Though we’ve all been temporarily distracted by the most recent episode’s awesome zombie battle (how awesome was that battle?), this current season of Game Of Thrones has been turning a lot of viewers off of the show due to its excessive depiction of sexual violence. We’d say “arguably excessive,” but come on. It’s not like a little bit of rape is okay.
George R.R. Martin, the guy who has been diligently writing the books that Game Of Thrones is based on for the last 100 years, has now spoken with Entertainment Weekly about the show’s use of sexual violence and its treatment of women in general. His point, essentially, is that a little bit of rape is not okay, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be included in the stories that he and HBO are trying to tell. He brings up Game Of Thrones’ connection to medieval Europe, and the fact that a more sanitized world (like the ones seen in similar stories like The Lord Of The Rings) would be a disingenuous presentation of that setting—even if his take on that setting is shown through a lens that also involves dragons and ice zombies.
It seems like a strong case, but if anyone’s going to be able to defend these stories it’s the guy who created them—although a lot of the actual rapes that have occurred on the show happened differently in the books. At the very least, it shows that Martin has definitely thought about all of this stuff. However, it remains to be seen if any of those aforementioned people who have given up on Game Of Thrones will actually buy his argument. You can read Martin’s entire response to Entertainment Weekly below:
The books reflect a patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were not a time of sexual egalitarianism. It was very classist, dividing people into three classes. And they had strong ideas about the roles of women. One of the charges against Joan of Arc that got her burned at the stake was that she wore men’s clothing—that was not a small thing. There were, of course, some strong and competent women. It still doesn’t change the nature of the society. And if you look at the books, my heroes and viewpoint characters are all misfits. They’re outliers. They don’t fit the roles society has for them. They’re ‘cripples, bastards, and broken things‘—a dwarf, a fat guy who can’t fight, a bastard, and women who don’t fit comfortably into the roles society has for them (though there are also those who do—like Sansa and Catelyn).
Now there are people who will say to that, ‘Well, he’s not writing history, he’s writing fantasy—he put in dragons, he should have made an egalitarian society.’ Just because you put in dragons doesn’t mean you can put in anything you want. If pigs could fly, then that’s your book. But that doesn’t mean you also want people walking on their hands instead of their feet. If you’re going to do [a fantasy element], it’s best to only do one of them, or a few. I wanted my books to be strongly grounded in history and to show what medieval society was like, and I was also reacting to a lot of fantasy fiction. Most stories depict what I call the ‘Disneyland Middle Ages’—there are princes and princesses and knights in shining armor, but they didn’t want to show what those societies meant and how they functioned.
I have millions of women readers who love the books, who come up to me and tell me they love the female characters. Some love Arya, some love Dany, some love Sansa, some love Brienne, some love Cersei—there’s thousands of women who love Cersei despite her obvious flaws. It’s a complicated argument. To be non-sexist, does that mean you need to portray an egalitarian society? That’s not in our history; it’s something for science fiction. And 21st century America isn’t egalitarian, either. There are still barriers against women. It’s better than what it was. It’s not Mad Men any more, which was in my lifetime.
And then there’s the whole issue of sexual violence, which I’ve been criticized for as well. I’m writing about war, which what almost all epic fantasy is about. But if you’re going to write about war, and you just want to include all the cool battles and heroes killing a lot of orcs and things like that and you don’t portray [sexual violence], then there’s something fundamentally dishonest about that. Rape, unfortunately, is still a part of war today. It’s not a strong testament to the human race, but I don’t think we should pretend it doesn’t exist.
I want to portray struggle. Drama comes out of conflict. If you portray a utopia, then you probably wrote a pretty boring book.
Interestingly, Martin basically refused to comment on Sansa’s rape scene back when that episode aired. On the other hand, Sophie Turner—who plays Sansa—liked how “messed up” it was. We know the internet doesn’t like this, but let’s all keep in mind that there’s room for more than one opinion.