone with king’s blood. Well, in his general vicinity, that was pretty much only Shireen. And Davos wasn’t there to save her, as he had already headed towards Winterfell. The fire was lit and this poor child was burned alive. All for nothing because Stannis lost anyway (which Melisandre was really bummed out about).

So, finally, we come to Jon Snow. He who knows nothing. He with the fantastic hair that looks so amazing when snow falls in it. The Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Murdered. Stabbed to death by his own Brothers. The closing scene of the season is Jon Snow lying dead in the….well….in the snow.

Thus began the year of speculation! Is he really dead? Turns out yes. But does he stay dead. No he does not.

(Okay, I guess that recap wasn’t so brief but I had to set the stage!)

Game of Thrones hit the ground running this season, pushing the story forward at a quick but satisfying pace. In the 2 episodes that have aired so far, already 3 significant characters have been killed (Balon Greyjoy, Prince Doran of Dorne, and Roose Bolton). Sansa was rescued by Brienne. Tyrion unshackled the freaking DRAGONS (in a heart-pounding scene for sure–could he have dragon’s blood in him? Hmm?). Melisandre was revealed to be secretly super old (which absolutely none of us saw coming). Ramsey brutally murdered his father’s widow and newborn son (it was grisly and completely unnecessary that we had to watch/hear that. Too far GoT. Seriously, too far). The more boring storylines (and by that I mean nothing has really happened yet): Arya is still blind, and Cersei and the Lannisters are plotting their revenge.

But now we get to the most intriguing storylines. First, Bran is using his mystical white eye warg powers to insert himself into moments in the past. The first of these puts Bran at Winterfell, where he sees young Ned Stark practicing sword-fighting with brother Benjen, as his sister Lyanna rides up on horseback. We also see Hodor, but he was a boy named Wylis back  then and could still speak English. The preview for next week promises more flashback scenes. GIVE ME RHAEGAR FLASHBACKS AND GIVE ME THEM NOW. My hopes and dreams are that these scenes will culminate in the reveal of the highly popular theory that Jon Snow is the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. I’m thirsting for that story, and the show better quench it because I deserve it! We all deserve it.

And finally, we’re back to Jon Snow. Surprising probably no one, he does come back from the dead. Melisandre sensuously washes his wounds (so many abs, so many abs), cuts his hair (tone it down lady, don’t cut it all off), and mumbles a bunch of Valyrian (I think) over him, all resulting in Jon Snow drawing breath and being alive again. YES.

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The show has consistently done a good job of taking the story from the books and condensing it down, either eliminating minor characters (or storylines) completely or replacing them with more important ones. (See: Sansa Stark as Ramsey’s wife, instead of Jeyne Poole from the books who is masqueraded as Arya. So confusing. Or Ellaria Sand as the one pushing for a war with the Lannisters, instead of introducing a new character to do so.) And now that they have surpassed the plot of the books, they’re doing something even better: Removing all boring moments from the books and giving the fans storylines that are interesting and satisfying.

As of the end of book 5, Tyrion had yet to meet Daenerys. In the show, not only has he met her, he now advises her and befriends her dragons, all while maintaining a comedic wit that the show desperately needs to break up the horror of most other plots. I have no idea what’s going on with Sansa in book 5 but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get much further than the Vale. In the show, she has now escaped Ramsey, learned that Bran and Rickon are alive, reunited with and forgiven Theon, and has been saved by Brienne. And on and on it goes for each character. And now, the icing on the cake, we are getting flashback scenes. I’m so excited I feel like I’m taking a ride on that dragon, soaring over my enemies (namely father of the realm G.R.R.M., the maintenance people who won’t come and fix my bathroom ceiling, and any and all haters). I cannot wait to watch the rest of this season.

Side note: Do you think anyone is going to get raped this season? Who am I kidding, it’s Game of Thrones, of COURSE someone is getting raped.

