Marital Rape: A violation we’d rather forget


I’ve taken too long to comment on Sunday night’s episode because frankly it is a difficult subject and I’ve rewritten many drafts of this article as I try to figure out how I feel. This is the first half of my editorial. My apologies for the delay.


Sansa’s rape has offended and outraged fans, journalists, and even American senators. Websites like The Mary Sue have announced they will no longer cover Game of Thrones due to its repeated portrayal of rape. The Washington Post characterized Game of Thrones as always being “a show about rape.”  And, others have called for a boycott of the show. Is this outrage warranted? As one reader of this website pointed out, few viewers have personally experienced Game of Thrones’ other forms of violence, such as murder at a wedding or flaying. Many people in our society, however, have lived through rape.

I believe that, as women, we particularly hate seeing rape on television. (I personally hate seeing any extreme violence against women. I worry extreme violence gives psychos new and creative ideas.) When television depicts rape, it can remind rape victims of their trauma and even create a flashback to the event.

I believe the disgust with Sunday’s rape scene isn’t so much with the artistic nuances: that’s just window dressing, a distraction from the real issue. (Critics have written  that Sansa’s rape robs her of agency, it sets back her character growth. They were disgusted the scene ended with a shot of Theon.) The issue is that we simply don’t want to see a character we’ve come to know get raped. And, we probably don’t want to see rape on television. Period.

The reason there wasn’t the same outrage when Khal Drogo raped Daenerys during the first episode raped was because we didn’t know Dany yet.

When a powerful main character like Cersei is raped, it’s too close to home. When a character like Sansa with whom we’ve begun to self-identify gets raped, it’s personal. Especially for girls and young women who identify with her ups and downs as she moves towards self-actualization, her rape assaults us. We are virtually accosted while she is being raped. We feel equally powerless – and it hurts.

Should rape be portrayed on television?

The fundamental question may be, do we want to see rape on television in anything other than a documentary? I would argue that emotionally many viewers do not. If rape is going to be shown at all, it probably needs to be depicted in a way that furthers the conversation.

A few weeks ago, I caught part of some derivative crime show in which an older female character is raped in an underground parking garage to foreshadow the rape of a younger female character. The only true dramatic purpose this scene had was to create a threat. Frankly, my knee-jerk reaction was disgust at the lazy, low-caliber writing.

But, I wouldn’t have been half so critical if the show hadn’t been relying on “fem-jep” (female in jeopardy) for its thrills. I have a special hateful place in my heart for that clichéd genre. It nests there with crime shows about stalkers and serial killers that target women. And, I despise all of these genres even more when they cavalierly include vicious rapes, which I fear unwittingly cultivates an atmosphere of violence towards women.

Do such shows add to the conversation? I don’t think so. Not anymore.

I don’t think Sansa’s rape falls in that category though. Her rape can further the conversation if we look at history and what goes on with child marriages in the world today.

Sansa’s Rape

HBO substituted the Sansa in the book’s disgusting Jeyne-Poole rape scene. I hated that scene in the books, although in fairness to George, Book Ramsay’s wedding night had to include violence. Once you marry Ramsay off, rape on his wedding night is inevitable.

To their credit, HBO mercifully tried to soften the Jeyne Poole scene, which would have been way too intense for TV. The rape itself isn’t graphic. Technically, it’s akin to the shower scene in Psycho in which violence is suggested but not depicted. We never see Ramsay (ugh) penetrating Sansa. We don’t see nudity. We see Sansa’s face. We hear her screams. We see Theon’s tears.

This doesn’t necessarily make it better.

Here is what producer Bryan Cogman told Entertainment Weekly when asked if the scene would be as brutal as the one in the novels:

““No!” he said. “Lord no. No-no-no-no-no. No. It’s still a shared form of abuse that they have to endure, Sansa and Theon. But it’s not the extreme torture and humiliation that scene in the book is.””

In his blog post yesterday, George RR Martin talks about the butterfly effect of changing small parts of the book in the show. What he is indirectly saying, I believe, is that once you marry Ramsay to Sansa instead of Jeyne Poole, you (consciously or unconsciously) end up altering the dramatic effect of the rape scene.

We didn’t know Jeyne Poole that well in the books. She is not a point of view character. Substituting a point-of-view character like Sansa (for better or for worse) in the Jeyne-Poole rape scene is like dropping in a nuclear bomb.

And, like I said, if we feel like we are raped in the scene, regardless of how we try to rationalize it by discussing artistic merits, that’s why we are going to hate it.

To be continued…

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."


  • Reply May 21, 2015


    I am not watching Season 5 of the TV series for various reasons, so I don’t feel like I have much of a leg to stand on in this discussion. I’m not outraged by this scene per se, as I am sure this is what happened a lot in history. But I don’t think the TV series have made a good decision in this case for a number of other reasons, not the least because how it damages the inner logic and motivations of several characters’ story arcs. The AV Club’s review of episode 506 made a good point about the show’s continued inability to write meaningfully about the fallout and aftermath of, by now, a total of 3 rapes on the series. What have 3 rapes in 5 seasons achieved, dramatically and thematically, for the affected characters and the story itself? Basically nothing. Link below:

    Compare how the show handles rape and how Martin handles rape. I find Martin’s handling to be more reasonable than the TV series. It IS supposed to be disgusting and hard to read and it is deployed for a clear purpose. In the books, Jeyne Poole’s rape and abuse by Ramsay serves to rouse Theon’s numbed humanity and the courage to reclaim his identity. The point is clear. The scene is plenty horrible, even though Jeyne is merely a supporting character that we do not even know. In the books, Sansa found her own strength and resourcefulness through a path that does not require any physical abuse but is no less precarious. The books make more sense in that a virginal Sansa is extremely valuable, and a cunning Littlefinger would never sell her out to the Boltons for so little return.

    Personally I do not think rape (of women or men) itself is better or worse than, say, hacking off Ned’s head or slashing Yoren to pieces or burn down an entire village or roasting Ricard and Brandon Stark alive or Theon’s misfortune. Sociologically and historically, rape of women carries a greater meaning than the act itself, in part because women and their reproductive rights were (are?) the property of men, so that violating women also violate the men who “own” them.

