(Some slight spoilers for GoT, Non-specific spoilers for The Walking Dead, and Gone Girl)
Game of Thrones is, and has remained, one of my favourite TV shows for a significant period of time, offering a tense, thrilling, almost electrifying experience, one you can’t seem to tear yourself away from. However, when, on the 17th May, 2015, the 6th episode in the 5th season, titled, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” aired on HBO, you can imagine the feelings of shock when I heard of how, in one of the scenes, one of the main female characters, Sansa Stark, was subjected to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the character Ramsay. Now, Ramsay is not what you’d call a particularly pleasant character, however, I couldn’t help but believe that this aforementioned abuse was unwarranted from a plot perspective. Especially when there is no mention of this even in the original novel. No, this was formulated for one purpose: shock.
Sadly, this is not uncommon; a plethora of titles have used sexual abuse in order stimulate the progression of a storyline, as a plot device in which to justify the actions of a character, or to simply synthesise a jarring reaction from the viewer/reader, titles such as Gone Girl and The Walking Dead, titles of critical acclaim, all of which include rape as a plot device. It is easy to see why producers and writers make these choices, there are few more atrocious crimes or acts than rape and abuse, these are events that, to view in the safety of our homes, are tense, gripping, gritty; intensely unpleasant, stomach-churning in some cases, but we still watch because, as I stated, it is used to drive the plot. A practice that needs to stop.
Although we may have the luxury to watch behind closed doors, in the safety of our homes, protected by our guardian angel; the key in the lock, but for many, this isn’t a reality. I apologise for the arguable grit but, in the US alone in 2013, 173,610 people were raped. You may see this figure and say, “but proportional to the US population, that’s miniscule, minute?” And, I suppose, in some ways you’re correct. But there’s still the elephant in the room that almost 175,000 people experienced sexual assault and violence, a frankly terrifying quantity, however you look at it. And, unfortunately, mainstream media makes an exceedingly poor point of combatting this, shows like Game of Thrones only adding to the normalisation of rape culture through the airing of episodes in which acts of rape occur, the case of Sansa and Ramsay being the first in a long line of offences by the show.
But how does this reinforce the normalisation of rape culture, you may be asking? To put it simply, the constant inclusion of sexual abuse in order to progress a plotline contributes to the previously mentioned normalisation of rape culture due to the constant exposure, rather than utilising a, some may say, more innocent, non-provocative tool for plot progression; requiring a higher level of craft from the writers, rather than just casually dropping the same old boring bomb-shell that has been seen time and time and time again by viewers and critics alike. To continuously bombard viewers with scenes of sexual violence and abuse does nothing but, especially in younger viewers, standardise these acts, making this seem like the norm, making this seem like a normal way to treat a partner, a normal way to interact with others, whether man, woman, or otherwise.
To conclude, rape as a plot device to advance a storyline achieves nothing positive. It needs to stop, not only is it offensive and traumatic to those who have experienced rape, but it is slowly, but surely reinforcing the negative treatment and abuse of other individuals, reinforcing rape culture, and unknowingly normalising such ideals within younger viewers.