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Another Year, Another Controversial Rape Scene on ‘Game of Thrones’

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Some things come around every year. Birthdays. Holidays. Paying your taxes. Uncomfortable rape scenes on Game of Thrones. This most recent rape scene (yes, these are sentences we write now when talking about Game of Thrones) occurred in the 6th episode of season 5, entitled, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.”

The victim was the unfortunate and forever-tormented Sansa Stark, whose storyline throughout the show takes her from bad situations to worse ones. The rapist is her new husband, Ramsay Bolton, whose onscreen time has been used to demonstrate how sick, twisted, sadistic, sociopathic, and cruel his character is. The additional uncomfortable element added to this scene is that Theon Greyjoy (also named “Reek,” the man who Ramsay tortured, imprisoned, and psychologically broke) was forced to stand and watch it happen.

I have to say, I was really surprised that this particular rape scene elicited any sort of controversy. What did viewers think was going to happen? That Ramsay—who cut off Theon’s penis, who literally hunts the women in his life down and kills them because they’re boring—would marry Sansa and suddenly be a loving and gentle husband?

Game of Thrones has always been pretty liberal with their rape scenes. The show has been criticized heavily in the past for its gratuitous depictions of sex and women’s bodies, and for its numerous (numerous!) depictions of rape. And in the past I’ve been on board that ship, at the helm, with my arms flung out wide like, “Jack, I’m flying!” with my opinions on the problems with these particular scenes. However, the rape of Sansa Stark made sense narratively; it wasn’t gratuitous, and it had a purpose to the character’s arc and this season’s overall storyline. Did I want to see Sansa raped? No. But it certainly made sense to the narrative. And besides, was there any doubt that’s what would happen upon seeing Ramsay’s “I do” face?

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Of course, though, I do have teensy problem. As Sansa is getting brutally raped, the camera zooms in on Theon, who was forced to stand there and watch. We, as the audience, can’t see Sansa’s rape, we can only hear it and interpret it in the horror, anguish, and turmoil on Theon’s face.

I’m down with this scene portrayed as it is but I do take issue with rape being used as the catalyst for a man’s storyline and personal character growth. Because watching that scene, we are to assume that the show is leading Theon toward some kind of redemption story, one in which he takes revenge on Ramsay, or at least tries SOMEWHAT to help Sansa. Either way, the focus of that scene was not on Sansa’s pain, but on Theon’s.

And this is always how it seems to go down when it comes to rape on Game of Thrones. Rape or almost-rape are used on this show in one of two ways: It happens but we all just pretend it didn’t, or it is a catalyst for a male character’s story development. And that really grinds my gears. As if I’m not sick enough of male narratives, they also get to have a better storyline than a woman because she was raped? Games of Thrones has often been criticized for using women’s bodies as props and set dressings, and to use violence against women as a backdrop to a man’s storyline is…ugh, just ugh.

Let’s look at the evidence. In season 1 of Games of Thrones, Daenerys is consistently raped by her husband, Khal Drogo. How does this plot progress? It finds Dany having a pretty girl-on-girl moment with her handmaiden in which she is instructed on the ways to please a man. During the next rape session with Khal Drogo, Dany tells him, “No,” while getting on top of him and taking control of the situation. Drogo then falls in love with her and then it was like, “Hey, she was never raped, Drogo was just doing sex all wrong lol!” Ah, love.

In season 2, Sansa is almost raped during a riot in King’s Landing, but in swoops the Hound to save her. The Hound is mean, and terrifying, and just so complicated, and his rough exterior seems to soften only for the beautiful and innocent Sansa Stark. What will happen with the Hound next? I mean, he saved a girl from getting raped! He has depth!