    When any kind of cruelty is graphically depicted in art, the question is, to what end? for what purpose? Let’s not pretend that we don’t read/watch some violence (eg, Oberyn Martell’s head exploding) for at least some entertainment value. Why is one kind of violence icky and eww while another totally fine?

    • Reply May 21, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Jun, Thanks for sending along the link to the AV Club review; it was excellent. The reviewer Myles McNutt made some extremely intelligent comments, and he shares Watcher’s opinion that the rape was included for shock value.

      The way to depict violence is a double-edged sword I think. I agree with you that rape — and in my opinion — all violence should be hard to read or watch. We should feel the pain rather than watching bullets fly around and kill anonymous victims. But, at the same time, it is hard because if HBO had shown Martin’s version of that rape, people would be burning down the HBO building.

      I found watching the scenes in which Ramsay flays Theon much harder than watching Sansa’s rape. However, there is so-o-o much cotext with a rape. Few viewers will have been flayed but the same cannot be said about rape. Plus I believe watching rape makes women feel powerless and men feel sick. I think the rape of women by men makes some men feel contaminated by the virtue of being the same sex as the perpetrator.

      Violence in art is a tricky thing. I’ve read the anthropologist Desmond Morris postulate that violent sporting events decreases the level of violence in society. I suspect at some level violent TV might help provide a similar release valve. However, it’s not black and white. Not all TV violence is equal. When is it gratuitous and when does it start a conversation?

      • Reply May 22, 2015


        Yes, exactly. The depiction of violence is always complicated, because we are inherently a violent species. That’s why the why and how make all the difference.

        I also love your point that perhaps some tend to feel “safer” watching Theon getting flayed (definitively not for me though) because few of us are ever exposed to that type violence in reality. Yet, the threat of rape to women is real, very, very real. It hits home. Not only for women who face the risk (even if they belong to privileged and well-sheltered social classes), but also for men who may be raped in certain circumstances and the untold percentage men who occasionally toy with rape fantasies but would never act on it. I would bet that many men probably had women in a way that fit the definition of rape for a large majority of human history, and it was a social norm. Why would male humans suddenly ALL stop thinking about it? Perhaps some otherwise upstanding viewers are in some ways tantalized by rape scenes, but we can’t acknowledge or talk about it. Perhaps that is part of why rape scenes seem so disturbing to this current society, as we sit on the brink of changing social mores.

        This led me to wonder the unspoken basis for “political correctness.” We don’t want to see characters on screen or on pages spit out racial epithets, not necessarily because we hate racial epithets, but to a large extent because we are disturbed to be reminded that racism and other discrimination are alive and well all around us and even within the hidden corners of our mind.

  • Reply May 22, 2015


    Thank you for including the bit on tv tropes. I feel like Sansa’s rape will be the trope of instant character development via rape.

    Instead of Sansa slowly gaining control over her life over the course of a season or two in a realistic way I believe that she’ll be forced to take action immediately and without any noticeable progress.

    I’m afraid she’ll jump from being under Ramsay’s control to being “empowered” in a matter of episodes. I feel that from season three onward the writers have changed Sansa to enhance other characters (Margaery, Tyrion, and Littlefinger). When they easily could have shown Sansa growing and changing as a person.

    They chose to dumb her down and make her more childlike in order for Tyrion and Margaery look better. Then her intelligence was increased greatly and any childlike qualities from the previous season were removed in season four. She had to change to suit life with Littlefinger. Now anything she could have possibly learned from being in King’s Landing has been removed. Any sort of cunning given to her at the end of season four is gone as well. The writers have changed Sansa again to suit the Winterfell storyline this season. Despite her past experiences Sansa has been written into the role of a victim again.

    Why wouldn’t this follow the classic “empowerment” trope after having shown no interest in developing Sansa?

    If this plays out in the way I predict it will, it will once again show how little rape is understood by the showrunners. By raping Sansa you’re stripping her of the power she has over her own life and body. It makes no sense for her to gain power from this experience that she couldn’t have had previously. Sansa has all the tools she needs to be in control if the writers would actually allow her to use them. She doesn’t need rape to launch her own liberation.

    If I’m wrong about this then Sansa will be used for Reek to become Theon again. He will save her from the Boltons. At the same time this would be too close to the book storyline, so I think they won’t do it. I also feel that with all the “North Remembers” stuff, my theory is more likely. The writers have been dropping hints (and by hints I mean massive anvils) all season about her taking “control”.

    • Reply May 22, 2015


      Well done! I couldn’t say it better. “The trope of instant character development via rape.” Ha! Some readers are always, always complaining about the slowness of GRRM’s novels, especially books 4 and 5. I hope this kind of cheap and fast character development suit them better.

    • Reply May 23, 2015


      I think you’re completely right how this will go.

      The writing for Sansa on the show has always been poor and inconsistent. They either cut her material or changed it in offensive ways. And now they have completely ruined her arc, showing that they can’t even follow up on their own storylines and character development they made up (like the silly instant-empowerment-through-costume-change, which was campy and OTT, but made me naively hope that they would at least stop writing her as a victim, or worse, as an idiot).

      I stopped watching after episode 3. The writing this year has been terrible, the more they diverge from the books, the more their incompetence shows. Nothing about the Sansa/Ramsay marriage makes any sense. Nothing.

      • Reply May 23, 2015

        Jamie Adair

        I agree about the costume change scene being campy. It was pretty awful and ta-daa actually. But, it was intriguing – in spite of its campiness. The one thing I think it did convey was Sansa’s awareness that she needed to play Littlefinger – and possibly play on his sexual confusion towards her — to survive.

        I think Sansa is actually coming across as quite clever this season – but only really in the last two (?) episodes. I was impressed with her in that bathtub scene. Also, when she confronted Myranda by the tower and then kind of “handled” her. I also really liked how Sansa asserted herself at the disgusting dinner with the Boltons. (In my recap, I wrote about how I thought that dinner was incredibly well written. Not Sansa’s part so much as Roose and Ramsay. Sansa’s part was decent but short.) But, I’ve actually been enjoying Sansa’s character development in the last few episodes — and I’m not a fan of book Sansa or TV Sansa. But, in general, she’s growing on me and I’m starting to feel a little protective of her. (Like I’ve watched her grow up – crazy eh?)

