Ah, the harsh life and times of A Song of Ice and Fire…
Whatever its faults may be, I generally enjoy watching A Game of Thrones. I’ve read Martin’s books—in fact, more than read them, I savored them. They are long and meandering, and yes, I may have wished Sam or Bran dead at least a hundred times as I dragged myself through their monotony…but that was their world. No iPhones, no Starbucks, no trains to the city. Boredom; this was their world.
Violence, filth, starvation, torture, brutality, war, cruelty, incest and rape are also a part of the Ice and Fire world. Over the course of thousands of pages, readers are immersed in the same elements as the characters; they become part of our world too. If we are enticed to stay, we must accept it. But ask any person who has read Martin’s series why she/he was drawn into—and stayed with—this fantastical world; it was hardly by those elements. We are drawn in by the totality of the world created, by the characters we love and hate (or veer somewhere between). We slog through the less exciting chapters to see what happens to Jaime, Tyrion, Dany, Arya…Cersei. Speaking for myself, first and foremost I am drawn to Martin’s characters and their individual plights. Sure, the dragons and White Walkers are cool, but inside this strange, old world, I am truly taken in by (what’s left of) the families I’ve come to care about…by the inconceivably wicked, who I wait to see repaid or not, as the case may be. Do some of them evolve; do they become leaders or do they never learn where their own noses end? Martin has shown me how honor and loyalty are often rewarded, how treachery and politic play; it is the interaction between these people I’ve come to know that will take me to the end.
Condensing volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire’s magnitude has to be an insanely daunting task. As I’ve said before, I very much admire what David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been able to accomplish. Combing through the series, the main characters easily stand out, the secondary and interwoven aren’t hard to find, and from there it’s all enhancement and decoration. Creating the Westeros, the Seven Kingdoms and beyond, and immersing us in another place and time with costumes, weapons—this world’s production is immense and its realism, successful. Yes, I expect to see brutality and violence—I expect that at some point, rape will indeed be portrayed. But there’s a difference between rape playing out over more than 4000 pages and seeing it multiple episodes in a row on television. The internet has gone over last week’s rape ad nauseam, and let us be clear, it was rape. Worse than that, it was an apparently pointless show addition to both story and character, and likely won’t be addressed again. This week, just in case we didn’t get it permanently etched into our heads that this is violent and brutal world full of rape, viewers were again assaulted with images of multiple rapes. The problem I have with this series depiction is not because I—my delicate sensibilities!—can’t handle seeing rape on my television, it’s that rape has already been well-established. We saw Dany raped. Sansa barely escaped being raped, men have tried to negotiate trades with the Hound for Arya, and last season’s threat against Brienne was certainly enough to reestablish that women can and will be raped. We get it. Now, how many times do Benioff and Weiss think we need it thrown in our face? And beyond that, my fellow viewers and commenters, how often do you think we need visual representation to be reminded that “This is the world…” because this repetitious quote is being thrown down at the bottom of nearly every recap and think piece I read. Rape is a part of the Ice and Fire world, not the whole of it.
There comes a moment where gratuitous sex and violence can become perceived as pointless, even counterproductive. Is this the Game of Thrones world we want to be in?