In season 3, Jamie lies to his captors that Brienne is very wealthy and will fetch a handsome ransom price, so no one should rape her. Brienne is the strongest woman in Westerns, hands down, but she is never given the chance to take control of a situation in which she is victimized, because Jamie is always there to save her. He ensures she does not get raped while they are being held captive, and he also risks his life by jumping in to a bear pit to save her life (though she was probably capable of saving it herself, but I guess we’ll never know). Am I saying I want female characters to be raped? No. Am I saying I don’t want male characters to stop a rape if they can? No. I’m just saying I’d like female characters to be able to command their own storylines for once. Jamie going out of his way to help Brienne is a huge part of his redemption storyline. It’s where we finally see that he is a good person inside, even though he’s done terrible things. Seemingly, in the books, Brienne exists just to propel  Jamie’s story forward. (Mercifully, the show is giving her her own independent storyline this season.)

And there was season 4’s rape of Cersei Lannister. This one was the worst rape scene because the showrunners insisted that it wasn’t even rape, c’mon. The problem that I had—well, the BIGGEST problem that I had—with this rape scene was that it was purposeless. It didn’t happen like that in the book. And while the scene we saw on television was exactly the same scene from the book, the exception was that in the show Cersei was raped and in the book it was consensual. To change just this one factor was very jarring and it challenged the integrity of the character of Jamie as a whole, and destroyed all of the character building that we had to have Brienne almost get raped like 12 times to get! And for what? That scene made no sense, and then it was never brought up again.

And just this past week, we had yet ANOTHER attempted rape. Sweet Wildling Gilly was almost raped at the hands of two brothers of the Night’s Watch. But poor, sweet, weak Sam stepped in and saved her (but not before getting the crap beat out of him). As Gilly nurses Sam back to health, she admonishes him for trying to save her and makes him promise that he will just be sure to take care of her baby should anything happen to her (anything being, we can assume, rape followed by death). And then, as a reward for Sam’s bravery and character development, she climbs on top of him and has slow, awkward, fully clothed sex with him. The story here wasn’t about Gilly at all. The story was about Sam showing his strength and courage and how that should be rewarded.

And see, it’s just a damn shame. The females of Game of Thrones have great stories in them. But the show seems determined to have them resigned to the reality that they might get raped, and to exist mostly to drive a man’s story forward.

As I said before, I support the narrative choices the showrunners have made in having Sansa be raped by Ramsay Bolton. I’m just crossing my fingers real hard that the story be Sansa’s to tell, and not Theon’s or anybody else’s.

Check back for next week’s essay: Even More Objectification on Game of Thrones or, Why Did That Sand Snake Take Off Her Clothes? C’mon.

The Rape of Cersei Lannister

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A lot has been said about this past Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones entitled, “Breaker of Chains.” The episode depicts a famous scene from book three of the A Song of Ice and Fire series from which the show is based, yet changed one key element from the book, and caused an internet uproar.

The scene in question involved Cersei and Jamie Lannister, twins and lovers. In the book, Cersei stands in a Sept (a holy house in this universe) over the corpse of her dead son (fathered by her brother, Jamie). Jamie, who until that point had been kidnapped and tortured and absent from King’s Landing for quite some time, arrives on the scene. Cersei is overcome by relief at seeing Jamie and passion because she’s all hot for her brother. And although at first she thinks it would be wrong to have sex with her brother in a holy place beside the corpse of their dead son who was the product of incest (and I would agree with her for so many reasons), she willingly and consensually and happily does end up having sex with Jamie. She also is on her “moon blood” during the process, meaning she has the Westeros equivalent of a period and the whole scene in general is gross for every reason I just listed above.

The show took this exact scene and changed one very important part: The part where Cersei gives consent. In the book Cersei literally guides Jamie into her with her hand. In the show, it was nothing short of rape, with Cersei consistently saying no and trying to push Jamie off of her, to no avail.

People are not happy, but maybe not entirely for the reasons that you would think.

My initial reaction to this scene was one of shock followed by anger. The scene itself was very difficult to watch (as all scenes of rape should be) and I was quite flabbergasted and confused as to what I was witnessing, as I am someone who has read the books.