  • Reply May 22, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    Shabe, I hope that the latter of the two scenarios you depict (that Sansa’s nasty experience will provoke Reek in finding himself as Theon again) will be the one to play out on screen. I don’t think TV Sansa is suddenly going to turn into Arya Mark 2 brandishing a sword (I managed not to say “buckling a swash” this time) and duelling with Ramsay.

    As Jamie points out, this would never have been an easy part of the story to translate to screen even if the showrunners had not dropped the Jeyne Poole character and the event in question had happened to her rather than Sansa.

    This is not the first time that marital rape has featured in a story (offhand I can think of the characters of Soames and Irene in the Forsyte Chronicles – dramatised in the 1960s and in 2002 for British TV; I don’t know if the adaptations were seen in countries other than the UK). That was set in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when women had less rights than they do now (in the UK at least). Though not concerning rape, before The Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 (in England at least) any property a woman owned at the time of her marriage became that of her husband. Sometimes considerate fathers made provision for their daughters. However till that Act came into force widowhood was usually the only way a woman would get her pre-marriage property – if a marriage ended in divorce the husband kept the loot even if pre-marriage it had belonged to the woman. In my country women generally did not get the right to vote until 1918 under the Representation of the People Act – and that was only once they attained the age of 28, though that was lowered to 21 ten years later. The reason I have digressed from the topic of rape per se into women’s rights more generally is that in those days when they were disadvantaged it was harder for women to escape from a bad marriage than now (I’m not saying that men cannot be the innocent parties in bad marriages though). Hopefully in bygone days the majority of husbands were decent men and did not rape their wives (or purloin their property).

    Rape is nasty whether it happens to a woman or a man. I’m very much simplifying things here, but in the Forsyte Chronicles, Irene leaves Soames. She has some talent as a pianist and can sew, so she supports herself giving music lessons and makes her own clothes to get by independently, though the rape is not particularly used to “empower” her; though it does stop her living with Soames while sleeping in a separate room and actually move away from him entirely. Many years later she marries his cousin.

    Getting back to GoT, I will continue to watch it. I am no longer a young woman and as Mr Martin writes slowly the show may be my best way of finding out the end of the ASOIAF story. Sansa is a fictional character of course – when the (show) story turned out to be sending her as a bride to Ramsay, my thoughts were like “talk about lightning striking twice” with her already having been engaged to one unbalanced baddie (Joffrey) and then being paired with another, equally bad or maybe even worse, villain. In real life I have known of cases where women do seem to go through a phase of meeting unpleasant men (not saying they were rapists – nasty in other ways), so it is possible for women to meet a series of creeps – and the same may be true for men also but maybe men tend to confide in their friends less (well I havn’t had any male friends confide in me about meeting nasty women). As for Sansa, I hope the aftermath of her story following this latest development does not turn out to be too much of a pig’s ear.

    • Reply May 23, 2015


      Yes women are perfectly capable of moving forward after a rape. What I’m talking about is the use of rape to kick start a female character’s development. This won’t be Sansa just going on with her life it’s using rape to spur her into action and move the plot forward. There is no personal journey for her character like the one you mentioned. It’s only about the plot even though this does nothing it really effect it in my opinion.

      Women aren’t empowered by rape in anyway they just adapt to the situation as best they can which is what happened with the character of Irene. That’s why I would find it insulting if it is somehow going to be used as a way to empower Sansa. You can’t take someones power away from them and then give them it back to them (but twice as much) in a matter of episodes. Rape is the loss of power and control; it’s not how you gain it.

      The rape didn’t need to happen at all; it doesn’t do anything. The fall out isn’t anything that couldn’t have occurred without it. Everything was already in place. Sansa already had a reason to hate the Boltons, she already has people who will help her, and Sansa’s presence in Winterfell was already having an effect on Theon.

      Theon doesn’t need to see Sansa being raped to want to help her either. His own gilt about him betraying the Starks is enough. He even broke down about it in season three. Most importantly Sansa IS a Stark; he would want her forgiveness. If Sansa’s rape turns out to solely about given a male character a motivation I’ll be extremely upset.

      I felt that Jeyne Poole’s presence in the books was completely unnecessary and the writers shouldn’t have given some of her experiences to Sansa. Theon’s interacts with other characters (Roose, Barbery Dustin, the Spear Wives, the Ghost of Winterfell, etc.) in Winterfell and hearing his name in the Godswood had more impact upon him than Jeyne. Jeyne Poole is nothing more than a physical reminder of him betraying the Starks; she wouldn’t be where she is (as Fake Arya) without him turning on Robb. Theon is really unkind to Jeyne as well and belittles her constantly. He doesn’t care about her at all and piggybacks on the escape plan made by Mance and the Spear Wives to free himself, not Jeyne.

      As I said before Theon the show is experiencing immense guilt over his past actions. He also has stronger emotional ties to Sansa than book Theon did to Jeyne Poole. Why does Sansa need to be raped for him to help her? I guess they could use the rape to bring them together but that could have been easily accomplished by him confessing to her about what really happened to Bran and Rickon.

      Sansa replacing Jeyne Poole in Theon’s storyline doesn’t make sense due to the fact that she is Sansa Stark.

      You seem to be under the impression that I believe Sansa’s rape to be unrealistic (I’m very aware that marital rape is something that happens) when what I’m saying is that I find her rape to be stupid and pointless. I’m trying to figure out the writers’ intentions. All the scenarios I’ve come up with are complete bullshit.

      • Reply May 23, 2015


        Jeyne Poole is A LOT MORE than a reminder of Theon’s betrayal of the Starks. In fact, I don’t think that storyline has anything to do with his betrayal of the Starks. IMO it’s about the actual biggest crime Theon committed: the murder of the miller’s boys.

