Has the ‘Game of Thrones’ franchise learned anything about depicting rape?
For whatever reason, game of thronesan epic fantasy series that (allegedly) ran from 2011 to 2019, returns with a spin-off prequel series called Dragon House, is slated to begin streaming on HBO next month. This series will follow the dramatic and presumably very violent years of the incestuous, madness-prone, dragon-taming Targaryen dynasty – the ancestors of Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow from the original series.
‘Cause it seems old habits die hard, in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporterwriter and showrunner Miguel Sapochnik confirmed that, as Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon will also feature (probably quite a bit of) sexual violence. According to the interview:
“Sexual assault is still part of the world. Sapochnik says the duo’s approach is done “with care, thought and [we] don’t deprive yourself of it. If anything, we are going to highlight this aspect. You cannot ignore the violence that was perpetrated on women by men during this time. It should not be minimized and it should not be glorified.
Dragon House has yet to be featured, meaning we only have these comments and history of GBV controversies attached to game of thrones. But Bridget Todd, spokesperson for women’s rights organization Ultraviolet, has concerns. “I really invite writers to ask themselves why they think sexual violence is necessary to ‘accurately’ describe this time and this ‘history,’ but not other things, in a clearly fictional universe,” Todd said. in Jezebel. To Todd’s point, Sapochnik notably said Dragon House will “retire” its predecessor’s famous sex scenes, while continuing its depictions of sexual violence – despite numerous Criticisms of game of thrones for rare or non-existent depictions of female pleasure and male nudity, in contrast to frequent sexual assault and the notoriously rampant female nudity.
Todd added: “Prestige shows like Obtained have always really relied on sexual violence to drive a plot forward, in a way that has desensitized viewers to the true seriousness and seriousness of sexual violence. This, she says, is particularly frustrating, because given that mainstream epic fantasy is often aimed at male audiences — a problem in itself — it’s a “missed opportunity” to educate said male audience about the seriousness and the devastating toll of sexual violence.
I hope Sapochnik is right and that scenes of sexual violence in Dragon House are, indeed, made “with care” and “in a thoughtful manner”. In the years since game of thrones‘, a number of films and shows have addressed gender-based violence in their storytelling in meaningful and resonant ways, and most importantly, they have done so without re-traumatizing audiences or reducing rape to shocking pornography.
The same year game of thrones concluded, the adult cartoon Tuca and Bertie received critical acclaim for exploring the trauma that follows a sexual assault in a Season 1 episode, without depicting a scene of the assault in question. The creator of the show Noted this was specifically done so that the public could not “judge whether or not Bertie [the victim] overreacted. HBO I can destroy you and the movie 2020 Promising young woman revolve around the sequels of sexual violence, also without representing them visually, focusing instead on the long-term impacts of violence. All of these projects were written and created by women.
Todd points out that there are absolutely ways in which sexual violence in storytelling can do justice to characters – and audience members – who are survivors, and we’re starting to see more of that. Nevertheless, screenwriters, especially male still should we put sexual violence at the center of the stories of the female characters? Make female characters still should they be defined by what men do to them, forever positioned as objects rather than subjects? In game of thrones‘ final season, the show’s writers faced backlash for a line from Sansa Stark in which she attributes her Season 5 rape and years of violence and abuse to her growing up: “Without Littlefinger and Ramsay and the rest, I would have remained a little bird all my life.” The exchange seemed to validate rape and abuse as the only plot devices that make female characters “interesting” or strong, and reductively, lazily, dismiss the trauma of sexual violence as “character development.” – as something to be grateful for.
Of course, this one, the aforementioned Sansa line was just the tip of the iceberg. For years, game of thrones casually relied on extreme and grotesque violence against women and girls: Daenerys’ marital rape on her wedding night in the pilot episode; Cersei Lannister’s Naked Walk of Shame; Gilly’s life at Craster’s Keep; Shireen Baratheon – a little girl – burned alive; the routine beatings inflicted on Sansa by Joffrey, before finally being raped on her wedding night by Ramsay Bolton; the beheading of Missandei, the only woman of color in the series, as a way to drive Daenerys insane and further her story. And then, of course, there are all the other examples of peripheral, even unnamed, female characters being tormented and assaulted by powerful men in truly gruesome ways, all very seamlessly for shock factor and titillation.
“The people watching and the community that’s been built around it deserve better than previous really lazy portrayals of something as serious as sexual violence, especially when statistically speaking, a large portion of the audience will be survivors of sexual violence,” Todd said. “Viewers deserve better, and we’ll make sure of that on this new show.”
Anyway, I particularly take issue with Sapochnik’s comment that “can’t ignore the violence perpetrated against women by men at this time” – “at this time”?? He says this as if A) game of thrones takes place in the real world, not on a fictional TV show with dragons, and B) sexual violence is a relic of the past that we modern privileged women and survivors have to patronize ourselves. I think we’re all very aware — some of us very personally — that it exists and has always existed, thank you very much.
OWhat gives me extra pause is that Sapochnik was essentially repeating the same lines as the old game of thrones Writer and author George RR Martin has been repeating for years. Following the backlash over Sansa’s 2015 rape, writer Jeremy Podeswa said: “It is important that [the producers] don’t censor yourself. The show depicts a brutal world where horrible things happen. They didn’t want to be too influenced by [criticism].” That same year, Martin explained to the man:
“The books reflect a patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were not a time of sexual egalitarianism. Most of the stories describe what I call the “Disneyland Middle Ages” – there are princes, princesses and knights in shining armor, but they didn’t want to show what these societies meant and how they worked. . . And then there is the whole question of sexual violence. . . I write about war, which [is] what almost all epic fantasy is about.
That Sapochnik is so determined to recycle the same condescending talking points from Podeswa and Martin gives me serious doubts as to whether Dragon Housedepictions of sexual violence will also be the same as game of thrones’. It’s been over a decade since the original show premiered; I and other feminists and women in media have been making the same demands of the franchise for years. Ultimately, we’ll have to wait for the show’s premiere to see, but based on these comments and game of thrones‘ long and heartbreaking story, I’m already exhausted and nervous for what Dragon House has in store.