Spoiler Alert: discussing Game of Thrones, S5E6, “Unbowed. Unbent. Unbroken.”
Jesus Christ, I don’t know how to write up the show after that ending. So this is what the butterfly effect of Game of Thrones brings about: Sansa Stark’s rape. The violence by Ramsay against his wife, Jeyne Poole (disguised as Arya Stark), in the books is no less horrific but it is less personal since the readers have never known Jeyne. (Also she wasn’t psychologically and physically tormented by Joffrey and then forced to wed Tyrion.) But the Game of Thrones show runners have changed this detail of who marries Ramsay and the effect is that we viewers have to watch Sansa–a character we love–be abused in the most grotesque way by yet another man.
For 5 episodes this season, I have harbored hope that Game of Thrones had refocused on the story and abandoned the unnecessary gore and misogyny that overshadowed the plot last season. Yet, here we are: horribly reminded that Game of Thrones–the show–would forsake the goodwill it earned in those first two seasons in order to indulge in its true nature of sadism.
Because that is all it is in those moments: sadism. When George R. R. Martin killed off Ned, Robb, and Catelyn Stark, it was genre- and expectation-shattering storytelling. When the show killed off Robb’s wife by showing her stabbed repeatedly in her pregnant belly, it was sadism. That’s the difference. When readers watch the show and wonder what consequences some change from the books will bring, this is what we fear.
I don’t really care if Brienne or the Tickler wounds the Hound so gravely that Arya abandons him. I don’t care if it’s from Gendry or Edric that Melisandre draws blood. I don’t care if Davos Seaworth has seven sons or one.
But I do care that viewers missed the amazing retribution inherent in the resurrected Catelyn Stark as Lady Stoneheart. Catelyn’s undead appearance at the end of A Storm of Swords transformed the cruelty of the Red Wedding into a satisfying vengeance. I do care that Robb Stark’s pregnant wife, Talisa, is murdered so brutally in the show instead of being sent back home (as Jaime Lannister does to Robb’s widow Jeyne in the books).
I do care that Sansa Stark has now been raped by the heir of the family who killed her mother, brother, sister-in-law, fetal nephew, and all the other northerners at that wedding. Once it was clear Littlefinger was marrying her to Ramsay, I hoped against hope that they would accelerate to her escape or they’d diverge again so he’d never touch her. Instead of following Littlefinger’s scheme in the books to marry her (in the guise of Alayne) to Harrold Hardyng in order to secure the Vale and Winterfell, the show has taken the cruelest path possible to her childhood home and no vengeful violence can make up for this abandonment of the story to indulge in the torture of a protagonist and audience.
It’s also no coincidence that all these examples I’ve cited involve violence against women. There can be no counter argument to the charge that Game of Thrones has consistently removed the agency of women on the show compared to their portrayal in the books. The sadism of the show runners is decidedly misogynistic which is doubly awful since the books have broken all fantasy tropes and have never stooped to a damsel-in-distress story. I’m once again disheartened that a show which once made such great entertainment has substituted violence for thoughtful (if tense, if menacing) storytelling.