        The most important thing about Jeyne’s role in Theon’s narrative is not that she’s female or that she’s raped. It’s that she is NOT really a Stark. She is an “unimportant” girl who’s suffered terribly but nobody cares, because she is of a relatively low birth, with no inheritance, no great name, she’s not “Ned’s little girl” that the clansmen of the North are ready to fight for, she is just the orphaned daughter of Ned’s steward. The old Theon would have given a damn about a girl like Jeyne. Sansa or Arya? Anyone would have made an effort to save them, they are important because of their family name and status. The old Theon even dreamed of Ned making him his son-in-law by marrying Sansa to him. But Jeyne is a “nobody” who was made a sex slave in a brothel rather than a royal hostage forced into marrying a Lannister; Littlefinger made her a sex slave and then he and Tywin gave her to the Boltons, who know who she is but don’t care. Like the two unfortunate boys, her value is that she can be a stand-in for someone highborn, for a Stark heir. For the boys, it meant being murdered instead of Bran and Rickon, for Jeyne, it meant being forced to marry Ramsay Bolton, instead of Arya.

        Many fans think that the northern lords in Winterfell in ADWD know or suspect that Ramsay’s bride is not really Arya Stark, and that this is why they are just complaining a little to Roose when they hear her crying, rather than doing anything about it. But the northern clansmen are ready to fight for Ned’s little girl, and this is how Stannis is able to recruit them. Jon sends Mance and his spearwives as a rescue party for his beloved little sister. But if they knew who she was, there would have been no rescue parties for Jeyne, the way there are for “Arya”.

        The old Theon wouldn’t have cared either. We never hear Theon address his guilt for the deaths of the boys (guilt he did feel deep inside in ACOK when he had nightmares about the murder), but the parallel is poignant. And that’s why this is a good story, and Theon’s redemption.

        Once again, the show writers have managed to completely miss the point, even when it comes to the arc of their favorite character (Theon). And, ironically, since their stated reason is that they wanted this to happen to a character the audience is invested in, because people supposedly wouldn’t have cared enough otherwise (because a teenage girl being raped and abused is normally not upsetting?), they proved that “unimportant” people like Jeyne don’t “matter”.

        • Reply May 23, 2015

          Jamie Adair

          I think that Jeyne Poole’s story is deeply disturbing, and I also think it plays an incredibly important role in the books. It could just be because I’m always looking for historical parallels, but I see Jeyne Poole’s character as showing what happens to women without protection (e.g., orphaned women). An orphaned woman without family to help her could easily become a prostitute — there was no safety net in medieval society.
          I think that Jeyne Poole’s story also shows how unprotected women were disposable – e.g., the scars on her back. Her suffering is appalling. She is extremely unlucky and frankly that bad luck is, IIRC, undeserved. She’s done nothing to invoke the bad karma if I remember right. It is just fortune’s wheel having a go at her.
          I think the role that Jeyne ultimately plays thematically is she contributes to conveying an atmosphere of vulnerability and expendability for most women. I think the series of rapes and sexual abuses on the show have the same function. E.g., Ros, Dany, etc.

    • Reply May 23, 2015


      I also understand the point of the history lesson if it was only to tell me that women never had it easy, which is something I already knew.

      The bit about women going through one bad relationship after another is also something I’m familiar with. I don’t see how it relates to Sansa though since she doesn’t choose her suitors. The only time Sansa uses bad judgment is with Joffrey by excusing and ignoring his bad behavior prior to him killing her father. I don’t think Sansa saw Ramsay as an amazing guy before marrying him. She saw how he behaved at dinner.

      There isn’t a pattern occurring due to her own actions like modern women. Sansa hasn’t fallen into the cycle that victims of abuse often do. She isn’t drawn to men who mean to harm her. Ramsay was chosen for her by someone else; she didn’t pick him.

      I’m having a hard time wording this so I hope you get what I’m trying to say about the relationship stuff.

      • Reply May 23, 2015

        Jamie Adair

        I wholeheartedly agree with Sansa not being drawn to men who are abusive — and I do wholeheartedly agree with that. To me, the men Sansa ends up with are a product of the medieval-esque world. Most knights in that world are shits. (Some of non-knights are okay though. And, the nobles go either way.) But, in general, not unlike the real Middle Ages IMO the noble class sucks. In many ways, from a modern perspective, they are scumbags.

        The caveat I would make — and this may not be what you meant by chosen for her — is that Sansa *chose* to be with Ramsay. LIttlefinger put pressure on her but she chose — and I like to think she did so to get revenge. I like to think this is a master plan on her part. She knows she will have to suffer to get her revenge — possibly not to the extent that she did at the end of the last episode — but as she said to somebody (Myranda?) “I’m not afraid of pain.”

        Sansa has walked through the fire and survived. She’s been with Joffrey. She’s run for her life. She now knows what she can endure. I’m really hoping that she chose to marry Ramsay to get revenge, or at least for power. Littlefinger presented her options in that moment (when he brought up the marriage), and one of them IIRC was obscurity. She could be obscure or be a player. IIRC she chose to be a player, a participant in the power – even though it meant doing something she really hated. But, I think when he suggested this the idea of getting revenge popped into her head and she is biding her time. Assuming Sophie Turner is a good actress, there was a look on Sansa’s face that made me think this.

        The caveat with this is that I would need to watch the scene again to be sure, but I usually see each episode 2-3 times minimum – if not far more to write the recaps, etc.

        • Reply May 24, 2015


          That entire storyline makes zero sense. It shows that the show writers have trouble with elementary logic, narrative logic, characterization, can’t write a good political plot to save their lives (Dorne and KL show the same) and don’t know how to write women, or indeed, human beings in general. I am a fan of book Sansa, and they have been butchering her arc and characterization from the start, and the “Sansa marries Ramsay” mess is the final straw. I didn’t need to see the rape, I was out the moment that ridiculous scene in episode 3 aired. A lot of people predicted that storyline pre-season, but I was among those who found it just one more fandom crackpot and gave D&D the benefit of a doubt that they could never do something that ludicrous. I’m never giving them the benefit of a doubt again. They are just that incompetent.

