Game of Thrones is a fantastic show, but that doesn’t mean that it is perfect. Like all creative endeavors, there are things that could be improved upon.
Rape in Game of Thrones (GOT) is so frequent that by the end of Season 5, there had been 50 separate different instances of rape. (In case you were wondering how frequently rape occurs in the books, it has happened at least 214 times). If you want to know more about how these numbers were collected, please look at the link at the bottom of the page, which will lead you to another wonderful blog.
I know that we already touched on this another post (read it here!), but it is such an important issue that it deserves its own post. George RR Martin (Grr Martin) has always been open about why his justifications for treating his female characters the way he does. Generally he talks about how the show is meant to be representative of the middle ages and that women were not treated well in the middle ages. However, rape was made a felony in 1285. You can see the source at the bottom of the page that details the information of the law for the sake of history. Of course if you actually take the time to read the link, you’ll know that the 280 rape cases brought to courts over a 30 year span were all dismissed. At the same time, though, this would mean that we would at least be seeing some GOT characters being prosecuted for their actions, even if no penalty came from it.
And I know that there are a few instances where exceptions spring to mind. What about when part of the Night’s Watch mutinied and spent all that time raping the girls in Craster’s Keep and then were all killed? What about when Cersei sent Jaime all the day to Dorne because she was angry with him after their un-sibling-like, and now infamous, encounter? The thing is that both times when punishment occurred there were other motivations for the behavior that no longer made the rape the center of the issue. In the case of the mutiny, they were trying to achieve several things. First, they wanted to end the mutiny to regain control of the Watch. Second, they were stopping the mutineers from telling the Wildlings that they had far fewer men than Jon Snow had said they did. Both of those motivators entirely ignore the fact that there were women being assaulted and raped by members of the Watch. In the case of Cersei and Jaime, Cersei sends him away for two main reasons. First, she is still angry at him for being gone so long after being captured. Second, she is concerned about Myrcella’s safety in Dorne (for good reason!) and knows that Jaime is the best way to bring her back home. Both of which, again, entirely disregard what occurred.
Even if we ignore that his representation of the middle ages is skewed, Grr Martin also frequently references how he wants to display the realism of war. Historically, this becomes far more accurate. Until the 19th century rape during war was considered normal, if not a requirement to complete the entire conquering. Even through the 15th and 16th centuries as war became more organized, rape was still considered acceptable. Around World War I there was a shift in which assault and rape was considered part of the war crimes, but all efforts to prosecute failed. Even as late as World War II, at least 100,000 German women were raped in Berlin. This is all linked below, again for the sake of history.
Martin seems to be following the representation of war more than the representation of the middle ages when it comes to rape. However, we need to stop for a moment. In the world’s history most cases of rape occurred when and where an army took over another city. In GOT, not one army in Westeros has actually succeeded in taking over another city. Even Robb and Stannis only won battles. In Essos, Dany has taken over cities, but since she is respectful of all life, and a vast potion of her army is made up of Unsullied, she does not allow it to happen. Most of the times we see rape happen is not directly impacted by the war, like Cersei and Jamie, Sansa and Ramsay, Sansa and the men in the alley, and so on.
But even this isn’t the biggest problem with the rape in GOT. If you have ever read an article about this before, then you know the following quote: “I want to portray struggle. Drama comes out of conflict. If you portray a utopia, then you probably wrote a pretty boring book.” This is how he has explained that he couldn’t have written such a fantastic series without the amount of sexual violence that he does. This is the biggest problem. Like Sabienna Bowman writes so perfectly, “Focusing so much energy on sexual assault suggests to readers and viewers that women’s primary form of struggle, of fear, and of pain should be sexual assault.”
As we all know, writers and directors can develop strong and interesting women who do struggle and have character growth without the need for so much sexual violence. And while Grr Martin does have a vast array of women who we can consider powerful in GOT, they are also inhibited by his writing. Hopefully we will see an emergence of new struggles for female characters that rival their male counterpart’s challenges in complexity.
Game of Thrones Rape Statistics: GOT Stats
Sabienna Bowman article: Bowman’s Article
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