Game of Thrones, Storytelling and the Ick Factor

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I am a huge fan of both the Game of Thrones books and the HBO series. My first loyalty will always be with the books. But they have become two different entities, with the series dropping or altering subplots, being blatant with points that are still mysteries in the books, and removing/combining/killing book characters. Most of these changes I approve of. The series will run fifty hours after the current season, and it takes some readers that to get through just one of the books.

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However, the series has become increasingly sensational and graphic, to its detriment. This has been a worry for me in the past. Sexposition doesn’t bother me, but the addition of controversial scenes that subtract from the story, or don’t add to it, does. The gay relationship between Renly and Loras was so subtle in the books that I missed it completely; I like making it more prominent, but the series has stripped all the nuance and personality out of Loras by focusing myopically on his homosexuality. (In the books, the guy is an arrogant badass who takes Dragonstone.) Another example, and the most disturbing to me, was Jaime taking Cersei in the sept over Joffrey’s body. This isn’t in the books, and I don’t see the story need for its addition. This exploited rape, one of the most deplorable crimes there is, for sensation and controversy rather than for the story and crippled Jaime as a character.

The use of rape in last week’s episode was equally meaningless, and just as exploitative.

This scene happens in the books… sort of. A girl named Jeyne Poole is masquerading as Arya, and is wed to Ramsey. Reek/Theon knows immediately it’s not Arya, but says nothing. The scene goes down similarly and starts to break Theon’s Stockholm syndrome.

In the series, it’s Sansa. And I have enormous problems with it because it adds nothing to the characters. It uses a horrible violation for absolutely no story reason.

In the books, the scene is still graphic and deplorable, but does have a story justification. None of the torture Ramsey visits on Theon before this is shown in the books. Theon disappears at the end of book two, and Reek appears in book five. We don’t know how horrible Ramsey is. We don’t know what Theon has been through. We know Jeyne has her somewhat tranquil life and this monstrous action destroys it.

We already know all these characters in the series. Ramsey doesn’t need to violate anyone; we know he’s Joffrey dialed up to 11. We know Sansa has been abused, and actually seemed to be getting a handle on things previously. And Reek could have been prodded into action in other ways. It wasn’t necessary to move the story forward.

In short, the rape adds nothing to the characters or story, and has no use other than sensationalism and controversy. GoT is a realistic fantasy, true, and people in power historically raped for control and power, but that doesn’t mean it has to be shown.

I have written a couple rape scenes in my fiction. I never do it without care. It risks triggering survivors, and it risks being exploitative. It always has to add to character and drive the story forward, in a way that nothing else could. Also, I only know I’ve done it correctly if it makes me uncomfortable to write it.

I can’t speak to whether the writers, directors and crew et al were uncomfortable, but the scene fails on all other levels. I want to keep watching the series and I hope it tones down the exploitation and unnecessary graphic action, but I can only take so many missteps. Get your act together, GoT. Don’t be graphic just to be graphic. Tell your story. That’s why we watch.

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