          I wrote this on another website so I’m going to repost it, a summary of the lapses in logic that were needed for this to happen.

          It doesn’t make sense that a marriage ceremony by the High Septon can just be handwaived with no annulment because someone says it was not consummated – there would be bigamists all over Westeros if that’s the case.

          It also doesn’t make sense for Roose Bolton, a smart, sly and cautious man, to alienate his allies just to try to placate the northern Lords… who barely seem to exist in the show. It doesn’t make sense for Sansa to reveal herself to the Lannister allies, or for LF to reveal to a Lannister ally that he has the #1 fugitive with him… how did LF know that Roose wouldn’t just show the letter to Cersei?

          Most baffling at all, why on Earth would Sansa marry Ramsay?! Why does Sansa need to be in Winterfelll at all and put herself at incredible risk both from the Boltons and Stannis’ army? Why not wait for Stannis to defeat them? Or rally the North to help him against the Boltons? Or come with an army from the Vale, rally the North and join with Stannis? Why would she ever think that the right way to get revenge on the Boltons is… to marry into them?! Marriage with Sansa is a weapon now?!

          Are we to believe that this 15 year old girl who has been through a terrible experience of being a prisoner, hostage, powerless, abused by a psycho, forced to marry into the family of her family’s murderers, and finally escaped that, is going to say: “Yes, I’m going to marry the son of my brother’s and mother’s betrayer and murderer! I will let them legitimize their claim on my family’s home! I will lose my virginity to him! I will possibly get impregnated by him! I will live with them in my family’s home! But it will all be worth it! What a great Stark revenge that will be!… and that’s my best possible future, if they don’t rape, torture or kill me, or turn me over to the Queen to be executed, after I have walked there like a lamb to the slaughter, and remained at their mercy. Or maybe I will find myself in the midst of a battle when Stannis attacks and get killed.”

          And how exactly is she to get revenge on her own? Is she a Faceless Man? Master poisoner? Ninja warrior? Is her body a weapon of mass destruction? Why didn’t she ask LF to hire an actual assassin, or use one of his lackeys, or assassinate/poison the Boltons himself?

          If she is to hope for a Stannis victory, why doesn’t she contact him and help him win over the northern Lords? How is marrying Ramsay Bolton going to win her any points with Stannis or the Stark loyalists? Points she already has anyway, being a Stark. How is it going to win LF any points with Stannis that he gave Sansa to the Boltons?

          Did Baelish even tell her any plan? I saw no such thing. She needed 2 minutes of convincing that consisted of some abstract talk about justice and no mention of what exactly is supposed to happen.

          And since when does Sansa trust Baelish? Last season it was established that she doesn’t, she just sees him as a “devil you know”. They made it look last season like she had power in that relationship, like she had a mind of her own, but this season, she just does whatever he tells her to?!

          The only way it could have made sense from her perspective would be if she had Vale soldiers protecting her all the time in Winterfell, she had already gotten in touch with the northern Lords, and the wedding was just a ruse (ha!) where, preferably before the ceremony and definitely before any bedding could take place, they went all Red Wedding 2.0 on the Boltons.

          But nope.

          It’s blatantly obvious the writers made everyone act illogical and OOC and made Sansa lose all of her brains, just to arrange the situation where she could be raped by Ramsay, and probably saved by Theon.

          Why didn’t Sansa do something that actually makes sense, like use the fact that the Vale lords know who she is and convince them to fight for her birthright? Or, if she is travelling north, meet up with the northern lords and rally them to fight against the Boltons, meet with Stannis and ally with him – he is looking for a Stark to help him win the northmen – and help him rally the northmen to her cause to defeat the Boltons and win back Winterfell for her? Even if they really wanted her to get a political marriage, how about one that makes sense and is good for her interests – say, to a son of some Vale lord, if that helps win them over to her cause?

          Frankly I found their entire perspective on women and women’s sexuality deeply offensive. I’m disgusted that they seem to think that the value of women, if they don’t fight with weapons, is only in their vagina, and that “mature” women and “players” must all use sex and offer sex to men to do anything, even if they have so many other weapons in their disposal. To be a “player”, you need to be a “seductress”, that’s the only way, forget about your intelligence, ability to read people, charm (not in the sexual sense), empathy, people skills, political awareness, all the things that book!Sansa has in abundance but the show never cared about those traits, since they’re “girly” and not about sex; not to mention her family name, hereditary rights and political leverage that comes with it, which show!Sansa also has and can even more easily use than book!Sansa at the moment, but for some reason she’s completely forgotten about it!

          And it’s not so surprising that their ideal “empowered” woman is one that’s ready to “sacrifice” herself by “lying back and thinking of Winterfell” (because marrying and sleeping with the brutal murderers of your family is such a great victory and revenge…), since they seem to have a problem with the idea of women’s sexual agency and women choosing to have sex with men they actually want to, out of desire or (shock, horror) love and intimacy. The way they portrayed Sansa’s marriage to Tyrion showed that clearly, and they also try to portray Jorah as a non-ironic Nice Guy (TM). The only women who are portrayed as wanting sex for pleasure are prostitutes (!)… and, in one of the particularly ridiculous moments of this season, a sex slave! As if glamorizing prostitution and that stupid Podrick comic plot wasn’t bad enough, now even a sex slave is offering free sex to Tyrion because he’s such a nice guy (?).

        • Reply May 24, 2015


          Derivative dribble horrible to women is exactly the right way to describe Game of Thrones (the show, not the books).

        • Reply May 24, 2015


          And yet the showrunners have decided to cut everything from ASOAIF that deals with the suffering of the smallfolk, and there is a lot of it – from Arya’s book experience in Harrenhal and the things she witnesses (relegated to just a few scene in one episode, so she could go on to have cool conversations with nice grandpa Tywin), to the actual purpose and actions of the Brotherhood without Banners (in the show, they seem to be about.. selling boys to Melisandre? Talking about the Lord of Light? Just trials by combat and nothing else? We never really see that they are protecting the smallfolk and killing those who are abusing the smallfolk), to Brienne’s and Jamie’s journeys in A Feast for Crows…

          And they’ve also cut the issue of gender-equal primogeniture in Dorne, and cut Arianne, who is her father’s heir and future ruler of Dorne and whose actions are driven by the defense of her rights as her father’s heir.

