[Spoilers ahead for those who aren’t caught up on Game of Thrones.]
Last season, Game of Thrones lost some longtime viewers with Sansa’s rape scene. It was a hard scene to watch, but I defended its existence because I felt that it was the natural outcome of not only bringing those characters together, but the show as a whole—it’s not a series of wish fulfillment where the good characters defeat the evil ones; usually the worst outcome is the one that occurs (why we masochistically continue to watch this series is another discussion for another time).
That being said, looking back on the scene now, while I still accept its reason for being, I think they botched the execution. It shouldn’t end with a close up on Theon’s horrified face. Rape shouldn’t be about how it affects a bystander—especially a male bystander—it should have stayed with Sansa and forced us to drown with her in that pain (again, why I watch this show is tough to explain).
Writer-producer Bryan Cogman received intense criticism for the scene as did director Jeremy Podeswa along with showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Cogman used the commentary track on the episode to defend their choices, and it provides some fascinating insight into the thought process behind crafting the scene [via EW]:
“I think it’s important to talk about because of the response this storyline got,” Cogman says. “It’s sort of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ If you don’t talk about it, people think you’re ashamed of it; if you do talk about it, everything you say is taken out of context. Basically, when we decided to combine Sansa’s storyline with another character in the books it was done with the idea that it would be hugely dramatically satisfying to have Sansa back in her occupied childhood home and navigate this Gothic horror story she’s found herself in and, of course, to be reunited with Theon – setting her on the path to reclaiming her family home and becoming a major player in the big overall story. That said, when we decided we were going to do that we were faced with the question: If she’s marrying Ramsay, what would happen on her wedding night? And we made the decision to not shy away from what would realistically would happen on that wedding night with these two characters, and the reality of the situation, and the reality of this particular world.”
So the questions become, should they have brought Sansa back to her home and should they have combined the storylines? Cogman acknowledges that some fans expected Sansa to kill Ramsay (again, a nice wish fulfillment, but a betrayal of the show’s darkness), but says it wouldn’t be true to the character:
“We can’t all be Arya (Maisie Williams) and, in fact, most people aren’t Arya. Most people in that situation, they have to play a longer game. She goes [into the marriage] without the right information about Ramsay, she gets the sense that he’s dangerous, and when he turns out to be even worse than she thought, she’s not broken by the attack, she immediately sets to getting the hell out of there and planning her next move.”
Of course, her next move rests on being saved by Theon, but that’s a separate problem that sadly, Cogman doesn’t address.
As for how the scene was shot, Cogman says:
“Another argument – and I get why this criticism was leveled at us – is idea that we took Sansa’s story away from her and made it all about Theon [by cutting to his face at the end],” he says. “I personally don’t believe that’s the case … Certainly Theon’s redemption journey is an element of the subplot. But if you really watch this scene it’s played from Sansa’s viewpoint, for the most part. The main reason we cut away at the end, frankly, is that this was Sophie’s first scene of this nature, and we didn’t want to show the attack. And so we cut to Theon to hear the attack. I understand why many people reacted to that, [thinking] we were making this scene about Theon and not Sansa. I’m sorry it was viewed that way. All I can say is it’s certainly not my intention when I wrote it or when we were producing it … We could have stayed on her face of the entirety of the attack, that would have been a perfectly valid choice. To me it was about being respectful to Sophie.”
While that’s an honorable position, Sophie Turner is a professional actress, and the point of good storytelling is to tell the most honest story possible. If that means holding the camera on her face, so be it. To do any less is ultimately a disservice to Turner, the character, and the situation.
As to those who believe the scene exists purely for shock value (a weak argument considering that this is a show that doesn’t hurt for shocking scenes), Cogman says,
“It’s an upsetting scene, it’s a horrifying scene, it’s meant to be … [But] the accusation that our motives were [that we] just threw in a rape for shock value, I personally don’t think the scene as shot, or as written, or as acted by our wonderful actors, supports that argument. Nor do I think the aftermath of the scene supports that argument. Not only in these episodes, but also in future episodes. This story is not over. This is a long ongoing story. Sansa has a journey ahead of her, and what happens to her in that room is a huge part of that journey, and one that we’ve thought through.”
Game of Thrones: Season 5 hits DVD and Blu-ray on March 15th. Season 6 premieres on April 24th.