Okay, dear readers, I realize you probably arenât looking for another source of âGame of Thronesâ information.
The build-up to the recent season six premiere of the HBO show inspired by the books of Santa Fe homeboy George R.R. Martin has produced a new frenzy of news articles and commentary.
Itâs a global sensation that somehow just seems to beg people from all strata of the media â news, pulp, trash, celebrity, high-brow â to keep up with it and to have opinions about it, and to feel obliged to share how they feel about it.
You can break down the âGame of Thronesâ treatises into various recurring categories: Did the show follow Martinâs books faithfully enough? Is the show as good since its storyline went beyond the books in season five?
Is the fantasy show ârealisticâ enough in depicting medieval ways? Did you know there are pretty good arguments that âGame of Thronesâ is all about climate change? Are there too many naked people, particularly women, too much sex and too much violence?
But, since Santa Fe, thanks to our local hero Martin, is where all this started, I thought it would be appropriate to take up the most interesting and serious âGame of Thronesâ discussion, concerning the showâs penchant for combining the sex and the violence.
Although scenes of sexual violence against women have been pretty frequent throughout the series, commentary exploded after a season five episode last year depicted the brutal rape of one of the showâs few remaining sympathetic characters by her sadistic husband on her wedding night.
In one of the better efforts on this subject, a lengthy article from The Atlantic magazine compiled a detailed list of instances and perpetrators of sexual violence in âGame of Thrones.â
Writer Christopher Orr notes that Martin has said that one of his intentions in the book series was to convey how the powerful preyed on the powerless, including men preying on women, in the medieval world.
But Orr said the television producers âhave gone out of their way, time and time again, to ramp up the sexual violence well beyond their source materialâ from the books.
Orr concluded that he believes the motives of the TV showâs makers combine a search for ratings, and being âjust careless and blasĂ© when it comes to the subjectâ of sexual violence, rather than trying to add âmoral heftâ by ârendering Martinâs material even more extreme.â
âBut whatever the case, itâs a pattern so ingrained that it seems unlikely to change. Given this history, viewers should brace themselves for the worst in season six,â Orr concluded.
A few days before the new seasonâs April 24 premiere, USA Today took up the subject, with dueling commentaries from reporters. Kelly Lawler, in âWhy Iâm Still Watching âGame of Thrones,'â acknowledges she found the continuing depiction of rape scenes exhausting.
âIf we have to have them (and, hey, we really donât have to have them) at least we are talking about why they are upsetting and offensive,â she wrote. âThe tone of that conversation can verge into dangerous territory, but we are at the very least talking.â
Lawlerâs piece concludes: âItâs not just the rape scenes but the showâs entire relationship with its female characters that can be problematic â like burning young girls at the stake, for instance. Even its actors would like things like the on-screen nudity to be more equal between men and women. âGame of Thronesâ is by no means a feminist show, but it is a show that allows us to talk about feminism and sexism.
âAnd if we get some dragons and White Walkers (editorâs note: these are sort of arctic zombies) along the way, isnât it worth it? I continue to hold out hope that it is.â
The opposing âWhy I Quit âGame of Thrones'â by Hoai-Tran Bui says the rape of Sansa Stark last season was âpart of âGame of Thronesâ reputation for titillating and shocking the audienceâ without a narrative purpose and was âjust the last straw for me.â
âDespite all the schemings, betrayals and brutality, âGame of Thronesâ is still a fantasy show,â she says. âI came to the show for its subversion of classic fantasy tropes like the standard knight, maiden romance. And while the violence and deceit was part of that, the showâs constant insistence that senseless violence against women is part of it was not.â
Welsh actor Iwan Rheon, who plays Ramsay Bolton, the evil perpetrator of that horrible post-wedding assault last year, recently defended the Sansa rape scene in an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph.
âI think if more people put their effort into the charities that help women in the world today deal with the horror of rape, and less effort in social media about a fantasy show, then maybe things would change,â he said.
Upset fans âshrinking violetsâ?
Rheon said he believes the uproar resulted from the audienceâs affection for the Sansa character.
âIf it had been someone else, there would have been no mention of it. There are so many rapes on the show. A lot of people do get raped and nobody bats an eyelid.â He added, in a comment that could only be made about âGame of Thrones,â âThereâs much less talk about burning children, for instance.â
In The Federalist conservative web magazine, Leslie Loftis also defended the showâs inclusion and the specific details of the Sansa Stark rape.
She wrote that the rape was actually âtoned down considerablyâ from Ramsayâs assault as Martin had portrayed it on the page, and that the scene in fact did legitimately advance the plot.
âShrinking-violet fans want to insulate us all from the idea of unavoidable adversity. And that is my objection,â Loftis wrote. âThey can keep their illusions as they like. I couldnât care less if the show loses viewers because some donât want to watch violence. But I do care if storytellers capitulate to the only-happy-thoughts brute squad. Because if all the stories are happy stories, then society loses one of its best tools to prepare us for the shock of evil and the need to resist.â
Despite the warning from The Atlantic to expect more of the same from âGame of Thrones,â there may be something of a reprieve in the new season six.
The Telegraph, a prime source for all things âGame of Thrones,â reported in December that director Jeremy Podsewa says the showâs creators, David Benioff and DB Weiss, have reacted to the criticism and made a couple of changes.
âThe show depicts a brutal world where horrible things happen,â he said. âThey did not want to be too overly influenced by that (criticism) but they did absorb and take it in and it did influence them in a way.â
There was no sexual violence in the season premiere, only the threat of it. Several bad guys and their ferocious dogs were offed in a rousing sword fight (with the showâs mighty female knight doing most of the damage), and, during a female-led coup-by-assassination, a spear thrust into the back of one characterâs skull exited through his face (the spear-wielder was a woman).
In last Sundayâs episode two, still no rapes. Ramsayâs latest atrocities did include a particularly gruesome (but off-camera) infanticide. The murdered child this time was a boy.
In context, maybe these developments count as progress.