Why is “Game of Thrones” So Rapey?

Sansa

“Game of Thrones,” why do you have to be so rapey?

Way back in season 1, we had Daenerys and Khal Drogo. After Dany is forced into marriage with Drogo by her throne-seeking elder brother, Viserys, Dany and Drogo have a troubling first night together.

But hey, it’s okay, because those savages just don’t know any better. (Don’t even get me started on the racist implications of Dany’s plotlines throughout the series.) Once Dany and Drogo learn to communicate, and Dany shows Drogo the fine art of having sex face-to-face, they fall in love. Awww. Not. I thought we had gotten over this Luke and Laura-esque nonsense back in the 1980s, but I guess I was wrong.

Fast forward to season 4. Cersei Lannister has finally reunited with her lover/twin brother, Jaime, after years of separation. But Jaime has changed. The show had spent the previous two seasons doing something I thought impossible: redeeming him, a character who had been primarily been known as the man who pushed Bran Stark out a window back in episode 1. He had also been physically mutilated, his sword hand having been cut off by his captors. Cersei has been through a lot, too: war, battles, her daughter being sent to Dorne, and her eldest son’s death. When Jaime returns, we thought it would be all happy happy, joy joy reunion. But Cersei rejects him. Then this happens.

The worst of it is that afterwards, we’re still expected to root for Jaime. The very next episode, he gifts Brienne of Tarth his sword and armor and releases her to go find the now-missing Sansa Stark. She names the sword “Oathkeeper.” So much emotion in those final looks between the two of them. If only things were different. If only Jamie could have lived happily ever after with Brienne. It’s not his fault he was a Lannister, and Cersei is, as he said, a hateful woman. Nothing is his fault. Poor Jaime.

SPOILERS for the last several episodes.

Fast forward again, this time to last week. Sansa Stark has married Ramsay Bolton—the son of the man who killed her mother and brother. Viewers of the show already know Ramsay is a sadist; we’ve been shown this over and over again since season 3, when Ramsay castrates Theon Greyjoy and send his genitalia back to his family. So yeah, no redeeming qualities there.

But silly me, I thought, maybe—maybe—we could expect something different. Since season 1, Sansa has been a largely passive character. But in the latter half of season 4 and the beginning of season 5, we got to see a different side to Sansa. She’s finally beginning to realize the power she has, and how she can use that to manipulate people. Her decision to marry into the family of her worst enemy was a calculated one. She wanted to avenge her mother and brother, and she thought that being back at Winterfell would help her do it. She didn’t know Ramsay was a complete nutjob. To be honest, I was kind of hoping she would kill him before it got to that point.

Not so much.

The worst of it is that Sansa’s rape scene isn’t even about Sansa. No, it’s about Theon—because apparently, he needs to see a girl he grew up with be brutally raped right in front of him in order to break Ramsay’s thrall over him. But even that doesn’t work correctly: in this week’s episode, when Sansa—now back to being the damsel in distress—asks Theon to help her get a message to her family’s supporters, Theon betrays her to Ramsay.

Awesome.

As if that wasn’t enough, we have enough near-rape scene this week, when Gilly is attacked at the Wall by two men of the Night’s Watch, and she’s rescued by Sam. Weren’t the Night’s Watchmen supposed to take vows of celibacy? Is there any man in the universe of “Game of Thrones” who doesn’t think he should have free, unrestricted access to women’s bodies?

Well…there is Sam, the chubby Night’s Watchman who’s been protecting Gilly and her baby for the last couple of seasons. So what does Gilly do after Sam rescues her again? She has sex with him for the first time. Naturally. Because that’s totally what I would do right after I was almost raped. Right.

Science fiction and fantasy have a bad habit of raping its female characters. It’s often used either to help a character “power up,” as in Dany’s story: her marriage to Drogo is the first step in becoming the Mother of Dragons and fighting for the Iron Throne. It can also be used, as sci-fi/fantasy author Seanan McGuire puts it, to “put cocky heroines in their place,” which we see in Cersei’s story. But the worst is Sansa. In less than one episode, Sansa goes from being a character with her own distinct point of view to a Woman in a Refrigerator, her trauma being used primarily to serve another, male, character’s storyline.

“Game of Thrones” appeals to me because it has some of the most interesting, complex female characters on television. Although the world is distinctly patriarchal, each of the female characters subverts and manipulates that power structure in some way to gain more agency for herself, and it’s awesome.

But this is also the series for which the term “sexposition” was coined. Violence is a mainstay of the “Game of Thrones” world, but it is only the female characters who are subjected to sexual violence again and again and again—even when these scenes were written as consensual in the books (as Dany’s and Cersei’s both were).

And I have to say, I’m tired. I’m getting to the point where I don’t know if I can, or should, follow this series any longer. I’m invested in these characters and the story, and I want to find out who wins the Iron Throne as much as the next person. But I’m so sick of tuning in week after week just to see yet another female character being raped, and yet another rapist we’re supposed to sympathize with.