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Why Last Night’s Game of Thrones Was The Worst

Spoiler warning! I’m going to talk about what happened in last night’s Game of Thrones episode (season 5, episode 6: Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken) and what happens throughout the entirety of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of books.

Today, a lot of Game of Thrones fans are talking about the big rape scene in last night’s episode, in which Ramsay Bolton (nee Snow) marries and then rapes Sansa Stark. There’s certainly a lot to talk about: the fact that it doesn’t happen in the books (Sansa isn’t even in Winterfell at this point in the books, and Ramsay instead marries a girl pretending to be Arya Stark), the fact that a not-surprising number of fans on Reddit and elsewhere are arguing that it wasn’t rape because she didn’t kick and scream and try to get away (horrific), and the more interesting question of whether this moment is an empowering one for Sansa in which she finally leaves behind the innocent girl she was and fully becomes the game changer that many of us hope she will be.

I’m content to wait to see how it plays out — I don’t like that Sansa has been once again made the victim of circumstance and that yet another new rape has been thrown in as a plot point, but if she’s going to be paired with Ramsay, that’s pretty much the only way it could go down, and if her storyline stays true to what happens to fake-Arya in the books (which I hope doesn’t happen), there’s a lot worse in store for her. But it does look as though the show will follow the books in making this Theon’s redemption story, which does a huge disservice to Sansa. They appear to be writing themselves into a corner: either the upcoming escape from Winterfell will be a triumph for Theon or for Sansa, or a weak combination. I’m guessing they’re either going to choose Theon or the weak combo, which pretty much puts the brakes on Sansa’s transformation into a badass.

So that’s all very troubling of course but not why this episode was the worst (of the season thus far, at least). Neither is it because of the terribly written and choreographed Sand Snakes scene, in which the formerly badass women of the books turn into bumbling idiots on screen. They start with a team chant of the Martell motto (the episode title), even though none of them are Martells and they’re actively planning to take the family to war against the patriarch’s wishes. Then they go to steal Myrcella and happen upon her at the exact time that Jaime and Bronn do, and then have a terrible-looking fight and say stupid things to each other.

That was bad, but no, the reason why I really disliked this episode was what the showrunners have done to the Margaery vs. Cersei storyline.

In the books, Cersei schemes to have the Faith Militant put Margaery to death for treason due to the fact that Cersei is convinced Margaery is slutting around on (several, now) kings. Cersei tries to convince the High Sparrow that Margaery has done this by getting one of Cersei’s lovers to confess to bedding Margaery.

The High Sparrow isn’t completely convinced, though, so he has the lover tortured until he admits that he has actually slept with Cersei. Cersei is arrested and forced to do a walk of shame through the center of town, and will eventually still stand trial.

For some reason, the showrunners have chosen to instead implicate Margaery not for sleeping around on the King but for lying to the Sparrow about whether or not she saw her brother banging another guy. I’ve spent the morning trying to puzzle out why that is, and the best I can come up with is that they were worried that we wouldn’t sympathize enough with Margaery if the charge were the (possibly true) claim that she was cheating on Tommen the way that we will sympathize with her for covering for her gay brother. If Margaery is on trial for being a slut, then will the audience really care what happens to her?

Regardless of the reason, it’s a pretty bad loss. The fact that Kings can have all the sex they’d like outside of the marriage bed and be lauded for it while Queens get put to death for the same thing is the perfect picture of how screwed up this misogynist society is. And the fact that both Margaery and Cersei, the two most powerful women in Westeros, use that against one another, is also telling of the way women are forced to work within a patriarchy and be complicit in it in order to get ahead.

Replacing that with an anti-gay message is pointless: the society as a whole doesn’t have a huge issue with homosexuality. It’s not the norm, but it’s not punished with death. The only reason why it’s suddenly an issue in this episode is because the showrunners have turned the Faith Militant into Westboro Westeros Baptist Church — over-the-top evil fanatics who make it impossible to like them.

And so that’s why I felt this episode was bad. Good, layered storytelling with a message has been replaced with a cheap imitation that doesn’t even make sense. (Seriously, Tommen isn’t going to flip out that his hot wife is being dragged away? Lady Oleanna wouldn’t have half the swords of Highgarden at that meeting to protect her kids? Complete nonsense.)

Still, I must remember that there were highlights of this episode:

Sansa practically saying “bye Felicia” to Myranda

Bronn speaking for the audience when the Sand Snakes show up: “Oh for fuck’s sake.”

Lady Oleanna and anything she says or does forever

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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21 Comments

  1. May 18, 2015 at 3:21 pm —

    They appear to be writing themselves into a corner: either the upcoming escape from Winterfell will be a triumph for Theon or for Sansa, or a weak combination. I’m guessing they’re either going to choose Theon or the weak combo, which pretty much puts the brakes on Sansa’s transformation into a badass.

