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