I was really excited when I saw Cersei in the Sept and it looked exactly like I pictured it. Then Jamie walked in, just like in the book and everything was going kind of word for word, and I was sitting on the couch crunching on potato chips and thinking to myself, “I wonder if they’re going to be bold enough to show her moon blood” and then all of a sudden Jamie is raping her. And I’m sitting there wondering when it’s going to turn consensual because that’s what a reader of the book would expect but it never does. And as soon as the scene ends, I turned to my roommate aghast and said, “THAT didn’t happen in the book!”

Which seems to be the predominant reaction that people are having: That it didn’t happen in the book. This article from The A.V. Club posed the question that I immediately asked as well which was: While inevitably television or movie adaptations of books have to change scenes in order to work in a different medium, why change this particular scene? Everything else was exactly the same as the scene in the book except for the question of consent. But what was the motivation behind taking an act of consensual sex and turning it into an act of sexual violence? Because upon doing so, the showrunners have changed the very integrity of the characters themselves.

In the books and the show, at this point Jamie is well into his redemption story. He is a man who has done terrible things but is beginning to recognize that about himself and take measures to change. He is misunderstood in a lot of ways, and although his relationship with his sister is incestuous (and therefore really gross), he is honorable in his love and devotion to her. The choice on the part of the show to have him rape Cersei throws a wrench in all of that previous character development. And I understand why fans of the book are angry because it is my belief that Jamie would never rape anyone, especially not Cersei, no matter what other horrific things he may have done. The show essentially destroyed the very integrity of the character with this one very violent and disturbing scene.

Granted, the show is in no way required to stay so close to canon, but it’s disturbing because the motivation behind altering the character in this way is unclear. And while it’s possible that in the coming episodes it will become clearer why they chose to take this character in this direction, as it stands it’s a hard pill to swallow.

This article from Wired included a quote from the director of the episode, that suggested that the scene they filmed wasn’t even really a rape scene (at least not to their knowledge), but a power struggle, with Cersei ultimately wanting it, and one that ended in consent. This is disturbing in so many ways, because it suggests that the power that the showrunners wield (which is to entertain and influence an audience of millions of people) is abused in ignorance of the scenes that they are portraying. Perhaps when it was filmed it was a power struggle and not a rape scene but that’s not how it was edited and not the final product, as the scene cut away before Cersei ever consented (if that was a thing that was supposed to happen). Game of Thrones is a show that depicts a lot of violence and a lot of sex, often for no other purpose but to be exploitative and titillating and shocking. I would hate to think that this scene was used for the same purpose, or to prove that this is how the world of Westeros works—it’s a dark and particularly dangerous realm and the rules of existence are different there.

Because the rules are different when watching a show about a fictional universe. The world of Game of Thrones is filled with war and ruthless murder and rape. With the killing of children, with the marriage of siblings and 13-year-olds to 30-year-old savages, with eunuchs and slaves. There are also dragons, and zombie-like creatures that can only be killed by fire. It’s mystical and twisted and dark. It’s also completely fictional and therefore I think it’s a safe space to examine something I found very interesting about the reaction to this episode.

I’m very interested in the reaction of the audience to violence in Game of Thrones versus violence against women in Game of Thrones. Particularly the dichotomy between the reaction to Joffrey’s death and the reaction Cersei’s rape. Because by all accounts Cersei is a terrible person. She is cruel and manipulative and hateful. She has murdered and she would step on anyone to rise to the top, including her own younger brother, Tyrion. She has an incestuous relationship with her brother, all of her children were the product of that relationship, and she helped to murder her husband in order to keep that secret. Basically everybody in the audience hates her. And the same was true for Joffrey. He was a spoiled, sadistic brat who murdered and tortured. He was cruel and impulsive and maniacal. And when he was killed last week, everyone in the audience cheered and celebrated.

