Sansa of the North

I’m going to write about Game of Thrones here because it’s my blog and you can’t stop me.

And yeah, FUCKING SPOILERS. Ye have been warned.

Ramsay Bolton raped Sansa Stark. By now, the entire world knows this whether or not they watch the show. It was horrible and awful. But it was not lazy storytelling on the part of the producers and it was nothing like last season’s creepy twincest scene that seemed to suggest nonconsensual sex could be a byproduct of intense desire and emotion. In this case, the rape of Sansa was totally relevant to the story being told. Awful and sad and terrible, but relevant.

Note, I have not read the books to this part. I know Sansa wasn’t raped in the books, but another woman was. I also know her rape was far worse than Sansa’s (and, of course, they’re all bad). I’m talking about the HBO GoT here, not the one in the books. I honestly don’t think how the books differ from the series is relevant to this conversation. If you want to gripe about how the show is varying from the books, I have no time for you.

The scenario in which Littlefinger has placed Sansa is purely political and reeking of symbolism already. Sansa is, as far as anyone knows, the last living Stark. Her family is synonymous with the North and her marriage into the Bolton family is one way they can legitimize their control over the territory and perhaps align the people to their side prior to Stanis’ coming ass-kicking (I hope, anyway — again, I have not read the books). Seen in that light, Sansa is both an individual and an embodiment of the North. She represents a legitimate claim to rule it. Her children will be half Stark even if they carry the name Bolton. This marriage is not about love. It’s politics. It’s supposed to be what marriages amongst royal and highborn people have always been about: power consolidation, alliances, expediency, etc.

When Ramsay rapes Sansa he is raping the North. He is committing violence against the foundation of its traditions. Yes, he’s a sadistic little worm of a thing who, I can only hope, will die a slow and terrible death, but he’s also a Bolton trying to strengthen his illegitimate grip on a land he hopes to rule one day. Were he not the vile beast he is, perhaps that scene would have gone down differently, but he is truly horrible (worse even than Joffrey). Did we expect rose petals on the bed?

The state we seem to be in at this point in our cultural dialog is that rape on screen is never OK. Whenever it happens now (as it did two seasons ago on Downton Abbey) the writers are accused of using a tired old trope and being lazy. As far as I can tell, the furor over this is focused on the act, not the way in which it’s been employed in the story. The act itself has become taboo.

On a program that routinely shows its characters being casually and chillingly violent to one another in ways far more disturbing than the scene in question, it’s puzzling to me that this is the line some cannot cross. Ramsay literally threw one of his girlfriends to the dogs and I can’t recall reading one article or angry tweet about it. Yes, rape is horrible. Yes, it has been employed in stories far too casually and without reason before now. But that’s not what happened here. Not by a long shot.

9 Replies to “Sansa of the North”

  1. Agreed. Yes, it was horrible, awful, etc. and completely in keeping with both the story line and the character involved. I did not feel it was gratuitous. It was not glorified/excused in the context of the plot line, in any way. Rape happens. Excluding rape in all of its forms, in fiction will not make it less likely to occur in fact.

  2. Like you, I find it very interesting that people have fixated on this one scene, as there have been so many others, and suspect it’s because Sansa is the “pretty girl” that most people relate to. I keep waiting to see if there will be anyone saying anything about them rounding out the gays to put to death which is also happening within the same episode.

    The happy reality of this though, as you say, is that THIS is just fiction and it’s a story that we can choose to follow or not. The sad reality is that if you watch the news or read the papers, rampant rape of women and killing of those with different sexual desires is happening now in Iraq and Africa, in 2015. Why aren’t the people screaming about a fictional TV show screaming about that?

    1. It’s not an argument against your thought per se, but I’d frame it differently. People are fixated on this scene because they know Sansa and like Sansa (or, they feel sympathy for her, even if they don’t like her character). Violence against people/characters we know and like (as ‘people’) always feels worse than violence against those we don’t know or don’t like (as with Cersei).

