I quit watching Game of Thrones when they pushed the little boy out the window. I may have finished whatever episodes were on the DVD, but I realized then that I didn’t really want to watch yet another show competing with itself how awful it could make its characters, and neither the acting, the story, nor the sex was sufficiently compelling to compensate for that realization.
But now this endlessly feted, prestige drama has suddenly become controversial.
In the course of following the links in Ross Douthat’s piece on the subject, I learned that rape has been an longtime theme of the show going back to one of the episodes I remembered from that first DVD. In hat episode, Daenerys Targaryen was given by her brother Viserys in a marriage of alliance to the barbarian warlord Khal Drogo.
I written before of the difficulty in arguing that something can be both “bad” and simultaneously “not as bad as you’re claiming”. The consummation of Daenerys’ and Khal’s marriage is one of those situations. On the one hand, it went about as well as my one-line description would imply, i.e., not characterized by an excess of concern for Daenerys’ feelings or pleasure. On the other, I was surprised to learn that it has apparently been regarded as a “rape scene”. I will allow that consent may be too forgiving a word to describe Daenerys’ state of mind; indeed, no one, not her brother, and especially not Drago, inquired of her state of mind at all. It would be more accurate to say that she was ordered by her brother to submit to Drago sexually, and that was more or less what she did.
Now, that may be a bad thing. In modern Western culture, marriages based on anything other than mutual affection are generally bad things. The problem is, if you deploy the word rape to describe such relationships, you don’t have a word reserved for situations in which a woman is actively, to the extent of her physical power, resisting penetration.
Likewise for Ramsay and Sansa. This is a more difficult case: Drago didn’t mean any harm to Daenerys, he just didn’t know any better, whereas Ramsay is apparently a sociopath bent on humiliating Sansa. But Sansa’s submission was also much more deliberate: from what I gather of the backstory, her individual consent to the marriage was required where Daenerys’ was not, and from what I saw of Ramsay, her physical compliance was also required where Daenerys’ resistance would have been futile.
So yes, icky sex. But it is illuminating that elite culture has apparently and with little fanfare characterized all icky sex as rape, a crime for which punishment is demanded.