        • Reply May 24, 2015


          What sexual violence is there in Hannibal? I can’t think of a single rape portrayed in that show, unlike in GoT.

          • May 24, 2015

            Watcher on the Couch

            Bunny, I think the reference was violence to women generally in “Hannibal” rather than sexualised violence. I know that many people who visit this site were book-readers first but I came to the books via the show, so I am grateful to the show for introducing me to ASOIAF. When I watched season 2 I hadn’t been near any ASOIAF and while Talisa bothered me other changes from the book that I didn’t then know were changes didn’t bother me (though retrospectively I didn’t like

            spoiler for non-book readers

            fact that they turned Jaime into a cousin killer and that they had him murder one of Lord Karstark’s sons whereas in the original he killed two of Lord Karstark’s sons in battle).

            I know some unsullied show-watchers are very upset feeling Sansa cannot get a decent break.

            Also, as GRRM has we are told informed D&D of the end-game is it possible the book version of Sansa has more trials to face? I’m not saying it is so, just wondering.

          • May 24, 2015


            I’m sure that Sansa and *everyone* has more trials to face. However, I am 100% sure that whatever Sansa faces, it will not constitute of marrying into the family of her family’s murderers and getting raped by a psycho on her wedding night in her old home. This is just terrible and lazy storytelling. And they say they wanted to put Sansa with Ramsay since season 2, so it seems they just don’t understand how repetitive and pointless and lazy it is to go “hm, Sansa went through all of that in KL, but she didn’t suffer enough, because she wasn’t raped. so let’s repeat the entire arc now with another Joffrey, but now she’s really raped” (and “Sansa is a stupid girl who needs to suffer more and needs to be raped to grow as a character” is an argument I’ve seen by Sansa haters on some forums long before this season).

            Unless Sansa is marrying Black Walder Frey in WOW for some reason and gets raped by him, this plot is nothing like her book plot – and I’m sure she’s not, just like I’m sure that Jeyne Poole will not follow up on her escape from Winterfell by marrying Clayton Suggs (the extremely misogynistic guy in Stannis’ army) and getting raped and abused all over again, and that Dany’s big power play/revenge against Khal Jhaqo will not be to marry him and be raped by him.

            From the way this season is going, it seems to me that the only things that they mean to follow up on from what GRRM told them are things like, who is going to end up on the Iron Throne and how Others are defeated, and there’s an outbreak of greyscale (not a spoiler – but they have been practically telegraphing it). and R+L=J, as book readers figured out long time ago. But the characters and their arcs have no similarity to their book counterparts. What is this Dorne plot doing for Jaime’s character? Does season 4-5 Jaime have anything to do with Jaime’s character development in the books? No. I’m also pretty sure that Tommen being sexually abused by Margaery on the show (which I’m sure they don’t even realize is abuse, they sure aren’t portraying it that way) doesn’t mean that Margaery will sexually abuse Tommen in the books. It just means they wanted a sex scene with Natalie Dormer.

          • May 24, 2015

            Jamie Adair

            Yeah, I was speaking a bit loosely when I threw in Hannibal, but I think there was violence against women in the episode with the antlers (maybe). But, to me, Hannibal is in that genre (which I kind of lump together) of giving psychos ideas. The other thing is that they do a lot of plots with serial killers – who often target women in real life (even if they don’t on the show). There is a contradiction in what I’m writing because on one hand I think people can start dialogs about violence on TV but on the other I don’t want to see shows that have what I feel are repetitive tired tropes from the 1990s that perpetuate a culture of “women as prey.”

          • May 24, 2015


            The thing with the violence on Hannibal is that it’s highly unrealistic and stylized, so it feels so removed from reality in both motivation of the killers and the execution, that I don’t think it can feel triggering. Nor do I think that it’s likely to give ideas to anyone to go and try to do the same things.

            The victims on Hannibal have been men at least as often as women, and they have so far avoided sexual ized violence altogether (the showrunner has even mentioned that they are doing that on purpose). I don’t know if they will be able to do that in season 3, though, knowing that they’re supposed to be doing the Red Dragon storyline, which has a sexual component.

  • Reply May 23, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    Shabe, with my most recent posts I was not having a go at you. Sometimes when I am typing I say my piece quickly so I don’t forget what I have in mind. The first two paragraphs were in reply to you – but (and it is my fault that I did not make things more clear) the rest of my post was addressed more generally and I certainly didn’t want to come across like a schoolma’am. I know it can be very annoying if people tell you something you already know.

    Let me say very clearly that I would never be a champion for rape. Something very unpleasant happened to me when I was about 9 (and the lad trying to do it was only about 14). Fortunately a couple came along and he ran off and there was no harm done except I had a very bad fright. A long time ago somebody I knew in childhood was raped thought I didn’t know so at the time. One of her parents said she went into denial about it. I heard also something on the radio where the mother of a rape victim had written in – she said that her daughter had become afraid to go out and become completely withdrawn. The mother was worried what would happen after she (the mother) died. So I am aware that in the real world a nasty vicious attack such as a rape can leave a person psychologically scarred long after the physical scars have healed. A woman who had been raped might meet a nice man later but have difficulty in trusting him because of her earlier experience.

    I did say that I HOPED the latter scenario you mentioned would be the one that played out – that Theon would become himself again rather than Reek. It would be most unrealistic if the showrunners use the event in question to make Sansa become Ninja Sansa – it could perhaps be used to make her decide to get the heck out of Dodge (as much as anybody in a Faux-Medieval world can). Now this does not pertain to the show as to life in general, I wasn’t so much thinking of abuse victims being attracted to nasty men (and of course you are correct in that a woman living in medieval times was not in the same position to pick her own partner as a modern one) as that a woman can go to the usual places, a dance, a discotheque (well that’s what they were in my youth) but that she may go through a spell where all the men who come forward to dance, make a date with her etc turn out to be not much good.