      1. I’ve known and liked all kinds of characters on that show who have been treated horribly and/or died terribly. If we’re all upset because it’s Sansa and we like her and care about what happens to her, then fine, but if so, this isn’t a larger conversation about the use of rape as a plot device. My problem is I think you’re right and this is troubling because it’s Sansa but it’s being conflated into some kind of public referendum on the right to use rape to advance a story (and it may or may not, we can’t know yet). Too much of what I’ve seen on the matter is that rape is simply too terrible a thing to use in a story and I think that’s wrong. If we won’t show horrible acts anymore for whatever reason, then it’ll be nothing but Teletubbies and Brady Bunch on TV.

  3. I completely agree with you (and have also not read the books)… But I do have to admit, when I first watched the scene, I actually didn’t think “rape.” Because really, in that culture, in the mindset prevalent of the equivalent time in real-word history, what Ramsay did was absolutely not rape. In marrying Sansa, she became his property (and has no real will or voice of her own) and he was simply cementing his power and control over her. Was it uncomfortable to watch? Hell yeah. Was it twisted and dark? Hell fucking yeah, Ramsay is a twisted fucker. But if you’re looking at it from a cultural and anthropological standpoint, that wasn’t considered rape.

    So the uproar surprised me a bit, and when I first heard all the talk about the “rape scene,” my reaction was, “what rape scene?” Part of it may have been because Sansa is the helpless one, the perpetual victim, who has never had the strength of will to break that pattern. She may inspire protective feelings in a lot of the viewers, where Cersei absolutely doesn’t (I absolutely loved the scene with her and Jaime, though. Bitch deserved it… and it’s FICTION. The actor playing Jaime didn’t really rape Lena Headey, just like the actor playing Ramsay didn’t really rape the girl playing Sansa. It didn’t actually happen). Even Loras, who is most likely about to be horribly wronged and tortured, probably doesn’t inspire those same feelings that Sansa might.

    I actually don’t know, Sansa is my absolute least favorite character on the whole show, because she has no real personality. Even characters like Joffrey or Cersei make you FEEL something when you watch them. You hate them, but the point is that you’re passionate about them. I cared about what happened to Joffrey, and unashamedly cheered at the death of a young boy in the arms of his mother on his wedding day. I will cheer just as loudly when (if) Cersei dies. But the point is that I care about what happens to them. Ramsay makes me curious, and I’m still waiting for someone to kill him, but I don’t hate him, and I care more about him than I do about Sansa. I just can’t care about her. She annoys me, and whenever she appears on the screen, it’s a good time to refill my tea, or check my email, while I wait for someone interesting to move the story along, because she’s absolutely not capable of progressing the story on her own.

    I’m rambling. The point is that yes, I agree with you, that this outrage over that scene makes no sense, expecially when there was no outrage over the Cersei/Jaime scene, or the human hunting scene.

  4. I’m not up to speed on with all the responses to the episode, but I don’t think the backlash is about the ir/relevance of the scene.

    “In this case, the rape of Sansa was totally relevant to the story being told. Awful and sad and terrible, but relevant.”

    It was relevant, but what was its purpose?

    The symbol makes sense — Sansa = the North, so Ramsay rapes of Sansa/the North — but the audience didn’t need it. There is no question that Ramsay will “rape” the North. The concept didn’t need symbolic reinforcement.

    “Did we expect rose petals on the bed?”

    It was in character and expected, but was it necessary?

    Nobody expected rose petals because the writers already established Ramsay as an evil motherfucker through plot details like the ex-girlfriend hunt you mentioned. Perhaps that’s why there were no angry tweets about her — because that scene served to expand scope and depth of Ramsay’s evil nature.

    Since we already know Ramsay is evil and see Sansa as sympathetic, it doesn’t make sense to me why the writers chose to reinforce what the audience already knows/feels (in a big way). I don’t understand the purpose.

