Recently, with great reluctance and after much resistance, I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones. Considering I generally find myself bored by medieval tales, I will admit that I was very intrigued by the characters and their relationships, the mounting tensions and the mystery. Unfortunately, I could not enjoy or even pay much attention to any of these things, so consumed was I with the overwhelming, deeply affecting misogyny that the show engages in.
The first episode has two particularly confronting scenes. The first shows Khaleesi being stripped bare and groped by her brother, acts which clearly cause her great discomfort and distress. The second shows the same girl, meek and distressed, being unclothed and forced onto her hands and knees by a brutish husband her brother has arranged for her. These scenes are gratuitous; they do not advance the plot in any way and serve no purpose in terms of either narrative or character development. The scenes are also largely inconsequential. So much so, in fact, that Khaleesi goes on to fall madly in love with her rapist and lead a seemingly pleasant existence free of any of the very real, very long-term symptoms of this kind of physical trauma.
Rape is inserted into the script merely to add shock value. Clearly, the authors have no intention of saying anything real or pertinent about rape or rape culture, or even to simply tell a sad story about unfortunate events; rather, they are attempting to gratify the shock-and-sex-hungry viewers.
But, you might argue, rape is a reality, why not include it in popular culture? Let’s not allow confusion to excuse this blatantly misogynistic behaviour. Game Of Thrones is not a work of historical fiction. It is a work of pure fantasy. Instead of allowing ourselves the comfort of indulging what Game of Thrones may reveal about medieval times, let’s instead think long and hard about what it reveals about the world we find ourselves in today. A world, it seems, where gratuitous rape is not only permissible, but attracts a crowd so large and so involved that it is capable of breaking worldwide illegal download records.
So yes, rape is a real-world problem. And yes, rape was rife in medieval times. It still is. Rape happens. It happens every day. But, if you have a chance to construct a new world, surely it is possible to imagine a world where it doesn’t.
Game of Thrones is a fantasy. A genre within which writers can dream up any world they please. Why not fashion one in which women are not routinely subjected to this kind of trauma? Because, for some grim reason, their audiences seem to be fine with it.
To the writers of Game of Thrones, I say, by all means, give me a world of dragons and heroes and pretty girls and deception, but is it really too much to ask to make it one where the rape and misogyny are left out?
Use your imagination.