    While there’s plenty of problems in the ‘rape and revenge’ trope*, at least it makes the story about the woman this shit is happening to. ‘Rape and rescue’ basically makes the whole thing about the (usually male) assailant and the (usually male) rescuer, sidelining the victim.

    * Mostly that it seems to be overused as a way that women get to be badasses. Seriously, we don’t need special ‘lady reasons; to be badasses.

    • May 18, 2015 at 7:34 pm —

      To be fair, the way the book does it, it’s

      SPOILER

      Ramsay marries Jeyne-as-Arya, brings “Reek” with them into their chamber. Ramsay forces “Reek” to perform cunnilingus on Jeyne-as-Arya, then rapes her.

      There’s also the implication that Ramsay forces Jeyne-as-Arya to sleep with his dogs.

      /SPOILER

      So it’s not entirely rape-and-rescue.

      I don’t think even HBO would allow anything that disgusting.

      • May 25, 2015 at 5:06 pm —

        Such a good point, I was thinking the same thing.

        Yes, Sansa was not raped by Ramsay in the books, but that doesn’t mean the rape didn’t occur in the books. It occurred, and it was even worse. The writers of the show actually toned it down for the show (thankfully).

    • May 19, 2015 at 1:30 am —

      WTF. Nope. I mean I read Stephen King’s *Misery* when I was 10 but this seems way more disturbing.

  2. May 18, 2015 at 4:21 pm —

    Excellent analysis Rebecca.
    I was appalled by how badly they fumbled almost everything in this episode. Actually this entire season feels like it has been building to a major clusterfuck even when it was good. The show runners have treated Martin’s material from “A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance with Dragons” as if it were radioactive, glossing over parts of two huge novels, rushing through storylines pell mell.
    I’m completely sanguine with streamlining a massive novel series for the screen. But these guys are leaving characters stranded all over the map, thousands of miles away from where Martin has them at the end of the story we book readers have been shown.

    I always assumed that while the series might diverge from the books for the sake of utility, the two entities were pointed at essentially the same ending. Now I’m not so sure.

    • May 18, 2015 at 4:30 pm —

      Yep, and I totally get how the showrunners would want to make changes to those last two books. Those books suffered from a change in focus to less interesting characters and a lot of really boring filler. But there’s so much in there that they could have pulled out and put center stage. It’s baffling that they’ve made the choices they have this season.

      • May 18, 2015 at 7:40 pm —

        Feast’s big problem was, Tyrion, Jon, and Dany were out of focus. (Though it did have Arya.) I personally like Brienne and Sansa, but I understand that a significant portion of the readership doesn’t like Sansa.

        And of course, Cersei comes off as incredibly stupid. “Ooh, the woman who cheats on her husband with her brother and cheats on her brother with any man she currently needs sets up a theocracy. This can’t end well.”

        Speaking of Sansa, I think that’s one big reason for the change. Before I picked up Dance, if you said ‘Jeyne’ to me, my first thought would be “Robb was an idiot.” We’re not emotionally invested in Jeyne. I forgot Jeyne Poole even existed. We are emotionally invested in Sansa.

  3. May 18, 2015 at 4:27 pm —

    Ok.. So.. When do we start the boycott of this useless rewrite of the story, by hacks who think they know better than the author (yeah, who am I kidding, of course they do)? Or does he actually somehow approve of this idiocy? I swear, some of the changes in the first season where.. annoying, but not plot-suicidal, but this is starting to approach the point where it looks like the end of, “The L-Word”, where the story of the lives of the people we where watching for seasons is, “made into a show”, and not only the author mangles the details, but the writers do to, all culminating in a dead author, her psycho assistant taking over, and even the characters in the show going, “WTF just happened!?”

    But at least that was “intended”, as part of the plot.

    For me, this stuff is getting to be a serious annoyance. I mean, I have been reading the Anita Blake series – it centers around, basically, someone who starts out looking for a white picket fence, and gets dragged into situations that drastically redefine how she sees the world, the choices that are possible, etc. They would probably, but book two, have her married to the bloody werewolf, killing the head vamp, and dating the psycho Chimera (who isn’t even there until a few books later), instead, then sitting around going, “Gosh… how do we stuff the rest of this series into the show now, since we just rewrote every single bloody plot point in the first two books, and there are like. 11 more to go???” It terrifies me that these people might get hold of some of the things I liked reading.

  4. May 18, 2015 at 5:50 pm —

    Thanks, Rebecca, for the cogent analysis. It’s been interesting to read the strong negative reactions to last night’s episode, which I didn’t immediately share but there’s much to consider in them. As one who hasn’t read the books, I’ve been oblivious to some of what stirred the outrage, and we’ll see whether the series confirms the worst expectations or does something more surprising with them.