    (Now, if your argument is that there was no other way Ramsay could have treated her, then I agree to some extent. I might wonder whether there might have been some other choice — not rose petals, but perhaps foreshadowing violence and stalling it somehow?)

    “last season’s creepy twincest scene that seemed to suggest nonconsensual sex could be a byproduct of intense desire and emotion”

    I disagree. In my mind, that plot point was a vehicle for character development. It showed Cersei as sympathetic for a split second, and more importantly, it showed that Jaime could be a sadistic, selfish motherfucker towards someone he feels genuine tenderness towards. It’s a special sort of cruel to rape a mother against the dead body of her son (and his son). It also marked a complete 180 from his discussion of rape with Brienne where he seemed to show some compassion. It contributed to both of their characters.

    Anyway, I agree that Sansa’s rape is a symbol — one that’s ‘relevant’ and makes sense — I just don’t see a reason for it. It provided no new development of Ramsay’s or Sansa’s characters (or the North) and it didn’t make us see any of them in a different light (Ramsay’s still evil; Sansa’s still sympathetic).

    Who it may provide some development for is Theon, which is part of why I didn’t like the writers’ choices in this scene. Two thoughts: 1) I suspect witnessing Sansa’s rape will be some sort of turning point for Theon, which means a Sansa’s rape was a vehicle for his character development. 2) The pain and horror the audience witnesses is Theon’s, not Sansa’s, which again, appears to use Sansa’s rape as a vehicle for something/someone else’s development as sympathetic, perhaps setting him up for redemption. Both of those possibilities don’t sit well with me for obvious reasons.

    I’ll absolutely continue to watch, but I didn’t like the scene (It wasn’t necessary or useful), and I understand why there are such strong feelings about it. Of course, future episodes may reveal a reason for the scene and prove me wrong (I hope).

    1. I agree that Sansa’s rape is a symbol — one that’s ‘relevant’ and makes sense — I just don’t see a reason for it. It provided no new development of Ramsay’s or Sansa’s characters (or the North) and it didn’t make us see any of them in a different light (Ramsay’s still evil; Sansa’s still sympathetic).

      There’s no way to know if it had purpose until we see the coming episodes. It could be a defining moment in the development of the Sansa character or it could be a gratuitous throwaway. I seriously doubt it’s that, but only time can tell.

  5. First, a bit of background. I was away on a work assignment for a month, so a month of GOT ended up on the DVR. So I did not see the rape episode in real time. But I had no choice but to see all the resulting headlines. I had to see the intro on a couple to be sure, but as soon as I saw rape and GOT in the same headline, I knew it was Sansa and Ramsey. I mean, DUH.

    Then, we finally got around to that episode last night and after all the sound and fury about it earlier this week, my only reaction to the scene in that context was – that’s IT ?!!?!

    You have to be kidding me. Ridiculous

    The fact of the matter is that the idea that there is some horrific “rape culture” in the US and that somehow gratuitous depictions of rape are part of that is utter nonsense. The very idea of “rape culture” is a myth being perpetuated to serve a political agenda. Furthermore, the kind of person committing actual rape as depicted in GOT is perpetrated by evil psychopaths. It isn’t about sex, it’s about power and people like that are not swayed to commit or not commit rape by seeing a tepid rape scene like that on TV. That kind of behavior is not caused or even aided by pop culture anymore than killers are inspired to commit murder by playing Grand Theft Auto. That kind of pop culture / pop psychology depiction of human behavior is infantile in the extreme.

    Somehow causing entertainment media in all its forms from self-censoring rape scenes will not reduce the instances of rape by a single occurrence.

    The world would be a much better place if we could find a way to focus on things that actually matter rather than a bunch of overblown fake outrage over a rape scene in GOT.

    And as someone else up above already said, the impending storyline of the opression and violence heaped on gays is far more disturbing than this “rape”, nevermind Ramsey’s horrific treatment and castration of Theon.

    All told, the reaction to this was far more political than anything else. And I virtually guarantee 80% or more of the reaction is by people that don’t or didn’t even watch the show.

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