    When I mentioned the adaptation of the Galsworthy novels (Forsyte Saga) I was trying to think of other examples where there had been a marital rape featured in a TV show. There were not that many (I don’t watch “Mad Men”) so the Forstye Saga came to mind. Galsworthy’s wife had been married previously to one of his cousins (though as far as we know the cousin never committed a marital rape). It is possible that the Irene character based on Galsworthy’s wife to some extent and Galsworthy may have wanted to show how difficult it was for women to get out of an unhappy marriage then.

    I respect your views that you would much prefer that the showrunners had not included this very controversial plot point.

    I have noticed that the bulk of the discussion about the most recent episode of “Game of Thrones” has been about the ending scene. IF (and I can’t get into the showrunners heads to understand their motives) the scene in question was included for shock value, I think it may have backfired. The continuation of Arya’s training in THOBAW and her progress to be able to become “someone else” if not “no-one” and Margery’s arrest which


    event I didn’t expect at that particular point in time as it develops rather differently in the books

    which to me were interesting plot developments have been side-lined because of the final scene.

    When, I comment on the website, that is what I am doing “commenting”, but PLEASE believe me if I do reply to another comment I am doing so in the spirit of wanting – if it does become a dialogue – to have an intelligent debate. It is never my intention to “troll” anyone.

  • Reply May 23, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    Edit – correction to earlier post – “though I did not know it at the time” not “thought I did not know it at the time”. Also, I never intended to suggest that Shabe did not believe there was such a thing as marital rape or that the rape of that particular character was unrealistic.

  • Reply May 23, 2015


    How did they “soften” the book scene? I didn’t see the HBO scene since I stopped watching the show after episode 3 (obviously the right decision!) but I’ve heard it described, and it obviously isn’t any “better” or “softer” or less explicit than in the book (which is now popular to say, like that would justify the show’s absurd storylne), where we don’t really see the actual rape as the chapter ends.

    • Reply May 23, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Without going into detail, Theon does not touch Sansa in the scene. I found Theon’s role in Jeyne Poole’s rape really quite disturbing.

      • Reply May 23, 2015


        I know he doesn’t, but I don’t see that making much of a difference or Sansa’s rape “not so bad”. Especially when you consider the whole, raped in her home, in her dead parents’ bed, by the son of the guy who betrayed and murdered her brother and mother. Theon (the guy she thinks murdered her brothers) may not be “preparing” her orally (but that also means more sheer physical pain), but he’s there as the audience.

        What’s really an insult to injury is how they wrote this storyline. Like they really wanted to troll the viewers and punish Sansa – for daring to try to be a player (in the idiotic way they have written for her, they had to ignore all logic and make Sansa lose her brains and agree to marry Ramsay so they would put her in this situation), perhaps for daring to refuse Tyrion? I know that she mentions how “nice” Tyrion was just before her rape, that sure doesn’t sound good. And it’s almost as if they wanted to please her haters who have been wishing her rape for years. As if they were so disappointed Joffrey never got to rape her in KL, so they have to correct that. And Cogman talking nonsense how she’s “hardened woman who has made a choice” just drives me mad even more. Nobody ever could say any of that about Jeyne, fans couldn’t talk crap like they do now, saying Sansa chose to marry Ramsay for “revenge” so she just has to endure whatever happens, etc. Readers had to face the reality that Jeyne was 100% victim, there was no BS-ing about that. And rape did not make her “empowered”.

        • Reply May 23, 2015


          When I say “100% victim”, I mean, she is a victim even before she comes to Winterfell and when she sets a foot there – we know she is completely forced, they are not trying to make it look like she chose to marry Ramsay for some stupid reason, we are not shown Jeyne deciding to throw away safety for some hairbrained scheme. She is not presented as a scheming seductress or player or whatever nonsense they tried to sell with Sansa.

        • Reply May 23, 2015

          Jamie Adair

          Actually, that’s exactly what I just wrote. I didn’t get the revenge idea from Cogman – in fact, I didn’t really like how he answered that question. I got it from the look on Sansa’s face. She kind of pauses or something in the scene before she answers Littlefinger and the second I saw it, I thought, “She’s thinking of revenge.”

          I don’t know if this will make it feel better or not, but somebody just submitted an article that i haven’t published yet about Fortune’s Wheel, which is a medieval concept or I don’t know what to call it. But, basically, many people in the Middle Ages believed that one day your up (successful, on top of the heap) and the next day your down. In some cases, people go all the way around the circle or wheel. E.g., Your life is great. You have a high position at court, etc. Then things go down hill (you lose your position). But, then your luck changes and you work your way up to where you were.

          I don’t think that people in the Middle Ages necessarily believed that everyone went all the way around – eg., you got back up again. But, I think the feeling was that your luck could change in a moment.

          While I was editing the article and corresponding with the writer, I realized that nearly all of the major characters had taken rides on Fortune’s Wheel. E.g., Ned, Catelyn, Robb, Tyrion, Arya, Sansa, Theon, etc.

          I don’t think we should assume that Sansa’s rape will necessarily be a set back for her growth. (I also don’t believe it will be a character changing catalyst. I do think it might make her make different decisions though and that’s not necessarily a “rape is empowerment” trope.)

          I so strongly agree about Jeyne Poole being 100% the victim.

          I think Cogman spoke imprudently. “Hardened woman who’s made a choice” makes it sound like she is asking for it. Yuck. I think he (maybe?) meant that she’s been through a lot and she stoically made her decision to marry Ramsay. Maybe. It wasn’t well phrased given the context of when the interview was run.

  • Reply May 23, 2015

    Jamie Adair

    The other thing is that I certainly don’t think the “softening” makes Sansa’s rape “not so bad” — not by a long shot. And, when I say “bad” I mean hard to watch.

  • Reply May 23, 2015

    Jamie Adair

    I’m just to release article about Sansa’s rape – the second half of my editorial – and there are a few things that I want to say to you guys (on this thread) first.