Now before I continue remember that I am speaking here entirely of a fictional world. I don’t think that anyone deserves to be raped. I don’t even think Cersei deserved to be raped, and she’s a horrible person. But I thought that Joffrey deserved to die, and I’m pretty sure everyone else did, too. Are we not the same audience that just last week threw a Twitter party upon Joffrey dying in a truly gruesome and graphic and horrific fashion? But in this fictional world where the rules are different, we feel outrage at Cersei’s rape. If Jamie had walked into that Sept and stabbed her in the heart, we would be celebrating again this week. But because he raped her, we are angry.

And don’t get me wrong, I think we should be angry. But where is the source of that anger? We are desensitized enough to violence that we applaud it when distributed upon a truly heinous character. But sexual violence is enough of a taboo in our culture that there is a public outcry when a character who most would say deserves to die is raped. I think it is very interesting but I also see it as problematic. Because if rape and sexual assault are such a taboo that it pains us to witness fictional characters who we hate experience it, then why is it that when you pull back and examine real-life rape in our society, victim-blaming and other facets of rape culture still run rampant with not as many people as the audience of Game of Thrones (which is millions) caring as much about real rape as they do about Cersei’s rape. You would think that the outrage on behalf of a fictional character would translate to outrage in the real world but it really doesn’t.

If we believe as an audience that rape is inexcusable no matter what the crimes of the victim may be, then why doesn’t that concern for a horrible person of a female character extend out of pop culture and into our own culture towards real-life victims of sexual violence? Do we care more about the fictional rape of a fictional person than we do about the actual injustices that happen to real people?

I don’t know the answer to that. But I am happy that so many people are asking these kinds of questions and talking about depictions of rape in popular culture and storytelling through the medium of television. I think it’s important to hold showrunners accountable for their choices, because it seems to me that they chose to have Cersei raped for no other reason except they kind of didn’t even realize that’s what they were doing? Which opens a giant can of worms regarding misogyny, the way rape is viewed in America, and the treatment of women on Game of Thrones especially. This show has come under fire for this before, which is such a shame since George R.R. Martin’s female characters in the book are some of the strongest and most complicated female characters I’ve ever read, and they’re written with respect.

But I also think we should see where they take these characters this season. Because rape as a storytelling device isn’t inherently wrong and can be used to a very powerful effect, but it’s very tricky to do so, and I feel that it is often used lazily and as a throwaway character arc for women. Perhaps this particular rape scene will create an excellent story for Jamie and Cersei’s characters (though I wouldn’t count on it) and we should wait to see if that happens (but I really doubt it will). In the meantime, I hope the discussion about rape depictions in popular culture continues because while I think the showrunners have done all of it inadvertently, they opened a really great national dialogue, so applause to Game of Thrones for doing something great by doing something bad, while both were probably unintentional.

A final interesting thing to note: Author George R.R. Martin posted something about this episode and this scene in particular on his blog, in response to fan criticism over the whole thing. In his response, GRRM spoke of the difference in where the characters were in the books versus the show (in the book, it was the first time Cersei was seeing Jamie in a long time, and in the show he had been there with her for a few weeks with mounting tension). He also said the scene in the book was always intended to be disturbing and that he wasn’t brought into discussion for this episode but that he apologizes if anyone was disturbed by either scene.

First of all, George, you are the father of the REALM, you bow to NO ONE. I’m not into the idea that artists should apologize for their work (though that seems to be happening a lot lately). But more than that, people SHOULD be disturbed by those scenes, whether it was the one in the book or the one on television. People SHOULD be disturbed when they’re watching a rape scene! If you’re not disturbed then you’re probably a rapist or the director of this episode. Furthermore, if GRRM is going to start apologizing for things in his books that disturbed me, I have a LONG list starting with his synonyms for “vagina” which include “lower lips” and “the wetness between her legs.” Please apologize for that, forever. Thank you.