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It’s the biggest show on television at the moment and the one everyone’s been talking about ever since Sean Bean did what Sean Bean does and die in a piece of fiction. The critical acclaim around the show has intensified season after season and it now rightly sits in the pantheon of Greatest Ever TV Shows. Yet in spite of its monumental success, there’s always been a degree of criticism over the shows prevalence of tits and arses. Particular criticism has been levelled at its use of “sexposition” as a plot device, as well as the frequency of female nudity over male.

Both of these arguments have merit. I may not necessarily agree entirely or in the case of the sexposition even consider it a problem, but I can see the general point. However, this Huffington Post article by Osahon Okundaye on the sexual violence in Game of Thrones falls somewhat wide of the mark for me.

Apart from seemingly quite oblivious to the nature of the books and not being a frequent viewer of the show, Okundaye misses the point in several key aspects of his argument.

His opening gambit about the timid prostitute that the Martells deal with is somewhat convincing. She is quite clearly unwilling and Oberyn’s disrobing of her is unnecessary except to give the impression that he’s capable of being a bit of an arsehole. And yet I feel Okundaye maybe misses a larger point, which is Thrones’ use of the Happy Hooker cliché. To my memory, this is the first one we’ve seen who’s somewhat unhappy about her job. Now of course viewers of the show would know that Littlefinger owns the King’s Landing brothels and the one thing he can’t stand is a “bad investment”. Perhaps a bunch of happy prostitutes is management orders, kind of like a kinky Disneyworld.

His second and main point regarding the tavern girl at the end being sexually assaulted by Polliver and his men is a larger issue and one which I have a problem with in his assessment of. I wouldn’t for a second claim this isn’t sexual violence as it quite clearly is. However I would argue its presence in a fictional world is not necessarily a bad thing.

His breakdown of the scene is either based on personal opinion or is a case of 2+2=5. He says: “It cuts to a medium shot of a groping soldier repeatedly fondling her chest for way too long.” Now, I’ve rewatched the scene I have to disagree. The camera passes over it but it’s by no means the focus of the shot.

Where I really must object is in his next paragraph: “These few minutes of excellent dialogue are ruined by the guards we can still see groping that poor woman over Polliver’s shoulder. They add nothing to the crucial dialogue, so why are they there? Who is enjoying this detail?” Again, not only is this pure opinion but I would also argue he’s missed to entire point of this scene. Does the assault of this girl add anything to the dialogue? No. But does it add to the scene? I would say it does. As with every other instance of sexual violence in the show I can recall, it exists to make the viewer uncomfortable. You aren’t meant to enjoy it. As for saying it adds to nothing to the dialogue, I don’t even get that as a complaint. Part of what makes Game of Thrones a cut above the rest is that stuff goes on beyond the dialogue.

That scene is also all about Arya and her journey down a dark path. When these men are killed, we aren’t conflicted. These aren’t just men following orders or commanded by a monster, they’re monsters themselves. Seeing them put down by the Hound and Arya personally makes me feel somewhat satisfied.

What really adds insult to injury is that this guy has even had a chance to ask George R.R. Martin about this! And he’s still not satisfied despite an entirely reasonable answer. His solution would seemingly be for Martin and the showrunners to have Thrones exist in a world entirely at odds with the one they’re trying to reflect. Martin is on record as saying that this story is loosely a War of the Roses allegory, only with dragons and monsters beyond The Wall. Certainly the universe is meant to mimic early-to-mid second millenium Europe, with certain aspects more primitive and others nearer the Renaissance. “Instituting gender equality,” as he suggests, would not only be a total departure from this period but it would utterly ruin many of the main female characters plot arcs. Arya, Brienne, Daenerys and Cersei’s journeys would be infinitely weaker for such a move without a patriarchal society to fight against. It would also defeat the point of this very idea as these are some fantastic feminist characters that would be destroyed with that same pen stroke.

It’s more than reasonable for a person to have a problem with the sexual violence in the show. There’s a lot of it and if that bothers you I don’t blame you. But you can’t misrepresent what happens or project your own opinions in an unfair and ignorant way. Saying stuff like: “at best, it obscures the plot and at worst, it makes a real evil look attractive,” is purely trolling. If anybody finds the sexual violence in the show attractive that says far more about them than it does the show.

If Okundaye finds the sexual violence in the show repugnant then Jesus Christ, I hope he never reads the books…

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2 Comments

  1. Okundaye missed out on the Bloody Mummers in the books, who made Polliver and his Lannister comrades look like Eagle Scouts by comparison.

    I admit to have not read his article, but I was fascinated by your account of him complaining about the waitress continuing to be groped in the background behind Polliver during the dialogue between Polliver and the Hound. I had no idea that was going on, since I was focused entirely on Polliver and the Hound’s interaction which I found to be engrossing.

  2. I think you make a lot of good points about what some of the sexual violence does for the scenes. I consider myself a feminist and I often shudder at how women are portrayed in media, however, I do enjoy A Game of Thrones. There’s a lot of sexual violence in the show, but that’s the world in which the stories take place. It’s important to note that sexual violence isn’t glorified here. As you said, we aren’t meant to enjoy it. Game of Thrones appeals to me because the women have goals to achieve outside of the cliched ways other stories often represent women. Yes, the world isn’t kind to women, but each female character reacts and deals with this unfair world in her own way. We enjoy following along the adventures of the women as well as the men. That’s what’s important to me as a “feminist.” I understand, though, that the content can be triggering for some women (and men, even), which is completely justified and a fair reason to refuse to watch.


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