    To me, the theme running throughout the episode was lies: the ones we tell others and ourselves, for good reasons and bad. That’s straightforwardly clear in the Arya and Margaery-vs.-Cersei plotlines, so I won’t belabor it except to wonder whether that might be part of why the producers went with the Sparrows’ prosecution of Margaery for protecting her brother rather than for her infidelity. (If they had gone after her for that, it might have come across as misogynistic in a different way: I’m not convinced the irony of her being punished for something the men all get away with would have stood out as much as the slut-shaming. But who knows.)

    At the risk of pushing the point, I think the self-deception theme maybe even informs the Jaime & Bronn plot, too, because everything indicates that they were completely deluded to think they could waltz into Dorne and reclaim the princess. They couldn’t even get her away from her unarmed fiancé gracefully! I won’t say anything to defend the fight with the Sand Serpents, whose skills should have looked more impressive, but it did look to me like Jaime and Bronn were unquestionably losing that fight anyway and the guards arrival is all that saved them.

    The issue of self-deception is also probably why I didn’t see Sansa’s plot, and that last scene, as most others have. A commonly voiced reaction has been, “Of course Ramsay is a raping sadistic monster. We’ve all seen that–why dramatize it again? Sansa surely knows already!” But look at how Sansa stands strong throughout the episode: scorning the smarmy threats of Ramsay’s mistress, refusing to take Theon’s hand, and so on. She knows she’s playing a dangerous game among the Boltons, but she’s doing it because she thinks it can work out for her, albeit at a price. She carries herself like someone who believes she has some power or leverage in the situation, however small. What is that power? I don’t know, but I took it to be some consolation that maybe Ramsay wouldn’t actually abuse and torture her the way he did every other weak thing within reach, whether out of some calculation of her importance or some weird respect for her as his prize. The last scene brutally proved that whatever hopes Sansa nurtured of that were empty lies. She’s in a situation more horrifying and dangerous than anything Joffrey could have created, and she’s going to need to be tougher and more resourceful than ever to survive or escape it.

    • May 19, 2015 at 5:39 pm —

      An interesting thought on the theme of lies. I always referred to Ramsay’s wedding to “Arya” as the Grey Wedding because of the general theme of lying (and of course, the Stark eyes being a huge giveaway).

  5. May 18, 2015 at 6:22 pm —

    BTW, and not discounting a typo or conscious choice,

    > Ramsay Bolton (nee Snow)

    When I got married I (male) took my wife’s surname. At the time I did some looking around to see how I could indicate the surname I had when born if I needed to. I ended up settling on using the attested, although far less common, word *né*. The word *née* comes via French and is a feminine gendered word, the equivalent masculine gendered word is the one I mentioned/use.

  6. May 18, 2015 at 6:30 pm —

    “Still, I must remember that there were highlights of this episode:

    Sansa practically saying “bye Felicia” to Myranda

    Bronn speaking for the audience when the Sand Snakes show up: “Oh for fuck’s sake.”

    Lady Oleanna and anything she says or does forever”

    I’ll defer to Goethe:

    “How sweet it is to hear ones’ own convictions from the lips of another”

    • May 18, 2015 at 8:31 pm —

      I would add the line, “The dwarf lives, until we find a cock merchant.”

  7. May 18, 2015 at 11:03 pm —

    I’m going to hold off judgement on the whole Sansa storyline until I see where they’re going with it. I get how people are pissed that they’re using Sansa’s’ suffering to further Theon/Reek’s character development, but I’m going to try to judge it on it’s own merits rather than how it perpetuates a trope.

    The Sand Snakes have gone from a diverse band of smart, kick-ass women in the books to the Jar-Jar-Binks of the show. They got Brienne and Yara/Asha so right, how’d they screw this up so bad? Plus, I liked Jamie’s adventures in the Riverlands, I can’t believe that got cut for this.

    Spoilers!!!

    As for Cersei, in the books it was so much fun watching her hatch her convoluted, drunken plans to get rid of everyone she thinks is a threat, leaving her with nobody to protect her when it all collapsed on her. I understand the need to simplify for the sake of TV, but this isn’t nearly as much fun.

    But, how about some props for how they depicted the Faceless Men’s “Hall of Faces”. The room I pictured from the books looked like Ed Gein’s rumpus room, this was much more impressive. At least they got something right.

  8. May 19, 2015 at 1:29 am —

    Every single time I think “you know what? I might just get into Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire“…

    To be fair, I’ve always been unable to deal with depictions of rape (I do not know why). There are many shows and stories I’ve started and stopped simply because rape just showed up out of nowhere (like episode 2 of History Channel’s Vikings, for example). So really what’s keeping me from all of it is me.