    First of all, I tend to stick up for the showrunners and HBO because I’m very sympathetic to writers in general because I am a writer. (Although you wouldn’t always know it from this website, lol, I’ve been a professional writer for the past twenty years.)

    I think writing is an incredibly difficult job regardless of whether you are writing newspaper articles, ad copy, technical manuals, novels, screenplays, science journals, text books, etc. My job is often thankless – years of long stressful hours. I’m a technical writer, and I’m well paid, but in technical writing, you often only hear complaints. I’ve also written marketing materials, newspaper articles, ad copy, and I’ve dabbled in fiction. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what you write, it is often an extremely demanding job.

    As a result, I’m very sympathetic to hard it is for the showrunners and the other writers on the show. I think they are extremely talented and I don’t think they are lazy. They aren’t trying to write derivative dribble (e.g., shows like Stalker or even the well-written but horribly violent-against-women Hannibal). They are doing something that is almost never done on television — creating what is essentially top-shelf historical drama. The only other show that rivals it was HBO’s Rome.

    Adapting ASOIAF, is not as easy as simply putting every single page on screen – they don’t have the budget or airtime for that. You’d think they could easily get more money from HBO (e.g., to show more episodes), but in my experience it is never that straightforward. (I’ve worked on software products with a billion a year in revenue. You would think it would be easy to get enough writers, but not necessarily because the corporate politics get in the way, the execs care about shareholder value, etc.) So, the showrunners can’t depict everything. (I think everyone reading this thread knows that, but I’m mentioning it because that’s how I see it.)

    The showrunners have to make choices and they have to rewrite material. I know people get upset at these choices, but I don’t think these choices are easy. No writer (or person) is perfect and no writer will make the ideal choice every single time — even if their overall body of work is excellent. So, I’m sympathetic towards them because I know how hard it is to do good work — even after twenty years of experience. I also know how hard it is to try to balance your audience’s demands, work with constraints, maintain a creative vision, etc. So, in general I empathize with them as fellow writers. (I realize that most people won’t have that point of view, but this is how I feel.)

    I also think, big picture, they do excellent work. They have taken something the author himself thought was unfilmable and made it the biggest show in the world. They have created a resurgence of interest in the Middle Ages. And, yes, certainly some of this is because they worked from excellent source material, but they still did it. And now they have to do it without the safety net of GRRM’s work. Not easy – at all.

    Second, I’m very upset about medieval peasants. I know that may sound like a ridiculous and absurd thing to bring up given that we are talking about Sansa’s rape and that medieval peasants lived 500 years ago, but that’s where my heart is. I see medieval violence against peasants and violence against women as being two sides of the same coin.

    Anyone who has read this website for a long time has probably seen me go on mini-rants about the medieval peasants, the “smallfolk”, and the Hundred Years War. Edward III and his successors waged the Hundred Years War by raiding, burning, pillaging, and raping their way through medieval French villages as a tactic to put pressure on the French kings.

    From my perspective, these kings perpetuated a borderline holocaust on the French medieval peasants and it has been relegated to a footnote in history. I get very upset about this topic anytime anything related to it comes up. These were real people who were killed! Yet chronicling history books only mention them in passing — because their deaths are perceived as a natural consequence of warfare. As a result, we don’t feel what the Middle Ages must have felt like to most people — at least, not in times of war. The peasants are relegated to passing mentions to peasant raids, famines, etc. Yet, these peasants were the majority of the population, the commoners, the 99% — in short, they were *us*.

    History has dehumanized the medieval peasant — us! — to the point where “peasant” has become a pejorative. Today, “peasant” evokes mud-covered drooling idiots. We empathize with the nobility and see things through their eyes. This is the equivalent of future generations seeing the history of the twenty-first century through the eyes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, the Bushes, the Middletons, or the Kardashians.

    Even during their lifetimes, the nobility hated the peasants and, in some cases, eventually the peasants came to internalize this hatred until it became self-hatred. (Teofilo Ruiz tells a great story about a traveller who asks some members of a peasant village who they are and they reply they “are no one” – they are below nature even.)

    I feel that the medieval peasants – and the nobles’ war crimes against them – have been obliterated from history. I believe that our assessments of medieval kings are fundamentally flawed because they are rarely viewed in the context of how they benefited society (e.g., peasants and other non noble types). And, I’ve often wondered if we saw our past differently, how would we see our present day selves? Would today’s 99% see itself differently if it realized its own historical past?

    I’ve become so upset by the treatment of peasants in history that I’ve actually contemplated writing a popular history about medieval peasants.

    So from my perspective, George RR Martin’s work is morally good. It highlights the effects of war on the medieval people (and people in general) — including the smallfolk. I maintain this website because I care about the issues I believe GRRM is trying to raise in his work. It lets me explore them and ideally hopefully maybe encourages people to think about them.

    And, I perceive DB Weiss and David Benioff as caring about those issues as well. They write new scenes – such as the Five or One scene with Robert Baratheon imagining a Dothraki invasion of King’s Landing – that raise these issues.

    Sexual violence is an inherent part of military-based culture — not only as a warfaring activity but also (quite likely) in the society itself, etc. — especially when primogeniture is involved. (Primogeniture displaced everyone but the first born son and made women far more vulnerable due to their lack of economic power – possibly think Dorne vs. King’s Landing.) After all, how do you go home and respect women when you’ve spent months on campaign raping them?

    The long and short of it as that while I don’t enjoy the sexual violence in the show from an entertainment perspective, I think it contributes to a conversation that is quite valuable overall. I don’t see rioting in the streets over the disgusting sexual violence in shows like Hannibal, Stalker, etc. — and they contribute nothing to society.

    So anyway, I know this is quite long, but thank you for reading. (And, also thank you for reading this website.)

  • Reply May 24, 2015

    Jamie Adair

    @ Bunny about Hannibal
    This is starting to get way off topic 🙂 but…
    I mean, I think Hannibal is a well written show and I do always end up watching on demand (in spite of myself). But I just find it so disturbing. I believe you about the showrunner, etc. (It would be stupid for them to create a show primarily about violence against women – the show is too well written for them to be idiots.)

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