    But still…

  9. May 19, 2015 at 9:03 am —

    I thought Sansa’s was one the less problematic depictions in the TV version of Game of Thrones, tbh. It wasn’t out of nowhere and – unlike other depictions of rape – was actually one from the books, although with a different woman.

    But it is an important development for Sansa: for all the abuse she suffered in King’s Landing she ultimately had Tyrion, or Shae, or even The Hound (and probably Baelish too) looking out for her and protecting her from the worst of it. Now she’s “home”, and has no-one influential to help her. She’s got out of the frying pan and fallen into the fire.

    And this isolation from help (especially with Baelish at King’s Landing) is – I think – the impetus Sansa needs to start executing her plans without Baelish around to help and advise her and use his influence. It’s up to Sansa and whomever she can muster to her support to save herself, now, instead of waiting for her “knight in shining armour” to save her (a lá the riot at King’s Landing S2, when she was saved by The Hound, or the various times Tyrion but the brakes on Joffrey). And that aspect her Sansa has been in her characterisation, with her crushes on Joffrey and Loras both part of a romantic fantasy, in which she marries a handsome prince.

    But that fantasy has been torn away now. There is no-one to save her from Ramsey. But if she does what she must to take control of her life from him (and I believe she will – without Littlefinger’s help – the plan to wait for him to come back is scuppered, and she must act faster now) and the moment she does that she will show herself to be empowered.

  10. May 19, 2015 at 7:08 pm —

    I love, love, love this post.

    I would say in the books, the Tyrells were more of a cipher. Cersei’s paranoid fear of them was interesting because it was unclear how much they were scheming and how much was just in her head. Margaery in particular often came across as a sensible, normal person stuck who was married off to a dead guy, then another dead guy, then to a boy.

    In the show, she is clearly as much of a schemer as anyone else, and seems almost indifferent to sexual activity (given how she offers up Loras to her first husband to get him interested in having a child). Further, Tommen was not a boy but instead a very horny teenager.

    Add that up, and I don’t know that the show Margaery would be the type who would jeopardize her stated dream (“being THE queen) for a tryst. Still, I think they could have incorporated the storyline anyway, given the Lannisters’ falling star and if they spent more time on her as a character.

  11. May 19, 2015 at 8:56 pm —

    The script was a lot more complex than I think most folk give it credit for and it looks to me as if they were making a much more important point than is being recognized.

    First just who are these awesome sand snakes from the books? I didn’t notice any, they get locked up to avoid them causing trouble. But the point of the Dorne plot is that not all arranged marriages turn out badly sometimes the young couple falls in love. Oh look here comes one of the parents because they changed their mind.

    The Sansa scene is constructed as a Modus Ponens argument: If this is rape, all arranged marriages are rape, this is rape, therefore…

    The point is to show that Ramsay is actually worse than Joffrey. Joffrey used violence to get what he wanted. Ramsay already has Sansa willing to submit to him and he has to make the power play just to show he is in control.

    The High Sparrow scene is a carbon copy of Ken Starr’s perjury trap on Bill Clinton with Cersei playing Linda Tripp. The change makes perfect sense since in the books Loras goes off to fight a battle scene that would be a lot more expensive than Renly’s former love interest justifies. Putting him at the center of the plot makes a lot better use of him. Given than Margery has been wed three times at this point, claiming that her virginity still matters would have been rather silly. I thought the books weak on that point.

    Making the High Sparrow into a bigoted Southern preacher type makes quite a lot of sense because that is exactly what he looks set to turn into in the books. The certainly have a sex hangup even in Westeros, closing the brothels.

    Sansa is being made the poster child for arranged marriages, hopefully that will help make them go out of fashion faster.

  12. May 21, 2015 at 4:06 am —

    Hey Rebecca, I hope you’re well.

    *** Spolerific Comment****
    I had the ominous feeling when Littlefinger was planning to marry Sansa to Ramsay; Ohhh shit – this sucks a bag of dicks – Sansa is taking the Jeyne Poole Storyline.
    It’s disturbing as Grey Wind’s head on Robb’s Body; I had the feels for Arya seeing it. (Both book and TV)

    Sansa is stronger than you think. She spent enough time with Cersi & Joffrey; she can smell a sadist like a fart in a car.
    I admire her strength of character of self sacrifice to reclaim what’s hers.

    When Jaime saved Brienne from being raped, it was a catalyst in his character arc; I wouldn’t critique the show runners for doing the same with Theon, as per the Jeyne Poole storyline.

    Kind Regards

    P.S – don’t read comments on this topics on other sites and reputable publications; its fill of pricks who have no idea that marital rape exists. Sick.

  13. May 21, 2015 at 4:14 am —

    PPS – I was also disturbed by a cool character beating a little girl with a stick and bloodying her lip.

    But I expect both sisters in next series/book to be nails! (As in; as hard as nails)

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